For Devil’s Garden (M9) (A27) Hunters

Having hunted the M9 hunt twice, I have a general feel for this hunt. I’ve not killed a buck on the M9 trips, but I’ve seen and photographed a bunch of deer. Maybe I  should have shot at one or two of them, but I chose not to.

Here’s an update for 2019. Looks like the weather is going to be warm and clear during at least the first half of the season, which closes on November 10. It appears to me that the deer leave the northeastern portion of the X2 zone about this time of the year. However, it is unclear to me if the larger bucks wait and migrate as the heavier winter storms hit.

I’ve not found the largest X2 bucks in the areas with the most does on my two hunts. I know there are larger bucks because I’ve seen them during summer trips to the area northeast of Crowder Flat.

During the 2017 early archery season, I saw numerous bucks larger that I’ve found during the M9 hunt. And, the general rifle hunt pressures those big bucks so they stick to heavy cover.

Therefore, I’d suggest that a trophy hunter (I mean looking for something like a 26+ inch buck with all the goodies), should hunt the area inside the M9 boundary just west of Crowder Flat to intercept the largest bucks if and when they move. That’s just a suggestion and I wouldn’t spend my entire hunt working that angle.

IMG_3106 2016 Doyle buck

This 2016 M3 buck is by far my biggest California buck. I’d call a buck like him a genuine shooter buck. But, some people would pass him up. He’s 28 inches wide and 18 inches tall.

If you’re willing to go home empty handed because you didn’t find that trophy, I’d not hunt where the does are because that’s where most of the hunters will be. There’s plenty of habitat in the northern half of the M9 zone where the big bucks can stay safe and if you hunt them you won’t be seeing a lot of deer, but you may find a loner buck that fulfills your dream.

If you’re not a trophy hunter or you’ve never killed a 4×4 mule deer, but you’d like to be successful on a nice buck (something like a 20-22 inch 4×4), I’d hunt the area with the most does. That would be the southern end of the M9 zone in timbered areas between Mowitz Road and Deer Hill. And, that doesn’t mean you can’t kill a monster in that area.

That southern area is where I’ve seen the largest concentration of deer, including many medium sized bucks. Here are some of them:

Just my opinion, but it is based upon experience

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.

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

On the Wall

Plenty to do this time of year; put decoys away;  apply for tags, plan future hunts;  fish; honey do’s; remodel plans; fish;  replant the front yard after killing it during the drought; attend MDF fundraising events; fish; and (last but not least) put last fall’s buck on the wall.

My 2016 Doyle muzzle loader buck is back from the taxidermist and after great debate and lengthy discussions with Linda, the great buck is on the wall next to me as I type. IMG_3106 Doyle buck 2017

For a while he was headed to the living room, but as far as I was concerned he had to have the best spot or nothing. Linda said he didn’t rate replacing the kudu which is more colorful and exotic. Therefore the fireplace spot remains with the South African antelope. In my eyes the antelope is beautiful, but not nearly the trophy that the buck is.

The great buck could have hung over the TV in the family room. But another South African antelope (impala) is there and the small antelope is better suited for that spot.

Hung the great buck next to my desk a few minutes ago. Moved him to the most prominent location in my home office and trophy room. He is the buck I’ve been looking for and he will probably be the best buck of my life, but I plan to keep trying to find another like – him for a while.

He is a beautiful buck and obtaining a buck of his stature has always been on my lifetime list. He is wide (27 1/2 inches wide), fairly tall (18 inches high), symmetrical, colorful (very dark with white face) and his hair is very smooth.

My good friend Jerry Lowery deserves credit for doing a great job of field dressing the cape and my taxidermist, Taff Vidalles (Favorite Feathers Taxidermy) turned him into a great shoulder mount.

There is a band on his right antler. It is the band that shows it was in the local big buck contest and it is part of his story. He won the award for best California buck and would have been in the top five in the out-of-state category.

Ironically I’ve hunted in quite a few states while searching for this buck. Here they are: CO, ID, NV, MT, WA, SD and OR. I’ve also hunted mule deer in Canada (AB, BC). It’s ironical that my biggest buck has been killed in California.

