Hunting season in full swing around Sisters

 

Last updated 10/3/2023 at 11:05am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Lt. Tim Schwartz checks on a hunter in Sisters Country.

Signs of autumn are everywhere - cooler days, turning leaves, seasonal rain, and thankfully, snow returning to our mountains. And there are hunters, archery and rifle, taking to the woods in search of game. Central Oregon has a rich and deep hunting tradition, often running multiple generations.

As more hunters are visible from late September into November, so too are those charged with keeping them safe and in compliance. That duty falls upon the Oregon State Police. Oregon is one of only two states, the other being Alaska, where wildlife protection is under the auspices of a police agency rather than a civilian administrative unit such as a fish and game commission.

There are 126 sworn officers with OSP (Oregon State Police) Fish and Wildlife Division, all fully trained state troopers just like the ones who enforce traffic or work in the criminal division. These officers have additional training but unlike their patrol counterparts are rarely seen. They work deep in the woods, marshes, prairies, rivers, and skies.

The OSP Fish and Wildlife Division maintains four aircraft used for a variety of purposes, which includes enforcing winter range closures and detecting night hunting, illegal in Oregon.

The Nugget learned of the many resources Fish and Wildlife Division officers employ in pursuit of their mission when we spent a morning last week with Lt. Tim Schwartz. From old-school operations with horses and dogs to jet boats, rafts, ATVs, snowmobiles, and bikes, aided by radar spotting scopes, night vision goggles, GPS, and digital cameras and recorders, officers are well equipped to meet the often-difficult Oregon terrain.

Schwartz, who lives in Sisters as does one of his sergeants, is responsible for roughly half the state's territory. He spends many of his days and thousands of miles working with his team and interfacing with other essential partners such as ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife).

The ODFW, a civilian agency, establishes the rules and regulations for hunting and fishing and issues licenses and tags and manages wildlife conservation. The OSP enforces those rules and regs. If it seems like a lot of resources, it is. Hunting and fishing in Oregon is a big business.

The most recent study (2019) is outdated both in terms of numbers and the impact of inflation. But then, the economic impact on Deschutes County was impressive. Three million dollars was spent on hunting, $27 million on fishing, and $19 million on wildlife watching. In the county, 620 persons were employed in these activities, with a payroll of $24.4 million.

"It's worth protecting," Schwartz said. "Our job may look mostly like enforcement, but the biggest aspect is education." He pointed to some examples of the complexity of an officer's work, one being a river where three different sets of regulations apply to different sections of the same stream.

"It takes a lot of intuition and assessing intent when encountering hunters and anglers," he explained.

There is no law about walking down the road with a rod or rifle in hand and no license in possession. But why would one be in that position if not to hunt or fish?

Anybody hunting or fishing without a proper license or tag is technically poaching. Many interpret poaching as commercial harvesting of wildlife, which is not all that common.

Schwartz, himself an archery and muzzleloader hunter, has four brothers and three children, products of Sisters schools, all of whom are avid outdoor enthusiasts.

Archery hunting is growing in popularity. Oregon has 127,422 deer hunters, 16 percent of whom use a bow or crossbow. They took 3,959 of the state's 39,588 deer in 2021.

Apart from fishing or hunting without a license or appropriate tag, Schwartz says the more common violations are hunting on private property, party hunting, hunting from the road, and night hunting.

"We're very focused as much on the safety implications from improper hunting and fishing," said Schwartz, asking that hikers be aware of their surroundings during the season.

Above all, Schwartz wants everybody to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer.

 

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