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Cover brings teen 15 minutes of fame

TALENT — Walking through Wal-Mart on a mid-December evening, Duane Dungannon suggested ever so slyly that his teenage son Tyler ought to take a peek at the new state hunting regulations booklet to see whether there were any cool new hunts to try for.

As Tyler approached the store's display, the lanky kid on the cover who was dressed in camouflage and a blaze-orange ball cap didn't really come into focus.

"I looked at it the first time and I couldn't quite tell who it was," Tyler says. "But I recognized the buck."

The buck was a big three-point Tyler shot in November 2007, his first and only blacktail in three years of deer hunting.

And there, posing proudly with his rifle in his left hand and wearing that blaze-orange ball cap, sat Tyler himself.

The 14-year-old Phoenix High School freshman is basking in his 15 minutes of fame as the first Southern Oregonian — and only the second in more than four decades — depicted on the cover of Oregon's Big Game Regulations booklet.

Now 575,000 images of Tyler and his blacktail will find their way into sporting goods stores, backpacks, pickup trucks and dens of Oregonians who will use this hunters' reference guide throughout 2009.

"People have been coming up to me and saying, 'Did you see your picture on the cover?' Like I wouldn't know," says Tyler, of Talent. "Girls from school who don't even hunt have seen it. It's cool."

The image encapsulates much of what the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wants to depict in its push to draw more kids into the hunting fold, which has either declined or held steady each of the past 10 years.

It's a clean, bloodless photo. The deer is presented respectfully. The gun is pointed safely skyward and not toward the camera.

And Tyler's wearing the blaze-orange hat — not a legal requirement in Oregon, but definitely the kind of safety-first image agency biologists peddle with their regular hunting mantra.

"We really like to see the blaze orange," says Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the ODFW's Wildlife Division who had a hand in choosing the booklet's cover shot. "It should exhibit all the hunter-safety recommendations."

Besides, Dennehy says, it's a high-resolution jpeg, the kind of image that can be blown up to cover-size without losing image quality.

"It was a high-quality photo," she says. "It was one of the best photos we got."

For decades, only live animals in natural settings or high-level wildlife paintings greeted those grabbing one of the free booklets, which list all the approved hunts, season dates and other rules for every available big-game tag statewide.

Throughout this decade, the ODFW has been increasing opportunities for teens to have positive first impressions of hunting. Extended youth deer and elk hunts, special hunts during the Christmas holidays and even a new mentoring program where kids can fill an adult's tag all point toward drawing kids into hunting.

Adding a teen-friendly cover-shot became a no-brainer.

"It's a hunting regulations booklet, for goodness sakes," says Mark Vargas, the ODFW's Rogue District wildlife biologist. "We're trying to promote good, safe hunting. Why not promote it on the cover, especially with nice animals and kids."

Last year, the agency solicited cover-worthy photos from agency staff and the public, settling on a mentor-ish shot of ODFW biologist Keith Kohl, from The Dalles, and his son, Ross.

Duane Dungannon, state secretary for the Oregon Hunters Association, sent this shot of Tyler and his first deer to Dennehy last fall as a possible aid in promoting the new youth-extension for blacktail season.

"The next thing I know, they send me an approval form," Dungannon says.

Once the booklets were printed, Dungannon came up with his dorky ruse for getting Tyler into a store to see the booklet before someone else spilled the beans.

"I was grasping at straws trying to get him into a Wal-Mart on a weeknight," Dungannon says.

Since then, Tyler regularly has received notes and calls from friends across Oregon. And they all ask just how he became 2009's Cover Boy of Oregon hunting.

"I've heard it a thousand times and, no, it's not getting old," Tyler says. "Not yet."

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

Phoenix High School freshman Tyler Dungannon, 14, is featured on the cover of the 2009 Oregon Big Game Regulations booklet. - Submitted photo