The Arrow Head

Wednesday morning, the fifth day of our Devil’s Garden hunt was a little rough. I got to my spot and waited for the sun to light up the scene so I could advance without spooking deer, but it was to no avail as another hunter arrived and chased the deer out of the woods.

That’s what happens when other people discover the deer you’ve been coveting. You have to expect it to happen once or twice each time you hunt in the public domain for a week or more.

The other hunter chased five bucks out of the nearby timber and I spotted them on a ridge top. They were obviously nervous. That’s when I realized exactly what was going on. I spotted the hunter and his driver friend who picked him up in a white dodge truck after he had completed his chase.

It had rained the previous day and tracks on the ground were very easy to follow, so I decided to pick up the trail of the five bucks – a couple of them big ones- and give it a try. I didn’t really think I would track them down, but I wanted to find out if I could.

The wet ground provided a great medium for the tracks. Here’s a photo I took of one of the buck tracks. They always look bigger in mud and the hoof sinks in farther than with dust.

IMG_3584 deer track

After about three or four hours of following the bucks, but never seeing them again, I gave up and began the walk back to the timber where I intended to still-hunt for bedded bucks.

I’d been looking at the ground all day, so it’s no surprise that I kept on looking and then a shiny black piece of obsidian appeared. It was a nice looking point, but unfortunately the tip was broken which is often the case. I snapped a photo of the arrow head.

IMG_3599 arrow head

I have to say that the find lifted my spirits a bit and gave me some energy, which may have contributed to the next days success.

 

Devil’s Garden Archery Hunt

The bottom line. It was a terrific hunt. Had a great time and we all saw bucks.

Yes I got a buck. Here’s the story.

On day six of the season, I had seen quite a few bucks and the numbers seemed to be holding. But, I was a bit worn out when I rose on Thursday. Decided to glass for bucks from the roads.

About 7:30 AM, I spotted three bucks heading up to a mountain top which I was familiar with. I carefully watched as they cleared the rim and took note of the place where they disappeared.

On some occasions I might have gone after the bucks and tried to watch them bed down and then stalk them in their bed. In this case, I decided to conserve my energy and wait until late afternoon to go after them.

About 3:00 PM I parked my truck about a mile from the spot and carefully stayed out of sight of the bucks. After 30 minutes, or maybe and hour, I reached the crest of the hill and stopped to study the area.

Within minutes, a buck appeared to my left. He was walking down wind and cross wind from me. I knew right away I was in a very good position. I raised my range finder and proceeded to range the buck as he neared.

The first range was 60 yards. The next 59 yards, then 42 yards and then 37 yards.

He turned broadside and stepped beside a downed log. There I considered a shot and decided it was good. As I prepared to draw my bow, the buck pawed the ground, circled and circled and laid down.

What a bummer. Now I had no choice but to stand still and ready until the buck stood up. How long would that be?

I found out in almost exactly and hour.

The wind had been steady, coming into my left shoulder. Then, I felt cool air on my right shoulder. The wind was circling and about about to shift direction. I knew the buck would soon get my scent.

That happened almost immediately. I was ready with knocked arrow as the buck stood and looked intently in my direction. But, it did not me.

My fortune was good so far, but the next move was his and it was critical as I didn’t have an open shot where he stood.

Apparently because he could not see me, the buck took two steps forward and again looked in my direction. When he took the first step forward his head went behind a small dead tree and I drew my bow.

With bow draw, he looked directly at me as I place my 30-yard sight pin on the top of his back and released. The buck did not move until my arrow clanked off a rock.

For a moment my heart sank as the sound was probably an indication of a miss.

I struggled up the hill, while dealing with legs that had been motionless for an hour.

When I reached the spot where he had stood, I looked for the arrow hoping that it would be close by.

The arrow was there and it was red. It was the reddest arrow I’ve ever seen. Relieved, I flopped on my back and laid still for what seemed like ten minutes, allowing my body to relax. I knew from the look of the arrow that the deer was probably already dead.

When I stood up I realized that I might be able to see the buck with my field glasses and not have to track him at all. Sure enough, after about five seconds, I saw the buck laying on it’s side.

IMG_3601-1 Rich's 2017 buck

There is more to tell and I’ll be posting again soon, but I just got home and I’m ready for bed.

 

 

Fate of A4 Deer Hunt Yet to be Determined

Sent my A4 to back to the license and revenue branch thinking there was no hope that the closure of Devil’s Garden would be reversed.

