Last Weekend A-Zone Deer Season

The last weekend of deer season is some of the best hunting as the bucks are on the move and spending more time in the open. That proved to be the case on Friday the 20th as Rob and cousin Wes saw eight bucks. Wes shot a nice forked horn.

I arrived Saturday morning expecting more of the same, but strong winds seemed to keep the deer out of sight.


About 9 AM I moved to a new spot for an hour. Nothing in sight. Tried sitting on a popular water hole. Jumped a covey of quail. Checked a likely draw where the deer move around staying out of the wind. Jumped another covey of quail.

Decided to move to the other end of the ranch and came upon a bobcat.

DSC_0115 bobcat

Not a great photo due to the shade from the tree, but it is a bobcat.

I arrived at my afternoon ambush location about 1:30 PM with the goal of sitting quiet for the remainder of the day. Had a nice view again.

IMG_7280 Mt Diablo

The pond I was watching is quite small, center left in the photo. Mount Diablo is prominent on the horizon.

Sunset would come about 7 PM. The Giants-Braves game came on at 4:20 PM. In the meantime, I studied acorns in the oak trees around me, watched birds – acorn woodpeckers, scrub jays, ravens, starlings, a red-shouldered hawk and occasional buzzards and constantly upgraded the dirt on which I was sitting.

The good news (or maybe the bad news) was that the best solar-lunar period was due to hit at 6:00 PM giving me a possible boost for the last hour of the day. It also meant that I had to stick it out to find out.

I checked the ranges to every interesting point in sight attempting to be prepared if something came by. It was 283 yards to the far side of the pond. That would be a hail Mary. The trail from the pond to where I sat was well used, mostly by cattle, but also by deer and pig. Oh yes, I had both types of tags – but I hadn’t killed a pig on our ranch since 1985.

Finally 6 PM arrived and I sat up a little straighter. Field glasses were at my left. My rifle and spotting scope were on my right. If I couldn’t shoot something, I could maybe view it to death.

At about 6:10 PM, I heard a shot. I texted one of my neighbors and asked him if his party had just shot something. He said no, it was probably another neighbor that I don’t know. He did acknowledge that one of their camp had killed a buck earlier in the day and sent me a photo.

About five minutes later, I saw something move just past the pond – about 300 yards out. With my field glasses I confirmed that it was a large black pig and it was walking towards the pond.

The pig was approaching the pond slowly, but not cautiously. The key to killing a pig, is to be in the right place at the right time. Skill is not paramount, unless you call sitting in one spot for six hours skill.

I considered testing my long-range shooting skill. 300 yards is long range for me. But why do that when he might walk right up to me, so I continued to wait patiently. After taking a short dip in the pond, the pig walked into a stand of oak trees and disappeared for a few minutes. Then he came out and rubbed against a medium-sized blue oak.

After completing his rub, he turned and strolled in my direction. Now he was at 176 yards and I had to seriously consider shooting him. Did I want to get covered in pig blood at this time of day? Managing the pig population by hunting is written into our ranch management plan. That was a good-enough reason to shoot him.

The pigs on are ranch are good eating. That was another reason to shoot him. It looked like no deer were going to show, so I wouldn’t be ruining my deer hunt which would be over in 30 minutes anyway.

Now the pig was forcing the issue. He was inside 125 yards and the next time I saw him he would be at 94 yards – another range I’d verified ten times over the course of the afternoon.

Sure enough, he popped out on the trail at 94 yards. I decided to do it. I put the cross hairs of my 3×9 scope on the pig and waited for a good angle. He was getting closer every minute. Finally I could wait no longer. I aimed for his heart and squeezed.

As the bullet hit the pig, he let out a small squeal and turned up hill at full speed. He then passed out of sight – running all out.

I was confident in the shot. I picked up my gear and headed for the truck. There was a road to the pond and I’d drive it to be a little closer to where he should be laying and also a down-hill pack instead of up-hill.

I parked the truck and headed in the direction he had ran – no sign of him. I circled around. Then I went in the direction it appeared he was headed. No pig.

