Two Exciting Turkey Hunts Near Livermore Last Week

At the Livermore-Pleasanton MDF banquet/auction, Marty Sexton purchased a turkey hunt for him and his 14-year old son, Nickolas. We finally scheduled the hunt for Saturday April 26th and started early in an attempt to call a gobbler in at daylight.


The early-morning approach meant getting up at 3:00 AM to be exact. We met on Highway 84 near Sunol at 4:10 AM and made it to the ranch before first light. When we arrived at the target location we were greeted by multiple gobbles from at least three sets of roosting gobblers. Good news.


It didn’t take long to find a good set-up and within a few minutes we were settled in and ready to call. As the first rays of light lit up the canyon and improved visibility, I drew the paddle across the box call making a few soft yelps. It was immediately clear that the birds were eager as gobbles returned from seemingly all directions.


A couple hens yelped from the oak trees nearby, adding to the drama.


Not wanting to call too much, I reassured Marty and Nickolas that the birds would come when they were ready. At about 6:15, we were startled by the sound of air rushing over wings. Swooping in from the roost, a gobbler slammed on the airbrakes over our decoys and landed about 45 yards from Nickolas.


As the gobbler walked up the hill headed towards the jake decoy, Nickolas cut loose. The bird was hit, but not fatally. Expecting another blast right away, I was shocked as the bird began to walk away.


“Shoot, shoot,” I whisper-yelled.


Finally Marty joined in, hitting the bird again, but only motivating it to go airborne. As the big bird lifted off, Nickolas fired again and the bird was down for good.


The gobbler was a two year old, with a 7 inch beard, a nice trophy. Landing right in the decoys is not typical, but it was exciting.


We spent the rest of the day attempting to find another willing gobbler, but the early action seemed to make the birds nervous and unwilling to come to the call. I guess I can’t blame them.


It was the second hunt of the week. On the previous Thursday, I joined my turkey-hunting friend Tom Billingsley for the day. The plan was for me to attempt to shoot a gobbler with my bow with Tom at the ready to kill the bird if I missed.


Amazingly three different gobbler groups came in to our calling. As Tom made sweet turkey music on his box call, the gobblers strutted and fanned within five yards of me. I cut loose with a couple of  shots. I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring one of them home, twice knocking feathers from the big birds, but drawing no blood.


Tom passed up more shot opportunities than I could count, but he said it was too much fun watching me, so he didn’t want to shoot and end the day.


Now I’m 0 for 6 on shots for the season, two of the last three were at 20 yards. I may have to break out the shotgun for the last weekend of the season. We’ll see.




Do High Gas Prices Mean Fewer Mallards in 2008?

Looks like ethanol production is causing more than just a shortage of corn for cattle feed. Not only is the price of gas going up, but so is the price of food. Increased food prices means more corn and wheat production this year.


These prices are good for farmers, in fact they may be too good as far as duck hunters are concerned. As corn and wheat prices rise, farmers till and seed more and more marginal ground. The news from Ducks Unlimited is that North Dakota alone will lose about 15% of its Conservation Reserve Program lands to tilling this year.


Therefore, a couple million acres of habitat will be put back into production. With changes on this scale, Ducks Unlimited is concerned that duck populations will be drastically impacted.


Without habitat for nesting and water for brood survival, ducks perish. Will we see a reduction in duck numbers and bag limits this coming season?


I guess we’ll find out next falll, but a reduction in duck numbers is probably what radio personality Tony Bruno calls “a stone-cold lock” or maybe its just a lead-pipe cinch.


We’ll find out come October.


First Fawn – First Rattler

Saw a pair of fawns yesterday. First of the year for me. Whenever I see my first fawn of the season, I can’t help but count back to the date it was conceived. I’ve been told that the blacktail gestation period is about 7 months. Various internet sites say it’s about 200 days. That sounds about right.

