Get In The Right Zone

Golden State hunters bagged more deer in 2007 than they had in years. There's no reason why 2008 won't be just as good. (August 2008)

Hunter success in the X Zones topped 38 percent in 2007.
Photo by Donna Ikenberry.

Most years, there's plenty of warm, dry weather during the archery and rifle deer seasons. But for hunting, those conditions are less than ideal.

Every three or four years in early fall, we get a series of days of cool, wet weather. It makes hunters eager and deer more vulnerable. Bottom line: When the weather cooperates, the annual buck kill goes up.

That was the case in 2004 -- a banner year. And last year, it happened again. A lot of hunters around the state said 2007 was one of the best deer seasons in recent memory.

I agree!

What all this adds up to is, I told you so! In last year's forecast, I predicted the 2007 season would be better than average, provided that the weather was favorable for at least part of the time.

During a season when hot weather rules the roost, there's naturally less daytime deer movement and less hunter effort as well. Consequently, the overall harvest is usually down somewhat. The result is a carryover of adult bucks that normally would have been killed by hunters.

When the following year's hunting seasons open, most of those deer are still around. Then, if the weather cooperates, it stands to reason that some of those carryover bucks will be added to that year's final tally.

During the deer seasons in 2004, for example, wet, cold weather resulted in an estimated buck take of around 37,000.

In 2005, a warmer year, the figure dropped to 28,276 bucks. In 2006, another warm year, the kill dropped even lower, to 27,028.

By comparison, in 2007, several favorable weather events came along during the general deer seasons. The estimated buck take went up, to around 33,000. Not as many as in 2004, but several thousand more than in '05 and '06.

The state Department of Fish and Game records the annual deer harvest in two ways -- by the reported kill, and by the estimated kill.

The reported kill comes from deer tags returned by successful hunters; the estimated kill factors in those tags that were filled, but not returned for one reason or another.

In this state, the actual deer kill is closer to the estimated numbers than to the reported numbers. For that reason, estimates are used in this article.

When you compare the most recent numbers with previous years, some very interesting trends emerge.

Looking back at the 2007 results, Craig Stowers, deer program coordinator for the DFG, confirmed that the weather had a lot to do with the increased harvest of bucks.

"It happens every few years," he said. "The weather cooperates, and the kill goes up considerably.

"It doesn't mean there's a big jump in the deer population or anything, although some hunters might think there is after their success last year."

Stowers said the good news is that though the stage isn't set for any dramatic increase, there isn't any real decline in sight either.

In other words, the situation is stable, which is a good thing.

"Regardless of conditions, I've found that deer hunting is always good for a large contingent of hunters who intimately know the places they hunt," said the deer expert.

"Then there are those lucky folks who get drawn for a premium tag where the chances for success are much better than average."

Stowers pointed out a couple of things deer hunters should be aware of before they head out this year.

'¢ Both before and during the deer season, the unpredictable nature of wildfires can limit access to various locations. Fires often occur in the fall.
'¢ This year, hunters must observe the ban on lead bullets that went into effect in July. The ban covers that portion of the Golden State that's designated as California condor range and will apply in the southern portion of Zone A and Zones D7, D8, D9, D10, D11 and D13. The ban includes all centerfire, muzzleloader and rimfire projectiles.

For information about what types of ammo are acceptable and other questions you might have, call (916) 445-0411. Or visit the condor page at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/condor .

ZONE BY ZONE
Now it's time to review the situation from each zone during last year's general seasons. We'll look specifically at estimated kills and hunter success in every zone.

Zone A
The biggest deer zone in the state, Zone A extends from northern Los Angeles County to Mendocino County and inland as far as the Central Valley.

Zone A opens early. The archery season starts in mid-July, and the general rifle season opens in mid-August, so summer weather is always an important factor here.

It's probably safe to say that there's no hotter hunting anywhere on the West Coast than in Zone A.

Much of the land here is private. However, there is some public land in several counties. The tag quota for Zone A was 65,000, about half of which were sold in 2007. Throughout the Zone, overall hunter success in 2007 was around 25 percent.

In 2006, by comparison, hunters scored just 21 percent of the time, and that year, the total estimated buck kill was 7,169. In 2007, the numbers jumped to 8,399.

B Zones
The six B Zones in the northwest portion of the state are extremely popular with hunters because they are awash in public land. For example, there are literally millions of acres on the Shasta-Trinity, Klamath, Six Rivers and Mendocino national forests.

The lone exception is Zone B4, which is mostly private.

Because of stormy weather in 2007, there was significant deer movement throughout the B-Zone region. Their movement contributed to a higher estimated buck kill in five of the six B Zones.

How did the take in 2007 compare to 2006?
'¢ Zone B1 produced 2,872 bucks in 2006 and 3,429 in 2007.
'¢ Zone B2 went from 2,429 to 2,988.'¢ Zone B3 improved slightly, from 697 to 724.
'¢ Zone B4 dropped from 417 to 368.
'¢ Zone B5 rose from 704 to 1,003.
'¢ Zone B6 went from 1,221 to 1,371.

Some 55,000 tags are available for the B Zones, and more than 40,000 of them were purchased last year. B-Zone hunters enjoyed a 24 percent success.

C Zones
Most of the deer in the B Zones are Columbian blacktails, while those in the four neighboring C Zones are considered to be blacktail hybrids -- meaning that they sometimes crossbreed with mule deer.

The C Zones, like most of the B zones, were influenced by weather events last fall, and the estimated buck take was better in 2007 than in 2006. In the four C Zones, here's how things shook out:

'¢ Zone C1 improved from 285 to 401.
'¢ Zone C2 went from 171 to 294.
'¢ Zone C3 went from 341 to 445.
'¢ Zone C4 climbed from 1,112 to 1,471. The latter figures include the take from the nine-day G1 late season buck hunt, which is held in C4.

