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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devil’s Garden Fires Threaten Hunts

Had a great trip to Modoc to scout for deer. And, we did find some. Take note, they were in a burn.

Burns are a vital ingredient of deer habitat. The fires return the climax forest growth to a new start of the plant succession. Mule deer do best in habitat with young plants that sprout after a fire removes the timber that shades out new growth.

bucks in northeast Devil's Garden

We also witnessed several days of lightning a an accumulation of small wild fires that began to expand.

Upon our return home, we were greeted by a notice of closure of most of the Devil’s Garden for the remainder of the fire season (October 1) See link.

Modoc fire closure order 8-1-17-1

Here’s a map showing the closure area.

Modoc Fire closure map 8-1-17-4

The closure is for northeastern Modoc National Forest in the Devil’s Garden area. Unfortunately, that’s where all the mule deer spend their time on the summer range along with most of the antelope and elk. For deer it’s a no-brainer and I’ve already send a letter in to the License and Revenue Branch requesting a reinstatement of my preference points.

Appeal letter

For antelope and elk it’s not as clear. There are some antelope and elk that hang out in the southern portion of the Garden,in summer, but most of the antelope appear to hang out near Clear Lake Reservoir.

aantelope at Clear Lake DSC_0079

Just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on an opportunity, I contacted Collins Company. Collins Company, AKA Collins Pine. Collins owns owns a large portion of the summer range in northeastern Modoc and has a long track record for providing public access to hunt and camp.

The Collins Forest Manager said, “Find another place to hunt.”

That effectively closed the last potential opportunity for a deer hunt. If my appeal is granted, my preference points will be reinstated and my deer tag forteited.

IMG_3557 burn pano

So, these events are a double-edged sword. While some of the areas scared by fire will produce only junipers and cheat grass, other areas will provide a fresh succession of preferred plant growth that will enhance the habitat of Modoc deer for years to come.

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.

Trap

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.

Follow-up on Golden Eagle Band

The area near our ranch has a large concentration of eagles, both golden and bald. These eagles have been closely monitored for many years.

The individual who captured golden eagle 629-41062 was Daniel Driscoll. When contacted by my friend Joe DiDonato (Joe has a long history of working with golden eagles), Driscoll had the following comment.

“We captured 629-41062 as a breeding female at the Lower Indian Creek breeding area on 5-30-1996. Since she was at least 4 years old (adult) when captured, the eagle would be at least 25 years old this year.”

The Lower Indian Creek breeding area is located on the south side of San Antonio Reservoir in Alameda County. It is approximately a mile from the location where the carcass of a banded golden eagle was found yesterday. (See previous post)

Devil’s Garden 2016

The long-awaited Devil’s Garden hunt opened on October 22. With a two-week season, I elected to wait for the second week as that’s when the mule deer would be most active.

Rain was in the forecast and rain it did, but the hunting was not affected much. Most of the time was spend covering ground looking for groups of does. After three days of rain, the sun came out and Mount Shasta appeared to the west.dsc_05391

While hunting I took as many photos as I could, but made sure that I wasn’t holding the camera when I should have been holding my muzzle loader.

The muzzle loader I use is a T/C triumph, but it’s called the Bone Collector model. It is an excellent rifle as muzzle loaders go. It’s definitely a one shot affair. About the only change I made to the rifle was that I added a peep site as the rear sight. I wanted to modify the front sight as well, but technical difficulties got in the way.

Right from the start there were does and bucks in bunches of 8-12 deer. On the first day the bucks were all small. As time passed the bucks seemed to become larger each day. On the afternoon of day two, I was able to photograph a real nice buck that was very into the does.

DSC_0507[1] Second day buck.jpg

One of the problems with the Open Zone tag is that you know you will likely have many more opportunities down the road as long as you keep hunting. Normally this buck would have been headed for my wall. Even if he had been on the other side of the road, I wouldn’t have shot him, but he wasn’t in the hunting area anyway so it was a moot point.

In baseball terminology, he was safe by 50 feet.