So, an April 20 sighting would mean the fawns were conceived no later than September 30 meaning that the breeding could have taken place during the end of last hunting season. Yes, I guess there was some rutting going on.

Also saw the first rattlesnake of the year this weekend. He was cold and motionless, but ready to spring into action as soon as the weather warms. Our ranch hosts plenty of rattlesnakes and we see them primarily in May and June. That’s when we survey for Alameda whipsnakes. We don’t find a lot of whipsnakes, but we do see quite a few rattlers.

Thoughts on Managing a Ranch for Native Wildlife, Hunting and Value


Our Alameda County ranch, like most ranches, has a variety of habitat types – oak woodland, oak grassland, riparian and chaparral. One thing that’s clear to me is that the effects one can have upon habitat in the hills are more subtile than the results one sees on valley farm ground. Our delta property responds quickly and dynamically to mechanical manipulation, herbicide use, water and grazing.


In the hills, mechanical manipulation is not practical, herbicides have limited use and water is scarce. That leaves grazing as the main method of manipulating habitat. Somewhat imprecise, grazing does have a huge impact on the quality of wildlife habitat and the results are often not intuitively obvious.


One hears and reads diverse comments about cattle grazing. And, without any personal experience on which to base an opinion it’s pretty difficult to extract the truth. Not only is the truth somewhere in the gray area, but to make matters worse, it is also variable and inexact.


Here are some observations. Too much grazing is probably better than too little. One of the worst scenarios for native oak woodland and oak grassland habitat is to remove grazing. When this happens, non-native grasses (often referred to as European grasses or annual grasses) tend to create a solid mass of vegetation that chokes out other plants and limits the ability of  native creatures to survive.


The native or original habitat in our coastal mountains consisted of bunch grasses that left natural openings between plants. This is the habitat that our native creatures evolved with, including blacktail deer and other native game animals.


Openings between plants allow small broadleaf plants to grow and deer feed heavily on these small broadleaf plants (forbs), especially in winter. Unfortunately, a lack of grazing allows non-native grasses to choke out forbs, but a heavy dose of grazing in springtime allows forbs to compete.


Some of the plentiful forbs in our area are clover, vetch and filaree. These plants get a head start over the grasses in late winter, but if the ground is left unmanaged they are soon overwhelmed. In areas without grazing, the grasses tend to get thicker each year and after a couple years it’s difficult to find any broadleaf plants at all.


Some of our local endangered species seem to do well with fairly heavy grazing. The California tiger salamander and California red legged frog, do well with moderate to heavy grazing but the burrowing owls seem to choose squirrel burrows for dens in areas with heavy grazing which may allows them to avoid predation.


It also appears that properly managed grazing makes life easier for many rodent species, like mice and kangaroo rats which are key foods for small predators like coyotes, foxes (including the endangered kit fox) and bobcats.


Some birds, like horned larks, tend to hang out in areas that are denuded of vegetation such as along roads and where cattle have grazed the ground bare.


If you’re a hunter, you might not be too worried about endangered foxes, but keep in mind that property values increase when you maintain a healthy population of wildlife, especially endangered species. You may someday find that taking care of these species will pay off in the form of opportunities to officially protect them in the form of mitigation.


Managing grazing is pretty basic stuff. You put the right number of cattle on at the best time and take them off when you’ve reached the desired level of impact. Range managers use the term “residual dry mass” to measure the left over plant material when the grazing regime is over. Residual dry mass is the weight, per acre, of the plant material left behind at end of the grazing period. Many leases state that the property shall contain a species amount of residual dry mass at the end of the grazing period.


Obviously fences are a key element of managing cattle. Being able to move cattle around gives the manager flexibility. Your ability to manage the cattle to benefit wildlife versus income is another factor. If you need to bring in every possible dollar for your grazing, you’ll be turning the decisions over to your lessee. Sometimes leaving decisions up to the lessee can create a “get it all” mentality leaving nothing to improve the habitat for wildlife. One grasses are gone, cattle turn to other plants and trees for forage.


