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Bowhunters hit woods amid extreme fire danger

Triple-digit temperatures. Smoke from forest fires in the air. And the forest floor crunching like Rice Crispies under your boots.

Bow season must be right around the corner.

Oregonians will start packing their bows into the woods Saturday for the start of the general archery season, the first such general season on the state's top two hunted species — deer and elk.

Hunters on both sides of the Cascades will start ignoring their three-dimensional targets and the virtual-hunting leagues at local archery stores to start stalking the real things Saturday.

"Right now there's a big fire concern," says Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District wildlife biologist. "It's one of those dry years, and with that comes difficulty in getting to deer."

And Roosevelt elk, as well. The top prize among archers will be tough to hunt in early season, with hunters hoping to find the elk they've been seeing on their trail cameras all summer.

"Behavior changes, and elk might not be where they were when you took all your trail-camera pictures," Vargas says.

And where you placed that trail cam matters, as far as hunting cow elk. This is the second year that local archers are banned from shooting antlerless elk on national forest lands, but cows are legal targets on Bureau of Land Management land and on state, county and private lands.

Deer and elk bow tags, which have been available for purchase at sporting goods stores and over the Internet since December, will be sold through Friday evening.

Hunters who miss the deadline can still get a tag through a program initiated two years ago by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Hunters who pay a $17 fee and sign a waiver stating they have not yet been hunting can get a deer or elk tag mid-season.

The first part of the season, open for both deer and elk hunting, runs through Sept. 28 in Western Oregon and most of Eastern Oregon. In the Rogue and Evans Creek units, bowhunters can return to the woods Nov. 15 for a deer-only hunt that lasts through Dec. 7.

As usual, hunters' biggest early-season obstacle is the weather.

After 100-plus degree days earlier this week, the National Weather Service has forecast high temperatures to drop to the high 70s for Shady Cove beginning today and running through the weekend.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.