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.

Personal Preferences for Goodale

Getting ready to depart for Independence on Monday.

You say, “Opening day is Saturday. Why are you waiting until Monday?”

That’s a good question. My personal preference is to not hunt on opening day. I don’t like the feel of competition when hunting and during the process of scouting for opening day and then hunting on opening day creates a hyped-up feeling that is not attractive to me.

But, there are other good reasons. There will be good bucks, because that’s the way it is at the Goodale Buck hunt, but this year the numbers of good bucks will probably be higher than usual.

I’m basing that on the fact that the weather is ideal. It has been raining and snowing in the mountains and the temperature is dropping and along with that, so is the snow line. The deer tend to be found right below the snow line. This is commonly accepted and intuitive.

Given the current trend, the good hunting conditions should continue on past the first weekend. Therefore, I feel no pressure to get there for the start of hunting. Assuming many of the hunters will bag a nice buck on Saturday or Sunday, the number of hunters will be reduced.

On special hunts, like G3, many hunters bring friends along to scout. This creates the feeling that there are more hunters afield than are actually there – compounding the feeling that the hunt area is crowded. And, I don’t want to feel the hype, as it increases the chance that I might shoot a buck too soon.

Once again my preference is to wait until some of the hunters and their friends go home.

It may be that some of the larger bucks will join in the rut later than the young bucks. This is another reason not be in a hurry. I’d like to hang in there and see if this theory plays out.

I’ve also checked the moon phase and the best hunting days are Tuesday through Friday.

These are the thoughts that have been running through my brain.

Why not be patient?

Maybe all this will add up to an extra special buck. Or, maybe not.

We’ll find out soon.

G3 – Goodale Buck Hunt

Didn’t expect to hold out this long, but G3 might be worth the wait.

In case you don’t already know, the G3 hunt takes place in the X-9B deer zone. The hope is that deer will migrate out of the surrounding mountains into the valley along interstate 395 which is the eastern boundary of the Hunt Zone.

The highest peak in the vicinity is Mt. Whitney (yes that Mt. Whitney). It’s over 14,000 feet up. The valley floor is at about 4,000 foot elevation.

Here’s a link to a map of the area:

https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=83618&inline

The season is from December 1 through December 16. When weather conditions are right, numbers of bucks show up from the nearby peaks and parks of Inyo National Forest. I’ve never been there, but I’m getting as educated as I can.

I’ll probably get a room in Independence. That would create the most comfort. The town is located right in the middle of the zone.

The weather appears to be cooperating. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Modoc Deer

Spent nine days in Devil’s Garden. It was a great time. Morning temps ranged from 8 degrees up to 11. The Cargo Trailer worked well, but I would like to have had a heater.

The propane lantern and one-burner stove took the edge off, but that was about it. Went to town on day three and purchased a big sleeping bag that saved my life. I was freezing at night in my light down bags.

IMG_6378 cargo trailer

The cargo trailer was roomy for one person. Had a table set up at the front and rear with my cot in the middle. The solar panel supplied plenty of power to keep the battery working the lights and fan. The Rhino ATV fit nicely inside and towing was no issue for my 2013 F-150 with Eco-boost engine.

There were plenty of deer, but I didn’t find a shooter buck. Here are my best deer photos.

The horses were there as well.

DSC_0690 horses

On the final day of the hunt, I wanted to sit by a tank and wait for deer. This is what showed up.

Between the skittish horses and swirling wind, it became  clear that it was a bad day to hunt the water hole, so I passed. It was time to head home anyway.

Next up, Doyle.

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.

Open Zone Tag in Retrospect

Here are some questions you may have about the Open Zone Tag. Of course I am biased, as I’ve coveted this tag for years.

Question #1. How much did your Open Zone (OZ) tag cost?

A: $10,500. When considering price, the purchaser may want to take into consideration the fact that most of the tag cost is a donation. It is a donation because the proceeds go to the CDFW for project funding.

Since I have a lifetime deer tag, I will write off the entire cost of the tag as a donation. I’d recommend you run this by your accountant before you spend the money.

Question #2. Where did you purchase your OZ tag?

A: Santa Rosa Chapter of MDF Banquet.

Question #3. Did the OZ tag live up to expectations?

A: Yes. For a trophy hunter, having the opportunity to hunt in Zones that have a significantly high rate of success on big bucks is always expensive. An added bonus is that, unlike a lot of week-long trophy hunts, an OZ tag holder has the entire season to work with. However for some people, hunting any legal buck gives them as much excitement. If that is the case, the OZ tag is worth little more than any general season tag.

If there is a great tag that you’d like to draw, having an OZ tag solves the problem. After spending half a lifetime wishing, I decided to take things into my own hands.

Question #4. Is there a down side to holding an OZ tag?

Yes. It’s difficult to quit hunting. It was especially painful for my wife who wanted me to stay home. For that reason, I tried to be judicious in the number of days I hunted.

Question #5. Of the zones you hunted, which was your favorite?

The Devil’s Garden hunt (M9).

Question #6. Did you hire a guide?

Not exactly, but I did pay almost $1,000 for information such as maps and other written material. When friends helped me I tried to cover their expenses, like gas money or lunch.

Question #7. Who helped you?

Several friends provided assistance. Rick Bullock was especially helpful regarding the Devil’s Garden hunt.He spent of day of his valuable time showing me around. He drove me around for an afternoon and morning. We counted 199 deer during that period. After that, he traveled to Colorado and bagged a 29 inch typical.

Susanville MDF Chapter Chair, Pete Holmen allowed me to stay in his spare bedroom for several nights and drove me to some of his favorite hunting areas. Pete’s girlfriend, Tara, provided amazing hopitality.

Local guide, John Simpson, provided access to some places where I wouldn’t have been able to hunt and he also had an impressive ability to spot deer.

My long-time friend and former MDF Director, Jerry Lowery drove over from Reno to help find the buck. He was also invaluable in taking care of my buck after it was down.

These four hunters are on the short list of the most knowledgable people on earth when it comes to mule deer hunting in California and Nevada. They also have great credentials. I’ve seen them.

Question #8. What size buck were you looking for?

The buck I shot was exactly what I was looking for. If he had been larger, I would have shot him anyway. He’s (by far) the largest buck I’ve killed.

Question #9. Will you purchase an OZ tag again?

A: I’m not totally in control, and I cannot guarantee that I’ll be able to afford one again. However, now that I’ve done it once, I can’t help but believe that there is another OZ tag in my future. In the meantime, I also enjoy hunting forked horn bucks and maybe I’ll stumble on another great buck. Killing a great buck is not impossible, but it is very difficult.

The process also enlightened me about some hunts that are underrated and achievable in the general draw, but you’ve got to have at least a few preference points – or be extremely lucky.