I decided to drive to the pond to see if he had run towards the water. The sun was going down and I really didn’t want to get into a full scale tracking job. He wasn’t at the pond. I drove back to the trail and took the route he had taken as he approached me.

Just as I got to the spot where he had been standing at the shot, I glanced up a small ravine. There he was. He had run forty yards up the hill and died. Then he had rolled 40 yards down hill back to the point of beginning. Pigs roll well. I was relieved that the pig was found and dead. Of course I gave him a ceremonial kick in the butt. He sure had big testicles – a real boar.

I didn’t want to gut him out so I cut him up working from the outside. I was done pretty quickly. I didn’t keep his head, but maybe I’ll go back and bury it somewhere where the bugs can clean him up. He had modest teeth.

I made it back to camp just after dark and I was surprised to meet brother Rob and cousin Wes on the way back. Rob had shot a nice buck just before sunset. Sonar-lunar tables are good information.

IMG_4752 Robs buck

Rob found this buck with a doe not a quarter mile from camp.

We were both happy to call it a season.

Saw a few deer on the way home the next day.




Final Week of A-Zone Hunt

A little late reporting. Been traveling north looking for a big buck in Devil’s Garden, X5a, X5b or X6. More on that later.

Bucks were in the rutting mode during the last week of the season, but the number of bucks in general was disappointing. Son-in-law, Brett shot a young buck on the next to the last weekend of the season.


It was the third buck of his still young deer hunting career after staying home last year to be with his young family. However, this year he was back and made a nice shot from 280 yards to take this buck, which was chasing a doe.

On the last Friday of the season, Joe DiDonato found a buck chasing a doe and stalked in pretty close to shoot this nice 3X3. He took this photo of himself using the timer on his camera. Came out nice in the late afternoon sunlight.


The rest of the weekend was relatively uneventful, but Rob did find a big buck late on Sunday, but obligations at home called for a premature end to the hunt. At least we know there’s one big one left for next season.




Critters of the Week

Been to the ranch a couple times. Lots of eagles were out on Sunday, but today was for the deer.

Deer numbers are down, but at least they came out of hiding today.

Group of young bucks out at first light.

Group of young bucks out at first light.

Took this photo through the windshield.

Took this photo through the windshield.

Some snakes are still out.

Some snakes are still out.

This gopher snake was long and skinny.

This gopher snake was long and skinny.

Caught this eagle passing over.

Caught this eagle passing over.

This is a nice buck. Saw one bigger but didn't get a photo.

This is a nice buck. Saw one bigger but didn’t get a photo.

This spike hangs out with two others about the same size. I see them almost every time I go to the ranch.

This spike hangs out with two others about the same size. I see them almost every time I go to the ranch.

Where there's water there are deer.

Where there’s water there are deer.

Rutting Blacktail

On my way home from hunting a couple days back, I came upon a blacktail buck that was seriously courting a doe. Got some good shots. Check them out.

This is a young stud and he might be a trophy some day.

This is a young stud and he might be a trophy some day.

This buck was patiently awaiting the right opportunity.

This buck was patiently awaiting the right opportunity.

As i photographed him, the doe rose and he became more aggressive.

As I photographed him, the doe rose and he became more aggressive.

Here's he is showing his best stuff.

Here’s he is showing his best stuff.

The object of his affection:

He just wouldn't leave her alone.

He just wouldn’t leave her alone.

NYC Fireman Tommy Feaser Joins the Hunt

Here’s a brief bio for our fifth blacktail hunter.

“Firefighter Thomas Feaser was born and raised in Staten Island, New York.  He is a 27 year veteran of the New York City Fire Department.   Tom spent most of his career with Ladder 113 in Brooklyn, NY and was with that department on September 11, 2001 which miraculously the entire company survived the devastation. In December 2005, Tom received a “New York’s Bravest Award” and the David De Franco Water Rescue Metal for his heroic action of braving ice, wind, rocks and water to rescue a drowning woman in the Kill van Kull , a channel of water separating Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey.  Mr. Feaser retired in 2010 and enjoys spending his time with his family in Staten Island and in Dingmans Ferry, PA.”

