On the Wall

Plenty to do this time of year; put decoys away;  apply for tags, plan future hunts;  fish; honey do’s; remodel plans; fish;  replant the front yard after killing it during the drought; attend MDF fundraising events; fish; and (last but not least) put last fall’s buck on the wall.

My 2016 Doyle muzzle loader buck is back from the taxidermist and after great debate and lengthy discussions with Linda, the great buck is on the wall next to me as I type. IMG_3106 Doyle buck 2017

For a while he was headed to the living room, but as far as I was concerned he had to have the best spot or nothing. Linda said he didn’t rate replacing the kudu which is more colorful and exotic. Therefore the fireplace spot remains with the South African antelope. In my eyes the antelope is beautiful, but not nearly the trophy that the buck is.

The great buck could have hung over the TV in the family room. But another South African antelope (impala) is there and the small antelope is better suited for that spot.

Hung the great buck next to my desk a few minutes ago. Moved him to the most prominent location in my home office and trophy room. He is the buck I’ve been looking for and he will probably be the best buck of my life, but I plan to keep trying to find another like – him for a while.

He is a beautiful buck and obtaining a buck of his stature has always been on my lifetime list. He is wide (27 1/2 inches wide), fairly tall (18 inches high), symmetrical, colorful (very dark with white face) and his hair is very smooth.

My good friend Jerry Lowery deserves credit for doing a great job of field dressing the cape and my taxidermist, Taff Vidalles (Favorite Feathers Taxidermy) turned him into a great shoulder mount.

There is a band on his right antler. It is the band that shows it was in the local big buck contest and it is part of his story. He won the award for best California buck and would have been in the top five in the out-of-state category.

Ironically I’ve hunted in quite a few states while searching for this buck. Here they are: CO, ID, NV, MT, WA, SD and OR. I’ve also hunted mule deer in Canada (AB, BC). It’s ironical that my biggest buck has been killed in California.

When I exclaimed to Linda that the buck was very beautiful, she replied that he was even more beautiful when he was alive.

Yes he was.

But, animals don’t live forever and she would never have seen him.

California Fundraising Tag

There are many fundraising tags made available by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). These tags are a product of legislation passed by the California legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

Many conservation organizations supported the creation of these tags including, for one, The Mule Deer Foundation (MDF). So it’s appropriate that I made my fundraising tag purchase at MDF’s Santa Rosa banquet last weekend.

CDFW made the tag available and authorized that MDF Chapter to sell it at the banquet. My high bid was $10,500. Five percent will go to MDF to cover the cost of selling the tag and the remaining 95 percent goes to the Department to be used as funding for deer-related conservation and associated expenses.

Now for the good part. The tag, called an Open Zone Tag,  is basically a season pass to hunt for deer during California’s numerous seasons. With that tag in hand, I can hunt any of the hunts that I’ve drooled over for years.

For about two hours this morning I looked over old California Big Game Booklets and listed the places I’d like to go. And, I can go to many of them if I don’t pull the trigger too soon.

Yes, I could have kept on putting my name in the hat for these tags, but at my current rate of success I would probably have died without hunting any of them. Finally impatience won out.

Or, I could have made trips and photographed deer without a tag, but that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.

I plan to set my sights high and pass up a bunch of bucks before I pull the trigger. However, I’m not passing up Mr. Big even if he’s the first deer I see.

I’m making my list which will likely include hunts in X2, X5, D6, X9a, X6 and maybe even a B zone. In search of nostalgia, I’ll probably visit a few of my old haunts. I’ll probably hunt a couple zones during the August archery season while also scouting the country  in preparation for the late season opportunities.

This is a very full plate of activities, so we’ll see how much I can actually pull off, but I’m not making other plans. I’ll likely hunt with my bow, muzzle-loader and rifle before it’s done. The early archery seasons start in mid-August and rifle opportunities continue almost to the end of December.

I plan to keep notes and post them here. That will be part of the fun.





