Round Valley – Returning to a Place I’ve Never Been Before

How do you return to a place where you’ve never been?

No. If you’ve never been there, you can’t return. But you can go to a place which you’ve interacted with many times over a long period of time. It’s possible to feel like you’ve been there even though you haven’t even been close.

That’s the way it is with me and Round Valley, located just a few miles west of Bishop, California. That’s south of Crowley Reservoir and in the northwest corner of the Owen’s Valley.

Here’s a link to a map of the hunting area:  https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=83619&inline

The reason I feel like I’ve been there is  based upon my activities of more than 20 years ago while I was editor of the Mule Deer Foundation magazine, Mule Deer – more recently known as MDF Magazine.

We published an article about deer management in Round Valley and another about monitoring mountain lions. The author of those stories was Becky Pierce who still works for California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

So, now, for the first time ever I’m going to Round Valley. The next step will be figuring out the best way to hunt. Looks like the weather is going to be pretty mild between now and November 10th, which means it may be hard to locate the biggest bucks. But I’ll be trying.

I’ve been doing some research and it looks like my best chance will be to catch a buck heading south out of the Mammoth Lakes area. The deer tend to come out of the west and follow the edge of the mountains down towards Bishop.

We’ll find out soon if they’re going to cooperate and if I’m going to find the right one.

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.

August Coming to a Close

IMG_7060 sunrise at Almanor cropped

Spent last week at Lake Almanor. The fishing was rough, but there was some promise.

My friend Bob Smallman and I searched for fish at Almanor without success. We did find some fish on our fishfinder, but only one hit during the entire effort and we didn’t hook him.

IMG_7001 New P-Boat

Here’s Rob with the new boat at it sat behind the Bass Pro store in San Jose.

I’ve recently invested in a pair of downriggers, so now I need to learn how to operate them. Looks like YouTube time. Linda and I cruised the lake in our new boat – quite fun, but it is definitely a lot of work managing it and getting it ready for action.

IMG_7071 Linda cruising Almanor

Linda enjoyed the comfort of the boat which can seat eight people.

While at Almanor, Rob was in Alaska fishing for Coho salmon. I’m sure he’ll have some photos that he’ll share.

My neighbor at Almanor drew a X6A archery deer tag and came home with a whopper.

Tomorrow I’m meeting with my doctor and I hope I’ll come home with a good  understanding of what to expect with my ankle as it continues to heal. Right now I’m walking fine, but not setting any land speed records. His input will help me plan my deer hunting. The Open-Zone tag will play a big role in my hunt as the extra weeks before the seasons close should allow me to hunt in a near-normal fashion.

If all goes as planned, on Tuesday we’ll be heading back to Almanor. I know where some fish live. Now I need to find out how to get to them.

In the meantime I spent a couple hours today messing with decoys as duck season is approaching. Here are a few of the birds in the project.

Yesterday I cleaned out the freezer and smoked the salmon remaining from last season.

img_7082-smoked-salmon.jpg

These were Silvers from last September’s trip to AK. Still in very good shape.

That’s about it for August, unless I get into some fish this week. Most of the Labor Day Weekend will be occupied by watching the grandkids as they explore the outdoors around the lake.

Nice to be on my feet again.

Overwhelmed by Opportunity

Overwhelmed. That’s what I am. Overwhelmed by hunting opportunity.

A good friend invited me to hunt with him on his ranch in the B1 Zone during the late season blacktail hunt November 9-24. My Open Zone tag allows me to hunt that unit, so I can’t say no to that. I’d love to kill a 4×4 blacktail. Maybe this will be the year.

IMG_6967 biggest blacktail cropped

My biggest blacktail. Yes this guy was entered in the local Native Sons of the Golden West Buck Contest ( BBC). You can see that I never removed the entry band. He finished a distant seventh or something like that, but he is still the largest blacktail buck I’ve ever seen while hunting the A Zone. 

The notice for the Livermore Native Sons Big Buck Contest arrived in the mail last week. Pricing system has changed. With an Open Zone tag I need to pay a $35 entry fee for each Zone I want to be entered in. Well we know I’ll enter in A and B1, that’s already decided.

Of course I have to hunt in X2, it’s my favorite unit. The Devil’s Garden has many opportunities to kill a buck, there’s archery in August – the bucks will be in the timber of the northeastern portion of the unit. I killed a buck there in August of 2017. It was a small 4×4 and the hunt was possibly the most exciting hunt of my life. I’m sure I posted the story.

IMG_3601-1 Rich's 2017 buck

This is my 2017 Zone X-2 archery buck. Got drawn with four preference points. My largest Archery buck finished in second place in the “All California” category. 

Here are some shots showing deer and other wildlife that are prevalent in the Garden.

 

And, I must be prepared to hunt in Zone X-6B. X-6B holds some of the states largest mule deer bucks. And, it’s so close to Reno that I might be able to once again spend a few nights with my buddy Jerry and commute to Doyle. The muzzleloader hunt centered around Doyle takes place during the rut. That hunt will surely cost me a $35 entry fee. It’s a bargain.

A place I haven’t hunted is X-6A, but I’m planning to hunt that unit this year because it’s only a 40 minute drive from our family vacation home at Lake Almanor. I know there are some big bucks there and the area east of Susanville called Bass Hill has some of the worlds most massive growth of bitter brush. It would be a mistake not to enter into X-6A. I’d hate to bag a dandy and have it sit on the side lines.

I’m motivated to attempt to add a nice California mule deer to my modest collection of mule deer mounts. The best opportunity to do that is probably Zone D-6. I can hunt there during the rut and if the snow flies early, bucks will migrate out of Yosemite.  D-6? Another $35. What the heck. Can’t enter the game without covering all the bases. Last season a friend of mine killed an awesome buck in that unit.

It would be nice to bag one of each of the subspecies of mule deer in California. So far I have killed a California mule deer, Inyo mule deer, Rocky Mountain mule deer and Columbian Blacktail. There are three others, the desert mule deer, the burro mule deer and the southern mule deer, but the fact that they’re way down south means I’ll probably never to after any of those guys.

The Round Valley hunt in Zone X-9A has been on my list for a long time, but unless something changes, I’ll once again not make it there for the hunt. The silver lining is that I’ll save $35 and a long drive to the Eastern Sierras.

Sent a check for $175.  It goes to a good cause and we have a very active Livermore Chapter with some very dedicated volunteers and participating members

The Longest Deer Season

IMG_6462

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.

 

 

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.