Last Weekend A-Zone Deer Season

The last weekend of deer season is some of the best hunting as the bucks are on the move and spending more time in the open. That proved to be the case on Friday the 20th as Rob and cousin Wes saw eight bucks. Wes shot a nice forked horn.

I arrived Saturday morning expecting more of the same, but strong winds seemed to keep the deer out of sight.

 

About 9 AM I moved to a new spot for an hour. Nothing in sight. Tried sitting on a popular water hole. Jumped a covey of quail. Checked a likely draw where the deer move around staying out of the wind. Jumped another covey of quail.

Decided to move to the other end of the ranch and came upon a bobcat.

DSC_0115 bobcat

Not a great photo due to the shade from the tree, but it is a bobcat.

I arrived at my afternoon ambush location about 1:30 PM with the goal of sitting quiet for the remainder of the day. Had a nice view again.

IMG_7280 Mt Diablo

The pond I was watching is quite small, center left in the photo. Mount Diablo is prominent on the horizon.

Sunset would come about 7 PM. The Giants-Braves game came on at 4:20 PM. In the meantime, I studied acorns in the oak trees around me, watched birds – acorn woodpeckers, scrub jays, ravens, starlings, a red-shouldered hawk and occasional buzzards and constantly upgraded the dirt on which I was sitting.

The good news (or maybe the bad news) was that the best solar-lunar period was due to hit at 6:00 PM giving me a possible boost for the last hour of the day. It also meant that I had to stick it out to find out.

I checked the ranges to every interesting point in sight attempting to be prepared if something came by. It was 283 yards to the far side of the pond. That would be a hail Mary. The trail from the pond to where I sat was well used, mostly by cattle, but also by deer and pig. Oh yes, I had both types of tags – but I hadn’t killed a pig on our ranch since 1985.

Finally 6 PM arrived and I sat up a little straighter. Field glasses were at my left. My rifle and spotting scope were on my right. If I couldn’t shoot something, I could maybe view it to death.

At about 6:10 PM, I heard a shot. I texted one of my neighbors and asked him if his party had just shot something. He said no, it was probably another neighbor that I don’t know. He did acknowledge that one of their camp had killed a buck earlier in the day and sent me a photo.

About five minutes later, I saw something move just past the pond – about 300 yards out. With my field glasses I confirmed that it was a large black pig and it was walking towards the pond.

The pig was approaching the pond slowly, but not cautiously. The key to killing a pig, is to be in the right place at the right time. Skill is not paramount, unless you call sitting in one spot for six hours skill.

I considered testing my long-range shooting skill. 300 yards is long range for me. But why do that when he might walk right up to me, so I continued to wait patiently. After taking a short dip in the pond, the pig walked into a stand of oak trees and disappeared for a few minutes. Then he came out and rubbed against a medium-sized blue oak.

After completing his rub, he turned and strolled in my direction. Now he was at 176 yards and I had to seriously consider shooting him. Did I want to get covered in pig blood at this time of day? Managing the pig population by hunting is written into our ranch management plan. That was a good-enough reason to shoot him.

The pigs on are ranch are good eating. That was another reason to shoot him. It looked like no deer were going to show, so I wouldn’t be ruining my deer hunt which would be over in 30 minutes anyway.

Now the pig was forcing the issue. He was inside 125 yards and the next time I saw him he would be at 94 yards – another range I’d verified ten times over the course of the afternoon.

Sure enough, he popped out on the trail at 94 yards. I decided to do it. I put the cross hairs of my 3×9 scope on the pig and waited for a good angle. He was getting closer every minute. Finally I could wait no longer. I aimed for his heart and squeezed.

As the bullet hit the pig, he let out a small squeal and turned up hill at full speed. He then passed out of sight – running all out.

I was confident in the shot. I picked up my gear and headed for the truck. There was a road to the pond and I’d drive it to be a little closer to where he should be laying and also a down-hill pack instead of up-hill.

I parked the truck and headed in the direction he had ran – no sign of him. I circled around. Then I went in the direction it appeared he was headed. No pig.

I decided to drive to the pond to see if he had run towards the water. The sun was going down and I really didn’t want to get into a full scale tracking job. He wasn’t at the pond. I drove back to the trail and took the route he had taken as he approached me.