Planning Your Big Game Hunt

Obtaining a big game tag was once guaranteed. That is no longer the case, but it is still the first important step towards going on a hunt for deer, elk or other big game animals.

For a small minority, tags are still easy to obtain as every year there are big game tags sold at auction to the highest bidder. Earlier this month, two deer tags sold for $400,000 or more. However, there are still deer tags available to resident hunters in every state I know of. And, those tags sell for in the neighborhood of $25.

Take my home state of California. In California, the northwestern portion of California (B Zone) and some of the Western slope deer zones (D Zones) are managed for maximum harvest and availability.

On the other hand, “X” zones are managed for buck quality and have limited availability. This system was designed to  provide enough opportunity to keep everybody in the game and also provide a special opportunity for those who want to hunt for mule deer, which are primarily found on California’s Eastern slopes.

Each state has its own criteria for the sale of tags. Most have some “fundraising” tags which are sold at auction or raffle in order to raise funds for habitat management. Remaining tags are sold either over-the-0counter or by use of some type of rationing mechanism.

Rationing mechanisms can be random draw, preference point draw or bonus point draw. The state which is the most aggressive proponent of big game management, Utah,  uses several types of draw and also has many fundraising tags.

Hiring an outfitter or purchasing landowner tags simplify acquisition of tags, but raise the cost. One of my biggest mule deer bucks was taken in Nevada by purchasing a landowner tag. Finding a landowner tag at a fair price requires either inside help or a lot of searching.

Rich with buck

I hired a guide to assist me on the Colorado antelope hunt that resulted in the take of this buck.

Idaho, which believes in making over-the-counter tags available, is probably the easiest state for tag planning. That’s why my first 20 years of out of state hunting took place mostly in Idaho. In those days I had more time to plan, a dedicated hunting partner and less money to spend.

Most years we returned to familiar sites where we learned where the game went as the hunting pressure increased.

Idaho 2004 Rob's bull

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to kill a nice bull elk. My brother, Rob, arrowed this bull in 2004 and tagged it with an Idaho over the counter tag.

At my current age of 66, my hunting partner is now fishing more, my time is less my own and I can afford to take a different path. Which brings us to the next important part of planning a hunt.

Once you have figured out how to get your tag, you need to figure out where you’re going to hunt. This is where your ability to find resources determines your success.

Resources are, State agencies, friends, acquaintances, the internet, maps, books and clubs – of which there are many. Some might be conservation organizations and other may be hunting clubs like  California’s Wilderness Unlimited. Hunting periodicals provide good information as well.

After you determine where and when you plan to hunt, you need to figure out where you will reside during your hunt, what you will eat, how you will travel etc.

Staying in decent physical shape is an important asset for hunting. A regular exercise routine will allow you to do more hunting once you’re in the field.

These days I hunt more often with a guide who takes care of the many hunt details, freeing me up to focus on other things, like writing this post.

The great thing about hunting is that the anticipation of the hunt and memories of the hunt become as big a part of the hunt as the hunt itself.


This whitetail buck was killed behind a friend’s home in Idaho. He invited me to visit him after we reunited at a high school reunion. He had a tree stand set up when I arrived and this buck was shot with my muzzle-loader at 65 yards.


D6 Drop Camp Rifle Deer Hunt 2009

On the last day of the D6 hunt, I took a long shot at a small buck feeding on a ridge overlooking the Clarke Fork of the Stanislaus River. Each day produced excitement of one type or another.

On the second day of the hunt, I passed on a young buck, but he just didn’t have what it took to get me excited. He and his spike buddy passed at about 20 yards.

I got a few other photos of interest.

On our previous hunt during the archery season, Wes and I had watched a big bear mark a tree and use it as a back scratcher. When we passed by that area on this trip we decided to look for the tree to see if it had any defining marks. Sure enough, the big bear had been leaving his claw marks and we also found a bit of hair.