Water development is another key element of wildlife management. We recently looked at a ranch that had all its water sources diverted into water troughs. The thinking was that as a cattle ranch, the stock would be healthier with clean water sources. That thinking was OK at the time, but nowadays (especially near urban areas in California) wildlife resources have great value, not only from a game animal standpoint, but from the native species and endangered species standpoint.


Ponds provide key breeding areas for amphibians. In our area, the key endangered species are the California red-legged frog and California tiger salamander. Stock ponds provide breeding sites and also recharging areas. These critters leave the ponds and spend much of the year in ground squirrel burrows or under logs, but without ponds, they cannot breed and they cannot withstand the heat of summer.

California red-legged frog


Here’s another tip on what not to do if you want to maximize wildlife values on your ranch. Don’t import fish or bull frogs. Yes fish are fun from a recreational standpoint. If fishing is important to you and you have a pond large enough to create significant fishing opportunity that’s great, but keep in mind that you will lose that water structure as an amphibian breeding site when you introduce fish or bull frogs. It’s a trade-off you’ll want to consider closely.


Turkey Season So Far

These turkeys greeted us upon our arrival at the ranch.


So far turkey season has consisted of an opening day attempt. The turkeys were there and I had my chances. Choosing my bow, but not wanting to set up my blind, I chose to float and shoot from the sitting position while leaning against an oak tree, just as I do with my shotgun.


Because my bow is very short (Mathews MQ32), I can shoot from the sitting position, but it’s not quite like standing. The problem with hunting without a blind is that the birds can see you draw the bow. For this reason, I decided to sit 30 yards from my decoy. This is farther than ideal, but sometimes compromise is necessary to give yourself a chance.


I’d had a response to my calling from a single bird and set up to see if I could get him back. My yelping failed to entice him, but another group of birds responded from behind me. Another series of yelps from my box call got a solid round of gobling from behind me and it was clear that they were on the way. I sat silent and waited.


Wearing my ghilie suit, I felt pretty confident that the birds would not recognize my outline sitting against the tree. The four birds came in behind me and walked by about ten yards to my right. They walked straight to my jake decoy. As they tried to intimidate the decoy, I drew the bow. They noticed my movement and became nervous. A wary old gobbler probably would not have put up with me, but the four jakes did.


I was able to draw and release from 30 yards. My arrow tickled the bird, but did not hit any flesh. He moved a few yards and I missed him again. After the birds passed, I called and they came back resulting in a third miss from 30 yards. Although I twice ticked the bird’s feathers, I never hit him hard enough to even scare him off.


Finally with two arrows left in my quiver and the birds drifting off, I decided it was time to regroup. Unfortunately that was all the action for the day.


I’m planning to try again this weekend. I’ll take my blind this time and try to get the 20-yard shot that will make hitting a bird much easier. However, if they refuse to come close to the blind I’ll once again try it free-lance. I may take my shotgun along in case I wound a bird, but I’m going to stick with archery as my main course.


Time to Buy a Ranch or Duck Club?

Is this the time to buy a ranch? Duck club? Maybe not, but it is definitely the time to make serious progress towards buying hunting property. Here are some ideas to get you started.


If you want a hunting ranch, you must have the means to buy it and you probably won’t get enough money to buy a ranch by putting money in your savings account or buying stock – unless you can identify the next Microsoft and buy it early.


Why not? If you put money in savings or buy stock, you’ll have to use after-tax money to buy your ranch. The government will take 15-25% (or more) of the return you get on your earnings. So, unless you have a huge income, you’ll not be able to come up with enough buying power, or at least it will take longer to do so.


On the other hand, if you purchase investment real estate, you will likely be able to transfer your equity from real estate investments to the ranch you choose and defer the taxes indefinitely.


Yes you will have a tax obligation, but you won’t have to pay it until final liquidation of the ranch. If you own the ranch until you die, the tax consequences will be irrelevant in your lifetime.


