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The Rogue's Bear Riffle lives up to its name

AGNESS — In a fit of backwoods commotion, a black-tailed buck deer seemed to fall right out of the sky next to Bill Daves and three friends while fishing beneath a bluff on the lower Rogue River.

Before the buck stopped bouncing on the rocks, the confused men realized maybe there was a prophetic reason why this spot near Agness is called Bear Riffle.

A large female black bear ran down the steep hill after the stunned buck, pounced on it and began to feast on the animal — not 20 feet away from the stunned anglers.

"We were watching this thing in complete disbelief," says Daves, 67, of Medford. "I guess you could describe it as nature in its horrific best."

It's also the best fishing story to come out of the Rogue River this past year, and the Sept. 19 drama comes with plenty of witnesses and even photographic evidence of the rawness of nature.

And its rareness, as well.

"Bears eat dead deer all the time," says Mark Vargas, Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But killing deer? That's not too common at all."

Coyotes are known to attack adult deer, and deer are literally a staple for cougars. Biological literature even sports documentation of bobcats killing and eating adult deer, Vargas says.

But black bears hunt more by smell than by sight, and while they love to snack on fawns in June, they're just not apt to stalk a buck in the fall.

"Their bodies aren't really made for hunting that type of animal," Vargas says. "But I'm not going to dispute it.

"I'd really like to see those pictures," he says.

Bear Riffle itself is a picturesque spot to fish for chinook salmon in the fall, as Daves and his friends were doing in the powerboat of Grants Pass guide George Oachs.

They weren't catching any fish, but they did catch some noise atop a 100-foot-tall bluff on the riffle's north side.

"We looked up just in time to see this buck come flying off the bluff," Daves says.

Just behind the deer came the black bear, skirting the side of the bluff.

"They say bears can't run downhill," Daves says. "Well, that's bull."

Within seconds it overtook the still-gasping buck.

"That's where it got pretty gruesome," Daves says. "The deer wasn't dead yet."

But that didn't seem to bother the bear, which began taking huge bites out of the buck, Daves says.

Between bites, the bear looked at the men in the boat with a "what are you staring at?" gaze, but the bruin didn't appear to be threatened by their presence.

"It was incredible," Daves says.

So the men did what men would do — they reeled in and motored to shore for a closer look, Daves says. Mike Hornbeck snapped a few photos of the bear before the complaining whines of a cub on the bluff brought an end to this animal-snuff show.

"The odds of us being in that spot at that particular time was astronomical," Daves says.

River guides spotted the bear and the cub eating the carcass the following day, Daves says. On the day after that, it was gone.

Eagle Point angler George Clearwater was there and says he vouches for Daves' account, which will be retold each time these angler friends fish for chinook in the Agness area.

"To be there for that moment really was incredible," says Daves, a retired Lithia Automotive executive.

"And to have it happen at Bear Riffle?" Daves laughs. "Come on."

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

The Rogue's Bear Riffle lives up to its name