Steve Alberts' Storybook Buck
September 29, 2010
Mountain Ranch resident Steve Alberts shows off the rack of his state-record buck he shot with his flintlock muzzleloader during the 2004 season in Zone D-5.
Photo by Bill Lentz
Mother Lode flora appeared in various shades of gray in the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County as Steve Alberts of Mountain Ranch crawled on hands and knees through a thick patch of white leaf manzanita while cradling his custom .50-caliber flintlock. The self-described "old-school hunter" was trying to reach a spot he'd found during a scouting excursion. Once there he would be able to sit up, use the dense brush for concealment, and overlook a large, oak-covered flat that spread out for some 60 yards below his position.
He spotted a bachelor group of five bucks on the flat during that preseason trip, and two of those were mature bucks -- a tall-tined 5x4 and a wide-racked non-typical 4x3. The bucks were feeding, taking advantage of a tremendous acorn crop. While big blacktail bucks have an uncanny ability to disappear during the general hunting season, the prodigious acorn drop of 2004 would eventually play a key role in Alberts' success.
Alberts began hunting six days after opening day, on Sept. 30, hoping to find the two big bucks. The first three days revealed a few does and two small bucks that he recognized as part of the bachelor group. Visions of those bigger bucks convinced him to come back to the flat for a fourth consecutive day.
The surrounding 20 acres (private land) has rolling terrain dominated by live oaks, manzanita and buck brush (Ceanothus lemonnii), and acorns were still dropping, giving rise to the hope that perhaps the mature bucks were simply feeding at night or early in the mornings.
It was about 6 a.m. on Oct. 4 that Alberts crawled into position. He sat up and laid his flintlock across his lap. An hour later the same two young bucks he had seen earlier in the week came out to feed. Alberts watched them for a half-hour before they moved back into the manzanita to bed down.
"Where are those bigger bucks?" he thought to himself. "Had they vacated the area prior to the season?"
He decided to move to another spot that would allow him to see an edge of the flat he couldn't see from his current position. The edge held thick brush. An hour later he began sneak-crawling through the brush once again, while trying to keep sunlight from reflecting off of his Pennsylvania Mountain-styled smoke pole. It was hopeless. The laminated tiger maple stock, wood from the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, and the meticulously stamped brass plate at the butt end just couldn't be hidden, regardless of how slowly he moved.
He had gone about 40 yards when he saw the rump of a large blacktail. Alberts believed he'd found one of the big bucks. A possible opportunity for a good shot presented itself, so he quietly got into a sitting position and slowly cocked back the hammer of the flintlock. The wind direction was favorable as he looked down the barrel and placed its front bead a few inches above the top of the deer's brownish black tail. The buck's head was completely hidden as it fed on acorns about 45 yards out.
Seven to eight minutes slowly went by. The large-bodied deer passed behind thick brush several times, each time reappearing with its head down, still feeding. Alberts knew his time would come. He'd just have to wait.
A sudden zephyr changed the wind's direction and blew Alberts' scent toward the flat. In most cases this would spell the end to an unsuccessful day of buck hunting, but on this day it would be a blessing.
A previously hidden buck suddenly sprang to its feet and trotted off across the flat and into the brush -- it was the tall-tined 5x4. At this time the large deer that Steve had in his sights swiftly raised its head and peered over its back, focusing on Alberts. It was the non-typical 4x3, wide and heavy.
"It sniffed the air and was about to bolt," Alberts recalled. "I quickly pulled the trigger."
|ANOTHER BIG BUCK|
October 4, 2004 was a good day for California deer hunters. Not only did Steve Alberts kill the new state-record buck by blackpowder rifle that day, but Mel Carter of Stockton also shot a trophy Rocky Mountain mule -- it was the third day of the Zone X-3b season -- on public land in Modoc County.
It was the first time in four years Carter had been drawn for a X-3b tag, and he took the challenge seriously. Preseason work included studying aerial photos and maps, which helped pinpoint water in a shallow canyon at 5,200 feet of elevation. A summer time trip into the area revealed deer sign.
Carter arrived early that morning to glass the canyon under clear, cool conditions. After an hour passed and no deer movement, he set out to still-hunt around the canyon. By 9 a.m. Carter was nearly back to his starting point when a spot of white -- the rump patch of the mulie -- caught his attention. The huge deer was drinking about 75 yards below him. Carter pointed his Winchester .300 Magnum, focused the crosshairs of its scope on the buck, and squeezed the trigger.
A giant 4x4, the Carter buck has an outside spread of 25 inches and was estimated to weigh about 270 pounds. It officially scored 171 6/8 typical SCI points and is ranked No. 2 in the California Records of Big Game Rocky Mountain mule deer category, rifle division.
The hammer sprang forward and the distinctive sound of a traditional flintlock muzzleloader echoed through the woods. A 110-grain round ball hit the buck hard and its back end dropped immediately. Alberts quickly started reloading while keeping a watchful eye on the downed buck through the haze of spent black powder.
"I walked up to him and finished him off through the lungs," said Steve. "I wanted to mount him and didn't want to ruin the hide."
The buck's unusual rack was large and typical on its left side, exhibiting three well-defined points. Palmation -- a rarity among Western deer -- on the upper half of its right antler made each circumference measurement here (C-3 and C-4) almost 2 inches larger than the base measurement (C-1) on the same side. Also, instead of having a typical fourth point or tine (T-4), the buck had a point that grew off the side of the main beam like a "sticker" or "cheater" point before curving upward. The point measured 9 1/8 inches. The inside spread measured 22 3/8 inches (24 3/8 outside). The bases measured 4 3/8 inches and 4 4/8 inches in
diameter. The brow tines were 1 7/8 inches and 2 5/8 inches.
Using the Safari Club International scoring system the Alberts buck officially scored 141 4/8 as a non-typical, making it the No. 1 muzzleloader buck in the California Records of Big Game inland Columbian blacktail category.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For information on the California Records of Big Game, contact: CRBG, P.O. Box 107, Greenwood, CA 95635, telephone (530) 409-9720, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The CRBG is looking for mule deer trophies for Inyo (zones X-9a, X-9b, X-9c, X-10), Burro (zones D-12, D-17), and Southern (zones D-15, D-16, D-19) mule deer. Contact them at the address above for minimum score requirements.