The Longest Deer Season

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In the right-center of this photo is the Taboose Creek Canyon. To the left of Taboose Creek is the northernmost bench within the Goodale Unit. In the upper left-hand corner is the top of the tree-covered bench.

I love deer and deer season. My 2018 deer season ended on Thursday December 6 and that is later than any of my previous California deer seasons have ended.

If you love to hunt deer, the California Open Zone Tag is as close to an endless deer hunt as you can get. Of course you can only kill one buck, but if you’re choosey about what you shoot, the hunt can go on and on. And so it was.

Each time a hunt zone closes, another opens and you have the option of starting another  hunt. Or, you might run out of gas and I can see how that could happen. If you simply want venison, this is not the tag for you.

And, an “endless” season is a little hard on the wife and other family members. Sometimes you just feel like shooting something to end it. I wasn’t faced with that type of decision until the last hunt of the year, The Goodale Buck Hunt, G3.

The Goodale Hunt is like a cross between Mardi Gras and a deer hunter’s cult gathering. When you see a truck full of camo-clad people you don’t know if they’re hunting or just observing. I actually picked up and moved from one location only to find out later that the hunters I was avoiding didn’t have a tag or rifle, only spotting scopes and field glasses.

BR sign post IMG_6473

This is a road sign located at the corner of Onion Valley Road and Foothill Road. Independence is a small town on the east-central portion of the unit. The campgrounds to the west are located at an area called Seven Pines. Most of the deer are found along the western edge of the unit, where the mountains meet that valley.

No matter, there were plenty of locations with deer. I hunted for three days, which is a very short hunt for me. The first day I got an orientation from three hunters from Newhall, California. (Jim, Jim and Darrel) They showed me a bunch of bucks – more than 30. Many of them four-point bucks, but more often 3x2s and forks as you would expect.

I hardly thought about loading my rifle. One of the biggest bucks I saw that day walked slowly across the road in front of my truck about 75 yards away. He was missing one tine probably  broken off while fighting. I would have had a hard time shooting any buck that was behaving that way. I also recalled seeing that same spot on a you tube video.

A nice thing about the Goodale hunt is that you can make of it whatever you want. If you want an easy buck, your hunt will be over in an hour. If you want to trophy hunt, you can watch bucks every day of the season until you either find the buck you want – or not.

If you want to climb a mountain, go for it. They are awesome and intimidating. Not for 69 year old hunters like me. I’d like to think that I can climb those hills, but I didn’t test the theory. I walked very little, but thought about it a lot.

I wanted to climb to the snow-covered benches full of bucks, but figured out that it would only confirm that I’m as dumb as my wife suggests I am. But I did talk to other guys who have hunted the benches and that is where many of the biggest bucks have been killed.

Spotting deer from a mile away and climbing the mountain is what mule deer hunting is about.

So after traveling with a crowd on Tuesday, I hunted solo on Wednesday – spotted a good buck on the bench and considered going up there. Opted out. Not a risk taker, but if I’d had a guide to go with me maybe I’d do it.

A good friend, Rick Escover, who was accompanying another hunter the first few days, became available after this Colorado buddy, Jason, killed his buck on “the bench” Wednesday.

Jason climbed up one of those gullies and bagged a nice buck from the steep cliff surrounding one of the most prominent benches. Afterward, Rick told me that Jason wanted to kill his buck on the mountain, and I applaud him for that. The buck he killed had an interesting cheater sticking out on one side of this main beam. Unfortunately a crash into the rocks as he was dying broke the cheater off.

Rick offered to stay for an extra day or two and accompany me. I was happy for his company. On Thursday morning it was snowing and we decided to cruise the territory in search of spots where the bucks were gathering with does. Rick took me to such a spot and it was a blast.

First one doe appeared on a bitterbrush-covered slope.

Then it was two, three, four, five does. Then the bucks started popping out. First a 2×2, then a 4×4 with a broken tine – then two more bucks, probably 4×3’s.

We moved the truck up the road about 75 yards where we could see the opposite side of the draw. Within 300 or 400 yards of us we spotted another half-dozen bucks.

About half of the bucks were four pointers. We sat for about an hour watching. The largest buck was a four by three. He was tempting as he tended a doe within shooting range, but it was early so we turned around and drove off to investigate another location which turned out to be a bust.

After lunch we checked out a “sleeper” spot that Rick knew about. As we headed up the access road, I commented that I was a bit nervous. The road was narrow and crossed a very steep hill. There was just enough room for one vehicle. I commented to Rick that I wouldn’t want to meet another truck head on.

Within five minutes a truck appeared in front of us backing down the hill. Oh #$%^&.

I let Rick take over driving and walked down in front of him as he backed my truck down the hill. In the end, no damage. The other hunter had reached a switch back covered in snow and didn’t have enough traction to make the turn. I’m glad he went first.