Just as I got to the spot where he had been standing at the shot, I glanced up a small ravine. There he was. He had run forty yards up the hill and died. Then he had rolled 40 yards down hill back to the point of beginning. Pigs roll well. I was relieved that the pig was found and dead. Of course I gave him a ceremonial kick in the butt. He sure had big testicles – a real boar.

I didn’t want to gut him out so I cut him up working from the outside. I was done pretty quickly. I didn’t keep his head, but maybe I’ll go back and bury it somewhere where the bugs can clean him up. He had modest teeth.

I made it back to camp just after dark and I was surprised to meet brother Rob and cousin Wes on the way back. Rob had shot a nice buck just before sunset. Sonar-lunar tables are good information.

IMG_4752 Robs buck

Rob found this buck with a doe not a quarter mile from camp.

We were both happy to call it a season.

Saw a few deer on the way home the next day.

 

 

 

An Epiphany

For a couple years I worked on a project in support of the Mule Deer Foundation’s National Endowment Fund.
The concept was that the event would be a social affair, a discussion about conservation and also a fundraiser.
Because it was immensely successful relative to other people’s expectations, many people are interested in doing it again. I wasn’t surprised as one of the goals of the program was to create a template for additional events.
Along the way, I came to grips with the fact this was God’s work – a very emotional thing that I believed to be worthwhile. Others stepped in to encourage me and lighten the load.
Guided by instinct, the event came together piece by piece. I did not know what I was doing, but what I did turned out to be perfect. That’s hard to explain.
So, when it was over and after some rest, I proceeded to try to figure out how to tell somebody else how to do it. Social event, conservation event, fundraising event. That was what I knew.
The name of the event, “A Conversation in the Vineyards…..Immerse Yourself in Conservation,” was appropriate.
What I had a hard time with was how to generate the emotion that would lead to the intended result….supporting MDF.
Finally I realized that the emotion was created by conflict – conflict between people and wildlife. The conflict is embedded in our past and future. It is unavoidable. Unsolvable problems lead to strong emotions in people and they are motivated to take them on even if they seem to be headed into inevitable failure.
My understanding of the event and what took place was an epiphany.
Epiphany is a word my mother used to use. She would sometimes tell me that I’d had an epiphany. I accepted that as some type of awakening. However, I wanted to use the word today, so I looked it up to make sure I knew the correct definition.
Epiphany: a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being. Or, a moment in a story when a character achieves realization, awareness or a feeling of knowledge, after which events are seen through the prism of this new light.
Wow. Good job Mom. Either way, that’s all right by me.

MDF-NEF Event a Success

Took a while to get it together, but the pain was worth it as 40 guests and ten knowledgeable tour leaders traveled from one location in the East Bay Area to another for two full days.

Tours included a first class trophy room, various wildlife barriers in the Altamont Hills and open space lands of Southeastern Alameda County.

Here are some photos taken by the participants on Friday.

 

 

Saturday morning brought on a new day of travels as the group slit up in eight four-wheel-drive trucks to tour lands of the SFPUC, EBRPD and private properties owned by Fletcher Ranch Road Properties, LLC. Here are some photos taken by the crew on Saturday.

 

At the Saturday night dinner, the group donated over $130,000 to the Mule Deer Foundation National Endowment Fund. How about that!

 

Conversation in the Vineyard.. schedule

This is the schedule of events for the Conservation in the Vineyards program as they stand on Tuesday February 26, 2019.

National Endowment Logo 3

May 2:  6:00 PM to 9:00 PM Arrivals

There will be a reception and hosted cocktail party at the Vineyard Inn. The hospitality room is on the ground floor. Just ask. It won’t be hard to find.

Friday May 3: Various tours as follows.

Breakfast will be ready at 7 AM for the early starters.

8:00 AM – 12 PM. Trophy Room Tour The first van will depart between eight and 8:30 and it will take nearly an hour to arrive at Rich Pierce’s trophy room in Clayton. Box lunch will be provided. Return by noon. (Limited to 20 people)

38 inch mule deer cropped and resized

This 38 1/2 in wide buck is one of the larger bucks in Rich’s collection, maybe not the largest.

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM  Friday Ohlone Conservation Bank. Rob Fletcher will load his truck up with four guests and take them on a tour of the Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank. This is a great time of year to view butterflies and wildflowers. (Limited to four guests)

11:00 AM Friday: Holm Ranch. Load up and travel to the Holm Ranch where former Livermore Chapter Chair Bob Holm will show you some of the best blacktail habitat in the East Bay Area. He’ll also provide a group of 8 people with a barbecue lunch. (Limited to 8 guests)

Emilee and (dad) Greg Selna Deer

Greg and Emilee Selna with a Holm- Ranch buck killed on a donated youth hunt.

