Planning Your California Muzzleloader Deer Hunt

On October 26th, many California muzzleloader hunts open. Make sure you are properly prepared.

One of the main issues with muzzleloader hunting is the amount of paraphernalia it takes to operate. The best way to get past this obstacle is to practice several times before going afield.

However, California laws regarding toxic shot are throwing a new wrinkle into the program. For several years, muzzleloader bullets have had the appearance of being made of copper. In fact, I was one who thought I was shooting lead-free bullets until recently.

Now I’ve found out that the so-called “Copper” bullets I’ve been shooting for over two years are actually only copper coated. To complicate things, I’ve not found any bullets that call themselves “lead free.” However, Barnes does make an all-copper 45 Cal. bullet that fits into a 50 Cal. sabot and it meets the California standards as far as I can tell.

Check them out. Here’s a photo of the POWERBELT so-called “Copper” bullets on the left and the BARNES bullets with sabots on the right.

IMG_7421 bullets

The POWERBELT “Copper” Bullets on the left call themselves “copper” bullets, but as near as I can tell they have lead in them. The BARNES bullets on the right are described as pure copper. They are 45 caliber with a 50 caliber sabot.

I shot the Barnes bullets and they were accurate in my Bonecrusher model 50 caliber muzzleloader. The sabots are a very tight fit and it takes a bit or work to get the bullet down the barrel. Make your first shot count and carry a bullet starter. If you have only a long ramrod, you may never get your firearm loaded.

Round Valley – Returning to a Place I’ve Never Been Before

How do you return to a place where you’ve never been?

No. If you’ve never been there, you can’t return. But you can go to a place which you’ve interacted with many times over a long period of time. It’s possible to feel like you’ve been there even though you haven’t even been close.

That’s the way it is with me and Round Valley, located just a few miles west of Bishop, California. That’s south of Crowley Reservoir and in the northwest corner of the Owen’s Valley.

Here’s a link to a map of the hunting area:  https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=83619&inline

The reason I feel like I’ve been there is  based upon my activities of more than 20 years ago while I was editor of the Mule Deer Foundation magazine, Mule Deer – more recently known as MDF Magazine.

We published an article about deer management in Round Valley and another about monitoring mountain lions. The author of those stories was Becky Pierce who still works for California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

So, now, for the first time ever I’m going to Round Valley. The next step will be figuring out the best way to hunt. Looks like the weather is going to be pretty mild between now and November 10th, which means it may be hard to locate the biggest bucks. But I’ll be trying.

I’ve been doing some research and it looks like my best chance will be to catch a buck heading south out of the Mammoth Lakes area. The deer tend to come out of the west and follow the edge of the mountains down towards Bishop.

We’ll find out soon if they’re going to cooperate and if I’m going to find the right one.

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.

 

 

 

Planning Late Season Buck Hunting

One of the best parts of owning an Open Zone deer tag is planning the trip.

Especially as one grows older, it’s better to be looking ahead than looking back.

My foot troubles are mostly behind me. Still a bit of healing going on, but I’m about 90% healed and by November, who knows how far along I’ll be, but whatever, it will be good enough.

During my previous Open Zone escapades, 2016 & 2018, I went to places that I really wanted to see and hunt. Now that the ice is twice broken, I’m going to be a bit more systematic and practical.

I’m leaning towards focusing on two or three November hunts and taking into account my resources. I’m going to do as much scouting as possible during October. I also have some friends who are imbedded in the areas I’m considering.

And, I have the house at Almanor which is located near several of the best late-season muzzleloader hunts. The house can be my home base and  muzzleloader shooting takes less preparation (practice) than archery.

Now that I’ve spent the summer laid up, the time I needed to hone my archery shooting is mostly gone making it unlikely that I could attain the level of confidence I would need to shoot a great buck with a bow, but I can reach that point with a lesser amount of practice with the muzzleloader.

The late-season muzzleloader hunts begin during the last week of October and run through November. And, one of my favorites, M3 (Doyle) ends before Thanksgiving, meaning I won’t have to come home in the middle of the hunt.

Dreaming of the Big One

It’s been 32 days since my ankle surgery and if all goes well, I’ll be up and about in a couple weeks. Have to see what the Doc says on July 15.

Therefore I’ve decided that it’s time to start dreaming. I’m going to start by reviewing the successes of the last few years.

In 2016, I purchased an OZ tag and hunted primarily in Devil’s garden – M9. No success there, but I did manage to kill a buck during the Doyle muzzleloader hunt, M3.

IMG_3106 2016 Doyle buck

This 2016 M3 buck is my favorite California buck. He has lots of mass and huge eye guards.

Here are some other photos from recent years.

 

 

Doesn’t hurt to dream. That’s half the fun. I’ll probably revisit these places and add a couple more in 2019.