The Longest Deer Season

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In the right-center of this photo is the Taboose Creek Canyon. To the left of Taboose Creek is the northernmost bench within the Goodale Unit. In the upper left-hand corner is the top of the tree-covered bench.

I love deer and deer season. My 2018 deer season ended on Thursday December 6 and that is later than any of my previous California deer seasons have ended.

If you love to hunt deer, the California Open Zone Tag is as close to an endless deer hunt as you can get. Of course you can only kill one buck, but if you’re choosey about what you shoot, the hunt can go on and on. And so it was.

Each time a hunt zone closes, another opens and you have the option of starting another  hunt. Or, you might run out of gas and I can see how that could happen. If you simply want venison, this is not the tag for you.

And, an “endless” season is a little hard on the wife and other family members. Sometimes you just feel like shooting something to end it. I wasn’t faced with that type of decision until the last hunt of the year, The Goodale Buck Hunt, G3.

The Goodale Hunt is like a cross between Mardi Gras and a deer hunter’s cult gathering. When you see a truck full of camo-clad people you don’t know if they’re hunting or just observing. I actually picked up and moved from one location only to find out later that the hunters I was avoiding didn’t have a tag or rifle, only spotting scopes and field glasses.

BR sign post IMG_6473

This is a road sign located at the corner of Onion Valley Road and Foothill Road. Independence is a small town on the east-central portion of the unit. The campgrounds to the west are located at an area called Seven Pines. Most of the deer are found along the western edge of the unit, where the mountains meet that valley.

No matter, there were plenty of locations with deer. I hunted for three days, which is a very short hunt for me. The first day I got an orientation from three hunters from Newhall, California. (Jim, Jim and Darrel) They showed me a bunch of bucks – more than 30. Many of them four-point bucks, but more often 3x2s and forks as you would expect.

I hardly thought about loading my rifle. One of the biggest bucks I saw that day walked slowly across the road in front of my truck about 75 yards away. He was missing one tine probably  broken off while fighting. I would have had a hard time shooting any buck that was behaving that way. I also recalled seeing that same spot on a you tube video.

A nice thing about the Goodale hunt is that you can make of it whatever you want. If you want an easy buck, your hunt will be over in an hour. If you want to trophy hunt, you can watch bucks every day of the season until you either find the buck you want – or not.

If you want to climb a mountain, go for it. They are awesome and intimidating. Not for 69 year old hunters like me. I’d like to think that I can climb those hills, but I didn’t test the theory. I walked very little, but thought about it a lot.

I wanted to climb to the snow-covered benches full of bucks, but figured out that it would only confirm that I’m as dumb as my wife suggests I am. But I did talk to other guys who have hunted the benches and that is where many of the biggest bucks have been killed.

Spotting deer from a mile away and climbing the mountain is what mule deer hunting is about.

So after traveling with a crowd on Tuesday, I hunted solo on Wednesday – spotted a good buck on the bench and considered going up there. Opted out. Not a risk taker, but if I’d had a guide to go with me maybe I’d do it.

A good friend, Rick Escover, who was accompanying another hunter the first few days, became available after this Colorado buddy, Jason, killed his buck on “the bench” Wednesday.

Jason climbed up one of those gullies and bagged a nice buck from the steep cliff surrounding one of the most prominent benches. Afterward, Rick told me that Jason wanted to kill his buck on the mountain, and I applaud him for that. The buck he killed had an interesting cheater sticking out on one side of this main beam. Unfortunately a crash into the rocks as he was dying broke the cheater off.

Rick offered to stay for an extra day or two and accompany me. I was happy for his company. On Thursday morning it was snowing and we decided to cruise the territory in search of spots where the bucks were gathering with does. Rick took me to such a spot and it was a blast.

First one doe appeared on a bitterbrush-covered slope.

Then it was two, three, four, five does. Then the bucks started popping out. First a 2×2, then a 4×4 with a broken tine – then two more bucks, probably 4×3’s.

We moved the truck up the road about 75 yards where we could see the opposite side of the draw. Within 300 or 400 yards of us we spotted another half-dozen bucks.

About half of the bucks were four pointers. We sat for about an hour watching. The largest buck was a four by three. He was tempting as he tended a doe within shooting range, but it was early so we turned around and drove off to investigate another location which turned out to be a bust.

After lunch we checked out a “sleeper” spot that Rick knew about. As we headed up the access road, I commented that I was a bit nervous. The road was narrow and crossed a very steep hill. There was just enough room for one vehicle. I commented to Rick that I wouldn’t want to meet another truck head on.

Within five minutes a truck appeared in front of us backing down the hill. Oh #$%^&.

I let Rick take over driving and walked down in front of him as he backed my truck down the hill. In the end, no damage. The other hunter had reached a switch back covered in snow and didn’t have enough traction to make the turn. I’m glad he went first.

At this point it was 3:00  PM and time to quit cutting bait and start fishing. We discussed our options and decided to return to the area with a bunch of bucks.

During the middle of the day the snowing had stopped, but in the late afternoon it started again. The road was covered in snow, but passable. As we approached the spot where we’d found bucks in the morning, a doe crossed the road about 200 yards ahead of us. We watched for a few minutes and a small buck appeared, and then a bigger buck appeared.

Rick said, ” I think we should put the spotting scope on this guy.”

I agreed. As Rick watched the buck I asked him, “Is he a four by four?”

Rick replied, “Yes.”

“Eye guards?”

