Gray Fox, City Fox

A few weeks ago, my brother told me that he’d been hearing a strange animal making a sound from the trail behind his house. He described the sound as half way between a coyote and a cat sound. Our friend Joe said that is was the sound of a gray fox.

A few days after Rob told me about hearing the gray fox that lived behind his house, I was walking Lola Dioji along a street near my home. It was about 7:30 AM when the calls of a couple crows caught my attention. They were harassing something and that thing turned out to be a gray fox that crossed the street 50 yards in front of me. I watched as the crows continued to caw and the fox disappeared between fences surrounding a drainage easement where it could spend its day undisturbed as the drainage ditch is seldom accessed by people. How crows love to harass predators.

Gray foxes are very attractive creatures with gray and red pelts. I seen quite a few over the years, but they are typically nocturnal.

 A few years ago, we set up a trail camera at the site of a gut pile from a blacktail buck we’d shot. A few hours after dark, we retrieved the camera and gray foxes had already visited the site.

gray fox at gut pile cropped

This past tuesday I was on my way to Mayberry to attend our airial spraying and help fix a leaking berm. As I drove down a street near where I’d seen the gray fox a week earlier, I spotted a dead animal on the side of the road. Could it be the gray fox? I stopped my truck and backed up. Sure enough, a gray fox lay along the white line of the bicylce path on the side of the road. The City Fox had suffered a premature death. Too bad, I’d like to have seen him again under better circumstances.

 fox 002 cropped and resized

Aerial Spraying for Cattails and Other Problem Plants

030 killing cattails in upper 3 cropped and resized

There comes a time when habitat is out of control. At Mayberry we’re there. The  back breaker was the conversion of the island’s primary agricultural use to cattle grazing with summer irrigation.

With the ditches filled to the brim with irrigation water, our ponds remain wet all summer. We’ve been unable to disk or mow our ponds, to the extent needed, for years. Expanding unhindered, cattails are now so thick that a dog cannot swim through them, let alone a hunter on his feet.

We no longer plant grain and have used cattle, sheep and goats to control the plants, but that has converted much of the property from broadleaf to grass, especially burmuda grass, which is thick and untilable.

Acres of habitat are not usable to us or wildlife. The only solution, aerial spraying. A heliocopter is the best tool for this job. Hiring the plane for two hours at a rate of $1250 per hour is not cheap, but it is a solution.

To kill the unwanted cattails, tules,  berries, and fragmities along with some additional burmuda grass control took about 3 quarts of roundup per acre, covering about 95 acres with a material price totalling about $2,100.

021 reloading cropped and resizedReloading material.

Out the door, that’s approximately $4,600 and some change. We hope that in about two weeks, we’ll be able to assess the kill and begin the next phase of the process. It will include some chopping, some plowing, maybe some planting and definitely some irrigation to bring on some of the desirable duck foods like watergrass.

It will be an interesting process – setting back the succession of plants and hopefully rejuvinating the habitat.

023 over the berm berries cropped and resized

Where have the Pigs Gone?

typical pigs grazing cropped

About twenty-five years ago, I shot my first pig. It was a surprise pig as I ran into it while hunting turkeys. The sow weighed about 200 pounds and I spined it with an arrow from about 30 yards. At the time, pigs were present in Alameda County, but not prevalent.

Ten years later we were in the middle of a pig population explosion. Pigs became very available on the best huntng ranches, including ours. I took up part-time guiding for pigs as a way to get outdoors and take advantage of the situation. I set up a lease arrangement with a nearby rancher and paid him $100 for each pig my customers took, along with an access fee to cover the cost of my impact to his operation.

Over a few year period, we killed quite a few pigs on his ranch. We generally found the pigs at first light as the left their nighttime feeding areas or around ponds during the heat of the day.

pigs like ponds cropped

This isn’t a great photo, but there are 13 different pigs in the picture. I believe I took this photo on a foggy June morning in about 1995.

The photo below was taken later in the summer. Once again there are about a dozen pigs in the photos and they are displaying typical pig behavior.more pigs at pond cropped

On a  hunt on our ranch, I followed my friend Joe DiDonato as he tried to catch up with one of the pigs pictured in the pond photo above.joe stalks pig cropped

Joe's pig cropped

I don’t believe Joe ever caught up with the above pig, but he did bag the one in this photo on a different trip.

