The Good, the Bad, the ugly

Weather patterns over the fast five years have created some of the worst conditions for wildlife habitat we’ve seen in our area during our lifetime.

Drought, habitat decline and more drought took the habitat on our ranch from excellent five years ago, to bare bones in 2014/15.

My personal opinion is that deer numbers are down about 75%. I haven’t seen anything official to confirm that. Two years ago deer hit bottom and dropped like flies. A few survived – hopefully enough to make a comeback.

The silver lining is that 2016 has brought excellent rain and the habitat is rebounding. The reduced numbers of deer has created a scenario where the habitat is producing in some areas like never seen before.

Among the benefactors are oak trees. When compared to average years, the number of acorns that are hitting the ground and staying there are unusually high.

IMG_2189 on tree

Deer, rodents and cattle normally scoop up acorns as fast as they fall, but this year the mast crop in exceptional and a lack of deer and other acorn eaters could potentially contribute to successful sprouting of new trees, which is unusual.

IMG_2183 blue oak on ground

Due to this bounty of food, the deer we do have, should be healthy so let’s hope next year’s fawn crop will respond.

A-Zone Opener

Saturday August 13th was opening day for the California “A” Zone – the Central California Coastal zone for blacktailed deer.

The hunting in this zone takes place mainly on private ranches like ours. Standing on our ridge, we can see San Francisco Bay, Mount Diablo and to the east the Central Valley. On the clearest of days, the Sierra Nevada mountains can be seen.

Hunting takes place in weather that averages in the 90’s and it was that way this last weekend.

Our deer herd is down in numbers to about 20 percent of the population from four years ago when five of us could likely kill a buck on opening weekend. It was expected that we would see a half dozen or more bucks apiece.

Weather patterns, especially the drought, seems to be the reason behind the decline. This weekend, my deer count was seven. Two spike bucks, three does, one fawn and one legal buck.

However, the excitement did come about mid-day on Saturday. While still hunting through a likely bedding area, I came upon a buck that was sneaking along about 50 yards from me. For some reason, it seemed like he had not seen me when he stopped and bedded down facing generally in my direction, but not focused on me.

Frustrated that he had not stood still long enough for me to get off a broadside shot, I began to worry a little more than I should have. While generally pretty patient, for some reason, I got antsy and began to look at the buck though my scope. I realized that if I moved about a foot to my left, I might have a shooting lane.

I looked again through the scope and could see his brisket, head and horns clearly. It looked like an easy shot, but a little jolt of buck fever was brewing in my mind. For no good reason I rushed the shot and saw the bullet hit the ground just below the buck.

He was so surprised that he didn’t even move, but stared in my direction looking for me. As I looked through the scope at the buck, I realized that he was giving me a chance for another shot, but as I worked the bolt, he pinpointed my location, rose and sneaked off. I nearly had a chance at him walking, but then he was gone.

This was the closest rifle shot I’ve ever missed, but it points out the fact that shots at lying-down bucks are not as easy as they may appear. My only previous success at a buck while lying down was from a tree stand  where elevation created a much better angle at the deer’s body.

Case of temporary buck insanity was a good thing to get out of the way and I didn’t have to get bloody. Nice to know that I still get excited by a nice looking buck at close range.

 

 

Close Call Rattler

While scouting one of our ponds for deer tracks, I was focused on mud around the pond when my cousin Wes said to me, “You just almost stepped on a rattler.”

I turned around and saw that I had stepped less than a foot from a silent four foot long rattler.

I wondered why it hadn’t moved or rattled to warn me off.

IMG_2119 rattler with squirrel inside

I examined the rattler more closely. Then I spotted the large lump in his belly. This snake was full of squirrel.

IMG_2119 rattler belly

You can see that he has a large lump in the middle of him. Apparently he was somewhat immobilized by indigestion.

 

Pair of Golden Eagles in Flight

It has been an unusual summer. Golden eagles have had a good season. Looks to me like the breeding has been very successful.

Today, on my way to the ranch to do some mundane clean-up, I looked up to see four golden eagles circling above. I took a bunch of photos, but only one stands out. Looks to me like the two eagles in the photo are immature, but I’m not certain about both. At the time of taking, I was thinking they were both immature, but the photo is not conclusive.

DSC_0184[1] pair of golden eagles

I waited for quite a while for the two eagles to enter the frame at the same time. The trick was to anticipate the shot enough to get them in the photo. Almost like leading a pintail duck.

 

When is a Snake Gorgeous?

Gorgeous? A snake. Yes a snake can be gorgeous. It was shown to me a couple days ago when I came across a gopher snake in the road.

DSC_0103[1] gopher snake

This has been a good year for gopher snakes. Last year was a rattle snake year and I saw about ten rattle snakes for every gopher snake. But this year I’ve see only one rattle snake in the road, but many gopher snakes.

The latest snake was spectacular. The photos I have don’t show his true beauty. He was at least five feet long and the sunlight shimmered on his beautiful hide. He was spectacular. Here are a few of the photos of this marvelous critter.

 

Click on the photo to enlarge. I hope you can appreciate what a spectacular creature this is. When I touched him on the tail, he turned and departed into the tall grass. Unlike rattle snakes, he was a docile creature.

More Fawns?

There are obviously fewer deer on our ranch now, than five years ago. The drought had a big impact on the health of the deer herd. At the peak of the drought, we found deer carcasses on the ground, something that is seldom seen as usually deer die and are eaten by predators and/or scavengers immediately.

As a result of the drought, predators also took a big hit. We have fewer coyotes on our ranch than we had five years ago. Probably mountain lions are fewer as well, but we have no data to support any of these suppositions.

As I snapped a photo of a young fawn, I wondered about fawn survival this year. I hope and believe that it will be greater due to improved habitat and reduced predation. That is the way nature is supposed to work.

DSC_0037[1] fawn ranch road