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.


Conservation Versus Conservation



This great mallard habitat on Sherman Island is no more.

Our duck club, on Sherman Island in the California Delta, was some of the greatest seasonal marsh on earth. In winter, ducks, geese, shore birds, raptors, river otters, beavers, muskrats and many more critters thrived in that habitat.

It was great hunting.

After the California Department of Water Resources purchased the duck club from us, we continued to manage the property as a seasonal marsh. Then California decided that the property needed to be turned into a conservation experiment.

The primary goals were to reduce subsidence and sequester carbon. This was a prototype project. Unfortunately, the goals of the experiment conflicted with the existing use.

In order to test the hypothesis, the existing seasonal marsh would have to be replaced by permanent ponds.

DSC_0056 ducks

Our Sherman Island duck club was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Having sold the property to the State, we were in no position to oppose the program. The rest is history. Although ducks and geese still migrate to Sherman Island, they avoid the permanent marsh in favor of the remaining shallow-flooded pasture that surrounds the property we used to own.

It’s easy to see the effects to waterfowl when you observe our property. It’s more difficult to quantify the effects this change had on the California waterfowl population, but when combined with other similar projects, it could be substantial. We’ll never know.

This was a situation where one form of conservation conflicted directly with another.

Conservation comes in many forms and we see conservation activities frequently, but underlying conflicts are usually invisible except to specialists who manage wildlife or wildlife habitat.

Ongoing are changes to wildlife preserves and refuges on public lands. Where lands are dedicated simply to wildlife, there is competition between thriving species and threatened species. Should endangered or threatened status always trump thriving or common?

Where land is purchased for and dedicated to a certain species or group of species, one would expect management of that land to be managed for that species. Is that always the case?

Take, for example, land purchased with Federal or State Duck Stamp money. Duck stamp funds are raised by our government agencies specifically to purchase habitat for migratory waterfowl. Hunters purchase these stamps with hopes that there will always be waterfowl to hunt.

California has a long list of threatened, endangered and special-concern plants and animals. What is the ultimate “trump” species? Can habitat for a threatened species displace waterfowl habitat on dedicated land?

garter snake on log

Sometimes habitat is designed by the forces of nature. Other times man redesigns land to favor one species or another.

Habitat can be converted by applying water. Timing of the water application is crucial. When water floods fields in winter and is left to dry during the spring, the habitat favors migratory birds. When farmers use water to irrigate, farming can create food for many species including waterfowl.

When land is flooded and water covers the land during spring and/or summer, it is beneficial for numerous species and sometimes waterfowl can nest there, but usually not.

When land is permanently flooded, it favors primarily fish species but there is little food to attract waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks.

We must not kid ourselves about permanent marsh. It may attract golf course Canada geese, but it is not important to migratory waterfowl.

It would be nice to think that conservation always benefits all things, but it’s not that simple.

Western Hunting and Conservation Expo 2018

The Western Hunting and Conservation Expo was a great show and gathering spot for a multitude of Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) members.

When the counting is over, the result will be that a great deal of money was raised for conservation – millions.

Many exhibitors went home happy with their decision to attend. The wait-list for booth space will continue to grow.

And, mule deer conservation received support from the Trump administration. Here’s a quote from the MDF news release:

Secretarial Order 3362 was signed today by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo, the annual convention of the Mule Deer Foundation. The order outlines the Department’s intent to work closely with the 11 western states to enhance and improve the quality of big game winter range and migration corridor habitat on federal lands that the Department manages.

Corridors and migration routes are a critical element of mule deer habitat. Improvement of forage and cover is important.

Where migration routes are blocked, deer herds dwindle. Some of California’s largest herds have been decimated by segmented range where freeways have made migration nearly impossible.

The best example of a severed migration route that I can think of is Interstate 80 between Truckee and Reno. On many other highways automobile collisions take a huge toll on mule and black-tailed deer – not to mention autos and their drivers. Highway 395 between Reno and Susanville is a good example.

Hopefully, this order will allow wildlife supporters to get out in front of any new efforts to bisect habitat. The best (and safest) time to do that is before a road is built.

California’s Public Waterfowl Hunting Areas

California is blessed with numerous public hunting areas. Many of those are waterfowl refuges where acquisition and management of the land has been and continues to be funded primarily with money garnered from sales of federal duck stamps or taxes on firearms and ammunition. This means primarily duck hunters.

In California you can break down the refuge system into four distinct areas. Northeastern California, the Northern (Sacramento River) portion of the Central Valley, the Southern (San Joaquin) portion of the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley of southeastern California.

State Wildlife Areas are managed  by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and National Wildlife Refuges are managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). With a couple exceptions, the hunting program on all public hunting areas is managed by the State.

Currently there is a petition being circulated by Jeff Kerry, a very dedicated hunter and developer of duck habitat and also good friend of water-fowlers. He is seeking support for a plan to create more oversight by public hunting interests on the lands managed by CDFW and USFWS. A petition for a show of support is being circulated. I have personally signed on.

A few years ago, the California Waterfowl Association supported legislation requiring the CDFW to accommodate a Habitat Conservation Committee to provide public input into how the habitat on hunting areas is managed.