We’re in a buyer’s market. Now is a good time to purchase some types of real estate investments. The first type is the “no-brainer.” A no-brainer is an investment that comes along very seldom, but when it does, you’ll know it. Buy it. But because you can’t count on no-brainers here’s some other ideas.


If I were a young aggressive investor with time on my side, I’d be looking for vacant land that has future development potential. I’d be trying to purchase with very little cash from a seller who could give me time to seek development approval before I had to come up with significant money.


Or, if I were flexible about where I could live, I’d be attempting to use the buying power for my personal residence to purchase a home that had surplus property attached to it. Down the road the surplus property could be subdivided off and used to generate funds for a ranch purchase or other real estate investment.


I’d also be looking for small residential properties that have investment bonus potential. Some properties have the potential to blossom as investments as time passes and neighboring properties come available. Often these properties sell for prices that do not reflect the “bonus” aspect.


One situation like this is a house that, when combined with the house next door, generates surplus property – sometimes an extra building lot. The extra building lot may not be anticipated by the sellers. Unfortunately the down side is you don’t know when or if the neighbors will sell. But, if the home is in a typical residential area, the odds are in your favor as statistics show home owners tend to sell every five years or so.


If you pull it off, you get the benefit of the appreciation of the property plus the bonus value created by subdividing off the generated lot.


Sometimes properties may become appropriate for zoning changes that cause the property to take a leap in value. The big guys have the advantage here, and zoning changes don’t always work to your advantage, so you’ve got to be careful with this one.


And, I wouldn’t quit looking for hunting property. An interest in a duck club or a small club you can purchase with a couple friends. You may find a small ranch that has enough hunting potential for you and also an occasional friend. Then as you accumulate more buying power, you can expand or combine funds from the sale of the smaller hunting property with other equity to purchase a larger ranch or duck club.


By purchasing any high quality investment real estate, you are getting closer to owning a ranch. When the right ranch appears, get it into contract and sell your other property. By using the IRS 1031 Tax-Deferred Exchange rules, the equity can be transferred to the ranch along with your tax obligation.


These are some of the ideas I’ve used to speed up the process of building up buying power, but don’t stop with these. Use your own creativity to make your investments successful. In order to do that, you’ll probably need to set asside time to study real estate investements in your area and ponder over investment strategies. Make good decisions.


As I’ve said before, once you get to the point where you can own recreational property, you have an investment that gives you a continuous source of personal enjoyment while you own it, along with long-term income potential for your future should you decide to sell.


The first step is to get started and today’s buyer’s market is a good time for that.

How to Bait a Mountain Lion

About 15 years ago, an Oregon archer and bow hunting consultant, Neil Summers, told me about this mountain lion encounter.


While hunting for elk in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area of Oregon, Summers heard the loud growl of a lion. Standing in the depression of a rotted log, Summers looked up into the face of a crouched lion that stood facing him at approximately 12 feet.


Summers was in full camo and had been frequently bugling like a bull elk. Apparently his bugles were convincing. He had elk scent on his clothing and elk droppings in a sock attached to his belt.


To the lion, he smelled like an elk and sounded like an elk.


He attempted to scare the lion away by squealing with his mouth diaphragm – now he was even acting like an elk. The lion had responded by growling and quivering with excitement (and anticipation of elk chops).


Nocking an arrow, Summers took a threatening step forward, while once again squealing with his diaphragm (once again erroneously thinking he might chase the lion away).


Probably convinced that this was about to be the best elk dinner he’d ever enjoyed, the lion sprung forward as Summers, in self defense, drew and released an arrow at point blank range.


As the arrow pierced the lion’s vitals, the cat screamed and reversed course. A few seconds later, while still within a few yards of where Summers stood, the arrowed cat went berserk and died. Summer slumped to the ground – relieved, but still shaking with fear.


