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A lucky chance to bag a buck

LAKE CREEK — Kourtenay Hoefft is holding what amounts to a young hunters' version of Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket — a pass that gets its bearer a rare taste of what the general public will never experience.

The 12-year-old White City girl is one of five Oregon youths randomly selected for the rarest of hunting presents — a guided late-December deer hunt for one of the many big bucks wintering on the vast C2 Cattle Co. ranch outside Lake Creek.

For three days after Christmas, a C2 ranch hand will escort her around the 9,500-acre ranch to determine not whether she will shoot at a buck, but to help her determine which buck is worthy of her first-ever shot.

"I'm darn near 60 years old and I've been killing deer since I was 8, so I know there's nothing guaranteed," says Terry Clement, Kourtenay's grandfather, who will accompany her on the hunt. "But this is about as close to it as you can get."

And this would all be a fantasy, if not for Himalayan blackberries.

A request for state help in clearing blackberries from 200 acres of C2 land that is prime elk habitat has evolved into unique hunting access for 14 kids whose first-time deer or elk tags could translate into their best time.

In exchange for $5,000 from the state's Access and Habitat Program, C2 will guide five kids on three-day deer hunts and two kids on three-day Roosevelt elk hunts on a piece of the ranch this year and next year.

The winners were randomly selected from among the 159 kids who drew a Rogue Unit Deer Youth tag and the 122 kids who drew a Rogue Unit Elk Youth tag. Both seasons start Saturday and run through December.

With most hunting at the C2 Ranch historically limited to lessees and ranch hands, couching these hunts as opportunities of their lifetimes may not be a stretch.

"It's a fantastic hunting area," says Vince Oredson, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who helped secure the grant, which came through the ODFW.

"It's hard to get public access on private ranches here, and (C2) is some of the best hunting in southwest Oregon, if not the best," Oredson says. "It's neat to see these kids get a chance out there."

It's a chance these kids will accept now, and probably appreciate more later when they're back in the general hunting public.

"I think it's pretty cool," Kourtenay says. "Out of all those people, I was the one that got picked."

She would never have been picked had the blackberries not pricked enough elk and ranch hands at C2 over the years.

Last spring, Oredson approached C2 Manager Dave Picanso about perhaps doing some brush cutting on areas of the ranch favored by elk when the cattle are moved out in late fall. The focus became a 200-acre parcel that once was prime elk summer range, but which became overgrown and in need of treatment.

When the idea of public hunting access was broached, Picanso says the owners, the Loonan family, were interested in some sort of youth access.

"One thing led to another and it turned into quite a deal," Picanso says.

The deal means a contractor will he hired next spring to cut 20 acres of old ceanothus, while C2 employees cut blackberries. The herbicide Garlon will be applied next August or September on the remaining blackberries while nearby clover pastures will be fertilized.

The Garlon will be purchased with a $5,000 grant from the Access and Habitat Program — which is funded by a $2 surcharge on Oregon hunting licenses.

The ODFW found $2,000 in other money to pay for the fertilizer, while the National Wild Turkey Federation and Oregon Hunters Association collectively chipped in $3,000 for the contract brush-cutting.

C2 will absorb the remaining cost of the $19,600 project, mostly as labor and machinery use.

Winners from the random computer drawing will be allowed access, one at a time, on 2,750 acres south of Highway 140, some of the best winter range for deer in the southwest Cascades.

"I'm hoping the kids can go out, see some good winter range, learn a few things from the ranch hands and see some deer," Oredson says. "It's an experience we think will be great."

This is the first Access and Habitat project on the C2 Ranch and the first of its kind in southwest Oregon. For kids like Kourtenay, it could also be the golden ticket they'll never forget.

"For anyone, this would be a hunt of a lifetime," Picanso says. "We thought it would be great if it were kids to be the ones who do it."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Kourtenay Hoefft, 12, of White City, has been selected for a special youth hunt with her grandfather, Terry Clement, at C2 Ranch near Lake Creek. - Photo by Denise Baratta