Life and Death on the Ranch Road


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A couple vultures on the hillside. What are they eating?

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Upon closer inspection, it looks like a dead coyote. This guy didn’t run fast enough.

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What happens when deer and turkeys collide? In this case, neither seemed too upset. The turkeys did make room for the deer to pass.

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On the way home I passed the buzzards and coyote carcass one more time. Scavengers sure make short work of a carcass. Within a day, a coyote body is turned into a small pile of bones and shortly thereafter even the bones will disappear.

A Bobcat Hunts

On my way home from putting up my tree stand, I spotted several predators out along the road. The first was a bobcat that ran full tilt away from my truck. A mile or so further down the road, a coyote looked back over his shoulder at me and then barreled full speed up the hill as I slowed to put my glasses on him. These predators knew the threat of humans.bobcat hunting 002 cropped and resized

When I came upon a third predator crouched in the shade of a sycamore tree about five hundred yards away, I stopped to see what it was. At first glance I thought it was a coyote watching a jackrabbit. However, upon closer observation it turned out to be a bobcat. The cat looked at my truck and then at the rabbit. Although far away, it was uncomfortable about my presence. I took a couple photos and drove off.bobcat hunting new look 013 cropped and resized

The road turned and crossed the creek and before long I was looking at the bobcat and jackrabbit from the opposite direction. It looked like a definite standoff.bobcat stalking 021 cropped and resized

Before long the rabbit departed and the cat turned its attention to something else – probably a squirrel.

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I guess bobcats don’t have much to do besides sleep and hunt.bobcat hunting  continues 025

When I finally left the scene he was still hunting.

Is Hunting a Sport?

After playing baseball for 25 years I can remember my days in the sun ‑ both of them.

Some high points come to mind… stealing a base and knocking in the game winning run a couple times, but unfortunately there were many more times when I missed fat pitches that came “right down the pipe.”

As a kid, baseball was very important to me. It was one of the ways I defined myself. In sports, athlete’s go for it. They swing for the fence, sometimes connecting and often failing. But in hunting, “going for it” often has unintended consequences.

My first year of deer hunting took place in 1971. I unleashed a rain of arrows on the deer of Lassen County. I finally killed the twelfth buck I shot at. It was not an efficient event, nor was my conduct a standard to follow. I wasn’t thinking about those things. I just wanted to kill a buck. I thought hunting was a sport. Amazingly, I didn’t wound any animals before I finally killed my buck.

A few years later, while hunting in Oregon’s Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, I shot at a forked horn mule deer. The arrow was on line but fell low, hitting the buck in his left front leg. The sight of him stotting off on three legs with his front leg dangling by a tendon comes to mind.

As vividly as a recall the thrill of my first buck, I also recall my anguish of wounding that forked horn. We have limited ability to control the course of events in the physical world. Going five for five or hitting a home is a great thrill for a baseball player, and killing a nice buck is just as thrilling for the hunter, but once one has wounded an animal the difference between these activities is made much clearer.

Unlike baseball, my archery hunting carries on. I’ll never go five for five again, but I may take a great mule buck with wide antlers. Maybe it will happen this year. I’ll never go back and analyze my swing to figure out why I couldn’t hit more balls over the fence, but I can improve my shooting technique and self control. I can care for my equipment and tune my bow. I can practice to become the best archer I can be.

My archery career is still in full bloom. I can become a better archer and a better hunter, but I must spend time evaluating what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. 

A friend of mine recently discovered his grandfather’s bow, a hand crafted Osage orange wooden long bow. He was excited by the find and committed himself to hunting with it. He has sought out advice from professionals and is preparing to hunt with the primitive weapon. I hope it will be a satisfying hunt for him.

There was a time when I made a similar choice. About 20 years ago, I purchased a long bow and vowed that I would hunt mule deer with it. I remember my first stalk. I came around a large boulder on a Nevada mountain within 15 yards of a modest three‑point buck with pitch‑black, velvet antlers. I drew and released. The arrow sailed several feet over his back as he walked off. I have never felt as defeated as I did at that moment. I had no chance. At fifteen yards, the buck might as well have been 100.