This same technique might work for grizzlies. Anybody interested?

Near-Disaster Goose Hunt

The fog was thick.


How thick was it?


If you looked up into the air you might fall over from vertigo. It was the type of tule fog that would prevent us from reaching our duck club on Webb Tract before daylight, in fact we didn’t even leave the dock until nearly first light.


We’d crossed Frank’s Tract many times in darkness, so it was with little fear that we putted slowly off, me holding the tiller of the 9.5 horse Evinrude outboard motor in one hand and a compass in the other.


The heading was 340 degrees. Light from the headlamp around my forehead illuminated the compass. Rob and Fred chatted while keeping their eyes open for other boats or floating objects. With the correct heading, eventually an outline of tules would show up on the very near horizon. On very foggy days, the tules would show up thirty of forty yards out.


Rob an Fred were seated in the bow, along with my dog, Tubbs. She stood in front of them leaning out into the fog and sniffing the breeze as dogs will to.



Tubbs was always sniffing the breeze. She was a mixed breed but mostly hound. Scent was her thing. I imagine she kept a pretty good inventory of what was around by just using her nose.


The “Whaler” had been modified for our use. We didn’t need anything fancy, in fact, the steering wheel and seats that came with the boat had been removed a few years after I purchased it.  It had traveled with me cross country after my discharge from the Navy in 1976.


As tends to happen with boat trailers, a bearing had gone out on the 3,000 mile trip and the Whaler had traveled the last 1,000 miles like a car-top boat, high atop my Chevy pickup and camper. It was a strange sight.


The color of the boat was camo, several layers of camo. With each attempt to make the boat disappear in the marsh it took on a slightly different shade of camo green. To others it was ugly – to us it was a beauty queen.


Tubbs was the dog of the day in the 80’s. She was in prime shape, a pretty good pheasant dog, but on the goose hunt she was mostly just company.


As the hound leaned out over the bow of the whaler, a slight trickle of water began to seep over the top of the gunwales. The seep became a trickle and the trickle a stream and then we were going down like a submarine diving, the bow was awash.


Rob, Fed and I stood. Tubbs began to jump ship,  but Rob grabbed her collar and kept her on board.


As advertised, the Whaler did its thing. With water to the brim, three hunters, two dogs and a day’s worth of hunting equipment the boat not only stayed afloat, but also stayed upright with the motor running.


In the cold foggy semi-darkness, I maintained a forward motion with the motor idling while Rob and Fred converted our hunting seats (five gallon buckets) to bailing devices. Within minutes we were recovered from near disaster, a little shaken, but ready for the hunt. Waders kept us dry.


It turned out to be a perfect day. With 500 or so white garbage bags laid around us in the corn stubble, and a fog aiding our man-made illusion, snow geese passed over our blind.


I was the last without a three-bird limit. Rob and Fred waited and heckled me about my poor shooting ability. Although they were ready to head in and watch the Super bowl (Montana vs. Marino), a miss would give them enough pleasure to justify missing the first half if necessary, as there was always an element of competition between the three of us.


We had shifted positions to a tall stand of Johnson grass, a grass  that grew on the edges of the cornfields and provided excellent cover for both pheasants and goose hunters. As we stared into the fog over looking the spread of while bags, a clear single honk sounded from beyond the decoys.


The three of us stiffened, as we knew the sound to mean the impending arrival of what we considered to be the trophy of the Delta, Canada geese.


Within seconds, the outline of a V appeared in the sky at an elevation of about only thirty yards. As the flock passed directly overhead, I swung the barrel of my Winchester model twelve past the lead bird. Knowing that extra lead was required with the surprisingly fast flyers, I doubled the lead over my normal duck lead and pulled the trigger. Down came the big bird.


I had the last laugh. With limits in hand (nine geese total between us), Rob and Fred could only stand and watch as the remaining 29 (or so) honkers flew off to survive for another season – it was the last day of goose season.


