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Felons win under rule change

A new rule change meant to increase bow-hunting opportunities during rifle-hunting seasons is providing a chance for some of Oregon's seedier citizens to get a shot at becoming a buck shooter without packing a gun.

Hunters are now allowed to use a bow in the field to fill rifle tags during pronghorn, deer and elk hunts across the state.

Bows now join rifles, certain caliber handguns, muzzleloaders and shotguns as legal hunting implements during general or controlled deer and elk hunts, as well as pronghorn rifle hunts.

While at first blush it sounds like an expansion, the vast majority of bowhunters can see virtually no benefit for being out in the October woods with a bunch of guys with rifles.

So who does that leave in the recesses of Oregon quietly cheering this new rule?

Convicted felons.

Yes, those guys and gals whose inability to hold themselves within society's sideboards now get a new chance to partake in a public privilege they lost when they no longer had a key to the room in which they slept.

Convicted felons cannot own or possess firearms without special dispensation from a judge. But convicted felons can own and possess bows, unless a judge specifically banned them.

And now these felons are legally allowed back in Deer Camp with their still-legit buddies who are bumping around the woods of Oregon with rifles, as if that whole incarceration thing never happened.

"I guess there could be other scenarios, but I think that'll be the main people who will benefit from it — people who can't hunt with a firearm," says Sgt. Kirk Meyer of the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division.

If you don't believe the guy from the local Fish Wrap, check it out yourself on page 30 of the 2011 Oregon Big Game Regulations booklet. You'll see big, blue "YES" answers on legal weaponry for everything but muzzleloading seasons.

The only other stipulations are that only bows 50-pound or greater recurve, long or compound bows are allowed for elk, bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats.

Like a lot of strange laws that end up with unintended consequences, this rule had a legitimate and even commendable beginning.

It started as a public request specifically to allow bows during pronghorn hunts because archery tags are not available in all pronghorn units, Tom Thornton, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's big game program manager, writes in an email.

"During discussions it expanded to include deer and elk hunts; the feeling was if an archery hunter wanted to purchase a tag to hunt with friends/family during a rifle hunt and use a bow, why not let them?" Thornton writes. "It is expected this will not be very common because the length and timing of archery season is more attractive to most archers."

Any rifle hunter will tell you that bowhunters already have all the breaks.

Bowhunters get to hunt the August elk rut in their first season and the deer rut in their second season.

They get more days afield, get that late-season benefit of the fallen foliage and don't have to fight the crowds like rifle hunters will this weekend, the second weekend of the general rifle season for black-tailed buck deer in the western Cascades.

"October's not the ideal season for anything," says Duane Dungannon, secretary of the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association. "In October, everything sucks."

In fact, most bowhunters become archers as a refuge from the rifle seasons.

What are the chances that any of them will eschew their standard seasons to sit against a tree to call in a bull elk along the "Firing Line" boundary between Crater Lake National Park and the open hunting grounds of the Rogue Unit with a few dozen guys around them toting rifles?

"I just don't see any advantage to it," Dungannon says.

Perhaps it affords some opportunities around rural neighborhoods or local orchards where nearby homes have scared landowners from allowing rifle hunters on their property.

But even here it's just lip service. They can let bowhunters on their lands during bow seasons to thin a few bucks or bulls from their property.

That leaves the felons, whose past indiscretions relegated them to camp cook and whose closest legal ability to shoot bull was to tell tales of what hunting was like before the judge's gavel.

Now, they can stand in line on the Friday night before deer season and buy that rifle tag.

Truth is, they'd fare better just buying a bow tag.

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