UNION CREEK — Rifle hunters who hit the high mountains of Southern Oregon this weekend in their quest to bag Western Oregon's largest fauna can expect slightly better conditions than their deer- and archery-hunting brethren have faced so far.
Persistent drought conditions and warm October temperatures have Southern Oregon's woods tinder-dry, so those participating in the upcoming general rifle season for Roosevelt bull elk again will face tough hunting conditions and fire restrictions.
The National Weather Service is predicting a good chance of rain tonight and Saturday, which should up the chances of a successful hunt.
"It looks like it could be more than a sprinkle," meteorologist Brad Schaaf says. "It could be up to a quarter-inch to a half-inch in the Union Creek area."
Cascades general elk season opens to bull hunters Saturday and runs through Oct. 23 in the Rogue, Evans Creek and Dixon units.
The Applegate Unit, which sports only a light cadre of bulls, falls under the coast bull-elk general seasons. The first season there runs Nov. 14-17, while the second season runs Nov. 21-27.
The tag-sale deadline is tonight at license outlets throughout the Rogue Valley. The $42.50 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 in recent years.
Last year's success rate in the Rogue Unit was 5 percent, up from 4 percent the previous year and just 3 percent in 2012. With bull ratios appearing to be similar to last year, state wildlife biologists anticipate similar outcomes this year.
Five percent rate of archery hunters also bagged a bull last year in their longer season, which includes more hunting during the rut.
Just how well the roughly 4,000 bull hunters fare in Jackson County's woods next week could depend on weather. And so far it's a mixed bag.
While rain is in the forecast, Schaaf says the snow level likely won't drop below 8,000 feet, which means nothing but rain on the ground. Temperatures in the mountains are expected to be in the upper 60s Saturday and lower 60s Sunday, Schaaf says.
Fire restrictions remain in effect, with campfires banned outside of designated improved campgrounds and many private commercial timberlands open only to walk-in access at best. Also, there is no smoking outside of vehicles, no off-road driving, and tracer bullets are banned to reduce fire danger, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
"It's still really, really dry out there," ODF spokesman Brian Ballou says. "Actually, we're pretty lucky we haven't seen many fall fires ... We need some rain."