However rains during the last few days may have opened the door a bit. If the closure is lifted or modified in a way that creates real deer hunting, I’ll be heading to Sacramento to retrieve the tag.

The next few days will tell the tale.

The A4 deer hunt is not the only hunting in jeopardy. The Clearlake Reservoir antelope hunt is also up in the air. And, the September elk hunt is not out of the woods either.

Obviously, the deeper into fall a hunt takes place, the better the chance the closure will be over.

According to Ken Sandusky the public affairs office for Modoc National Forest, another factor is that Modoc is hunter country and many of the people involved in decision making are hunters themselves.

We’ll see what happens. Here are a few Devil’s Garden scenes.

Devil’s Garden Fires Threaten Hunts

Had a great trip to Modoc to scout for deer. And, we did find some. Take note, they were in a burn.

Burns are a vital ingredient of deer habitat. The fires return the climax forest growth to a new start of the plant succession. Mule deer do best in habitat with young plants that sprout after a fire removes the timber that shades out new growth.

bucks in northeast Devil's Garden

We also witnessed several days of lightning a an accumulation of small wild fires that began to expand.

Upon our return home, we were greeted by a notice of closure of most of the Devil’s Garden for the remainder of the fire season (October 1) See link.

Modoc fire closure order 8-1-17-1

Here’s a map showing the closure area.

Modoc Fire closure map 8-1-17-4

The closure is for northeastern Modoc National Forest in the Devil’s Garden area. Unfortunately, that’s where all the mule deer spend their time on the summer range along with most of the antelope and elk. For deer it’s a no-brainer and I’ve already send a letter in to the License and Revenue Branch requesting a reinstatement of my preference points.

Appeal letter

For antelope and elk it’s not as clear. There are some antelope and elk that hang out in the southern portion of the Garden,in summer, but most of the antelope appear to hang out near Clear Lake Reservoir.

aantelope at Clear Lake DSC_0079

Just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on an opportunity, I contacted Collins Company. Collins Company, AKA Collins Pine. Collins owns owns a large portion of the summer range in northeastern Modoc and has a long track record for providing public access to hunt and camp.

The Collins Forest Manager said, “Find another place to hunt.”

That effectively closed the last potential opportunity for a deer hunt. If my appeal is granted, my preference points will be reinstated and my deer tag forteited.

IMG_3557 burn pano

So, these events are a double-edged sword. While some of the areas scared by fire will produce only junipers and cheat grass, other areas will provide a fresh succession of preferred plant growth that will enhance the habitat of Modoc deer for years to come.

Finding a Deer Hunt You Can Afford

Got an email from a reader of my blog. He expressed a sincere desire to find a way to hunt deer with his son. He was vague about his means and may have had more resources that he let on, but because he was vague, I decided to respond with a range of options and the letter back to him formed a basis for this post.

dsc_05051-buck-and-doe-day-two

You’ll have a better chance for big bucks if you can hunt during the rut.

After some editing, this is what I told him:

There is no easy solution to your problem. It isn’t hard to get a chance to hunt mule deer and it’s not too difficult to get a shot at a legal buck. But, even that is not a slam-dunk these days.

Budget has a big impact upon one’s chances. With a budget of $500-$1000 per person, you’re pretty much limited to a California hunt with a good chance of being drawn for a good chance at a mule deer buck within three or four years if you retain preference points. Or, if you’re lucky you might get drawn in Nevada which uses a weighted lottery system and you may get drawn on any given year. If you go the Nevada route,  the price will go up somewhat.

My buck where he fell

Here;s a buck I took on a do-it yourself California hunt in X12. Unless you’re lucky, it takes about four years to draw in this unit.

Idaho has a first-come first-served basis for many of its mule deer hunts and it also has enough deer to give you a reasonable chance of success. The cost of a do-it yourself hunt in Idaho would probably be $1000-2,000 per person, mainly because out-of-state tag prices are higher and travel is costly. If you camp out you reduce your cost, but for late season hunting it can get almost unbearably cold.

Oregon  and Utah may be places where you can obtain a tag and hunt for a price similar to Idaho. Travel will vary depending upon the cost of gasoline, and once again non-resident tags aren’t cheap – maybe talking $1,000-2000 for travel and tags.

If your budget is in the $4,000-$10,000 per hunter range, you may be able to find a landowner tag and camp out in Nevada, but you need to be resourceful to find a tag for sale. Landowner tags are in demand. Contact Nevada Department of F&G for a list of landowners who have tags.