Wes at bear tree cropped and resized

Wes hand at bear tree marking cropped and resized

Here’s a bit more evidence.

bear scat at bear tree cropped and resized

On day two of the hunt, I sat near the bear tree while waiting for a buck to show. Mountain quail had a good hatch this year and they were constantly calling in the area. These quail are extremely shy and difficult to photograph, but I did manage to get a couple decent shots of them.

Mt quail male (5) cropped and resized

Mt quail male (6) cropped and resized

It was a great hunt which included  the success and failure that make hunting worthwhile. Although none of us bagged a buck, we each had our chances and for one reason or another failed or elected not to kill.

Once again we received great service from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station owned and operated by Matt Bloom.

Never a Good Day – Never a Bad Day Either

When you’re in your office trying to get things done or when you’re explaining to your wife why you must spend the night at the ranch in order to hunt deer it sometimes seems like there’s never a good day to go hunting.

On the other hand, once your on stand or setting up your spotting scope and you’ve left your troubles behind, there’s never a bad day to go hunting.

Such was the case yesterday.  But, I left my office at 1:30 PM and made it to my tree stand by about 3:00PM. Not a deer appeared. It seemed as though they had left, but that’s hunting.

Opening Weekend Success

The first weekend of rifle season produced quite a few bucks and cousin Wes connected on a mid-size three point buck. He found some deer on Friday night while glassing and returned on Saturday morning. The buck he shot spooked over the ridge, but came back a while later and bedded where Wes was able to make a down-hill approach to within 70 yards.

Here’s the result.Wes 2009 - 2 ranch buck by Joe cropped and resized

The photo is completements of Joe DiDonato who acted as Wes’ guide for the day.

Ready for X12 Pack Trip

The blacktail is in the freezer. Made some nice venison breakfast sausage – a little spicy, but very good. Jerky in the dehydrator, almost ready to take along on the trip. Used the vacuum sealer to package the meat. Since there’s almost nobody around here who processes wild game, it’s easier to just do it yourself.

Bought brother Rob a meat grinder last Christmas, but I was first to use it. That’s the kind of present I like to give. At least I washed it up before returning it.

Now it’s meal planning time. We’re going to take horses in the first five miles and set up a base camp on Wednesday. Then we’ll hike to the top of the ridge on Friday and camp there until we either get tired of lousy food or bag a buck.

Pack rod coming along as the creek as plenty of trout. Yes we’ll be bringing oil and a fry pan – along with a couple onions to go with the deer liver.

The four of us will split into two groups and hang out on opposite ridges a couple miles apart. I’m planning to purchase a Jetboil and a few freeze dried meals to combine with a couple MREs while we’re on the ridge. Rob says his pack will weight 70 pounds – mine won’t.

It will take me a little while to reach the ridge, which will be at 11,000 feet (yikes). Don’t know how well I’ll sleep on that little pad. My sleeping bag is rated for 30 degrees, but I sleep warm and I’ve got a bivoac sack as well.

We are confident that there will be buck action, but we’re not sure how big. Most likely somebody will get a chance at a good one. Back on the 25th.

Opening Day of Deer Season 2008

Opening day is always good. This year was unique as I hunted alone with little fanfare. As my blind was set up for afternoon and evening winds, I didn’t get up early. Arriving about 2:00 PM, the weather was warm, but not unbearable. An appropriate sweat kept me cool enough and as usual, animal activity kept me from being bored.

I was armed not only with my Mathews bow, but also my Nikon digital camera and 200mm lens which is quite adequate for taking some good photos. The elderberry  bush next to my blind provided ample attraction to the local birds and I got some good shots. I’ll publish them later this week, but for now I’ll just show the legal buck that came in.

He was not worth writing home about, but if he’d approached inside 35 yards, I would have had to make a decision. Fortunately he didn’t so he’s still out there and will be a shooter for sure next year.

He was cautious, but not looking for me. He stood overlooking the pond for several minutes before heading down to drink.

Western bluebirds in their drab summer plumage were frequenting the elderberry bush next to my Double Bull blind. I took several photos with my Nikon D40X camera which is proving to be a good investment.