On a guided hunt with Gus and Casey Kerry. Casey followed this pig into a large thistle patch and we walked through the thistles until Casey was able to get a shot. It was a little exciting walking around in a thistle patch with a bunch of pigs.Kerry bros Gus and Casey with pig

Casey and his dad, Jeff came back again the next summer and Casey shot this good-sized sow.Casey and Jeff Kerry with big sowHere’s a really big boar taken on a different hunt. This big boar was one of the largest taken and was also very impressive looking.big boar hanging cropped

As is often the case, the pig hunting was too good to last. Although sport hunting could control pig populations on hunted land, the large unhunted public tracts created a significant problem. Pig management became necessary in the form of paid professional pig hunters who used every legal means to reduce pig numbers.

pig trap cropped

Trapping was the most effective method of rapid pig population control.  A trap like the one shown could trap an entire herd of pigs – sometimes as many as 25 at a time. The pigs are attracted to the trap using grain as bait. After a few nights of baiting, the pigs return to the trap regularly. A trap door is placed at the entrance to the trap and when it is triggered, the pigs cannot escape. On some occcasions pigs  return more than once in a single night.

The pigs are shot in the trap and removed. Sometimes the meat is utilized, but that is often not a requirement. I have personally witnessed 25 squealing pigs being shot in one of these traps. It’s not something I’d like to view again – what a racket.

pig dogs cropped and resized

 Hounds are another effective method of removing pigs in large numbers. These catahula hounds have very sensitive noses and live to hunt pigs. They are mellow and friendly to people, but watch out pigs. Between traps and hounds, pig numbers have been greatly reduced over the last ten years.

However, there are probably other factors contributing to the current absence of pigs. A few years ago the DFG changed the regulations regarding pig depredation and landowners are allowed to shoot pigs on sight, leaving their carcases to rot. In addition, a hunter used to be limited to one pig per day. Now a hunter can take as many pigs as he has tags for. Since pigs often travel in small family groups or larger herds at times, one can take more than one when they are located.

Disease and loss of habitat are other contributing factors, but in the case of this game animal, the decline has been mostly orchestrated (by DFG and large public landholder who treat pigs as a nusance). Pigs are a feral animal with few supporters. These non-native animals are blamed for many things, such as a reduction in amphibian, reptile and ground-nesting bird species.

Combine that with the fact that ranchers often consider pigs a pest that competes with cattle for food, while others fear pig-borne diseases can be transfered to people via public water supplies, it appears to me that pig hunters are looking at a losing battle if they want to try to turn things around.

Getting Ready for A-Zone Blacktail – 2009

California’s A-zone blacktail aren’t big deer. Every once in a while a 24 inch wide buck shows up and occasionally one that has four points per side. Here are a few live photos of some  A-zone bucks. Most of the bucks you’ll see in the A-zone are forked horns.cache creek silhouette buck

This is a cache creek buck photographed by Rob on one of our trips to the Wilson Valley.

a zone arche cropped and resizedry hunt buck

This buck passed by my blind during the archery season last summer. I probably would have taken a shot at him if he’d ever got within range.

golden gate buck cropped and resized

This nice buck lived at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. He’d be a shooter for most of us .

Sycamore Grove buckcropped and resized

Here’s a Livermore buck that lived in a park on the edge of town. He’s a decent buck, but the biggest buck in the park was a very large 4X4 that looked to be two feet wide. I don’t think he ever got shot.

pebble beach buckcropped and resized

I photographed this buck on 17-mile drive in Monterrey. He doesn’t have to worry about hunters.

rich palmer with nice a zone blacktail

Rich Palmer took this very nice blacktail in Alameda County.

two young bucks

Here’s a typical A-zone blacktail taken on hunt donated to our local MDF chapter.

rich's 2008 a zone buck cropped and resized

This is my A-zone buck from last season. He’s not a monster, but I’ve only taken one larger blacktail.

toni davila's a zone buck cropped

Tony Davila killed this great A-zone blacktail in Alameda County.

One of the tough issues about the A-zone is the lack of public hunting territory. There are very few public properties in the A-zone. A few I’ve hunted include: Fort Hunter Liggett, the Las Padres National Forest, Ventana Wilderness, the southern end of the Mendocino National Forest and Cache Creek Wildlife Area. The best of the bunch is the Cache Creek area, but it’s tough access and can be extremely hot.

If I had no place else to go, as once was the case, I’d hunt these places. Cache Creek is the most appealing to me. Rob and I hunted deer there several times, always during archery season. We saw few if any other hunters. Here’s a buck Rob took from Cache Creek.

Cache Creek buck cropped and resized

Rob killed this buck over 20 years ago. However, I think Cache Creek probably offers better hunting opportunity today than it did then. Rob shot the buck in the shoulder on the edge of the Wilson Valley. We hiked about six miles to reach the hunting area and we took a minimum amount of gear. We stayed only a couple days.

After Rob shot the buck, it crossed the river twice and we followed. If you’ve ever waded Cache Creek during the summer, you know what it’s like to fear for your life. After crossing the creek twice the buck bedded down. Although not dead, Rob was able to put a second arrow through the buck.

By the time we boned out the buck and hiked out it was the middle of the night. Although it’s not impressive looking, it is a rare trophy.

hiking out of Cache Creek with buck cropped

We divided up the meat to share the load. Here’s Rob with the results. We went back again a year or two later and we did see some really nice bucks, but never got one of them. Another friend of mine has taken some nice bucks at Cache Creek during the rifle season.

