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.





Kodiak Part 4: Loud Snoring Has Its Advantages – Keeps the Grizzlies Away

Day four of our Kodiak adventure was very enjoyable. If only we could have figured how to reel those silvers in quicker, we could have caught a plane load – all with fly rods.

In addition to silvers, we even caught a couple dolly vardon, but no steelhead. The fishing was everything Alaska fishing can be, but the mountain was calling for me to climb it and bag another deer which would include venison for the trip home if we could figure out how to hang  onto it.

During the night of following the fourth day we could hear soda and beer cans clinking in the night. Could it be that the grizzlies liked soda and beer?

We attempted to save a slab of silver salmon by inserting it into a zip-lock bag and sinking it to the bottom of the river (by putting a rock in the bag along with the salmon) in four feet of water. No luck, the bears got it too.

On the fifth day (one day before our departure) I climbed the mountain again and this time turned to the north at the top of the ridge. I wanted to hunt an area not previously disturbed.

I was a little discouraged by the lack of deer, but eventually found a decent buck in a large brush patch. Always concerned about having time to shoot, find, clean and carry the deer back to camp before dark, I decided to waste no time and shot the buck.

It went down in the brush and before long I’d recovered it.

You’ve probably heard stories about rifle shots being like “dinner bells”  for the grizzlies of Kodiak Island. So had I, and I wasn’t a bit comfortable skinning and gutting that deer in a brush patch where I could see about ten feet.

My loaded .7mm and my .44 magnum revolver were stationed at my side. It was an eery feeling.

I reduced the deer to carrying size and moved it onto a nearby  open hillside where I could complete work on it while keeping an eye out for grizzlies.

I was a pleasantly surprized that the buck had four points on one side, a Sitka four-point buck is unusual, but it wasn’t particularly old or large antlered.

I managed to load the animal onto the back pack and carry it to camp before dark – crossing the river by raft one last time. In camp we debated our options. We decided to go with the only option that would give us a reasonable chance of saving our venison.

It was the “Lean the meat against our tent and keep our loaded rifles at our sides” option. It was a little scary (sleeping a couple feet from grizzly bait), but we figured the snoring and odors emitted from our tired bodies would keep the grizzlies away and it did.

On Saturday we loaded the Grummon Beaver and headed back to Kodiak with a couple silver salmon and one Sitka blacktail to take home to California. The venison and the fish were both excellent table fare.

Kodiak Part 3: Just Another Day on the Ayakulak

On day three of our Kodiak adventure I awoke quite stiff and sore. Upon our return to camp on day two, Rob had wrapped his deer in a plastic bag and buried it in the dirt a few yards from our tent to keep the bears from it.

Wrong! When Rob checked on it in the morning it was entirely gone. No sign of anything. At that point we knew we were in for a difficult fight for our deer meat.

I loaded my gear onto the pack frame and headed up the mountain, with rifle in hand, to retrieve my deer. Rob stayed in camp to rest up and make a short trip to the opposite site of the valley to see what he could find in the way of deer there.

My climb was uneventful and I was eager to retrieve my buck. As I approached, I was careful to watch out for grizzlies. Sure enough, as I approached the site of my kill, I could see that it would be a difficult retrieval.

A large grizzly was laid out flat on top of my deer – asleep.

What to do now? I stopped about 100 yards away from the bear-on-top-of-blacktail pile and shouldered my rifle. Maybe a shot over his head would send him packing.

Boom. The great bear stood and hunched his back with hair on end. Not a good sign.

I knew that shooting the bear was no option and apparently he was ready to do battle to defend the large food supply beneath him.

After a few minutes I concluded that retreat was the only option. The score was now grizzlies two and Fletchers zero.

richs-grizzly-buckThe buck we didn’t recover.

It has been a long hike to the buck and the deer herd seemed to have moved out of the area. Not only that but I was in no mood to shoot, clean and haul another buck on this day.

I couldn’t even recover my antlers which included my deer tag. Oh well, at least I had another.

I retreated back to camp and reported the situation to Rob. We concluded that we’d fish on Thursday and then I’d go after another buck on Friday, the day before our departure. That way we’d only have to figure out how to keep the bears away for one night.

We were short on ideas, but we’d figure something out.

