The first 25 years of my deer-hunting life were spent trying to kill any legal buck. In the beginning, any success was good enough.
Between 1971 (the year I killed my first buck) and about 1995, I hunted with bow and arrow almost exclusively. During that time, I killed four bucks. Needless to say, I was not a prolific deer killer. But, I hunted every year and each year I hunted at least two deer seasons and often three – counting an out-of-state hunt.
My enthusiasm was not diminished by modest success. I had so much fun hunting deer that I was only slightly disappointed when I failed. And, I was an optimist, a big factor if you are an archer. The largest mule deer buck I killed before 1995 was a 23 inch wide three by three.
There was no need for an open zone tag in those days. Bucks were always around. I just couldn’t kill them. My missed shots per buck killed was somewhere around ten.
Then I won a Browning Semi-Automatic Rifle at a Mule Deer Foundation event. It was my first true deer rifle. Things changed in a hurry. I learned that deer were not really all that hard to kill if you could hit them and with a rifle they were much easier to hit.
One thing led to another and I was no longer satisfied to just hunt and occasionally bag a buck. I also began to hanging around with serious trophy hunters.
And, I learned that the biggest limiting factor in trophy hunting was access to a trophy buck. I began to pay attention to the hunting zones and as it became harder and harder to gain access to trophy mule deer, I became more envious of those who drew good deer zones to hunt.
Then, in about year 2000, California created a preference point system. Special deer hunts were carved out and trophy bucks were there to be had if you could draw a tag, but only a few dozen hunters were drawn for these hunts each year and in order to draw a special hunt tag you had to be very lucky.
As the years went by, I heard stories about the different special hunts and wished that I could draw, but that never happened.
About the time that the preference tag program came about, another way to obtain tags was created. Each year a very limited number of deer tags for specific areas were sold at auction.
As I attended fundraisers I watched as hunters bid what seemed to be exorbitant amounts of money for the right to hunt a deer. The cost of such tags was way beyond my means. Anyway, I was still hunting and having a good time doing so.
As time went by, my income grew and I would occasionally hire an outfitter for some of my hunts. Soon I realized that the cost of some of my outfitted hunts was nearly as much as the cost of the fundraising tags. I might be able to afford to purchase an open zone tag at auction. And, if I did, I wouldn’t need an outfitter, as the hunt locations were close to home.
The deer hunting season would be practically endless.
I’d purchased landowner tags for as much as $4,500 and guided deer hunts for more than $7,000. Why not stretch a bit more and pay $10,000 for a tag that would allow me to hunt all the places I’d dreamed about for years.
At the age of 66, 45 years after killing my first buck, I finally had the funds to bid on a tag that might give me a shot at a buck of a lifetime. The only thing stopping me was myself.