Hunting Turkeys at the Cache Creek Wildlife Area

I haven’t been to the Wilson Valley in quite a few years. The hike in is a workout, especially during deer season when the weather is warm.

Wilson Valley cropped

My brother, Rob, and I first hiked into the Wilson Valley during the 1980’s when we were eager to find a place to hunt turkeys. We had hunted the edges of the Ventana Wilderness, Spenceville Wildlife Area and several other public areas without success. I’m not sure if we’d even heard a gobble, but we were determined.

We parked the truck in the parking lot off Highway 20 where it crosses the North Fork of Cache Creek and used our maps to follow the trail to the valley, a hike of five or six miles. If I remember correctly, DFG had recently purchased a parcel that completed the route allowing access. Access it was, but unfortunately it wasn’t the most direct route, so hikers  had to climb significantly higher than the level of the river and private property below, but beggers can’t be choosers.

When we reached the Wilson Valley we were impressed by the habitat and optimisitc that we’d find a gobbler for the first time. That evening we listened for gobbles, but I can’t remember if we heard anything on the roost. The next morning we were up at first light and we did locate a gobbler.

Wilson Valley turkey track cropped

We closed the distance and Rob set up to shoot (by the way we were hunting with bow and arrow) and I did the calling. The big tom came in right off the roost and stopped to strut about 15 yards in front of Rob. When Rob tried to draw his bow, the gobbler saw him and disappeared. It was our first turkey encounter.

Quite a few years later we finally bagged a turkey at Cache Creek. I’d guess it was about 1995 when we climbed the ridge to the east of the Wilson Valley and spent the night before opening day of turkey season in a good position to locate a gobbler the following morning. The refuge had expanded adding significant turkey habitat to the east of the original area. I remember it being chilly and silent at first light, but eventually a gobbler worked his way up the hill. Our friend Joe DiDonato was with us.

Joe and Rob set up over the decoys and I called from a few yards on the opposite direction from which the gobbler was coming. Rob’s famous words were, “Joe, you’ve got the first shot.”

As the gobbler walked directly in front of Rob’s gun barrel at 15 yards, he couldn’t deny his instincts and pulled the trigger. Joe has never forgiven him.

Cache Creek Gobbler cropped

Barn Carvings Near Sunol

 On a turkey hunt last year, I decided to bed down for the night next to an old barn on the half section of ground that has the most turkeys. (A good idea when turkey hunting.)  After hunting the next morning, I returned to my truck to have lunch and rest. While sitting next to the barn, I noticed that the east- facing wall of the barn had many initials and dates carved into it, and I couldn’t help but wonder who had made the initails. Most of the dates were in the 1910 to 1930 range. I was surprised that the barn had been around that long.

I’ve been told by Lucky Gravette, who once lived in the cabin on this 320 acre parcel, (W1/2 Sec 34 R2E, T4S MDB&M) that it was owned by Dick Marciel  until about 1953. The small house on the property was first entered into the tax roles in 1908. I don’t know if Marciel built the cabin (unlikely), but he owned it until he died. One bit of folk lore is that Marciel would ride his horse to Livermore on Fridays and spend a day or two in town. His routine was to stop at Camp Comfort (the local brothel) on Friday nights. It was located where Valicitos Road  crosses Arroyo Del Valle.

According Gravatt, Myron Harris purchased the property – at the site  – in a probate sale in about 1953 or 1954. Harris was an Oakland attorney who spent his weekends on the ranch and loved to hunt. He had many friends who joined him in his pursuits. After purchasing the parcel, Harris allowed a Rowell Ranch cook named Fritz Shield to use the cabin and when Myron Harris died, in about 1976, his will gave Fritz the right to continue to use the cabin and the surrounding one acre parcel until his death, which occured in about 1992.  Fritz was in his 90’s and nearly deaf and blind when he passed. He was famous for keeping pet rattlesnakes in the barn near the house (a different barn) and he had names for them.

None of this information is exact, but it is most likely generally correct and I have no way of validating any of it, nor do I intend to. However, I’m interested in and open to more info regarding the history of the ranch.

Here are photos of some of the barn planks with intitials and dates. barn JS Niles 1921 cropped and resized

Looks like J. S. – Niles 1921

barn Mogee Sunol cropped and resized

Looks like Lil Pete Mogee Sunol

barn 9-24-29 Livermore cropped resized

Maybe D-F 9/24/29 Livermore

barn Jamestown Cal cropped and resized

Looks like  U.P. Jamestown  CAL

The inititals in the barn create message from the past that sparks my curiousity. It  would be interesting to know what was going on up there in those days – just for the heck of it . Most likely they were probably just gathering cows or hunting deer. They weren’t hunting turkeys, because there were none in the area at that time.