What turned things rotten in the woods?
October 24, 1998
By Beth Quinn
Elk season was full of ugly incidents
Some blame a week of warm weather that left most of the sportsmen’s quarry inside the boundaries of Crater Lake National Park.
Some finger city types who arrive in the Cascade forest in luxury cars and don’t know any better.
And some think the problem comes from hunters with too much ammunition and alcohol.
Whatever the cause, Prospect-area woodsmen say the one-week Cascade elk season that ended Friday featured far too many frightening incidents, including one wounded hunter, one dead cow, at least three escaped campfires and numerous run-ins between hunters and forest workers or passers-by.
“We have our own people out there being questioned about whether they have any right to be out in the woods,” said Tom Dew, acting ranger for the Prospect Ranger District of the Rogue River National Forest.
“We used to see more family groups. We used to see people wearing bright orange and red,” he said. “Now they’re bigger groups and they’re wearing camo.”
A Forest Service employee reported being challenged by a hunter sporting a sidearm, crossed bandoliers of ammunition and a high-powered rifle. And a tourist walking her dog at night in Stewart State Park stumbled across two poachers armed with spotlights.
“She questioned what they were doing, and they got surly,” Dew said.
Law enforcement officials are investigating that incident and the shooting of 35-year-old Todd Leeper of Medford, who remains in critical condition at Providence Medford Medical Center after being wounded Sunday morning by a companion who mistook him for an elk.
About 3,500 hunters a year head into the Cascade woods in pursuit of a herd of 3,300 Roosevelt elk that summer in the national park, most remaining safely inside park boundaries until the first snowfall.
With Crater Lake still snow-free, some hunters found only frustration during their week at elk camp. One irate hunter marched into Dew’s office this week, threw down a hunting magazine touting southwest Oregon herds and demanded to know where the big game was.
The big game for Sams Valley rancher Clay Charley is the strays from the 250 head of cattle he grazes each summer on Rogue forest land.
When he found one of his cows in the middle of a forest road one night last week, he flipped on his emergency flashers and blinked his headlights to warn another vehicle coming down the road.
“He was doing 60 miles an hour and boom,” Charley said. “He said he just thought I had trouble and he just went on by. That’s the type we’re dealing with these days.”
Even before the $800 loss of the cow, the rancher tried to stay clear of areas where hunters were stalking elk and traded his horse for a truck during hunting season.
“That’s taking my life in my hands. I’ve had bullets zip by my head,” he says. “It’s gotten where people are driving Mercedes-Benz up here. It’s like (Interstate) 5.”
Even motorists just passing through remarked on the number of trucks parked this year along Highway 62 and the road to Huckleberry Camp.
“There’s hunting rigs parked every half a mile along the highway and each of those has one, two or three hunters in it,” said Steve Little, assistant fire manager for the Cascade zone.
Forest firefighters scrambled last week to douse escaped campfires, including one wind-driven wildfire that burned two tinder-dry acres before a crew of 17 stamped it out.
In recent years, resource managers have moved the elk hunt from November to October to strengthen the herd and temporarily closed forest roads to make the one-week hunt more enjoyable. Still under discussion is the possibility of reducing hunter numbers by moving to a limited-entry hunt with a annual lottery for tags that might help both the hunters and the hunted.
“I’ve seen Idaho plates. I’ve seen Washington plates. I’ve seen California plates. We’re getting a lot more people,” said rancher Charley. “It’s changed a lot.”