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Buck hunting boon

Western Oregon deer hunters will see their first uninterrupted general season in decades this fall

Western Oregon deer hunters this year will enjoy their first uninterrupted general season in three decades, and will do so with some of the best opening weekend hunting conditions they’ve seen in years.

The general season for Roosevelt bull elk here has been moved out of mid-October and won’t start until the end of the blacktail buck season, which runs this year from Oct. 2 through Nov. 5.

That change has far more implications than it sounds.

Not only is the mid-season hiatus for deer hunting off the calendar in mid-October, so are the travel management area restrictions that historically closed vehicle access for 10 days to improve bull elk movements.

Also, game-trail cameras show that blacktail deer migration in southwest Oregon is often at its peak in the same mid-October week that heretofore was relegated to elk hunting, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Now that elk season and travel-management restrictions are pushed back to November, mid-October buck hunting locally could be a boon not seen since the early 1990s.

“We have this uninterrupted period of (deer) hunting that will include some very good migratory periods,” says Steve Niemela, the ODFW’s Rogue District wildlife biologist. “So if people know where good migration trails are, that would be a really good plan to sit on them at a time that normally would have been elk season.”

Mail Tribune / file photo Southern Oregon is known for big black-tailed bucks, and numbers look good this fall.

Last weekend’s steady rains also helped tip the scales toward hunters, as the rain led state and federal land managers to reduce wildfire danger restrictions from extreme.

While that doesn’t necessarily mean evening fires in deer camp, it does help take the Rice Crispies-like crackle from the forest floor while putting a good stalk on the wily Western Oregon buck.

“Things are shaping up to maybe be a pretty good season,” Niemela says.

The Western Oregon general season runs Oct. 2 through Nov. 5 for one buck with at least one visible antler.

Tag sales end the night of Oct. 1.

Heading into the season, buck ratios are solid in the Rogue and Applegate management units, which are the two most prominent ones for hunters taking part in the general rifle season for buck here.

The Rogue Unit, which sports a unique and highly migratory herd of blacktails, has 23 bucks per 100 does, which is right in the normal range and well ahead of the 15-buck benchmark, according to ODFW field surveys.

The Evans Creek Unit sports a whopping 30 bucks per 100 does, nicely above that unit’s benchmark of 20 bucks, records show.

The uninterrupted deer season is a throwback to times when Western Oregon’s general elk season ran in November. That was switched to mid-October to create better bull escapement, greater herd sizes and, in turn, better hunting.

It paid off initially, but recent years have seen a shift in elk herds off public lands. Hunter success rates for elk have dropped as low as 2%.

At the same time, elk hunters lost a lot of their experience beyond simply filling their tag. Extreme fire danger has often meant no fires in mid-October elk camps, and a dearth of snow often made for very difficult tracking.

“People just like to hunt elk in snow and rain,” Niemela says.

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have lured more hunters back into the forest, with hunter numbers in the Rogue Unit eclipsing 5,100 participants last year, Niemela says.

“It’s a nice little bump,” Niemela says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.