When I exclaimed to Linda that the buck was very beautiful, she replied that he was even more beautiful when he was alive.

Yes he was.

But, animals don’t live forever and she would never have seen him.

More on the Bob Marshall Wilderness Trip

The weather was snowy and cold. The wind howled – just what you’d expect from a November wilderness experience.

The falling snow limited our visibility on the first day of hunting to the extent that my hunting partner, Alden Glidden, and I elected to spend the afternoon  cutting firewood. It was obvious that we’d be burning wood continuously for the next four days.

A crew of 3 guides put up the wall tent and stove, created a tarped entryway to the tent, set up an auxiliary tent for storage and set up cots in the tent for four people to sleep. A large camp stove would burn enough wood to keep us comfortable and well fed with hot food. Our second guide for the week showed up at the end of daylight and the group was reduced to four. Two guides, Colter Heckman and Shance Hall, along with two hunters, Alden Glidden and myself.

Our spike camp was at about 7,000 feet on the continental divide. Four horses remained in camp for hunting. About a foot of new snow greeted us on the first morning’s hunt. Along with the snow came a bighorn ram that apparently was lost as no sheep are known to reside in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

A lone set of deer tracks crossed a saddle near camp and Colter exclaimed that they looked like they belonged to a big muley buck.

Our first day of hunting in a prime deer area produced no mule deer, but Colter did spot some elk about a mile away. We elected to leave them be and hunt for mule bucks instead, but none appeared.

On day two we rode the horses off trail while hoping to find mule deer in timber. We found plenty of tracks but not warm bodies. As we arrived at the saddle where the buck tracks were found the day before, Colter suggested that I sit and wait for the buck. It was about 2:30 PM when I took up a position about 85 yards above the saddle. I brought a rest and water/wind resistant clothing so I could stay motionless while waiting for the buck. The temperature seemed to be in the teens and the wind was howling with gusts at 30 miles per hour.

As the buck would not stop for long in the saddle, I had to remain ready. A few seconds would be all the time I’d have to judge, aim and shoot if the buck appeared.

At about 3:45 PM. I glanced away from the saddle and then back. Without notice, the buck was standing directly below me. I took the safety off, glanced through the scope and saw a shooter buck. No time for examination beyond that.

As I readied to pull the trigger, I could see the buck tense his body in preparation to exit. He began to move forward as I squeezed off the shot. He hunched up and walked in a circle. As he completed 360 degrees turn, I finished him off with a second shot. I had my buck.

After walking to the buck, I could see the 4×4 antlers on this right side, but wasn’t sure that he had four points on each side. As I pulled his remaining antler from the snow, I was elated to see that both sides were perfectly matched with long tines.

The buck was quite nice and what I was looking for. With a perfectly matched set of 4×4 antlers about 20 inches high, I immediately pronounced him to be perfect for my wall.

For many years I had hoped to one day kill a big buck in the Montana wilderness and now I had one to call mine.

Grizzly bear, mountain lion and wolf tracks were observed every day.

Grizzly bear, mountain lion and/or wolf tracks were observed every day.

The deer of the wilderness live their lives under the constant threat of predators. In addition to being pursued by human hunters, they are also a primary food source for wolves and mountain lions as well as a supplemental source of food for bears, both grizzly and black.

In addition to the bighorn ram, elk and mule deer, we also observed three moose, one a large bull. While watching the three moose, a wolf howled from about 150 yards away. Having wolf tags, we attempted to attract the wolf by howling back at him, but he didn’t come. Later we walked over and found his tracks and the tracks of a second wolf. We followed their tracks for a ways, but they were long gone. I guess they weren’t impressed by our howls.

Left to right, Shance Hall, Dr. Alden Glidden and Colter Heckman pausing at the trail head on the way home.

Left to right, Shance Hall, Dr. Alden Glidden and Colter Heckman pausing at the trail head on the way home.

Rocky Heckman and his crew at Montana Safaris did a great job of providing for us and allowing us to enjoy some of the wildest wilderness in the U.S.

Pumped About Next Fall

Set up some great hunts for next fall. With the day approaching  when I’ll no longer be able to climb mountains and ride horses, I look forward to the fall with impatience.