I wasn’t prepared to wait for the ten yard shot, so I hung the primitive bow up, realizing I would never acquire the skill necessary for effective big game hunting with a long bow. If hunting were just a sport, there would have been no reason to give up on the primitive bow.  But,  hunting is not a sport.

You can treat hunting like a sport, but if you do so long enough, you’ll probably agree with me that hunting is a unique activity which has great merit, very personal results and is best practiced with a high level of individual integrity.

That’s why it’s so worthwhile.

New Tule Elk Unit In Our Future?

herd-of-tule-elk-bulls-on-sfwd-land-croppedYes, these tule elk are (or in this case, were) living in a the potential new tule elk unit.
These bulls were photographed last winter in Southern Alameda County. Here they are again, a little closer.tule-elk-bulls-6-good-cropped-and-resized
 These are very respectible animals.


Here’s a lone bull photographed in the same area as those above on another trip. Hard to say if he’s in the other photos, but could be. Although these bulls were all living near private ranches, they primarily live on SFWD properties near San Antonio Reservoir. No matter, there is no season for hunting the animals on either private or public lands.

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These bulls were hanging out on private property when I spotted them while guiding pig hunters. Note that it was late spring and their antlers were in velvet, but nearly full size.





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Here’s a trio of bulls photographed on private property more than ten years ago. For many years these bulls have been left to die of old age for lack of a hunting season in the area.

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Near the center of this photograph, along with cattle, two tule elk are feeding on the open hillside. These elk prefer open hillsides where they can spot trouble from far away.

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Here’s another bull that frequented private property where he could have been hunted if there had been a season in the area. But it’s not too late to make a change. The California Department of Fish and Game has the ability to open this area to hunting and it may consider just that. The area south of highway 152 has a season on tule elk and at the present time there are tule elk scattered all the way from Highway 152 to Del Valle Reservior (just south of Livermore). Elk have been living on Crane Ridge and Corral Hollow for many years.

Ranches in Hospital Canyon have a number of elk and tags are available for tule elk on private ranches in the San Antonio Valley and Corral Hollow because a few ranches have entered the PLM program allowing them to harvest a limited number of tule elk. In the San Antonio Valley, the State has purchased land. Is it possible it could be hunted in the future?

A friend of mine has observed tule elk on Mission Peak on the northern edge of Fremont and one of my golfing friends talks about the tule elk that live near “The Ranch” golf course in San Jose. Creation of a elk hunting unit in the area could open the door for better monitoring and managment of the elk of Alameda, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Santa Clara Counties. And, a few lucky elk hunters might get a chance to hunt for and maybe take one of these great animals home.

Opening Day of A-Zone Archery 2009

The day began with a typical flurry of bird activity. Many were drinking from the pond and others were bathing.acorn woodpecker cropped and resized

The acorn woodpecker posed for several photos from about 15 feet away.


A stellar jay joined him and it seemed like they were buddies, but I think not.



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Scrub jays were everywhere, both adult and imature.

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These young California ground squirrles were pretty care free, but the adults kept an eye on the sky.CA ground squirrels cropped and resized

An imature Oregon junco landed on a fence wire about six feet from my blind window.




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A lark sparrow took his place and posed nicely.lark sparrow cropped and resized

As I shifted around in my blind, trying to make sure I could shoot effectively if a buck showed up, I looked up and too my surprize was greeted by two nice bucks looking my way and wondering why sound was emanating from the blind.two nice bucks cropped and resized

So much for patience. Looks like I’ll have to try for them again. At least the season is young. They worked their way slowly up the hill, but didn’t feel comfortable sticking around.nice buck cropped

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Over the course of the next few hours, eight more deer came by, but no more shooter bucks.yearling does cropped and resized

 A golden eagle landed across the pond and I got one shot of him taking off.

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While heading out, I spotted a large boar at a nearby pond, but it was too late to go after him and he had already heard my truck anyway.

It was a great day and the sunset on the way home was the finishing touch.great sunset cropped and resized

Most Powerful Bird

As I sat in my deer blind, a shadow passed overhead. Through my peephole, I spotted the eagle hunting, but in its hunting mode, it wouldn’t stay for long.

A while later the eagle apeared again and this time it landed across the pond from me – still animated and hunting. I raised my camera and the eagle looked my way. Could he have seen the movement through the small hole from 60 yards away?