Here are some more photos. With poor light most of the time and plenty of trees to make focusing difficult, I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked.

One thing I did notice was that people are feeding the wild horses. This became clear as a pair of mustangs ran up to my truck when I stopped near them. I also noticed alfalfa remnants on the road.

dsc_05031-come-a-running-cropped-and-resized

Unfortunately, on day five of the hunt we had a family emergency and I needed to return home. That’s the bad news. No buck in Devil’s Garden for me. It is a great hunt and having to leave just about guarantees that I’ll be hunting again this fall.

Thanks to many friends who helped me figure it out. Next time I’ll be very prepared. Hope there is one.

Next up. Doyle muzzle loader season, November 19.

 

Spring Turkey Season March 26th

IMG_1065-1 Brett with gobler resized

Son-in-law, Brett Kelly with his first gobbler – three seasons ago.

There’s a lot to talk about this spring. Rutty deer meat, the arrival of my full body wolf mount, planning my trophy room and purchase of an Open Zone tag are popular topics. But mostly the big news is that spring turkey season opens in 11 days.

We have about 12 to 15 turkeys living on our ranch. I see a few of them each time I go there, but they are not always the same birds. Of the turkeys, my best guess is that about half are adults and the rest poults.

Of the six or seven adults, I think two are mature toms and the rest are hens. Of the poults, probably half of them are Jakes, but I don’t want to shoot a Jake this year as the overall population is down. However, bagging a mature gobbler would be a satisfying feat.

Based upon past experience, the best day of the season to bag a mature Tom is on opening day. With a shotgun it is almost no contest. But, I’ve proven that that’s not the case with bow and arrow. In fact, I’m zero for forever on gobblers with my bow.

On he other hand I’ve got loads of experience (failure) and it’s almost a sure thing that I’ll get a shot opportunity on opening day.

The best tactic will be to set up my Double Bull blind in one of the known turkey hangouts with Jake and hen decoys about 15 yards away. Once a gobbler responds to my hen yelps, it’s almost a lock that he’ll come in strutting. Typically the gobbler will go eyeball to eyeball with the Jake decoy or maybe even knock it down.

At 15 yards, you’d think the shot would be a slam dunk, but turkeys are constructed differently from  anything else you can hunt with bow and arrow. Their vitals are low and back – nothing like deer. And, about half of the target is feathers. It’s easy to draw feathers without drawing blood. It’s also easy to poke a hole through a turkey and not recover the bird.

I’ve done this the wrong way before, but I plan to do it right this year.

I’ll be shooting a bunch of 15 yard practice shots during the next ten days.

 

 

 

 

Another Day at the Ranch

Yesterday was a good day at the ranch.

The day got off on a good note when I spotted a group of tule elk bulls feeding along the side of highway 84. I did you U-turn and snapped a few photos.

Not often does one see tule elk along a major highway.

Not often does one see tule elk along a major highway.

Here they are again.

Here they are again.

Impressive animals.

Arriving about 8 AM, the first item on the agenda was a whipsnake survey. Unfortunately I found only a western fence liizard for my efforts, but did snap a couple more photos.

Basking in the morning sun, every rock had either a meadow lark, horned lark or some other bird on top of it.

Basking in the morning sun, every rock had either a meadow lark, horned lark or some other bird on top of it.

A morning dove perched on the dead limbs of a blue oak.

Morning doves are sleek.

Morning doves are sleek.

It has been a good year for some wildflowers.

The Mariposa lily is a plant that has done well this season.

The mariposa lily is a plant that has done well this season.

We had a crew of eager helpers

We had a crew of eager helpers.

This larvae has almost no dorsal fin, shrinking gills and muscle development in his legs. We expect that he will leave the pond within a few days to a couple weeks.

This larvae has almost no dorsal fin, shrinking gills and muscle development in his legs. We expect that he will leave the pond within a few days to a couple weeks.

On the way home, a bobcat walked across the road in front of me. I snapped a photo before he went out of site. I think I’ve photographed him before.

Took this photo from about 100 yards.

Took this photo from about 100 yards.