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Triple-threat teens

With almost an hour left in his fall hunting season Sunday, 16-year-old Tyler Dungannon knew he had to make something happen fast or that black-tailed deer tag in his pocket would go unfilled and his unique quest unfulfilled.

Then he spied a doe in the brush, so Dungannon dropped to his knees hoping to see a buck. Sure enough, his instincts were correct, and he spotted a three-point buck standing in a small gap between poison oak and blackberries 200 yards away.

Methodically and deliberately, Dungannon killed the buck with one shot, then ran excitedly through the poison oak toward it.

"I was pretty excited," he says. "But not until I got up to the deer did I realize what I had accomplished."

Coupled with the mule deer buck and pronghorn buck he shot earlier this season, the blacktail earned Dungannon the buck-shooters' Triple Crown of Oregon.

Using a change in youth-hunt tag rules, Dungannon was able to accrue tags to shoot bucks from the three huntable big-game species in Oregon that sport the name "buck" for its male members.

And Dungannon is not alone.

Eight other Oregon teens discovered the opportunity for shooting their buck trifectas and secured the necessary youth-hunt tags to do so, initiating what could become a trend among Oregon young guns.

"That doesn't surprise me at all," says Tom Thornton, who coordinates the big-game programs for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "There are options out there that people will investigate and take advantage of."

The youth hunt program is designed to give kids a good jump-start into hunting by creating hunts in areas with good opportunities for success and with less pressure from adults.

Youth hunts for black-tailed and mule deer bucks have all been under the same category — called the 600 Series — in the annual controlled-hunt drawing system. Antelope are in a separate category.

In previous years, kids could apply for and earn one of the 600-series tags and an antelope tag. But the antelope tags are highly coveted, and some kids can apply annually without ever earning a pronghorn buck tag before they lose youth-hunt eligibility at age 18.

New for this year, ODFW changed two youth hunts for mule deer to the 100 series. This change closed the option for a hunter to draw two mule deer buck tags but opened up the Triple Crown-specter.

It also caught the eye of Duane Dungannon — Tyler's father, who is state coordinator of the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association and is quite familiar with the controlled-hunt nuances.

The Dungannons figured out the options and last spring applied for the tags using all of Tyler's preference points to create the best chance possible to get them.

"They were all solid hunts, not those with 2-percent success rates," Tyler says. "I knew if I drew them, I'd have a decent shot at the Triple Crown."

Thornton says the Triple Crown has always been an option for adults and teen buck-shooters using various combinations of tags, but the all-youth angle is new.

"I'm sure other people have done it in the past, but we don't hear about a lot of them," Thornton says. "People who had a great hunt don't call us to tell us about it."

In late May, Tyler snuck out of class at Phoenix High School and used the school library's computer to check his tag results. To his surprise, he had earned them all.

The Kentucky Derby leg of his quest came in August during the pronghorn buck hunt near Gerber Reservoir in Klamath County.

After five days of frustratingly chasing pronghorns together, the Dungannons spied a buck that was too far out of range. A conventional stalk would certainly have spooked it, so with Tyler hunched forward and his father walking behind him with his arms on Tyler's shoulders, the pair tried to make themselves look like a cow strolling along a fence line at dusk.

It worked. They got to within 250 yards and that first leg of the chase was quickly over.

Next came the mule deer buck in the Preakness version of the buck trifecta, and the squeeze was on. The Warner Unit hunt he earned ran Sept. 18-26. But Tyler believed he couldn't skip too much school, so he had only two weekends to fill that tag.

On the second day there, he shot a small, forked-horned buck.

"It's a little guy," Tyler says. "But it's still a mulie."

The Belmont-esque third hunt was another short hunt that ended Halloween within a roughly 6,000-acre North Bank Habitat Management Area near Roseburg that's managed primarily for an isolated pocket of Columbian white-tailed deer once considered endangered.

To improve white-tail habitat, the youth hunts are used to thin out the blacktails.

Apparently, it's working.

"They're trying to get rid of the blacktails, and it shows," Tyler says.

On the first weekend, they hiked around yet found no blacktail bucks in the area, which has just walk-in access. They decided to take one last stab at it Sunday, driving up Interstate 5 that afternoon for one last run at the crown.

After spooking one blacktail buck, the pair found the three-point in the poison oak and ended Halloween with a trick and a treat.

"I was pretty excited," Tyler says. "It was my last hurrah, my last big-game hunt of the year, and I got the Triple Crown."

Duane Dungannon warns that other families looking to get their teens this trio ought to be careful what they wish for.

"I really don't recommend it," he says. "It's almost too much of a good thing."

The three tags fragment the hunting season, which reduces the amount of pre-season scouting time afforded each hunt, Dungannon says. With two hunts during the school year, it reduces the number of hunting days and spreads the kids thinly, he says.

And doing so uses up all the preference points, rendering Tyler's chances of getting a good youth tag difficult in 2011 during his swansong in the program.

"It looks like Tyler will be doing a lot of bird hunting next year," Dungannon says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Tyler Dungannon, 16, of Phoenix, scored a rare Oregon buck Triple Crown this season, harvesting a pronghorn antelope, mule deer and blacktail, a feat made possible by a change in youth-hunt tag rules this year. - Photo by Bob Pennell