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HUNTERS TAKE UP MOUNTAIN BIKES

TWO-WHEELED HUNTING TOOL: David Lester of La Grande used his mountain bike earlier this month to find and pack out a mule deer buck in the Starkey Unit. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
TWO-WHEELED HUNTING TOOL: David Lester of La Grande used his mountain bike earlier this month to find and pack out a mule deer buck in the Starkey Unit. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

Dick Mason

The Observer

The reasons people hunt with mountain bikes are many. Mountain bikes make less noise in a dry forest than someone walking, they allow one to cover more ground faster and they make it easier to pack out an animal.

But wait, there is another less concrete but equally compelling reason.

"The most important thing is that it is a whole bunch of fun. It is flat out fun and good exercise,'' said Bart Barlow of La Grande.

Barlow credits his mountain bike with making it much easier for him to take a pronghorn antelope in the Steens Mountain earlier this year. Barlow recalled that he and a group of hunters were camped a number of miles away from the hunting site.

"The other hunters had to get up at 2 a.m. to hike in (to the hunting site by sunrise). I got up at 5:30 and rode there in 45 minutes,'' said Barlow, who later took a pronghorn.

La Grande's David Lester hunted with a mountain bike for the first time this archery season but already has a successful story. Lester, who had a camp set up, was taking his mountain bike for a spin about three weeks ago in the Starkey Unit after hunting earlier in the day. Suddenly he spotted an impressive mule deer buck. He took his bow off his bike and nailed the deer.

It was a perfect shot.

"(The deer) fell so fast I thought it had tripped,'' Lester said.

The animal saw Lester on his bike but did not run until just before he released his arrow. The deer appeared curious, not frightened.

"I don't think he had ever seen a mountain bike before,'' Lester said.

Lester then discovered just how much of a work saver a mountain bike is. He strapped the 200-pound buck to his bike with the aid of his belt and rode five miles back to his vehicle. Lester was able to coast downhill most of the way, reaching his destination in well under an hour. His bike spared him an arduous trip out on foot.

"It would have been a 3- to 4-hour pack trip out,'' Lester said.

Saving time was important because because there were many yellow jackets and flies out. Yellow jackets quickly consume a deer carcass and flies lay eggs in the meat, leading to maggots.

Lester had to push his bike up several small hills with the deer. Still he said this was much easier than walking up the hills with a deer carcass on his back.

Mountain bikes are particularly useful today because many forest roads are closed to vehicles.

"The only way you can use them is to walk, use a horse or ride a bike,'' Lester said.

Mountain bikes are particularly valuable when forests are dry and thus noisy to walk through.

"Riding a mountain bike is much quieter (than walking),'' Lester said.

Mark Larson, owner of Cyclesports, says that the number of people in this area who use mountain bikes has increased significantly in the past four or five years. He notes that in August as the opening of bow season for deer and elk nears his business picks up.

He attributes the increasing use of mountain bikes by hunters to the fact that more forest roads are closed to motor vehicles. Larson advises hunters on mountain bikes to always carry a pump, extra tubes and repair equipment.

Lester, now pursuing an elk, will continue to hunt in the Starkey Unit with his mountain bike until bow season ends Sunday. He now has special cords with him for tying an animal to his bike. The cords will work better than his belt did. Still Lester believes his hunt could not have been more successful because of his mountain bike.

"It all fell together. I couldn't have planned it better if I had planned it,'' he said.

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