Thomas FeaserWe look forward to welcoming Tommy on August 15.

Tracking Blood – The Wall, the Cliff

Waited for a few minutes and realized that there was no need to wait. This buck would not be found alive, but would it be found?

That’s always the question. This is not TV. Bucks don’t stop and drop.

As this buck passed out of sight, he was running like a race horse. He plowed through a barbed wire fence, breaking one of the strands. And, unfortunately, he was heading down hill.

It was 3 PM and hot. I grabbed a bottle of water, my field glasses, some trail marking tape and my swing-blade knife. That was all I wanted to carry. I hoped it would end quickly.

Searching for first blood is always painful. I walked the trail – nothing obvious.

I walked about 100 yards down the most likely route. Nothing obvious. Why couldn’t he just be there, lying on his side?

Doesn’t happen that way.

Looked at my phone for the time. I was already drenched in sweat. Thought about asking for help. Rob and our friend Terry were somewhere on the ranch, working on projects. Maybe I should text them?

At 3:18 PM I sent a message: “Just shot a good one.”

Then I went back to tracking. Put on my reading glasses and found a drop of blood. Then another and another. The trail began to line out.

Amazing how much easier it was to see blood with the readers on. I moved out at a decent rate. The blood was steady, but limited.

Most of the drops were on dead leaves, rocks branches or on the wild oats.

At 4:11 PM, almost an hour after my call for assistance, my cell phone sounded. It was Rob. He replied, “Cool,  pond on 26?”

I replied, “Yes, still tracking.”

Rob asked if I wanted help? I felt like saying, “Are you kidding?” but only responded “Yes.”

About 100 yards from the start of the trail, I was still on blood, but it was tough going. It was wickedly hot. Occasionally I’d walk ahead and search the area with my field glasses.

I got a break when I found a drop of blood about 50 yards down the trail. Kept thinking I’d find him on his side at any time, but he wasn’t there.

Then I found my arrow. It was covered in blood from one end to the other. It was clear that my arrow had penetrated through both sides of the buck, but it had remained in him for nearly 200 yards. This was a good sign.

At 4:34, Rob texted that he was at the pond. I told him to come straight down the hill and he’d find me. Now I was about 200-250  yards from the pond, but I couldn’t find any more blood.

Rob and Terry arrived and I was quite relieved to have help as I was hitting the dredded wall. I was reaching the point where my concentration was declining. Rob found blood where I couldn’t.

Then we got a big break. The buck had back-tracked for about 20 yards, leaving the main trail and Rob spotted his hoof print. As the buck was heading down a steep incline, his hoof marks were clear. Combining his tracks and drops of blood, the process began to speed up.

We began to notice that he was wobbling, bouncing of brush and trees.

He was off the main trail. Terry moved ahead of Rob and I. It was now about 6 PM and it was cooling off a little. I didn’t have much left, but we knew he wasn’t far away. The question was, would we find him before he spoiled?

Terry was standing on the edge of a cliff, and said matter of factly, “He hit the ground right here.”

Rob and I were about 25 yards behind Terry and abandoned the blood trail to walk to Terry’s side. That’s when Terry looked over the 20 foot high cliff and spotted the buck. He had gone over the edge and landed on a boulder about half way down.

He was surrounded by a patch of poison oak, but he was ours. I would not have recovered him by myself. I just wouldn’t have had enough stamina.

Probably would have found him the next day – after the buzzards worked over his stinky body. We arrived at the site of his demise after nearly four hours of tracking. He probably covered that same route in less than a minute.

I climbed down to the boulder and pulled him off into the poison oak. Terry and I drug him to a shady spot where I could work on him.

We took photos. I was so tired that I could barely hold my head up.

We couldn’t drive an ATV to  this spot, so after the photo session,  I began the process of boning while Terry and Rob climbed the hill to retrieve my pack, game  bags and water.

It was all I could do to wrestle the intestines from the deer, cut off his hind quarters and remove his back straps.

Terry returned and helped bone out the hind quarters and finish the front quarters. I assisted, once again thankful for the help.