With as many geese as we could legally take, and almost more than we could carry, the three of us celebrated by taking photos. We made it to a nearby bar on Bethel Island before the end of the first half and watched as the 49ers beat the Miami Dophins for a Super bowl win.


The day had gone from near disaster to a perfect conclusion.



Partition – How We Ended Co-ownership with a Deceased Person (part 2)

When initiating our partition action, we knew that one of the owners had died unexpectedly, but we didn’t know the rest of the story – that he died intestate (without a will), that he was married and that his estate had not been probated even though he’d be deceased for over ten years.


We could not probate his estate because probate must be carried out by somebody who has legal standing and knowledge about the individual. In an attempt to resolve the issue, we researched to find out who his heirs were. That’s when we discovered that he had been married. We also knew his father.


Because his wife was of foreign decent, she did not communicate well and also was suspicious of our attempts. She also commented that she did not wish to give the property up because her deceased husband’s ashes were on the property.


We were very discouraged by these road blocks. She refused to respond to our notices, letters and direct communications. Because of her failure to respond we were forced to advertise for possible heirs and also post the ten parcels. She defaulted on responding to the suit so the judge’s final decision did not include her input.


Our attorney concluded that the only way to resolve the issue was to approach the judge with a plan to determine that our deceased co-owner had died without any known heirs and that the court should take over his estate’s share in ownership of the property.


We accomplished the necessary noticing and advertising and the stipulated judgment for partition states that we will receive title to the property and initiate what is called an “interpleader” action and deposit the purchase price with the Court to be held for the heirs or devisees of our deceased co-owner.


It is our responsibility to initiate this interpleader action and deposit the necessary funds. After we take the steps necessary to notify the heirs of the deceased partner we will be released from any further participation. In the mean time we have clear title and can wrap up the suit.


This mess demonstrates just one of the major issues that can arise from co-ownership without a written partnership agreement. If the heirs of a coowner don’t take the proper legal steps to probate upon death of a co-owner, it will end up being your problem too. This type of legal action is very expensive and very time consuming.

Partition Action – How We Ended Co-ownership with a Deceased Person (part one).

Sometimes you just can’t continue to co-own property with certain individuals. It’s similar to getting a divorce, but you may hardly know the person you’re “divorcing.”

I recently participated in a partition action on a ranch which I own approximately a twenty percent interest. As the petitioners my partners and I named the other co-owners in the suit and away we went.

My partners were my brother and my dad, while all the other owners became defendants. There were eight defendants, who owned an interest in one or more of ten parcels of land. We didn’t even know who all the owners were when we started. In fact, the suit is over and we still aren’t sure who all the owners are, or should I say were.

Here’s why. The defendants included two people who were deceased and when the suit started we didn’t know one of them was on title or that the other had died intestate and married to a wife we didn’t know existed. His estate had never been probated.

Due to administrate errors, one of the deceased owners was still on title long after his heirs thought his affairs had been wrapped up. Because title was not properly conveyed from the deceased to his trust, the trust could not successfully transfer title to the daughter, so when the daughter attempted to convey title to the new owner, the title company caught the glitch. She couldn’t convey because the chain of title had been broken.

Ironically this case could have ended when the title company offered to provide title insurance even though title was obviously flawed. As the future owners of the property in question, we were not willing to take the risk that this obvious flaw in the chain of title would not come back to haunt us at some time in the future so we declined accept the title insurance option and required that the flaw be corrected.

The way to correct the flaw is to ask the court to probate the property which had not been properly conveyed. This is a minor court action which will take some time, a probate appraisal and cost of few dollars in attorney’s fees, but when we’re done, we won’t have to worry about anybody challenging the validity of how we received title. As far as we’re concerned, this “clean up” issue can take place after the suit is over, so long as all the parties agree that it must be done and it is so stated in the final judgment.

The second deceased person was not so easy to deal with. I’ll tell you about that one in part two.