The effort met with resistance from the CDFW staff and an alternative solution was negotiated. The current system requires CDFW to hold meetings for hunters each year prior to the opening of duck season. Although these meetings may be productive in other ways, and they should not be abandoned,  it is unlikely that they will result in improved habitat conditions.

A habitat committee would review plans for annual planting, manipulation and flooding. The committee would be advised as to water allotments and how they would be applied as irrigation is the most important aspect of wetland management. Water is the difference between a seasonal marsh and just plain upland. Water is important before, during and after duck season.

Based upon the information I’ve gathered, I am now even more convinced that a Habitat Management Committee is needed to review how California hunting areas are managed. The committee needs access to management plans and the areas themselves.

I’m continuing to urge public area hunters to sign the petition. More to come as I continue to investigate.

Go to: http://chn.ge/2BfeLpd




Hunter’s Inventory

Early summer is a great time for taking stalk of the annual wildlife production, especially if you’re a hunter.

A hunter can’t help but notice the young of the year that begin to expose themselves during late spring and early summer.

While flocks of larks, blackbirds and magpies are noteworthy, it’s the game species that catch the hunter’s eye and so it was this weekend as we focused on hunting at the ranch.

Our primary thoughts were centered on preparing for our August archery mule deer hunt – A4. Knowing that we need to prepare, we decided to spend the weekend hunting for our ranches limited population of pigs while also setting up targets and honing our shooting skill.

This morning we set out early in search of the dozen or so pigs that live on our 2,000 acre ranch, knowing that we might catch them out in the open grassland when they are easy to spot.

IMG_3255 ducklings

Signs of a good mallard hatch have been abundant.

The pigs were elusive, but at the second pond we checked, my brother, Rob, couldn’t help but notice that a mallard hen and its brood of four ducklings were huddled up on the pond’s dam, a good sign that four young of the year had survived long enough to create a sense of optimism about their chances of reaching maturity.

We recalled that last year a hen mallard (maybe the same one) on that same pond had lost its entire brood.

We moved on searching for the pigs, but they were not cooperating. We couldn’t help but notice that deer numbers were dismal. The drought of 2014/15 had a drastic impact upon the number of deer on our ranch and we covered three-quarters of the ranch without seeing a single deer. Finally a lone yearling doe stuck it’s head up out of the annual grasses.

On the other hand, flocks of quail were diving into the brush everywhere we went, especially when we drove through a 200 acres brush patch that provides the most security for quail. I’m sure we saw several hundred quail, in every size and shape. Prospects for quail season hit the roof.

Valley quail

Prospects for quail in 2017 are excellent.

In general, game birds seemed to be doing well. Quail and dove especially, but we also came upon a group of five gobblers that were following a hen around. Seems a little late, but they didn’t want to give up. One of the five toms had a beard that looked to be eleven inches long and was quite thick.

Although we didn’t find the pigs, we think they are around the area somewhere. In the meantime we filled our archery targets full of holes,  set back the local ground squirrel population and I managed to get started on sighting in the rifle that I intend to use on a late-season mule deer hunt next fall.

We also avoided an impending disaster when Rob opened up the Kawasaki Mule and discovered that rats had built a nest inside and nearly destroyed the wiring that controls virtually everything. It was also a fire hazard in the making.

We also confirmed our date for scouting the X2 zone, enjoyed a few cocktails and barbecued some of last season’s venison.

The big disappointment was seeing no bucks, but that was somewhat offset by the fact that the does appear to have multiple fawns. Maybe the predator population is down as well and if so we will have deer again in a few years.

DSC_0077[1] doe and fawns









Whipsnake Survey

Yesterday, biologist Mandy Murphy allowed me to tag along with her while she ran her string of snake traps in search of Alameda whipsnakes and other reptiles.

We found a whipsnake in the third trap we checked. It was a recapture as she had caught it once before and left it with an identifying mark.

The snake was a large one, about four and a half feet long. She also caught a gopher snake.

IMG_3199 trapped gopher snake

The trap consists of vertical boards which guide the target species towards four wire cages that are similar to minnow traps. Once the snake or other critter enters the trap, it cannot find a way out. In this photo there are four separate wire mesh cages underneath the foam boards which protect the caught snakes from overheating.

The traps are monitored closely so that snakes will not be injured.


Snakes that are caught provide samples for DNA testing to determine their genetic makeup. According to Mandy, researchers have determined that two California racer species, the Alameda whipsnake and the California racer, are closely related. It is anticipated that the snakes captured on our ranch will share the genetic makeup of both species.

California Red-Legged Frog Egg Mass

California red-legged frogs are listed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened where ever they are found.


This is an adult California Red-legged frog.

Around March 1 is the time of year when we see California red-legged frog egg masses in our ponds. Here is an egg mass photographed on February 26.

IMG_2877 CRF egg mass

This red-legged frog egg mass stands out because it is covered with silt from the murky pond water. The egg mass was photographed on February 26, 2017.

These eggs will produce larva (tad poles) which will eventually morph into frogs by July or August. We see the juvenile frogs in the ponds into late September. During the fall they will disappear from the ponds and move into underground burrows or other hiding places to endure the winter months.

juvenile red leg frog cropped

Juvenile red-legged frogs live in the ponds until fall when they will depart for underground burrows which provide winter security.