In the C Zones, public hunting opportunities are fair. Depending on the zone, you can hunt on the Klamath, Shasta-Trinity or Lassen national forests and private timberland that's open to hunting.

In 2007, the quota for C-zone tags was 8,575, down from 9,025 in 2006. The tags were sold out two months before the opening of the general seasons, so interested hunters should act early to acquire theirs. Hunter success last year was 22 percent.

D Zones
There are 16 D Zones, which start in Imperial County and extend north as far as Butte County in the central part of the state. Last year, hunter success in the D Zones ranged from just 3 percent in D15, to 17 percent in D17. The across-the-board average was 11 percent.

That said, a glance at the D Zones shows improvement in nine of them and a decline in the seven others.

In 2006, Zone D3 produced 863 bucks. In 2007, that figure increased to 1,097. Zone D4 went from 221 to 329. Zone D5 went from 1,119 to 1,699. Zone D6 improved from 673 to 881. Zone D7 went up a little from 522 to 574, and Zone D8 went from 576 to 647.

Zone D9 rose from 237 to 245. Zone D10 fell from 64 to 54. Zone D11 fell from 344 to 230. Zone D12 improved from 112 to 117. Zone D13 improved from 216 to 302, and Zone D14 fell from 227 to 178.

Zone D15 was in the same boat with Zones D10 and D11. All were affected by fire closures that blocked hunter access. Zone D15 dropped from 68 in 2006 to 18 in 2007.

Meanwhile, Zone D16 slipped from 285 to 265; Zone D17 fell from 132 to 84; and Zone D19 fell from 117 to 76.

In all, 82,650 tags were available for the D Zones, of which 73,766 were sold.

Despite the low overall success rate, certainly plenty of hunters get their bucks in the D Zones. One young hunter who illustrates the point is 14-year-old Justin Young, of La Quinta in Riverside County.

Justin was drawn for Junior Hunt J14, which takes place in Zone D19. In 2006, the boy got his first buck there with his dad Lance Young. It was a nice 3x3 mule deer, but nothing like the toad he got in last season.

This year, hunters must observe the ban on lead bullets in the condor range, which is the southern portion of Zone A and Zones D7, D8, D9, D10, D11 and D13.

Justin remembers how he and his dad spotted a big buck at dusk near the bottom of a rugged canyon on the San Bernardino National Forest. It was a long shot, and he missed the buck twice with his dad's rifle.

On the third shot, it fell. The deer's 4x3 antlers with eye guards were 26 inches wide.

Justin and his dad were hunting in a recovering burn area, which might explain the abundance of deer that day. "We saw two dozen deer," Lance Young said, "and 12 of them were legal bucks. That kind of day is hard to beat, especially if you're with your son when he bags a beautiful buck like Justin's."

X Zones
Last year, 8,020 tags were available for the 17 X Zones. All of those tags were awarded by a drawing in June. The tags are popular because the X Zones offer mule deer hunting and a good chance for success.

Last year, the success rate in the X Zones averaged 38 percent -- and that's higher than any other zones in the state. Even so, last year's buck kill in several X Zones was less than the year before.

When the weather cooperates, the annual buck kill goes up. That was the case in 2007.

Here's a look at the X Zones harvest in 2007, as compared to 2006:

Zone X1 rose from 509 bucks in 2006 to 585 in 2007. Zone X2 rose from 77 to 82. Zone X3a rose from 178 to 231. Zone X3b fell one point from 340 to 339.

Zone X4 rose from 163 to 175. Zone X5a dropped from 38 to 29. Zone X5b dropped from 84 to 52, and Zone X6a rose from 131 to 146.

Meanwhile, Zone X6b rose from 67 to 117. Zone X7a rose from 83 to 124. Zone X7b went from 38 to 51. Zone X8 rose a notch from 56 to 57. Zone X9a also rose from 312 to 352. Zone X9b fell from 113 to 88. Zone X9c fell from 65 to 64. Zone X10 rose sharply from 33 to 58, and Zone X12 increased from 213 to 244.

The X Zones obviously provide a high rate of success, and so do many of the state's low-quota Additional Deer Hunts, which include general methods, muzzleloading rifle, junior, and area-specific archery hunts.

Enter Renee Tompkins of Fort Bragg and her very first archery buck.

Tompkins had been shooting a bow in local tournaments for two years, thanks to her friend Jim Murphy, who introduced her to the pastime. On a whim, Tompkins put in for additional archery hunt A26 (Bass Hill) in eastern Lassen County.

Even though she had no preference points, she got a tag. The first phase of her string of luck had begun.

To maximize their time in the area, Renee, her son Mitch and friend Jim set up a camp trailer, where they planned to stay until the season was over -- if need be.

As it turned out, Nov. 19 was cold and rainy, and the bucks were moving. After a couple of stalking opportunities failed, Tompkins made a good sneak on a terrific 4x4 and subsequently made a successful 31-yard shot.

"I used my tournament bow to hunt with," said Tompkins. "Pink string and all."

Friends kidde

d her about that bow.

"I figured I needed to use a bow I was familiar with, and it paid off with a buck that will make the Pope and Young record book!" she said.

"I'm really looking forward to deer hunting next year."

Most of us will not draw a premium tag for a low-quota hunt anytime soon. But we're still very fortunate to live in a state where we can count on good deer hunting someplace, each and every year. We may have to face tough conditions sometimes, but a lot of hunters still get their bucks regularly in California.

With any luck, you'll join their ranks during the 2008 deer seasons, and I'll be right there with you.

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