11:00 AM until 4:00 PM Friday. Wine tasting at Livermore Valley wineries. Passes and transportation will be provided.

1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Friday Tour a ranch and wind farm with owner Janice Marciel. Come learn about Wildlife Barriers in the Altamont Hills – wind turbines, freeways and aqueducts. The Altamont Hills are home to many threatened and endangered species.

Friday and Saturday Tour Leader Janice Marciel

Janice Marciel will lead a tour of her ranch and wind farm.

Friday Evening 5:00 PM until 9:00 PM McGrail Vineyards

Social gathering at McGrail Vineyards. Hosted McGrail wine, heavy appetizers and a sausage table with some of your favorite venison – deer and elk.

This is a great opportunity to spend time one-on-one with MDF leaders, biologists, and land managers while trying out Livermore wines. Enjoy the fabulous view of the surrounding East Bay hills.

Saturday May 4. Open Space Tour 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM and load up the 4X4 pickups at 8 AM. This will be a caravan into Southeast Alameda County. The tour will be guided by many local experts and MDF supporters.

Here are some of the things you’ll be looking for:

 

 

 

The tour will cover three different management regimes. Although these open space lands may look the same, the underlying management goals are significantly different.

1.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission manages watershed lands throughout the Bay Area. Read about it.  SF PUC San Antonio Reservoir

The mission of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is to provide their customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that is inclusive of environmental and community interests, and that sustains the resources entrusted to their care.

Tour Leader Clayton Koopmann BIO Clayton third person short version with photo

2. East Bay Regional Park District East Bay Parks Stewardship

More information

Bio Doug Bell Bell_BioV2_2019 one pg

3. Fletcher Conservation Lands FCL web site

What is a private conservation bank?

About Rob Fletcher  Rob Fletcher Manager, FCLands

Joe DiDonato biologist Joe DiDonato bio

Saturday Evening 6:00 PM to 10 PM at Poppy Ridge Golf Course

Poppy Ridge 2014

Sit down and enjoy the views. Choose from four meal options. Hosted bar.

Hear what MDF leaders have to say about the state of MDF, the Endowment Fund, major MDF projects and the future. We will ask for your financial support.

Side by side flyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Kerry

Jeff and Pluto

Jeff Kerry with Pluto at the Kerry Duck Club.

Today, DU’s Fritz Reid sent this notice to the members of the Kerry Duck club.

Gentlemen of KDC

On 14 Feb Jeff Kerry will be inducted into California Waterfowl Hall of Fame
I encourage you to join the fun
Event is sponsored by CWA 
Cost  $150
Great Napa wine and great lunch
Fine event and great salute to Jeff
Fritz
I’ve known and admired Jeff Kerry for many years. He is a man of great passion and knowledge. He’s a man’s man.
He’s been the man in the silhouette in my blog header since my first post. That was over ten years ago.
Congratulations Jeff, you lived it and earned it.

Revisiting “A Sand County Almanac”

Read A Sand County Almanac for the first time about 32 years ago.

At that time I read it as a hunter, looking specifically for information that would be of value to me as a hunter. I shared the hunter’s lifestyle with Aldo Leopold and wanted to learn more about his philosophy.

I gleaned from the book what I wanted to find and that was it. For years I’ve considered re-reading the book and kept it on my book shelf. It is in very good condition, except for my recent dog ears.

img_6607 a sand county almanac

This time, I read this book as a conservationist and it had much more meaning. Now I have more in common with Aldo Leopold (especially at his age at the time he wrote the book) than I did 32 years ago.

Now I understand why his book was so full of meaning and why it is appropriately called a “classic of conservation” by many people.

Leopold’s views on wilderness, land use and recreation are expressed in great detail in the book. He was spot on.

I’m sure I’ll be reading it again, and again.

Highly recommended.

Rough Year for CTS

Yes, California Tiger Salamander (CTS) larvae were scarce this year. About three weeks ago we seined 13 ponds and found CTS larvae in two of them. In one pond, we netted only one larvae. The other had 40.

We went back to the pond with 40 larvae today and seined 39. They are now much larger, but not showing signs of morphing.

