Hunters catch a break from hard-working fire crews

Bowhunters and early-season rifle hunters received the first good news of the upcoming big-game seasons Wednesday — thanks not to glowing reports of deer and elk, but word from Smokey Bear himself.

Forest Service fire crews, aided by cool weather and a few misty rains, have gained the upper hand on a string of wildfires in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Area, enough for the agency Wednesday to lift a closure within a popular hunting area.

The Umpqua and Rogue River-Siskiyou national forests lifted the road and trail closures around the Lonesome Complex string of fires burning in 523 acres in and near the wilderness area.

A roughly 800-acre area there had been closed since Friday, including portions of the No. 6560 roads and a string of trails.

After establishing "significant progress" in fighting the lightning-ignited fires, firefighters secured enough fire lines around the flames to feel certain enough about public safety to lift the closure, says Paul Galloway, a Forest Service spokesman working on the fires.

"It shouldn't be an issue now for hunters and berry pickers," Galloway says.

However, a small but pesky fire growing within steep terrain near the Middle Fork Trail means that trail will remain closed, Galloway says.

The bow season for black-tailed buck deer opens Saturday and runs through Sept. 28 in southwestern Oregon. The Rogue and Evans Creek units again sport the second season, which runs Nov. 15 through Dec. 7 this year.

Southwestern Oregon hunting units open for bow-hunting of Roosevelt bull elk Saturday through Sept. 28.

Bow season brings the beginning of one of Oregon's fastest-growing forms of sport-hunting.

"One of the things I've heard is that, if you're going bow hunting, expect crowds," says Michelle Dennehy from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Wildlife Division in Salem.

That continues to be true in the Rogue Unit of eastern Jackson County, where public lands are a magnet for big-game hunters.

Last year, the unit sported 2,302 bowhunters who logged almost 16,000 days in the field, killing 284 deer for a 12-percent success rate.

While the success rate was the same as 2006, the numbers of hunters and killed deer were both up from 2006 — showing that more people are taking advantage of the long general season to try their hands at bowhunting.

The unit's elk hunters did not fare as well, but that's always the case. Statistics show that 767 bowhunters targeted elk, amassing 6,513 hunter days and bagging 44 bulls for a six-percent success rate.

Fewer deer hunters plied the Evans Creek Unit, which sports a high percentage of private lands. Deer hunters there had a 24-percent success rate in 2007, while Melrose Unit hunters had a 19-percent success rate.

Dixon Unit deer hunters saw a major decline in success rates. Hunter numbers rose, but success fell from 24 percent in 2006 to seven percent in 2007.

Crowding could have been an even bigger issue had the Forest Service not been able to lift the Rogue-Umpqua Divide access closure.

Galloway says the closure was not because firefighters didn't trust hunters in the normally dry late-summer woods. The issue, Galloway says, was the sheer number of firefighters and the amount of equipment using a sparse road system that couldn't handle firefighting needs and hunters.

"We just don't want to compete with the public involving a safety issue," Galloway says.

The same region is extremely popular for its High Cascade limited-entry rifle hunt, which runs Sept. 13-21 this year.

Regardless of where they go on opening weekend, hunters better first find their way to a Point of Sale licensing agent before Friday night's deadline to buy a hunting license, as well as buck and/or bull tags.

Most bow hunters carry both tags and target one species while hoping for a shot at the other.

The National Weather Service has forecast warm and clear days, but cool nights, through the weekend.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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