Open Zone Tag Strategy

Drove for a couple hours today and had some time to ponder strategies for using the Open Zone Tag. My first effort took place yesterday and that was to identify specific hunts that I’d really like to do.

Hunts like Anderson Flat, Goodale buck hunt and Doyle muzzle-loader hunt are well known and the statistics show that they are productive.

But it is a bit intimidating to choose a hunt in a location where you have never been. Scouting will be necessary and these places are a few hours away from home.

I finally concluded that maybe I should focus on one unit – and hunt the area on all the seasons. For example, each of these hunts takes place in a specific hunting zone and they are open to hunting during archery, muzzle loader and rifle seasons. Therefore I could start hunting and scouting a unit during the August archery season and then return during the muzzle loader hunt and the rifle hunt.

By doing this, I’ll reduce the amount of time I’ll spend in unproductive locations.

There was a time when everybody could do this,  and it’s still possible to do it in the A, B and D zones to a limited extent. It will be like a trip back in time.

It’s a thrill to have this type of anticipation.

 

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.

001

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.

 

2014 Hunting Season Taking Shape

Applied for California tags yesterday, at the deadline. I was feeling so satisfied with my projected hunting season, that I didn’t apply for a deer tag other that buying two tags for the local blacktail deer zone. (A Zone)

With an antelope archery hunt in August, archery and rifle blacktail hunts this summer, a muzzleloader mule deer hunt in September and a deer/elk Montana hunt in November, I’ll be busy enough with hunting to keep my wife up at night. She’s not that excited about it.

When duck hunting is taken into account, it will be a very busy fall and winter.

Decided to set up guides for all three of my out-of-state hunts this fall. Since I’ll be traveling alone, it will be nice to have company. The Nevada desert is a lonely place for the solo hunters as I found out last year on my antelope hunt. And, having a guide will get me onto animals sooner with less trouble and packing less gear.

I just sent my deposit for the deer hunt to Hidden Lake Outfitters. The deer hunt will last for about 5 days and we’ll be up high in the Ruby Mountains.

In contrast, the antelope will start on August 1 and take place in the desert heat. I’ve not put down my deposit on that yet, but it will happen soon.

The Montana deer/elk hunt has been scheduled for a while and it will happen on ridge tops in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with  Montana Safaris.

Now it’s time to shoot my bow, clean the muzzleloader and put up my new tree stand at the ranch.

Applying for elk, antelope and bighorn sheep in California was an afterthought. What will I do if I draw one of those tags? Not thinking about that and the odds are extremely low.

Anticipation is key to the enjoyment of hunting. I’m sure glad I retired last month.