Here’s a couple photos.

pond 26-2 on June 13, 2018 Reaching for a couple larvae DSC_0595

Grabbing for two at once. They’re slippery.

One in the hand - pond 26-2 June 13, 2018 DSC_0590

Here’s one in the hand.

We’ll go back in about three weeks and these guys should be ready to morph and leave the pond.

Conservation Versus Conservation

 

mayberry-feb3-026-mallard-flock-cropped

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.

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

 

 

 

Are There Wolves in Devil’s Garden?

The Gray Wolf population in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon  has increased to the point that they are no longer listed. In both these areas wolves are now being managed to limit livestock loses.

Both Oregon and Washington maintain web sites providing the public with information about wolf activity.

Washington Update:  http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/updates/update_on_washington_wolves_20170725.pdf

Oregon Update: http://dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/wolf_livestock_updates.asp

California now has at least two breeding pairs of wolves. You can read about them here: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-gray-wolves-northern-california.html

Last June a wolf ran across the highway in front of me while I was driving home from a fishing trip near Lake Almanor. Now we have reports about a breeding pair in that area, so my sighting was not surprising.

It is also not surprising that two wolves tried to run down three bucks I was stalking last week. It happened right in front of me.

It was day two of the 2017 archery deer season in the Devil’s Garden when I decided to hunt a particular spot believing that a buck would show up.

More so than in most places, mule deer bucks in the garden tend to have favorite hangouts and I thought I may have found one.

Leaving my car parked about a mile from the location I was hunting, I started out about 3:00 PM. Walking slowly, I was cautious about making noise or spreading my scent. The wind was blowing up the canyon and I knew that the wind shift would take place some time in the early evening and after that it would steady out. So, with luck, I might have a chance for a stalk without the bucks detecting me.

At a range of about 700 yards from the area I expected that bucks to show, I sat down wearing my guilly-suit that made me very had to pick out. A black cow walked up the draw and when she was about to step on me, I spoke to her and she looked at me quizzically. Then she made her move around me and continued on her way.

While glassing the ridge-line where I expected a buck to come from, two deer appeared – both small bucks. I was pleased to see some action and got up to close the distance between me and them to about 530 yards. There I sat against a tree stump and studied the bucks.

A third buck appeared and apparently it had been there the entire time. It was a big buck and was turning gray. Now I was excited because this third buck was the kind of deer everybody wants a shot at. He appeared to be about 25 inches wide, tall and four by four. But he stayed in the shadows and mostly behind a patch of timber that blocked my view while the two younger bucks remained mostly visible.

The wind did not show any signs of shifting, so I remained at this position for about a half hour while monitoring wind direction.

Without any warning, what first appeared to be two gray coyotes, came charging at the deer that were up wind of them. However it didn’t take long to figure out that these two canines were not behaving like coyotes.

In case you don’t know, I’ll tell you that coyotes and mature mule deer coexist very well with each other. On occasion a buck will become nervous around a coyote, but coyotes weight about 30 pounds which is approximately a quarter the weight of a mature mule deer buck.

A typical encounter between a coyote and a mule deer buck would be that the coyote would hardly pay any attention to the buck. The dog typically would sniff around looking for ground squirrels or voles without showing any interest in the deer.

The buck might face off with the coyote and make sure it doesn’t cause him trouble, but it would hardly run away. Does with young fawns may run from a coyote, but typically they only do that to lure the coyote away from their fawn.

So, back to the wolves. They charged at the buck trotting at attack speed. (I’ve never seen a coyote trot.) They were on a laser path to the bucks when they disappeared from sight at the edge of the small timber patch where the deer were feeding.

For a moment, there was no indication of what was going on. Then the bucks busted out  of the timber at the down-wind side. They were running as fast as a buck can run. They climbed to the top of the small ridge and disappeared in seconds.

Bucks don’t run from coyotes.

I didn’t say anything about wolves for a couple of days. Then a coyote crossed the road in front of me at about 30 yards. He was dinky. That’s when I decided my story was definitive.

The first wolf was coyote colored, but it had short hair. I’ve never seen a short-haired coyote. Maybe scraggly, but not short-haired. The following wolf was slightly smaller than the lead wolf, but its coat was long very similar to most coyotes.

A follow-up phone call verified that two wolves had been sighted in the garden recently, just a few miles from where I saw them.

Wolves are not longer just a thought or a vision in California or Devil’s Garden. They are part of our lives. Forever.