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.

 

 

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.

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

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.