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.

 

 

 

Buck Run 2017

Just got home from Washington. The drive from California to Washington is a long one, especially when you’re solo.

My good friend David Stevens and his son Derek have a great ranch in Washington and I was the benefactor early this week.

On day four of the ranch hunt, I killed the best buck of my deer-hunting career. Here’s a photo.

IMG_3797 Buck Run 2017

More on this later. Almost time for bed.

Heading to Devil’s Garden

This is one of the big ones. I’ll be heading to Modoc National Forest on Friday and hunting for nine days. Here’s a link to a map of the area open for this hunt.

deermap_muz9_300-devils-garden

I’ve been up there twice to scout and haven’t seen many deer, but this is the time when they begin to arrive and the weather may be cooperating.

I’ll be setting up camp just outside the hunting area and I’ve got a bunch of ideas about how and where to hunt, but we’ll have to see what works.

Here are a few photos from my scouting trips.

If I don’t find the buck I’m after, the next stop will be the Doyle Muzzleloader hunt which starts on November 19.

Open Zone Tag Strategy

Drove for a couple hours today and had some time to ponder strategies for using the Open Zone Tag. My first effort took place yesterday and that was to identify specific hunts that I’d really like to do.

Hunts like Anderson Flat, Goodale buck hunt and Doyle muzzle-loader hunt are well known and the statistics show that they are productive.

But it is a bit intimidating to choose a hunt in a location where you have never been. Scouting will be necessary and these places are a few hours away from home.

I finally concluded that maybe I should focus on one unit – and hunt the area on all the seasons. For example, each of these hunts takes place in a specific hunting zone and they are open to hunting during archery, muzzle loader and rifle seasons. Therefore I could start hunting and scouting a unit during the August archery season and then return during the muzzle loader hunt and the rifle hunt.

By doing this, I’ll reduce the amount of time I’ll spend in unproductive locations.

There was a time when everybody could do this,  and it’s still possible to do it in the A, B and D zones to a limited extent. It will be like a trip back in time.

It’s a thrill to have this type of anticipation.

 

California Fundraising Tag

There are many fundraising tags made available by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). These tags are a product of legislation passed by the California legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

Many conservation organizations supported the creation of these tags including, for one, The Mule Deer Foundation (MDF). So it’s appropriate that I made my fundraising tag purchase at MDF’s Santa Rosa banquet last weekend.

CDFW made the tag available and authorized that MDF Chapter to sell it at the banquet. My high bid was $10,500. Five percent will go to MDF to cover the cost of selling the tag and the remaining 95 percent goes to the Department to be used as funding for deer-related conservation and associated expenses.

Now for the good part. The tag, called an Open Zone Tag,  is basically a season pass to hunt for deer during California’s numerous seasons. With that tag in hand, I can hunt any of the hunts that I’ve drooled over for years.

For about two hours this morning I looked over old California Big Game Booklets and listed the places I’d like to go. And, I can go to many of them if I don’t pull the trigger too soon.

Yes, I could have kept on putting my name in the hat for these tags, but at my current rate of success I would probably have died without hunting any of them. Finally impatience won out.

Or, I could have made trips and photographed deer without a tag, but that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.

I plan to set my sights high and pass up a bunch of bucks before I pull the trigger. However, I’m not passing up Mr. Big even if he’s the first deer I see.

I’m making my list which will likely include hunts in X2, X5, D6, X9a, X6 and maybe even a B zone. In search of nostalgia, I’ll probably visit a few of my old haunts. I’ll probably hunt a couple zones during the August archery season while also scouting the country  in preparation for the late season opportunities.

This is a very full plate of activities, so we’ll see how much I can actually pull off, but I’m not making other plans. I’ll likely hunt with my bow, muzzle-loader and rifle before it’s done. The early archery seasons start in mid-August and rifle opportunities continue almost to the end of December.

I plan to keep notes and post them here. That will be part of the fun.

