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Elk season starts damp but not snowy

This week's storm fronts came too early and too few for Roosevelt bull elk hunters who are heading into the woods Saturday for the start of the general rifle season in the Cascades.

Snow levels that were down to about the 5,500-foot level Wednesday will rise today to around 8,000 feet as hunters prepare for the opener to the one-week general season.

The woods will be damp, so the crunchiness that plagued bowhunters is gone, and campfires will be allowed in elk camps. But the fresh snow that always helps bull-shooters track their quarry won't be there, according to the National Weather Service in Medford.

"We only got a dusting of snow at the highest elevations, so they won't have tracking snow," says Jay Stockton, a senior forecaster for the weather service.

Likewise, a new front expected to move into the region today likely will dump most of its moisture on the Coast Range, leaving a 40-percent chance of rain today in the mountains around the Rogue Valley, Stockton says.

The weather always is a topic of conversation among hunters, who will be lining up late into the evening at sporting goods' stores to buy their $42.50 general-season bull elk tag on the eve of the season, even though it's been available for purchase since Dec. 1.

This year's opening day is six days later than last year and one of the latest under relatively new state regulations that call for the bull hunt to open on the third Saturday after the start of the general deer season.

The general-season tag allows hunters to take one bull elk with at least one visible antler. Not that this definition comes into play all that often in the South Cascades, where success rates have plummeted to a point where all but a handful of participants see it as a week of camping and hiking with a rifle over their shoulders.

Last year's success rate in the Rogue Unit was 4 percent, up from 3 percent the previous year. The Dixon Unit also came in at 4 percent, meaning switching sides of Highway 62 in the Union Creek area didn't help or hurt hunters' chances last year.

The Evans Creek Unit saw an 8 percent success rate, with much of it on private land.

With close to 4,000 bull hunters plying Jackson County forests, that's a lot of bummed-out hunters annually. But it still remains one of the last great general seasons in Oregon.

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