Rain primes woods for deer opener

    This week's rainy and blustery weather had Southern Oregonians flipping from air conditioning to heat while pulling out the raincoats, but it couldn't dampen the glee of deer hunters preparing for what could be the most promising opening to the general deer season in recent memory.

    The rainy days not only washed away Southern Oregon's wildfire season, it also ushered in some of the best opening-day conditions hunters could ask for — a wet, quiet forest in which to stalk blacktail bucks beginning Saturday.

    "Isn't it beautiful?" says Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District wildlife biologist. "There are going to be a lot more positive attitudes this opening day than before.

    "Fire restrictions are lifted; they can have fires in camp," Vargas says. "They can have all the family traditions, all the stuff that hunting's about."

    The traditions resume Saturday morning for rifle hunters hitting the Cascades and Siskiyou mountains in the traditional buck season, which marks the unofficial start to the fall hunting season.

    Thousands of hunters are expected to plunk down the $24.50 for a buck tag in what remains one of Oregon's best and most popular general-season opportunities for big-game success.

    In the Rogue, Evans Creek and Dixon units, the Cascade buck season runs through Oct. 11. Hunters then will take their traditional hiatus for the weeklong general Roosevelt bull-elk season before returning Oct. 19 through Nov. 1.

    The Applegate Unit falls under the coast buck season, which runs Sept. 28 through Nov. 1, because there is no general bull-elk season to break it up like there is in the Cascades.

    Deer hunters head into this season with a ratio of 24 bucks per 100 does in the Rogue Unit. That's quite a bit down from last year's ratio of 33 bucks per 100 does yet better than the 2011 and 2010 ratios of 19 bucks per 100 does.

    But the talk in camp will be less about buck ratios and more about a wet September that has washed away record-setting summer heat in the Rogue Valley. Just the fact that hunters can have their traditional deer camps outside of improved campgrounds is enough to get them excited for the season.

    Beyond good stalking conditions, the rain brings hope to hunters far too versed in hunting amid fire restrictions and a forest floor that snaps, crackles and pops all too loudly beneath their feet, making stalking almost impossible.

    "It makes a difference, in both conditions and attitudes," Vargas says. "It really does."

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

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