 

 

 

 

A Different Kind of Deer Hunt – Thanksgiving Whitetails

Any trip is better when it includes some hunting.

That’s an extra reason why I was excited by the idea of visiting my step-daughter, Shannon,  and her husband, Tim, in Virginia for Thanksgiving. They live in Southampton County, an area with plenty of whitetail deer. And they can hunt right behind their house.

The trip itinerary was loaded, deer hunting, Thanksgiving with relatives and a visit to USNA, my college alma mater that I haven’t seen in 42 years. With luck we would even sneak in a quick Washington tour.

Granted the hunting would be limited to a tree stand at the west end of their 15 acre farm, but they are adjacent to a large wooded parcel owned by a paper company, so deer are present.

Our midnight arrival at Dulles International was a rough start. My shotgun remained in SF, not to arrive until the AM on Monday. The temp was below freezing and the wind was howling. It took us about an hour to reach the rental car lot.

I had forgotten about the hazards of navigating around the Washington area. The iPhone GPS was a bit confusing and on the poorly lighted highways we made one wrong turn after another. Add to that the surprise toll road and we had all the ingredients of a travel nightmare.

The 3.8 mile drive to the hotel took about an hour. At 3:30 AM we finally settled in. I nearly blew a gasket the next morning when the United Airlines luggage hotline told me they’d get my missing luggage to me, “in four to six hours.”

By about 11AM, we were finally underway to Annapolis and a quick visit to the “Yard.”

After more than 42 years, I made my return. Things do change, like the addition of a metal detector scan at the gate for all visitors. Had to return to the car to drop off my Swiss Army knife while Linda waited impatiently.

The Navy Yard at Annapolis has changed, but felt about the same as it did when I was a Mid. The gray walls of Bancroft Hall were no more inviting, but the Midshipmen were basically the same and I felt at home walking amongst them.

Snapped this shot of Linda and I at the Tecumsuh statue at USNA

Snapped this shot of Linda and I at the Tecumseh statue at USNA. The statue is a replica of a wooden statue taken from the USS Delaware.

Even picked up a few souvenirs at the Midshipman Store before departing. Linda was more impressed with Annapolis than the Academy. It is very quaint and also very old with lots of history.

By 3:30 PM we were on 95 South (along with everybody else) heading to Southampton County. We arrived at Tim and Shannon’s about 7:30 PM on Monday.

The weather went from cold to wet. Two days of constant rain made my initial efforts to hunt a bit challenging. Since Tim and Shannon are not hunters, I needed to find some VA hunting regulations. A Tuesday trip to Walmart produced. Surprise, no license required for the landowner or immediate family in order to hunt deer on one’s own property. (I took that to include “step” parents.)

I knew in advance that I would be limited to shotgun for hunting deer. That’s the law in Virginia. I used my Beretta O/U with a slug in the upper barrel and turkey load in the lower. Not sure if the turkey loads were important, but that was my choice. Squirrels were also legal and I had several opportunities, but passed on them.

A 5 gallon bucket, purchased at “The Tractor Store” became my interim hunting seat until the tree stand could be erected. On Wednesday morning I was hunting shortly after first light. Although a bit wet, I would not have surprised me if a deer showed up, but none did.

Tim had purchased the stand from amazon.com and chose it based upon Amazon’s rating system. They purchased the Gear-guide 16 foot 2-man strand rated for up to 500 pounds. The instructions suggested that three people raise the stand. It took a couple days and two trips to town but I finally got it up against a suitable tree – by myself – on Friday.

Our Thanksgiving dinner would be traditional. Tim brined a twelve-pound bird, in preparation for the seven-hour smoking process. We sat on buckets and hunted for an hour at first light on Thanksgiving morning. The roosters were crowing, crows cawing and goats bleating. No sign of deer.

Two man tree stand where we hunted.

Two man tree stand where we hunted.

I managed to assemble the tree stand, but not hoist it. Any more hunting was put off until Friday. The turkey, dressing, gravy, salad and apple pie hit the spot. Friday morning I was back on the bucket. Morning temps were in the 20’s, but I had plenty of clothing.

