By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Rohse: Ranchers dreaded hunting 'invasion'

Eastern Oregon ranchers dreaded deer-hunting season — or, at least, when I was growing up there as a kid, my parents did.

We did not trust those hunters from the Valley. The problem was that the few who didn’t observe the “rules of the game” spoiled it for the “good guys.”

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Practically every rancher posted his land with “No Hunting” signs, but hunters paid them scant heed.

Our ranch on the John Day River, where my parents lived before moving to Monument, was particularly vulnerable to visiting hunters. A graveled county road accessed our land and sometimes, during hunting season, our ranch resembled a national park at tourist season.

We disliked hunters setting up camp on the ranch, and were greatly concerned about fire. Open campfires in bone-dry Grant County were nightmarish. Even a spark could torch the dried needlegrass and rabbit-bush. A campfire — not properly extinguished and left untended — could fuel a blaze that would burn up the whole corner of our county.

We also feared hunters who shot at “sounds” before being certain as to the object of their aim: such as the sound from the middle of a chokecherry thicket that could indeed have been a fellow hunter searching for a private place to urinate.

We also feared hunters on our ranch that saw the horns of a buck on every four-legged creature, including our muley Hereford cows. Finding cattle that had been shot was not unknown after hunting season.

We feared, too, that strangers would leave gates open, permitting cattle to stray, and perhaps get in planted fields.

To deter travelers from taking the dirt road up the river, my stepfather, Lynn, installed a heavy steel gate with lock. It was up the hill a short distance from the ranch house, and sometimes late at night during hunting season, we could hear vehicles attempting to ram the gate. Lynn was mightily upset when he heard that commotion and would get out of bed and go up the hill to accost the intruder. We worried when he did, for fear the trespassers might have been drinking and would be troublesome, which could lead to an ugly situation.

During hunting season, when we drove by hunters camped on our ranch, my brother Jack, or Lynn, stopped to remind the “squatters” they were on private “posted” land. Sometimes these conversations were quite interesting. Sometimes we learned that these visitors were here, at the suggestion of friends who had once hunted here with Lynn, and upon returning home advertised the fine hunting on that ranch on the John Day and “extended” invitations to their friends to take advantage of it the following season.

One year when Jack stopped to tell an unknown camper that he was trespassing on private land, the visitor explained that he had been given permission to do so.

Said Jack,” Who gave you permission?”

“Oh,” said the hunter, “the owner did. Name of Jack.”

Replied Jack, “I’m glad to know that. I’m Jack.”

This hunting “invasion” began a few days before season’s start: an endless stream of pickups, campers, four-wheelers, SUVs, filled with “red hatters”; and rifles on the rack in the back window of every pickup.

After Homer and I were married, we, every year, were also in that parade of hunters: our blue pickup loaded down with sleeping bags, air mattresses that always sprang leaks, food, beer, rifles, plenty of shells, binoculars, butane stove, butane lamp, wooden matches, and tarp covering all, to keep our load from being blown away because it was piled high.

Although Lynn was an excellent hunter and loved to hunt, I am sure he was relieved when hunting season ended. He regarded it as a sacred duty to see that his sons-in-law filled all tags before we headed home.

Not only did he shepherd his sons-in-law on all hunts, but nearly had deer tied up awaiting them — thanks to preparations made before our arrival. Knowing his ranch well — and, for example, that Rough Canyon and Post Canyon almost without fail produced deer — he was careful to see that those areas were not hunted before we came.

One hunting season, when I was keeping my mother company at the ranch house and did not go on the hunt, I decided to take a hike — and chose Rough Canyon. When the hunters found no deer elsewhere that day and came back to Rough Canyon for a sure kill, Lynn could not understand why it had not produced its usual bucks. When he learned that I had hiked the canyon and scared out all the deer, he was quite upset.

But I do not remember any season when we came back to McMinnville without deer. And I hope that Mother and Lynn knew how much Homer and Mitch and I enjoyed those yearly hunting expeditions.

Despite all those wonderful memories, there is one unpleasant hunting incident I shall never forget.

It was after my parents had moved to town. I had not gone with the hunters, but stayed in town to keep Mother company. We decided to drive to the ranch house for “old time’s sake” and, as we neared the house, we saw directly across the river from it a hunter in a pickup starting to ford the river that was shallow enough to do so at that point. With no road across the river for many miles, that ford gave him access to our pristine land — not yet hunted this year.

Since neither Jack nor Lynn was on hand, I deemed it my duty to accost that trespasser who was ruining hunts for our hunters.

I waited for him as he headed across the river. He pulled up on the bank on our side and got out of his pickup. I marched up to him, considerably annoyed, and said indignantly, “Are you aware that this is private land and that it is posted? We do not appreciate trespassers hunting on our land.”

“Oh,” he said, “I was just kind of exploring the countryside. I wasn’t really planning to do any hunting.”

I then noticed his hands. They were bloody. Blood had dried on them. He had dressed out a deer — and had no water, until he got to the river, for washing them.

“From the looks of your hands,” I said, “you’ve already done your hunting — and you killed a deer on our land.”

There wasn’t much he could say at that point. He quickly got in his pickup and drove away — with the carcass of a deer well covered in back.

That was many years ago but I still get extremely agitated when I think of that trespassing hunter.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at


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