Looking Ahead to the “Open Zone” 2018 Hunt

2016 is over now. I got my buck and it is hanging next to me on the wall. The minute I saw it step into the open it was a shooter. The finish of the 2016 hunt took place on opening day of the Doyle Muzzleloading Rifle hunt. You can read all about it on previous blog posts.

The decisions I’ll make for 2018 will be similar to 2016, but probably a bit different as well. In 2016, I didn’t hunt seriously during any of the early hunts. I just scouted, but I did carry a bow or firearm most of the time. This year I may hunt the Devil’s Garden archery hunt, A4, as I drew a tag for that hunt last year and really enjoyed it. I also saw some big bucks.

Assuming I’m still with tag during the Devil’s Garden muzzleloading rifle season, I’ll probably have to do that hunt again. Last year’s hunt was cut short when my dad became ill. I went home and was present for his recovery. I have some unfinished business in Modoc.

The Doyle hunt is a tough one. There are several hunts going on at that same time. I’ll have to think hard about the Round Valley hunt has a high probability of seeing a big buck. Anderson Flat is also a hunt that conflicts with the Doyle hunt and there are often  big bucks that migrate from Yosemite Park. Right next to Doyle is the Bass Hill Archery Hunt in X6A and it takes place during peak rut time.

But before I make definite plans, I’ll follow my own advise and check the Big Game Digest from 2017 and also 2018 when it comes out. There will probably be some information there that will influence my thinking.

Whether I follow a path similar to 2016 and enjoy revisiting the great places I hunted previously or invite new adventure by hunting some of the remaining places I’ve not seen, the 2018 hunts are likely to reveal another impressive mule deer with an outsize rack. When I see the right one, I’ll know it’s time to shoot.

Anticipation is half the hunt.


You Own the Open Zone Tag. Now What?

When I found out I was high bidder on a 2016 Open Zone deer tag, I was ecstatic.

All the places I’d been hoping to hunt were now available to me. But, the tag is only good for one buck. One needs a plan when there are so many opportunities.

I was familiar with a few of the best special hunts, but places like Devil’s Garden, X5B, X5A, Goodale Buck hunt and Round Valley were mysteries. There was no money left to pay guides as I’d already spent my budget.

One attractive aspect of these hunts is that they all take place 100% on public lands and access is excellent.

There is a treasure trove of information available from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. I began to carefully dissect the Big Game Booklet from past seasons. I needed to figure out where to spend my now precious time. There were plenty of special hunts, but most of them took place in November and December. I could only be in one place at a  time.

I decided to rate the top ten hunting opportunities (for me) and evaluate them closely. I compared success rate, convenience, percentage of trophy buck and season dates, among other things. Emphasis was placed on the percentage of four point or greater bucks taken in previous years. Since I’m comfortable hunting with archery, rifle or muzzleloader, method of take was irrelevant. Here’s what I concluded.

How I originally ranked the hunts from top to bottom.

1. G-37 Anderson Flat Buck Hunt (D6)

2. G-39 Round Valley Late Season Buck Hunt (X9A)

3. M-9 Devil’s Garden Muzzleloading Rifle Buck Hunt.

4. M5 Eastern Lassen Muzzleloading Buck Hunt (X5B)

5. G3 Goodale Buck Hunt (x9B)

6. M3 Doyle Muzzleloading Rifle Buck Hunt. (X6B)

7. M4 Horse Lake Muzzleloading Rifle Buck Hunt (X5A).

8. M8 Bass Hill Muzzleloading Rifle Buck Hunt (x6A)

9. M-11 Northwestern California Muzzleloading Rifle Buck Hunt.

10.  A-26 Bass Hill Archery Buck Hunt

This was my original line up. From the point that I formed this list onward, these hunts were my focus. However a few of these hunts had more to offer than I initially realized.

The priority of hunts would change over time as I became more familiar with the hunting locations and gathered information from many sources. I’d only hunted one of the places listed –  Anderson Flat.

I hunted Anderson Flat when I drew a special hunt archery tag, without success, during the 1990’s. I still had a few of the maps from that hunt and I knew a little about the area. What made Anderson Flat so attractive was that it is close enough to home that I could do a day hunt or overnight if I wanted to.