Linda and I took morning walks each day and met a few of the local hunters along the way. We even spotted a few interesting tracks.

Linda on one of our walks

Linda on one of our walks

pivot corn and timberIn the photo above, the cornfield, pivot and thick woods show the reasons why whitetail deer are doing well in Southampton County. A variety of deer foods, water to create habitat and escape cover are essential.

On our walks Linda and I saw evidence of successful hunts.

On our walks Linda and I saw evidence of successful hunts.

It was nice to see the flycatchers, cardinals, king-birds, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks that were present. The crows were loud. No deer again on Friday. After another trip to Lowe’s, I finally finished the assembly and hoisting of the stand.

Eastern kingbird in Shannon and Tim's front yard.
Flycatcher in Shannon and Tim’s front yard.

On Saturday, Tim and I climbed the ladder and sat patiently. Still no deer. An interesting twist in Virginia deer hunting is the use of hounds. We heard dogs many times while hunting, but we didn’t see any until Saturday.

The technique, turn the hounds loose at one location and let them sniff their way through the thick briars to put any bedded deer in motion. Most of the dogs were beagles, but I also spotted a couple odd looking mutts.

We found this bobcat track along a dirt road. Bobcats, raccoons and deer are three of the primary pursuit game animals in Virginia.

We found this bobcat track along a dirt road. Bobcats, raccoons and deer are three of the primary game animals pursued in Virginia.

I’d spoken with several local hunters that Linda and I met on the roadsides while walking. Several of them were cruising roads searching for their dogs. The dogs were fitted with radio collars and the dog handlers used hand- held and truck-mounted receivers to keep track of the dog’s location. It appeared that the dogs tended to stay out all or at least most of the day.

The hunters were on stand and waiting for the disturbed deer to pass by. We saw the results as occasionally a truck would pass by with a deer in the bed. We got word of some nice bucks being taken.

Hounds, like this Walker hound are used to hunt deer, raccoon and bobcat.

Hounds, like this Walker hound are used to hunt deer, raccoon, rabbit and bobcat.

On Saturday afternoon a pair of beagles walked under my tree stand and headed towards Tim and Shannon’s chickens. As they closed in on the free-ranging chickens I feared that something bad was about to happen.

After failing to catch the beagles and deter a dog-chicken conflict,  I elected to look for somebody more familiar with the problem. When one of the neighbors volunteered to help, we managed to pull a chicken out of the mouth of a beagle. We’re not sure if the chicken survived, but we did find the beagle owner.

Shannon and Tim's small farm with chickens and dairy goats.

Shannon and Tim’s small farm with chickens and dairy goats.

The day ended at sunset and another beagle under our stand. The last one caused no trouble. An interesting law in Virginia closes hunting on Sunday, so Saturday was the last chance to hunt before we left.

Sunday was spent relaxing and visiting Williamsburg. I celebrated the hunt by ordering a game pot pie at a Colonial Inn. The meats included venison, rabbit and duck. It was excellent, in fact, I’m planning to look for the recipe.

Shannon and Tim in front of the  King's Arms Tavern in Williamsburg.

Shannon and Tim in front of the King’s Arms Tavern in Williamsburg.

Monday we drove back to DC and managed to visit the Washington Monument and others  – something Linda had never done.

Snapped this photo in front of the White House.

Snapped this photo in front of the White House.

The trip didn’t produce a whitetail, but it did lay the groundwork or a future opportunity.

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert after a five-day visit, but my impression after a few days of hunting was  positive. In Southampton County, populations of deer, turkey and other game are enhanced by the summer rains and crops that include corn and soy beans. From the hunter’s prospective (in clear contrast to California, where game is spread out) habitat in this Eastern states has  potential to hold game at densities that enhance hunting on small parcels. In addition, land prices appear to be moderate,  making ownership potentially affordable for hunters.

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!