Thoughts for Planning Your Deer Hunt in 2010

This young X12 buck was taken during the '08 rifle season at more than 11,000 feet elevation. California has some big mountains.

Whether hunting public lands in an X zone, D zone or B zone, your best bet is to find a camp site that is remote enough that other hunters won’t be in your face. Once you locate such a site, the next key is to set up your camp early enough to give yourself a head start.

Last deer season, we arrived at our camp site two days before the opener. The year before, we arrived at our camp site three days before the opener. In order to arrive at your camp site two days before opening day, you must leave home the day before that. In other words, you need to devote three or four of your days off to arriving in position to hunt before everybody else.

This may sound painful, and to some extent it is, but getting there early is one key (but not a guarantee) to having a place to hunt (on public ground) that is not overrun with hunters. It also gives you time to set your camp up leisurely, locate good glassing locations and to intercept other hunters who may intend to set up camp right in your lap.

I remember my brother telling me about watching a group of bucks that lived in a high bowl in X9a. He located the bucks and camped out in position to respot them on opening morning. When first light arrived, he spotted only a new camp and tent set up in the middle of the bowl where the bucks had been.

Last year, I was scouting the ridge just north of our camp when I spotted five riders and their mules heading directly for the basin which we intended to hunt. I was very concerned as a camp in that basin would have severely limited our hunting territory. As I approached, one of the riders turned towards me and stopped to visit.

When I explained where our camp site was and where we intended to hunt, he graciously volunteered to reverse course, for three main reasons. 1.) He knew that the seven of us could not successfully hunt within a mile of each other. 2.) He respected the fact that we were there ahead of him. 3) He was a gentleman.

Not everybody would have done what he did, and I respect him for leaving us room to hunt without making a big deal of it. Even though we had a fair amount of territory to ourselves, the three of us didn’t take home a buck. But, we did have chances and that’s all you can hope for. With a little luck we could have knocked down a big buck.

It’s not only other hunters that can interfere with your hunt. On another recent hunt, a group of geologists made camp next to us and proceeded to bang on rocks on the ridge top all day long the day before the season opened.

Two years ago, we arrived at or base camp ahead of everybody and spent three days glassing for deer. When opening day arrived, we knew where just about every buck in the canyon was hiding and we benefited from the head start. We’re not in the shape we used to be, but with a three-day head start, we were able to get into position to have the opportunities to fill tags. Sometimes things work out.

Three of the four of us bagged bucks that year – all of them were at pretty high elevations. Most of the hunters we observed were hunting below us.

One of the keys to finding a big buck, is to have time to locate it before the shooting starts. Each day the season wears on,  bucks become harder to find and you’ll only locate then in their hides if you know approximately where they live.

Then, you can sit on top of them until they move and give away their location. With luck you’ll get a shot and hopefully you won’t have to carry him too far to reach camp.

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