At this point it was 3:00  PM and time to quit cutting bait and start fishing. We discussed our options and decided to return to the area with a bunch of bucks.

During the middle of the day the snowing had stopped, but in the late afternoon it started again. The road was covered in snow, but passable. As we approached the spot where we’d found bucks in the morning, a doe crossed the road about 200 yards ahead of us. We watched for a few minutes and a small buck appeared, and then a bigger buck appeared.

Rick said, ” I think we should put the spotting scope on this guy.”

I agreed. As Rick watched the buck I asked him, “Is he a four by four?”

Rick replied, “Yes.”

“Eye guards?”

“Yes,”

As the deer appeared to pick up speed and move up the draw in to the tall brush, we decided to drive past the deer and re-approach them from a knob overlooking the draw into which they had disappeared.

I loaded my rifle for the first time during the trip and grabbed my tri-pod shooting rest. Rick told me he’d wait at the truck, unless he heard a shot in which case he’d follow my route through the snow.

After I climbed the knob, I realized that our choice of approach was a good one. On top, I couldn’t see the deer, but knew they were somewhere down there. I hung my rifle on the tri-pod and glassed the draw.

After a short while, the deer began to pop out of the brush near the top of what I could see of the draw. I looked at the buck and was satisfied that he was a shooter. He was at 175 yards, walking.

The rifle felt good on the rest. I had adjusted the tri-pod for a standing position as the brush was tall. After a minute or two the doe led him into a broadside position. With the crosshairs solid on this chest, the rifle fired. It felt good and sounded good.

The deer exited the draw, no buck seen. I hoped that meant that he was down.

I mentally marked the spot and waited for Rick to arrive. When he got there I pointed out the spot where I believed the buck had been standing. I decided to walk around the spot where he had been and then work back towards Rick.

After arriving at the location where the deer had stood, I found the trail of the does, but no buck tracks. This was good as it supported the idea that the buck was down, but didn’t prove anything.

As I worked my way back down hill towards Rick I heard him shout. “Found your deer!”

Always a relief when the kill is confirmed. Instead of following the other deer, the mortally wounded buck had run directly down hill about 50 yards and crashed. The hunt was over, except for a short drag and photos.

Rich with buck IMG_6485

He’s not a big deer. His width is 21 inches, and height just under 18 inches. He has all four points on each side and also nice eye guards. Everybody who hunt Goodale wants a monster buck, but the truth is that they are hard to find. I am very happy with this buck.

The Goodale Buck Hunt was as advertised. Lots of deer and many bucks. From the beginning, my helpers had let me know that there would be lots of bucks to work through – bucks with broken horns or genetic variations.

Having never been to the winter range south of Goodale Creek, I had no idea of what to expect. What I found was plenty of deer. What I didn’t expect was to be told that the population was way down from previous years.

Several theories were given. One was that the deer sometimes migrate in a westerly direction based upon weather patterns, and that this was one of those years. Another was that there was a massive deer die off during the winter of 2017/18 – apparently from extremely cold weather and icy conditions that created hazardous icy slopes where deer slid from the mountain and either died instantly or later due to injury.

This theory is supported by findings of deer bodies/bones found by hikers in canyons where the deer fell. We’ll never know for certain.

Maybe the herd has declined. But, if the habitat remains in tact, the herd will rebound.

 

 

Modoc Deer

Spent nine days in Devil’s Garden. It was a great time. Morning temps ranged from 8 degrees up to 11. The Cargo Trailer worked well, but I would like to have had a heater.

The propane lantern and one-burner stove took the edge off, but that was about it. Went to town on day three and purchased a big sleeping bag that saved my life. I was freezing at night in my light down bags.

IMG_6378 cargo trailer

The cargo trailer was roomy for one person. Had a table set up at the front and rear with my cot in the middle. The solar panel supplied plenty of power to keep the battery working the lights and fan. The Rhino ATV fit nicely inside and towing was no issue for my 2013 F-150 with Eco-boost engine.

There were plenty of deer, but I didn’t find a shooter buck. Here are my best deer photos.

The horses were there as well.

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On the final day of the hunt, I wanted to sit by a tank and wait for deer. This is what showed up.

Between the skittish horses and swirling wind, it became  clear that it was a bad day to hunt the water hole, so I passed. It was time to head home anyway.

Next up, Doyle.

Deer Season About to Start

Deer season could have started in July, with the A-Zone archery season, but a series of mishaps and also some planned trips wiped out the A-Zone season for me.

The last weekend of the A-Zone starts tomorrow. I’ll probably go to the ranch, but mostly for purposes other than deer hunting. With about 150 pounds of fish and assorted other game in my freezer, the last thing I need right now is a deer carcass.