Kodiak Part 2: Sitka Blacktails on the Ridge above the Ayakulak River

As I mentioned in my previous post about Kodiak Island, the presence of grizzly bears was one of the most dominent overtones of hunting on Kodiak Island.

It wasn’t just that we knew they were there, they were visible. And, occationally you could smell them.

A big disadvantage to foot travel in grizzly country was the danger of hiking through brush in darkness. The thought of coming face to face with a grizzly in darkness is scary enough to keep you in camp until you can see, which means you don’t get to the top of the ridge until late morning.

That’s what happened on our first morning  climb to the top of the ridge. After paddling across the river in our tiny raft, we began our climb through the brush to the ridgetop.


The path was uncertain, but it appeared that the bear trails would lead us to the top. Wandering through the head high brush, we came to a point where a strong odor stopped us in our tracks.

Rob was leading the way and he turned to look at me. As I recall, we came to the same conclusion pretty fast –  grizzly.

Needless to say we made a hasty retreat.

After a serious climb, we reached the top of the mountain and that’s when we found blacktails. By the middle of the day, Rob spotted a nice buck a ways down the ridgeline and we pursued it.


Sneaking and glassing, we found the buck asleep and Rob shot at it in it’s bed from about 35 yards while it was still sleeping. it was a nice buck for a sitka blacktail, but Rob pulled to fine on the bucks heart and actually missed it.


His second shot was more effective and the buck dropped just before it went over the ridge top. It was probably 2:00 PM and there was more time to hunt, so Rob stayed with the deer and I continued down the ridge in search of another buck.


We carried a bow, my Browning 7mm mag and a .44 mag handgun. I left the bow and handgun with Rob and took the Browning. Within a half hour or so I found more deer and observed to bucks sparing. One of them was a nice buck, so I got prone at about 200 yards and shot the buck.


I gutted, tagged and photographed the buck. Since we had only one backpack with us, I elected to return the next day to pick it up. It was now late enough in the day to hasten our return to camp.

Returning to Rob and his buck, we strapped the carcass onto the pack and took turns carrying it along the ridgetop to the trail down the mountain.

Since most of the hillside was covered with bear brush, there were no alternative routes or shortcuts. As we stood on the ridge above camp, we could see a sow grizzly and cub approaching our tent a few hundred yards below us. A couple rounds from my .7mm fired into the river turned her around.

I wonder what she would have done?

Shortly thereafter, while climbing down the mountain, we spotted bears in the brush below us. The were about 100 yards away and on the same trail as us – heading our way.

Needless to say we climbed up and found another route through the brush, making it back to the river just after sunset and relieved.

The bears were definitely making our hunting more difficult, but there was more to come.

Kodiak Part 1: Blacktails, Silver Salmon and Grizzlies on Kodiak Island

One of the top hunting trips of my life took place about ten years ago in Alaska. The original trip was based upon a caribou hunt I purchased at the MDF Convention in Sacramento.

Ironically, it was the self-guided blacktail hunt on Kodiak Island (which  followed the caribou hunt) that topped the list for excitement.


We arranged for a float plane to fly us from Kodiak (on the Island’s east end) to the Ayakulik River on the Islands west end. The plane, a Grummon Beaver, was quite loaded with our gear as we climbed over mountain tops of the central island and then landed on the river at a remote location.

Although we were not alone (a fishing guide occasionally drifted past us while guiding salmon and steelhead fishermen and one other camper joined us for a few days) most of our company was grizzlies, silver salmon and blacktail deer.

We spent the first day of the trip hunkered down in our tent as 50 mph winds battered our site. It was a good thing that we were prepared and had “tarped” our tent down in case of bad weather. After many games of cribbage,  the weather finally settled enough to allow us ta catch a couple silvers in the afternoon.


Note the well worn trail in this photo. It was made primarily by grizzlies not humans.

On day three we used our small raft to cross the river and climbed the ridge to the west of our camp. Although we spotted no deer from camp, we were surprised that the ridge top was well stocked with sitka blacktail bucks – and also grizzly bears.


More on the deer and the bears later, but here are a couple fishing photos. We were using nine weight fly rods and steelhead flies. It took twenty to thirty minutes to land each fish as they were fresh and strong combining their efforts with the current of the powerful river.rob-with-salmon


Day three produced blacktails like the one below. But there’s much more to the story.