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Archers and shotgunners to get a hot start to their seasons

Archers and shotgunners are shaking off forecasts of hot weather as they prep for the long-awaited openings of their seasons, which usher in the unofficial start of fall hunting in Oregon.

The bow seasons for black-tailed buck deer and Roosevelt bull elk open Saturday in southwestern Oregon, while upland game-bird hunters will take to the field three days later.

Though general-season bear hunters have been plying the woods since Aug. 1, the growth of bowhunting — thanks largely to improved equipment, more favorable seasons and the challenge of stalking big bulls and bucks — now ushers in the hunting season.

Hunters hitting the high-elevation peaks for elk or the fields for quail will face a common and almost perpetual August enemy — the weather.

High-elevation areas of Jackson County are forecast to hit the high 80s Saturday, while temperatures tickling 100 are forecast for the Rogue Valley floor.

"Things will be kind of hot, but that's typical," says Tony Cushman, at the Wapiti Archery shop in Grants Pass. "People are used to it. It should be a good opening weekend."

Despite the heat and a crunchy forest floor that makes stalking almost impossible, stealthy hunters will stand a good chance of emerging from the woods with a bull this weekend.

"Definitely, there are elk killed on opening weekend," says Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District wildlife biologist, who will be in the field this weekend checking hunter success. "But it's not too common that the bulls are active."

The bow season for the Rogue, Evans Creek, Dixon, Applegate and Indigo units runs through Sept. 27. The limit remains one elk of either sex. The Chetco and Sixes units sport the same hunting dates but have a one-bull limit.

The bow season for blacktail bucks in the Evans Creek, Rogue and Sixes units runs in conjunction with the elk season, but it reopens Nov. 14 and runs through Dec. 6. The limit remains one buck having not less than one forked antler.

A resident archery elk tag costs $34.50, and the resident buck tag still costs $19.50. Both are available until 11:59 p.m. Friday night at point-of-sale license outlets statewide.

Most hunters carry both tags to match their opportunities. Last year, the ODFW sold 31,529 archery deer tags and 31,877 archery elk tags.

And like their rifle-toting brethren, archers are waiting until the last minute to buy their tags, even though they have been available since December.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the ODFW had sold 18,088 archery elk tags and 17,770 archery deer tags, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy says.

Because of the numbers game over length of seasons, most of the early archery season is focused on bagging a branch-antlered bull. And to do that, high-elevation back-country is the place to be, Vargas says.

Opening weekend hunters typically flock to the high-elevation wilderness areas in the region — the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Area.

These roadless locations high in the Cascade Range are prime summer-range locations for Roosevelt elk escaping heat and searching for food and water.

The influx of hunters into wilderness areas can cause elk to disperse, Vargas says. That can ruin the hunting prospects for those who rely on one or two known meadows or other locales frequented by elk before the season starts, he says.

"You have to know the country better than the specific spots," Vargas says. "It all comes down to hunting, learning the country year after year. That's where success comes from."

A slew of upland game-bird hunting seasons are set to open Tuesday, bringing shotgunners their first chance afield since spring.

Seasons open Tuesday for forest grouse, California quail and mountain quail in Western Oregon. Also, the mourning dove season opens statewide Tuesday and runs through September.

Oregon's nearly 100 permitted falconers have their seasons open Tuesday, as well, with hunting beginning for pheasant, quail, chukar, grouse and other bird species. Falconers will not be hunting waterfowl until the regular duck and goose seasons open this fall.

The rooster pheasant season will open Oct. 10 and run through Dec. 31 in conjunction with chukar seasons.

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