IMG_0028 Rich with buck angle view cropped and resized

Killed this buck on top of a knob in the Cortez Mountains of Nevada. The landowner tag cost $4,000, but that was about ten years ago.

Guided hunts in Montana and Wyoming tend to be less costly, but tags and travel will get you into the $5000-$7000 range.

For a really good guided hunt, you will probably have to spend between $6,000-$10,000 per hunter plus the cost of travel and tags – maybe $1500 added on. Colorado and New Mexico are places to consider.

On any hunt there is a chance you’ll come home empty-handed. I’ve hunted with guides for mule deer three times in Montana, once each in Nevada (muzzleloader) and South Dakota (archery) and twice in Canada. (Once each in British Columbia and Alberta AB.) I killed a nice buck in Montana and had chances on the other two Montana hunts. (Passed on one buck and missed the other.)  Although I didn’t have a chance at a buck on the guided Nevada hunt, I did kill a buck each time I purchased landowner tags. Never got a shot at a mule deer in BC and missed a great buck on an Alberta archery hunt.

img_2325-montana-2015

I really like this Bob Marshall Wilderness buck killed three years ago. The total cost of the hunt including travel was about $7,000. It was a true wilderness hunt.

The greatest hunt of all was last year when I purchased a California Open Zone tag in an auction. The price was $10,500. I spent another $1500 on travel and scouting. In the end I killed a buck near Doyle on November 19th. It is clearly the biggest buck I’ve taken.

IMG_3106 Doyle buck 2017

This is clearly my best buck. Killed it last November in California during a muzzle loader rut hunt. It was also my most expensive hunt when you add in the cost of the Open Zone tag.

So there’s the picture from my view. Most of my life I’ve hunted cheap, but often. Now that I have more resources, I spend the amount of money I need to spend in order to make sure I hunt in good deer country, but money is no guarantee.

If you’re willing to part with the money, I’d suggest the option of a Nevada landowner tag program. It requires some leg work or you may want to call it sweat equity.

I bought a deer hunt in Alberta for next November (2017). The hunt is very popular. I had to put a deposit down three years in advance. The total cost of the hunt is $13,000 and that doesn’t include travel to Calgary (Call it another $1,000).  Last time I was there I saw some of the biggest mule deer bucks ever. Hope they survived the 2016/17 winter.

Note: I didn’t bear down hard while coming up with these numbers so they are meant to be just a ballpark estimate. Be resourceful and you may do better than my numbers. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have friends who own a ranch.

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.

Day One-Doyle Muzzleloading Rifle Buck Hunt

Met up early with my three hunting partners. A long time friend,  Jerry Lowery drove over from Reno. He couldn’t resist the chance to help find a big buck. He has personally taken some great Nevada bucks. He’s also a former guide and dedicated muzzleloader hunter.

Pete Holman, Chair of the Susanville MDF Chapter and John Simpson a native of the area with lots of local knowledge created our game plan. Both John and Pete guide on the side. Being a stranger in the area, I welcomed their presence and their humor.

We started out by hunting along the Nevada-California border in a howling wind and spotted several four-point bucks with does. But,  a buck with large antlers did not show. We drove back to 395 and shifted our search to the south near the Lassen County line. There we found deer and a few rutting bucks, but nothing of size.

dsc_05791-ruttinh-buck

Noon found us again on the north side of 395 gaining elevation in order to spot something to go after, but the howling wind seemed to be keeping the deer holed up. Not sure exactly how hard the wind was blowing, but I bet it was well over 50 MPH near the top of that ridge.

We continued to bounce around at the higher elevations, encountering winds that seemed to be of hurricane force. Eventually the weather improved as we headed out into the sage north of Doyle.

About 3 PM we found a great buck in an unlikely spot near the valley floor.

I managed to squeeze the trigger and was optimistic about the shot. The buck ran about 40 yards and tipped over.

My best buck ever:

img_2381-richs-doyle-buck-adjusted

He’s 27 1/2 inches wide and 18 1/2 inches tall, with massive bases and great character.

I’m indebted to Pete, Jerry and John for their eagerness to help me succeed. You’d have a hard time finding three guys with more enthusiasm for buck hunting. The day was more than successful, it was just plain fun.

Although November 19th was the first day of the Doyle muzzleloading rifle hunt, it was the 14th day for me scouting and hunting deer in the X Zones. The 14 days encompassed portions of four hunt zones (X2, X5a, X6b, X6a) two special hunts and three of the methods used for hunting deer in California. However, I primarily scouted during the general and archery seasons.