Rob returned about 7 PM and we were almost done with the meat. Next I sawed off the buck’s antlers and we loaded the pack. Climbing the hill with the meat would be my final job.

It was slow going as my legs felt like they might explode.

Finally the truck and more water. My legs were cramping, but the test was over.

From the top of the ridge I called home. It was  9:04.

PS: I’ve eaten barbecued back strap the last two nights and the meat is excellent!

Opening Day A-Zone Archery 2013

July is usually hot in the hills around Livermore and that’s how it was last Saturday. I had pledged to clean out my freezer before deer season started, so on Friday night I watched Giants baseball and worked at completing a batch of summer sausage I’d made during the week. As bedtime approached, I rifled through boxes in my garage, searching for a few of the remaining items I’d need on the hunt.

Saturday morning came and I concluded that I wasn’t going to rush around madly preparing for the hunt, especially since my mother passed away a couple weeks ago and our family is feeling the strain while preparing for her coming memorial service. Finally ready to go, I stopped by to visit dad. He was sitting in his back yard enjoying the fresh morning air and peaceful surroundings. I commented that it was almost as good as sitting in my tree stand – silent and invigorating.

On the drive to the ranch, I was cooled by air conditioning and inundated by the news on CNN – mentally far from being prepared and very out of touch with nature. I needed the outdoors to revive me and I knew it.

As I parked my truck a few hundred yards from my stand, I observed a familiar shape under a tree about 50 yards away. It was the ears and horns of a young buck. As I checked it out with my field glasses, I spotted a second spike-fork about 20 feet to the left of the first buck.

I snapped photos through the windshield and concluded that it was time to turn off the radio and begin the hunt.

2 spike-forks under tree

It was past noon and the sun was hot. The little bucks were concerned with only one thing – shade. Any other deer would be in the same boat, but sooner or later they all get thirsty.

This would be my first hunt from my relocated tree stand. It was placed in a very good spot, overlooking a pond near the northeastern portion of our ranch. The pond was so close to the boundary of our property, that the border fence crossed the spillway. It is my belief that there are no other water sources in the vicinity and that ‘s why so many deer water at the pond.

After clearing away a few branches, conducting a little blind maintenance and drawing my bow to make sure everything was in place, I pulled my camera from my pack and watched for something to photograph. Acorn woodpeckers began to fly in and out of the oak tree in front of me and I got some nice photos.

acorn woodpecker 2 cropped

Many varieties of birds were using the pond for water in the shade of the small bunch of trees where my stand was placed. The perfect wind was out of the west – the direction from which deer would likely approach.

plain titmouse cropped

A plain titmouse, passed by. They are difficult to photograph successfully.

stellar jay

Stellar jays, acorn woodpeckers, scrub jays, juncos, goldfinches, chickadees, bushtits and flickers landed near me or beside the pond as they came to drink. Tree squirrels and California ground squirrels appeared as the day wore on.

I began to make a conscious effort to stay still and calm, for a buck could appear at any time. About 2 P.M., I looked up and spotted a  sky-lined buck about 200 yards in front of me.

Unfortunately, the autofocus on my camera was aimed too close to the oak tree in the foreground, so the bucks are not in clear focus. But I can assure you that they were both large enough to make me nervous.

Unfortunately, the autofocus on my camera was aimed too close to the oak tree in the foreground, so the bucks are not in clear focus. But I can assure you that they were both large enough to make me nervous.

There was only one reason why bucks would be out at this time of day. They were thirsty! I knew what to expect. Bucks like to hang around above the pond and survey the area for danger before watering. That’s exactly what they did.

Although the two bucks’ horns were similar in size, one of the two had a huge body. He’s the one that stands out in the photo. Finally the bucks climbed through the fence and walked from right to left across the clearing. The younger buck continued to glance down towards the water, as if he was eager for a drink. As they disappeared into the oaks and laurels to my left, I figured that the next time I saw them, they’d be almost in range. I stood, bow in hand as long as I could stand it. Then, knowing that it might be a while, I sat down and prepared to shoot while sitting. Although my shooting form would not be quite as good sitting vs standing, I knew it would be easier to remain totally quiet while sitting.

