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Weather should help elk hunters this weekend

PROSPECT — The weatherman is bringing good news, but not great news, for Saturday's start of the general bull-elk season.

A series of storm fronts is expected to continue pouring rain on the parched, high-elevation forestland along the western slope of the Cascades, just in time for the opening weekend of the popular general-season hunt for Roosevelt elk bulls.

But the fronts are warm ones, meaning that the most-coveted October asset to good bull shooting — fresh snow to aid in elk tracking — will be a no-show, even at high elevations.

"Snow's what people like, but the snow level is going up," says Mark Vargas, the Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But the rains will take some of the crunch out of the duff and help hunters stalk the largest of Oregon's land mammals.

"The rains are going to be welcomed by a lot of hunters," Vargas says. "They'd prefer snow, but they'll take rain.

"Hopefully there will be a few more elk hanging in camps," he says.

The quest is to become one of the 4 percent of hunters who bag a bull during the general season that runs through Oct. 23 in the Cascade Range of Oregon, including the Rogue, Evans Creek and Sixes units of the south Cascades.

Hunters in the Applegate Unit of southwestern Jackson County and eastern Josephine County have to wait until next month for their seasons to open.

The bag limit remains one bull elk with at least one visible antler.

New this year is the dropping of the tag-sale deadline, though ODFW offices will be closed Friday as part of the required furlough for state workers hit with budget cuts.

Going into the season, the Rogue Unit of eastern Jackson County is sporting another year of solid bull ratios. The unit has an estimated 16 bulls per 100 cows. That's down from the ratio of 21 bulls per 100 cows of the past two seasons, but is still comfortably ahead of several recent years.

The high bull ratios, however, didn't necessarily translate into success the last two years.

Last year, 2,415 hunters banged through the woods of the Rogue Unit, for a total of 10,122 hunter days. They killed 90 bulls.

Though the total hunter numbers were up, the total days hunted (10,453) and total bulls shot (101) were both down from 2007.

The 1,783 hunters who worked the Dixon Unit in 2008, which includes northwest Jackson County, fared better with 101 dead elk for a 6-percent success rate. The numbers were virtually identical to the previous year, when hunters shot 101 elk for a 6-percent success rate.

Hunters who haven't already driven deep into the woods of high-elevation Jackson County probably have lost their chance.

The annual Green Dot road closure went into effect Wednesday and will remain through the general elk season.

Only forest roads marked on maps with green dots are open for travel.

The closure helps bull escapement and improves the quality of the hunt by keeping vehicles from crisscrossing the heavily roaded Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest during the hunt.

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