“Yes,”

As the deer appeared to pick up speed and move up the draw in to the tall brush, we decided to drive past the deer and re-approach them from a knob overlooking the draw into which they had disappeared.

I loaded my rifle for the first time during the trip and grabbed my tri-pod shooting rest. Rick told me he’d wait at the truck, unless he heard a shot in which case he’d follow my route through the snow.

After I climbed the knob, I realized that our choice of approach was a good one. On top, I couldn’t see the deer, but knew they were somewhere down there. I hung my rifle on the tri-pod and glassed the draw.

After a short while, the deer began to pop out of the brush near the top of what I could see of the draw. I looked at the buck and was satisfied that he was a shooter. He was at 175 yards, walking.

The rifle felt good on the rest. I had adjusted the tri-pod for a standing position as the brush was tall. After a minute or two the doe led him into a broadside position. With the crosshairs solid on this chest, the rifle fired. It felt good and sounded good.

The deer exited the draw, no buck seen. I hoped that meant that he was down.

I mentally marked the spot and waited for Rick to arrive. When he got there I pointed out the spot where I believed the buck had been standing. I decided to walk around the spot where he had been and then work back towards Rick.

After arriving at the location where the deer had stood, I found the trail of the does, but no buck tracks. This was good as it supported the idea that the buck was down, but didn’t prove anything.

As I worked my way back down hill towards Rick I heard him shout. “Found your deer!”

Always a relief when the kill is confirmed. Instead of following the other deer, the mortally wounded buck had run directly down hill about 50 yards and crashed. The hunt was over, except for a short drag and photos.

Rich with buck IMG_6485

He’s not a big deer. His width is 21 inches, and height just under 18 inches. He has all four points on each side and also nice eye guards. Everybody who hunt Goodale wants a monster buck, but the truth is that they are hard to find. I am very happy with this buck.

The Goodale Buck Hunt was as advertised. Lots of deer and many bucks. From the beginning, my helpers had let me know that there would be lots of bucks to work through – bucks with broken horns or genetic variations.

Having never been to the winter range south of Goodale Creek, I had no idea of what to expect. What I found was plenty of deer. What I didn’t expect was to be told that the population was way down from previous years.

Several theories were given. One was that the deer sometimes migrate in a westerly direction based upon weather patterns, and that this was one of those years. Another was that there was a massive deer die off during the winter of 2017/18 – apparently from extremely cold weather and icy conditions that created hazardous icy slopes where deer slid from the mountain and either died instantly or later due to injury.

This theory is supported by findings of deer bodies/bones found by hikers in canyons where the deer fell. We’ll never know for certain.

Maybe the herd has declined. But, if the habitat remains in tact, the herd will rebound.

 

 

Back from Doyle (M3)

My friend Jerry Lowery and I had only two days to find a buck at Doyle. Located several four point bucks, but couldn’t get excited about them.

Here’s a couple of Doyle bucks that I photographed on Friday afternoon.

 

After that found only one other in that size range and it was one we followed on Sunday morning.

We hunted BLM land in the Long Valley, the Doyle Wildlife Area and the Fort Sage Mountains. Looked around a few other places, but didn’t want to spend time scouting with so little time.

Now my dilemma is deciding what to do for the rest of the season. Can go to Anderson Flat, but the results from last season there are dismal. Not sure why.

Goodale is a good option. Trying to figure out a plan for that. One the other hand I could fly to Washington to hunt my friend’s ranch. We’ll see what works out.

Haven’t fired a shot yet this year. I’d like to do that soon, but it could be 0 for 2018.

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.

M9 Devil’s Garden

Leaving in a day or two. Lots going on. Good thing I had my 2016 hunt check list saved.

Went through it tonight. It is probably more stuff than I’ll take, but I may take it all. Won’t go out shopping much, except for some food.

This is a rut hunt for trophy bucks in great habitat. A bit of a drive from the Bay Area, but not too bad.

Taking my F150 and pulling my 16-foot Cargo trailer with our Rhino ATV and set up for sleeping.

Here is the preliminary list. It will evolve a bit as I pack.

Devil’s Garden muzzleloader M9 Nov1-11, 2018

Deer Season About to Start

Deer season could have started in July, with the A-Zone archery season, but a series of mishaps and also some planned trips wiped out the A-Zone season for me.

The last weekend of the A-Zone starts tomorrow. I’ll probably go to the ranch, but mostly for purposes other than deer hunting. With about 150 pounds of fish and assorted other game in my freezer, the last thing I need right now is a deer carcass.

So… I’ll gather up some stuff stored at the ranch, pick up the Honda Rancher ATV, shoot my muzzleloader and maybe my .30-06 and then return home in time for dinner.

On Monday, Linda and I will drive to Alamanor for a week of relaxing.

The real season begins on about November first when, with my Open Zone Tag in hand, I’ll make the first trip of the season. My objective will be X-2 where the Devil’s garden muzzleloader season will be open. It runs until November 11th so I should have a chance at a nice buck.

If that doesn’t work out, I’ll hunt the Doyle muzzleloader hunt and maybe the Bass Hill archery hunt. I can reach those areas while staying at the, newly aquired, Lake-House at Almanor.

It has been a full summer. Now for a full fall – without any surgeries.

Did make some progress today by taking the Airstream trailer down to the grasslands where it will remain at the Kerry Club until February. It’s looking pretty good for (it’s age) – 62. I’ve owned it for 32 if those years.

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.