Another ten or fifteen minutes passed. Then the younger buck stepped out of the laurels to my left and walked into perfect position. He was at 26 yards and standing perfectly broadside. As he focused his view across the dam of the pond, he had no idea that I was there. I chose not to wait for a look at the other buck. Waiting would create risk, and I wanted the buck in front of me.

In my preparations for hunting, I made the decision to use a retractable blade broadhead for this hunt. Never a fan of anything that could create an option for failure, I made the switch reluctantly. However, I chose the Rage three-blade broadhead because advertising works.

I drew the bow and placed the 20 yard pin behind his shoulder. I never seem to aim quite as carefully when shooting at deer  – one of the reasons I’ve not been more successful. My release was OK, but not perfect. The arrow hit slightly back, but in a lethal location. I was amazed by the effect that broadhead on the buck. I’ve never before seen blood pour from a wound as it did from this buck. He took off in a death run, crashed through the barbed wire fence, ran in a complete circle at full speed and then disappeared down the hill onto the adjoining property. The air was filled with dust.

I listened for any sound of  the buck going down, but heard none. It looked like this was going to be over quickly, but (as it almost always happens) that would not be the case.

Note: I don’t want to rush the story, so I’m taking a break and will finish soon.

Archery Blacktail At Last

Killed my first archery mule deer in 1971, the year I graduated from college. About that same time, I began hunting black-tailed deer with archery equipment. Probably not prior to, but more likely it was shortly after.

In those days the problem was that we had limited opportunity to hunt on the coast as we controlled no property. But we did have one ranch where we could hunt, and Rob bagged  several bucks there, but I was in the Navy and not around much. When I did get a chance to hunt, I couldn’t put it together. Those hunts were always spot and stalk or still hunts. Had to run into a buck and then get lucky enough to get a shot.

So it went and then we began to look for a ranch where we could control the hunting pressure. We finally found a ranch, but we still couldn’t control the hunting pressure as we were one of a dozen hunters on  2,500 acres. We didn’t hunt with rifles, and the weather during archery season was a problem. July is a tough month heat wise. I managed a couple shots over a 20 year span and Rob did about the same. We never killed a buck with our bows.

As we began to control the hunting pressure, opportunities increased and I began to hunt more from blinds and stands. I missed a two bucks from my double bull blind. Then I missed one from four feet out of my tree stand. None of them were big bucks, but at least it was looking more do-able.

Over the last six or seven years I’ve moved my tree stand twice and this year I finally struck pay dirt. Yesterday I bagged my first blacktail with bow and it’s a nice buck. Here’s a photo. I’ll tell the story soon. It’s a pretty good one.

archery blacktail 2013

A-Zone Archery Opens Tomorrow

I’ll be there, bow in hand, but I’m still not sure where there is.

It could be in my tree stand overlooking a waterhole on the northeast end of our ranch. Or, it could be in my ground blind next to a different pond in the center of our ranch.

Or, I may end up glassing and scoping a large canyon where several bucks have been hanging out.

The weather will be moderate, but will probably reach a high of about 90. Wind direction will be a consideration. It was swirling yesterday when I scouted out the various locations. Didn’t see any bucks, but I know they were there. Did see a couple does, but they were laying low.

My bow is ready, but not perfect. I’ve got issues with my new site, but I can work that out. My shooting range will be limited this weekend. I don’t plan on shooting further than 30 yards anyway.

It will be nice to get outside and spend some quite time watching wildlife, even if the bucks don’t materialize.

Youth Blacktail Deer Hunt at MDF Livermore-Pleasanton Banquet, March 15

The Holm Ranch has graciously donated a, 16 and under, youth deer hunt for 2013. Every youth hunter to date has taken a buck on this hunt, which takes place about ten mile east of Livermore.

This 2000+ acre ranch is loaded with deer and occasionally a pig as well, so the hunter should make sure he or she has a tag for both.

The hunt generally

Emilee and her dad, Greg Selna - 2010.

Emilee Selna and her dad, Greg Selna with a Holm Ranch buck taken in 2010.

takes place in late August or early September.