Last hunting season wore me down, especially the eight day hunt in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. But now my enthusiasm is renewed and I’m ready for another go-round. One of the keys is to keep climbing my local hill on a regular basis.

This is the area where I missed a big buck last Novermber.

This is the area where I missed a big buck last Novermber.

I’ll be back in the BOB again next November, hunting with Montana Safaris and looking for the big wilderness buck that has eluded me the last two years.

I’ve put in for a Shiras moose tag in Idaho and if I get drawn, I’ll be packing into the Lolo Wilderness during September. That’s the time when the moose will be rutting, it’s also archery deer and elk season. If I get drawn, I’ll also be looking to hunt deer with my bow and I’ll also be looking into whether I can purchase an elk tag as well. May have to go for two weeks.

I paid $4,500 for a Nevada landowner tag the year I shot this buck. It's still my biggest muley buck.

I paid $4,500 for a Nevada landowner tag the year I shot this buck. It’s still my biggest muley buck.

However, just in case I don’t get drawn, I’ve got a back-up plan to hunt mountain goats with Kiff Covert in BC. If that happens it will be with rifle and I’ll also have a deer tag in case we come upon a worthy mule deer.

The usual smorgasbord of draw tags has also been applied for in Nevada and California. That is another unknown, but something good could happen and if it does, I’ll be hunting closer to home as well.

Who knows what the duck season will be bring this year, but whatever it is, I plan to be there. Even bought a new O/U shotgun. Can’t wait to test it out on the pond.

At the end of the month, the schedule will begin to clarify and my excitement continue to build. Anticipation is one of the key elements why hunting is such a great pastime.

Hunting the Bob Marshall Wilderness 2014

Hunted again with Rocky and Lorell Heckman of Montana Safaris. Modified the hunt this season. Spent most of the time camped in a spike camp on the continental divide, guided by Rocky and Lorell’s son Coulter.

The change put us in the middle of our hunting territory at the start of each day. We used our horses to get around for the most part, but hunted out of camp on day two.

Here’s the gist of the story.

Day one, Rich misses a cow elk at 200 yards. With a herd of 30 elk, no bulls, passing through a burn at 200 yards, I got prone and shot at one of the herd. Looks like I never touched any of them leading my guide, Coulter, to theorize that I must have hit a tree. In any event, it was a clean miss.

On day two we hunted out of camp and saw no legal game animals, but we did find two grizzly bears about 160 yards from the trail and 200 yards from camp. Got a couple pretty good pics.

These look-alike grizzlies were searching for berries on an open ridge about 200 yards from our camp site. Fortunately they never came for a visit.

These look-alike grizzlies were searching for berries on an open ridge about 200 yards from our camp site. Fortunately they never came for a visit.

Day three produced one of the most exciting days of deer hunting ever. After I missed three times, we followed a buck estimated by Coulter to be about 27 inches wide. We caught up with him twice during the day. The first time we caught up with him I buried a bullet in a tree on my fourth shot and plain missed him running on my fifth.

When we caught up him and his doe companion, the 320 yard shot was nearly impossible in fifty mile an hour winds, so we tried to get closer, but failed. By then it was getting dark. We rode to camp in twilight.

On day four we found the herd of cow elk again, but couldn’t find a way to get close enough for a shot.

The crew brought us feed for our horses on day four and then they hunted near our camp where they came upon two wolves, but were unable to get a shot.

The crew brought us feed for our horses on day four and then they hunted near our camp where they came upon two wolves, but were unable to get a shot.

Day five and six produced some opportunities at deer, but nothing that we were looking for. That’s hunting.

This is the area where we found the big buck.

This is the area where we found the big buck. It was a burn created in the fires of 1988.

In all, the group had sightings of wolf, grizzly, black bear, elk, moose and mule deer. We observed many tracks of these species and also the track of a wolverine. This wilderness area is about as wild as it gets in the lower 48.

As a large winter storm approached at the end of the hunt, large flocks of migrating geese and swans could be heard above us. Winter came in as we departed.

When I climbed into my cab to head to the airport on my last morning in Montana, the temperature was nine below zero, Fahrenheit.