And, Anderson Flat had several seasons. I could hunt that area during archery, rifle, special archery and special rifle seasons. If I hunted nowhere else, I could hunt from August to December.




Why a Fundraising Tag?

The first 25 years of my deer-hunting life were spent trying to kill any legal buck. In the beginning, any success was good enough.

Between 1971 (the year I killed my first buck) and about 1995, I hunted with bow and arrow almost exclusively. During that time, I killed four bucks. Needless to say, I was not a prolific deer killer. But, I hunted every year and each year I hunted at least two deer seasons and often three – counting an out-of-state hunt.

My enthusiasm was not diminished by modest success. I had so much fun hunting deer that I was only slightly disappointed when I failed. And, I was an optimist, a big factor if you are an archer. The largest mule deer buck I killed before 1995 was a 23 inch wide three by three.

There was no need for an open zone tag in those days. Bucks were always around. I just couldn’t kill them. My missed shots per buck killed was somewhere  around ten.

Then I won a Browning Semi-Automatic Rifle at a Mule Deer Foundation event. It was my first true deer rifle. Things changed in a hurry. I learned that deer were not really all that hard to kill if you could hit them and with a rifle they were much easier to hit.

One thing led to another and I was no longer satisfied to just hunt and occasionally bag a buck. I also began to hanging around with serious trophy hunters.

And, I learned that the biggest limiting factor in trophy hunting was access to a trophy buck. I began to pay attention to the hunting zones and as it became harder and harder to gain access to trophy mule deer, I became more envious of those who drew good deer zones to hunt.

Then, in about year 2000, California created a preference point system. Special deer hunts were carved out and trophy bucks were there to be had if you could draw a tag, but only a few dozen hunters were drawn for these hunts each year and in order to draw a special hunt tag you had to be very lucky.

As the years went by, I heard stories about the different special hunts and wished that I could draw, but that never happened.

About the time that the preference tag program came about, another way to obtain tags was created. Each year a very limited number of deer tags for specific areas were sold at auction.

As I attended fundraisers I watched as hunters bid what seemed to be exorbitant amounts of money for the right to hunt a deer. The cost of such tags was way beyond my means. Anyway, I was still hunting and having a good time doing so.

As time went by, my income grew and I would occasionally hire an outfitter for some of my  hunts. Soon I realized that the cost of some of my outfitted hunts was nearly as much as the cost of the fundraising tags. I might be able to afford to purchase an open zone tag at auction. And, if I did, I wouldn’t need an outfitter, as the hunt locations were close to home.

The deer hunting season would be practically endless.

I’d purchased landowner tags for as much as $4,500 and guided deer hunts for more than $7,000. Why not stretch a bit more and pay $10,000 for a tag that would allow me to hunt all the places I’d dreamed about for years.

At the age of 66, 45 years after killing my first buck, I finally had the funds to bid on a tag that might give me a shot at a buck of a lifetime. The only thing stopping me was myself.

Amphibian Eggs

Checked a bunch of ponds for amphibian eggs yesterday. Here are some photos of what we found. Check the caption and click on the photos to enlarge.

In addition to frog eggs, we also found newt eggs.

newt eggs DSC_0236[1]

We even found one fresh batch of California Tiger Salamander eggs.

CTS eggs IMG_4769

California tiger salamander eggs. Note the nucleus in this backlit photo.





California Open Zone Tag 2018

Two years ago I successfully bid on and purchased a California Open Zone deer tag.

Over the course of the 2016 deer season I had some of the most memorable deer hunting of my lifetime. The season culminated in the killing of the largest mule deer buck of my lifetime.

That buck is now on the wall of my office and I admire it daily. The price I paid for the tag was $10,500. I filled my tag on the first day of the hunt commonly referred to as the Doyle Muzzleloader Buck Hunt.

A few days ago I made the decision to bid on the 2018 Open Zone Deer Tag. Once again I was successful. This time the tag sold, in the Santa Rosa Chapter of MDF live auction, for $15,500. Definitely a big increase in two years, but still well worth it. In my eyes this hunt is one of the best values in the universe of mule deer hunting.

During the lead up to the 2018 season and as the hunting season unfolds, I’ll explain why. Sure it’s about the chance for a trophy, but there’s much more to it than that. It’s the hunt of a lifetime, even if you’ve done it before.

IMG_3106 2016 Doyle buck