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Rain, snow, campfires greet deer hunters

Rifle hunters used to sweating through the opening weekend of the black-tailed deer season will be welcome a unique two-fer this weekend that will improve the outlook in the woods as well as deer camp.

Rain and high-elevation snow are forecast for Jackson County this weekend, and the U.S. Forest Service has lifted campfire restrictions just in time for the start of the general buck deer season in Western Oregon.

"That doesn't happen very often for the west-side opener," says Mark Vargas, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Rogue District wildlife biologist. "If deer hunters can have weather and campfires, there are going to be some happy hunters in deer camp."

The general rifle season here often revolves around Jackson County's Rogue Unit, where hunters hope to improve on last year's 20 percent success rate and retain the unit's status as the state's best producer for black-tailed bucks.

Opening weekends typically are mired in hot weather and severe fire-danger restrictions, but forecasters and Smoky Bear have good news for hunters this year.

Forecasts for the Union Creek area call for highs Saturday of about 55 degrees with a chance of rain, with lows in the high 30s Saturday night and rain likely Sunday. Snow levels will be down Saturday night to about 5,500 feet above sea level, National Weather Service Meteorologist Misty Duncan says.

The rain will take the crunch out of the forest floor, and the snow will provide some tracking opportunities for rifle hunters often relegated to sitting and waiting for deer to move amid loud forest conditions.

When hunters are done for the day, they will find deer camp to be warmer than normal on opening weekend, because the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest lifted fire restrictions, meaning camp fires are allowed forest-wide except for the standard restrictions in the Ashland Watershed, the Illinois River corridor and the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River.

"We're still imploring people to be safe and careful about fire," forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer says. "This doesn't mean fire season is over. Conditions are still ripe for fire."

Taking the lead from the Oregon Department of Forestry's reduction of fire restrictions on low-elevation private and Bureau of Land Management lands, the Rogue forest lifted its fire restrictions last Friday. The forest promptly discovered three small lightning-ignited wildfires later that day — two in the Gold Beach area near Mount Emily and one at the headwaters of Brushy Creek near the Wild Section of the Rogue, Kramer says.

"It's a good reminder that we're not out of the woods yet, in terms of fire season," Kramer says.

In the Rogue, Evans Creek and Dixon units, this year's Cascade buck season runs through Oct. 14. Hunters then take a traditional hiatus for the week-long Roosevelt bull elk season for rifle hunters before returning Oct. 22 through Nov. 4.

Applegate Unit hunters fall under the coast buck season, which also opens Saturday and runs straight through Nov. 4, because there is no general bull-elk season to break it up like there is in the Cascades.

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