I always try to find new backcountry hidey-holes when I travel the length of California en route annually to visit my brother’s family, and of course hunt, in the southernmost part of the state. I end up taking some breathtaking landscape pix, even though my photography skills leave a lot to be desired and do not do the real life scenery justice.
This year, the late-ending Oregon blacktail deer rifle season left little time for me to travel and hunt So Cal whose southern-most deer rifle season ended a little sooner on the calendar than normal, but I made it down with a week to spare.
This also left little time to do some serious bobcat hunting, but I made a go of it in the hills of central CA, and took a nice tom---called in and taken at 10 yards.
I made it to So Cal on a weekend and decided to hunt right away, due to lack of time and knowing it was hard to find deer let alone harvest one. The weekend hunt idea was a mistake. Even though I pride myself in leaving vehicles behind and packing into the backcountry as far as I can on foot, it is still hard to get away from folks who will drive a 4-wheeler, motorcycle or “jacked-up” truck on any trail they can maneuver; and people flock to the desert and high country on the weekends. However, once the weekdays arrived I was the only human, in most cases , for miles around; and this is when I start seeing deer movement. It takes a lot of glassing (I spend 10-11 hours a day behind binoculars and a spotting scope on a high vantage point) from dawn to dusk just to spot a couple deer in some pretty rough and fractured terrain. Once a deer is spotted I wait till it beds down, then plan my stalk which can be up to a mile or more. The first buck I spotted was a mile and a half away, but appeared to be too small for such a long and arduous endeavor. The next buck appeared an hour later at 800 yards and was also a small forked horn----tall and narrow with small crab-claw forks. He bedded, but I passed on him as well.
As the morning sun rises higher into the sky and heats the already baked earth, hidden bedded bucks will rise to shift positions, stretch and browse a few minutes before bedding again in the shade for a couple more hours. For a lone buck, this dance continues throughout the day. A half hour after the crab-claw buck settled in for the morning, I observed a very large forked horn buck rise out of his bed 500 yards from my nest on the opposite side of the canyon (for some weird reason I only see forked horn bucks in this remote canyon---even the old white-faced and scarred warrior I took last year was a forky but a mature 4.5 years old). Once he rose, stretched, ate a little, and then moved several yards to re-bed in a shady spot, I planned my stalk which would get me to within 100 yards---the only position for a visual and a possible shot. For, you see, he was bedded on the far side of a short, but steep, brush-and-boulder choked draw. A huge boulder was situated 100 yards up the draw from his new position, and this bus-sized chunk of granite was the only obstacle I could use for the visual and possible shooting position on the big forky. The buck’s face and antlers were the only parts visible as he chewed his cud and watched his surroundings---a cunning position on his part. Moving very slowly and methodically to deter detection, I also stopped constantly to glass the deer while I was still able to. Dodging cholla cacti and trying not to slip on loose rock, it took me an hour and a half to stalk the 400 yards to the boulder.
As I slowly lost elevation from my perch I lost sight of the buck in the draw. My plan was to make it to the boulder undetected, set up for a shot, and wait out the buck until he stood for his next stretching session. That might take hours, but I would be ready. What I was NOT ready for was the buck had other ideas. I lost sight of the buck halfway through my stalk as my downhill path and tall chaparral vegetation was blocking my view. Little did I know, the buck must not have been satisfied with his new digs and decided to head back up the draw in my direction to bed down elsewhere. Well, my stalk was still flawless and I still went undetected, but that buck, unbeknownst to me, decided to bed down in front of the very boulder I was to sneak behind. When I finally made it to the boulder and attempted to set up a shooting nest, imagine my surprise (and the buck’s as well) as I stepped around the rock and almost stepped directly on the buck. He exploded at my feet and disappeared in two bounds through the thick vegetation. The next glimpse I got of the massive forky was two minutes later, and almost a mile away, heading over the next ridge. A great hunt just as well. I climbed back up the mountain and maintained my vigil for the rest of the day. Just as darkness fell on the canyon, the crab-claw buck at 800 yards rose from the exact same spot he was in all day and began to feed. He raised his head straight into the air and curled his upper lip a few times attempting to get a whiff of estrous does, but I saw no does for bucks to chase the whole week I hunted.
Anyway, I had a feeling the next day was going to be my day (I killed my southern mulie on the same day last year).
I was set up on my hillside perch before daylight the next morning. A beautiful sunrise kissed the sky and temps were finally cooling off before another hot Santa Anna system was set to move in later in the week. As darkness gave way, I began glassing the immense canyon awakening before me. I spotted no hint of bedded deer or movement of any kind. Over distant ridges two packs of coyotes had a yodeling contest. Two hours passed and still no deer. I then heard a faint thump, followed by a slow series of several more faint thumps. My first thought was that a rig was travelling in the far-off distance and the bass was turned up on the car stereo. But the sound then seemed to be coming from directly behind me on a small game trail. I slowly turned my head and saw a deer’s head and a set of forked antlers on that head looking straight down on top of my head from ten yards---the sounds I was hearing were his hooves walking on the rocks. The buck snorted and bounded off over the ridge---or so I thought. Apparently, the forky didn’t exactly identify me as a huge threat and, instead of heading over the opposite side of the ridge we were on, decided to travel ON the ridge and then drop into the saddle on my side of the hill to get a better look at me. He was standing broadside only 113 yards away and, not wanting to look a gift buck on the rack, decided to secure some southern California back straps. So I did. Curiosity killed the buck.
After unzipping the buck I split him in half and made two one-plus mile trips back to my rig.
My OPW Orion made of tough military/tactical cordura handled the loads in rugged and prickly terrain with ease and comfort, and I had my second beautiful So Cal buck in as many years. As always, I felt very thankful.
Time for me to settle back into life here at home, take in the sweet smell of western Oregon and get ready for trapping season and maybe find a big cat before year’s end. All my best to you and your families for the holidays.
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