So… I’ll gather up some stuff stored at the ranch, pick up the Honda Rancher ATV, shoot my muzzleloader and maybe my .30-06 and then return home in time for dinner.

On Monday, Linda and I will drive to Alamanor for a week of relaxing.

The real season begins on about November first when, with my Open Zone Tag in hand, I’ll make the first trip of the season. My objective will be X-2 where the Devil’s garden muzzleloader season will be open. It runs until November 11th so I should have a chance at a nice buck.

If that doesn’t work out, I’ll hunt the Doyle muzzleloader hunt and maybe the Bass Hill archery hunt. I can reach those areas while staying at the, newly aquired, Lake-House at Almanor.

It has been a full summer. Now for a full fall – without any surgeries.

Did make some progress today by taking the Airstream trailer down to the grasslands where it will remain at the Kerry Club until February. It’s looking pretty good for (it’s age) – 62. I’ve owned it for 32 if those years.

Doyle Muzzleloading Rifle Buck Hunt

M3 is the designation for the Doyle muzzle-loading rifle hunt. In general, the hunt location is a portion of  Deer Zone X6b lying in the southeast corner of Lassen County. Nevada lies to the east and the southern and southwestern boundaries are the Lassen County line. The northern boundary is basically the town of Herlong, its access road and Highway 395 to where it intersects the town of Milford.

Time wise, the hunt extends for nine days – November 19 through 27. Either conveniently or invonveniently, depending upon your situation,  the Thanksgiving holiday is in the middle of the period.

This is winter range. Although there are some resident deer, many of the deer seen while hunting will be deer that have migrated from Nevada to the east, Plumas County to the south or maybe Northern Lassen County. Who knows for sure and some of the biggest bucks are in the neighborhood for much of the year.

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Highway 395 divides the area in about half with timber-covered ridges on the west and Great Basin style pinyon-juniper and large sage to the east. Much of the sage is so tall and thick that it would be impossible to see, let alone shoot, at a running  buck.

This country also has lots of antelope bitterbrush (https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_putr2.pdf), a favorite food for mule deer – especially in winter.

Sixteen of the twenty tags for last season were filled and I’m sure that the four, that weren’t filled, could have been. According to the California Big Game Hunting guide, over 60% of the deer killed during this hunt last season were 4X4 or better. That puts it near the top of all California deer hunts when it come to success.

Because I purchased an Open Zone Deer Tag, I can participate in this hunt. Needless to say, (but I’ll say it anyway) I’m  looking forward to it.

Without the Open Zone Tag, it is most likely that I would never participate in this hunt., or even put in for it. According the the CA Big Game Hunting Guide, 18 of the 20 people who drew this tag in 2015 had maximum preference points.  Of the 771 applicants, two very lucky hunters were selected in the random draw.

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.

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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.

 

Open Zone Mule Deer Road Trip

Spent the weekend driving and looking over mule deer country. First stop, X5a. Lots of good looking deer habitat. Observed about 50 deer during two tours. Here are a couple photos.

DSC_0215[1] roadside four by on private ranch off Horse Lake Rd.DSC_0221[1] X5a doe from roadDSC_0225[1] nice buck at 700 yardsDSC_0247[1] Does & fawns in X5a

Coul

DSC_0241[1] Horse Lake bucks

Could have shot this guy with my bow as archery season was open. He stood there at 20 yards and waited for me to take his photo. Good thing I left my bow home.

Next was Devil’s Garden. Saw only a few deer, but the habitat was stimulating. More deer will move in during the fall.

DSC_0236[1] DG burn

DSC_0239[1] County Road does

And finally, X6b. This is the location of the Doyle Muzzleloading rifle hunt.

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The Doyle hunt takes place in late November. Should be prime time for rutting bucks.

That’s about it. Didn’t see anything too exciting, but did see some great deer habitat and it will look much better during October and November.

Spoke with an antelope hunter who said he’d seen a 29+- incher that morning. Not me.

Scouting Lassen County

Spent some time, last week, driving 395 east of Susanville. Of particular interest was the area near Doyle where the Doyle muzzle loading rife hunt takes place in late November.

Also of interest is X 5B, north of Honey Lake. Here are a couple photos of the country.

Click to enlarge.

Note the tall bitter brush in the foreground. This country has some of the best bitter brush anywhere. The Mountain in the background (on the other side of Honey Lake) is Skedaddle Mountain. Should be some bucks up there. Heading north from Skedaddle Mountain is oodles of deer country bounded by Highway 395 on the west and Nevada on the east. A late season mule deer hunt in that country sounds very attractive.

Further south on 395 there is tremendous winter range on both sides of the road.

The top photo is of the mountains west of 395, while the lower two photos are of the winter range east of 395. The Nevada border is near the crest of the eastern mountains.

Lots of scouting to do in the process of planning my hunts.