Brian Ratliff's eyes tell a different tale than his spreadsheets do.

He trusts his eyes.

This is good news for archery hunters who hope to track down a buck

during the month-long bow season that begins Saturday across most of

Eastern Oregon.

The season continues through Sept. 28.

The bad news is contained in those spreadsheets, which Ratliff, who's a

wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's

Baker City office, helped to compile this spring.

See Hunting/Page 8AThe statistics showed that more deer died in Baker County last winter than any winter since 1992-93.

Ratliff and other ODFW biologists counted 29 fawns for every 100 does when they surveyed the county's four units this spring.

The year before the ratio was 49 fawns per 100 does.

Because about half the fawns that perished this past winter were males that would have grown into spikes or forked horn bucks by now - legal quarry for archers - the winter's toll should result in a leaner season for bowhunters.

"We'd expect a noticeable decrease in the number of spikes and forked horns," Ratliff said.

What the biologists have actually seen this summer, though, was unexpected.

"We've been seeing plenty of younger bucks," Ratliff said Wednesday afternoon.

It's possible, of course, that the ODFW crew just got lucky.

But then so could some bowhunters.

Archers who want to bag an elk rather than a buck have even more cause to be optimistic, Ratliff said.

(Bowhunters can kill any elk in the Sumpter, Lookout Mountain and Pine Creek units; the bag limit in the Keating unit is one bull elk. The bag limit for deer in all four units is one buck with a visible antler.)

Elk are much hardier than deer, and the hard winter had little effect on the county's elk population, he said.

The stretches of autumnal weather the past couple weeks, on the other hand, have affected elk.

Ratliff said the cooler temperatures seem to have prompted elk to begin their mating season a couple weeks earlier than usual.

He said he's already heard bugling from what he suspects are younger bulls.

Ratliff also predicts that elk will be widely dispersed because green forage and water are available at lower elevations as well as in the higher parts of the Elkhorns and Wallowas.

During drought years, by contrast, elk and deer tend to congregate near water.

Ratliff reminds archers that rifle seasons for cougar and bear are under way, and the forest grouse season starts Monday.

The new state rule requiring hunters who kill a bear to take the bruin's skull to an ODFW office has kept local biologists busy, Ratliff said.

"We've had four bears checked in just this week," he said.

Biologists examine bear skulls to estimate the animals' ages and gather other data.

Hunters should remember that campfires are allowed only in campgrounds and other designated recreation sites.

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