Rogue Valley deer hunters know that fall brings a form of buck fever, and this year is no different.
Strong buck ratios in the fields of the Rogue Unit should help hunters looking for blacktail bucks during in Western Oregon's hunting seasons.
While success rates still hover around 20 percent for rifle hunters and 9 percent for bowhunters, Rogue Unit hunters bagged 1,271 bucks last year to prove once again that Jackson County is a blacktail hot spot.
"It's the highest in the state for any blacktail unit," says Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Rogue District wildlife biologist. "A lot of it has to do with a robust blacktail population, and there are a lot of hunters here compared to the rest of the state.
"We're in awesome blacktail country, " he says.
Opening day of the general buck-deer season is Oct. 1, and thousands of rifle hunters will plunk down $26.50 for a buck tag during this first season under higher tag costs adopted by the Oregon Legislature.
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 open Oct. 1 and runs straight through Nov. 4, because there is no general bull-elk season to break it up like there is in the Cascades.
With the opener still two weeks away, private forest closures remain in effect because of high fire danger, and that will force many opening-day hunters higher into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in search of bucks.
"As always, it's weather-dependent, " Vargas says.
Hunters head into this season with a good buck ratio of 26 bucks per 100 does, according to ODFW counts. Though it's twice the regional benchmark, it is lower than last year's fantastic ratio of 32 bucks per 100 does.
The Rogue Unit is Jackson County's most-hunted unit, in part because of easy access and some of the biggest blacktails the West has ever seen.
Numbers are only part of the deer-hunting game, however, because deer hunters usually get out of the general-season hunt exactly what they put into it.
Blacktails are brush-lovers, and they prefer not to live along roadways. So hunters need to beat feet for better odds of finding a buck.
During the early season, hunting high ridges in the lower parts of summer range could put hunters into the region's migrating blacktail herds. But dry conditions will make for difficult stalking.
That's why more Southern Oregon hunters are taking cues from their Midwest brethren and finding a nice tree or large rock on which to perch themselves and wait for bushwhacking hunters to push bucks their way.
Regardless of what tactic was used, Rogue Unit rifle hunters had plenty of good stories to tell in deer camp last year.
The Applegate Unit, which includes buck hot-spots like Dutchman Peak and the backside of Mount Ashland, sports a ratio of 34 bucks per 100 does, which should bode well for the tough-to-get muzzleloader tag.
"That late-season muzzleloader hunt is one of the best in the west side," Vargas says. "It's popular and getting harder and harder to draw."
Buck seasons should also be good for those in the know in the Sixes and Chetco units.
Hunter numbers there are far lower than in the valley, but their success rates are better than double that of the inlanders. The Sixes Unit success rate last year was 42 percent and the Chetco Unit success rate was 39 percent.
"The Coast Range scares people away," Vargas says. "It's steep and the brush is so thick. But for those who know the country, you can see a pretty good success rate."