As I raised to take a picture the eagle lifted off and I was able to snap one quick shot. When I got home to review my photos, I was quite pleased.

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The sunset on the way home was in harmony with my good spirits.

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Aerial Spraying Results – 15 days after spraying

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On Tuesday, June 16 2009 a helicopter spraying company hit our thick stands of cattails, tules, Bermuda and blackberries with a 3 quart to the acre mix of roundup.

Took a trip to Mayberry yesterday to view the results of the aerial spraying efforts. I found the cattails to be hard hit. Bermuda grass showed signs that it was on its way out. Tules looked sick, but not hard hit. The fragmities were somewhat hit, but may not have got directly hit by the spray so some were dying and others looked healthy. The berry bushes looked like they’d been fertilized.

Here are some photos.

cattail contrast cropped and resizedThis photo shows a healthy cattail patch vs one the was sprayed.

cattails pond 7 cropped and resizedHere’s the area which we considered top priority. It looks like these cattails are done for.

pond 3_0025 cropped and resizedThis photo shows some smart weed that was not hit, tules that are sick but still green and cattails which were most affected.

burmuda unsprayed cropped and resizedHere’s some healthy bermuda grass that was not sprayed. It is a dark green.

burmuda sprayed cropped and resizedHere’s some sick looking bermuda that was hit by spray.

My intention was to begin irrigation yesterday, but I decided to wait a few more days. I wouldn’t want to save any of the plants we want to kill. The cost of this effort was about $1,800 for the heliocopter and $3,000 for the materials. We’re hoping that the results are worth while, but the jury is out.

After we irrigate, we’ll do some disking and mowing to bring back some early stage vegitation.

Tracking the Coyote

The coyote is the most visible predator in our region and probably in North America. Its tracks can be found in most wild places in California and elsewhere in the West. The coyote is a canine and its track patterns are very similar to all canines including foxes and wolves. The tracks below were sketched in my notebooks in 1986. The clear track is a bit puzzling to me, but its the way I sketched it on site. The size of the track is about right for  coyote, but I am surprised by the distance to the front nail print.

I don’t recall the circumstances of that track sketch, but I’m sure I was convinced it was a coyote at the time. One way to explain away the long nail print would be that it  was a domestic dog, but for now I’ll continue to believe it was a coyote track. Even if it was left by a domestic dog, the dimentions of the track are good for a coyote, except for the long toe nail. Such is the nature of tracking. You seldom see the animal to confirm, without question, your conclusion.

Canines are diagonal walkers which means that the right front foot and left rear foot move forward at the same time and the left foot falls nearly into the track of the left front foot (same with the right side).

I’ve read that the rear foot typically falls in front of the front foot when walking, but it didn’t in this case. The speed of the walk may be a factor here. This is probably a slow walking coyote.

In the stride-measured print, the size seems to be consistent with other observations. In this case the stride remained constant not only for the two steps shown, but also for several others that I had no room for. Therefore the coyote near Bogard Ranger Station, California was walking purposefully at a slow rate of  speed, but probably not hunting. If the wild dog had been hunting, I would expect that the stride would have varied a great deal as the coyote slowed to listen and look for mice or other prey.

For some reason, I didn’t measure the trail width of this series of tracks. My sketch has the prints falling almost directly in a straight line, but I doubt that they were, so it only is an indication of stride and not trail width.Coyotes prints are typically indirect register which means the prints are separate or over lap each other. In this case the print of the rear foot covers most of  the front foot. Unlike coyotes and domestic canines, foxes tend to place their rear foot directly into the track of the front foot. This is called direct register.

coyote tracks

I found the coyote pictured below on a trip to Yellowstone Park about ten years ago. He was a beggar and hung out along the road waiting for a handout, much unlike most coyotes which are elusive and wary. I guess that’s why I couldn’t find any photos of coyotes from trips to the ranch, where they are often seen, but always with their rear to the camera – usually running.

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When coyotes and other canines run, they leave a series of tracks where all four paws hit the ground near each other and the distance between the series of prints is greater than the distance in between prints. I’ve got some good track patterns of my Labrador running and I plan to include them in a later post. The track patterns of domestic dogs are very similar to wild canines, but the tame critters are probably not as athletic.