Golden State Blacktail Trophies
September 29, 2010
With a little luck, persistence, and help from Mother Nature, these California big-game hunters shot record-book blacktail bucks during last year's general seasons.
By Bill Lentz
Last year's general deer seasons started slowly for most California buck hunters, but some knowledgeable hunters in the Sierra scored early on, and a freak summer storm in August helped blacktail hunters take trophy bucks as well. Finally, wet weather during the last week of the inland season - how long has it been since that has happened? - pushed bucks from their summer hideouts and into the crosshairs of skilled and determined hunters at lower elevations.
Of the bucks taken last season and entered into the California Records of Big Game, five broke into the top 10 lists in their respective divisions. Here are the stories of four of those honored deer.
THE BARSOTTI BUCK
A large, wide-antlered buck is the ultimate prize for relatively few California deer hunters, and in 2003, Novato resident Adrian Barsotti killed a blacktail that many coastal Zone A hunters would find simply unbelievable.
Barsotti has hunted her 200-acre ranch near Booneville in Mendocino County for 20 years, taking five bucks from the property. She hunts with a group of family and friends who have all taken respectable blacktails there.
A big canyon cuts through the property at 3,000 feet, and is usually filled with dense fog in the early mornings due to its close proximity to the coast. Deer, wild pigs and other wildlife are drawn to a supply of water, which bubbles from the ground from several springs in the canyon. The main tree species is oak - white, black and live - and white leaf manzanita is the primary shrub.
The evening before opening day the group got together in camp and discussed the locations where each hunter would be the following morning. Over the years they've come up with names for these different locations and landmarks such as Rattlesnake Rock, Square Rock and Vista Point, to name a few. They usually get out of camp early, reach their pre-determined locations in darkness and start glassing with high-powered optics at first light.
Barsotti said that's the time most buck kills are recorded on the ranch, around 7 a.m. "The bucks are more likely to be out moving then because of the cool temperatures and low light conditions," Barsotti told California Game & Fish.
On Aug. 16, the second weekend of the season, Barsotti headed out of camp before dark and into the bottom of the canyon in search of a huge wild boar hog that a friend had spotted there earlier in the week. Hours of hiking and glassing revealed no such porker, leading Barsotti to initiate Plan B: Go to the top of the canyon - Vista Point - where her son spotted a wide-racked buck while scouting during archery season.
Glassing with binoculars at about 9 a.m., Barsotti suddenly saw an animal flash across her lenses, from right to left. "It came out of nowhere," she recalls. What was more startling yet was that the buck had appeared so close to her that it filled her binocular lenses. The huge deer was passing a mere 15 yards in front of her!
"I think I spooked it with the jeep as I came up out of the canyon," she said. The buck was angling away about 100 yards out when Adrian finally found him in her scope. She was about to pull the trigger when the buck jumped a fence and was instantly on neighboring private property. Barsotti was heartsick for a second, but knowing the property well was about the pay off.
The trail the buck had taken reenters her property about 100 yards to the left of where it had departed. Since Barsotti did not have a clear view of that section of the trail from her stand on Vista Point, she sprinted to intercept the trophy animal.
Within a minute a winded Adrian Barsotti had just a moment to get settled. As the buck's movement became apparent, she raised her .270-caliber Savage and slapped the trigger as the trotting buck (now back on her property) jumped a log. It was Barsotti's biggest buck to date and the second largest anyone has seen on the ranch.
It was an old buck - estimated to be at least 9 1/2 years of age. With its 28-inch regressed rack, it is the widest coastal buck recorded in the California Records of Big Game. The 4x3 officially measured 132 4/8 using the Safari Club International scoring system, ranking it at No. 10 in the typical coastal Columbian blacktail category.
Redwood Valley resident Dave Gibson shot his high-racked blacktail in Mendocino County (Zone A). It scored 124 5/8 SCI points. Photo courtesy of Dan Gibson
THE GIBSON BUCK
California native Dave Gibson of Redwood Valley regards blacktails as his favorite big-game animal to hunt because of their elusiveness and difficulty to hunt. Dave has taken Rocky Mountain mule deer in other Western states, but in the last few years he and brother Dan, owner of the Web site www.blacktailcountry.com, have seen larger-racked Columbian blacktail bucks in California. The brothers have combined to produce two great videos showing footage of tremendous trophy blacktails in Mendocino County (Zone A). A third video, "Velvet Blacktails," is in production.
Dave hunts 200 acres of his own private land about 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The elevation level on the property ranges from 2,000 to 3,000 feet. It is fairly open country that allows for long-distance shots and has everything from dense forested areas of Douglas fir and madrone to white oak stands to wide-open grassy slopes. It is mountainous with steep to rolling hills. The area's geology consists of several different types of mineral-rich aggregates - important for producing trophy antlers.
Dave Gibson sneaks to the tops of high points and starts glassing as soon as his eyes crest a summit, and he continues scanning the hillsides for deer movement.
The Gibson brothers hunt hard for trophy blacktails, and Dave hunted at least a couple of hours every day of the 2003 season (41 days straight) and passed up shots at about a dozen smaller bucks while looking for a respectable antlered trophy. Dan happily filled his Zone A tag by killing a trophy 4-pointer in the rain during a freak summer storm in August. Time was running out for Dave, however.
A few days before the season's end Dave saw a quality 3x3 but reluctantly decided to pass on it. At the end of the day and after further consideration, he decided to go after the big 3-pointer and take him if he saw him again.
On the evening of Sept. 18, Dave and his sister-in-law Linda, who was armed with a video camera, set out after the aforementioned buck and
planned to hunt until dark.
"We were moving a little faster than usual," Dave recalled. "I wanted to (quickly) get to an area where I'd seen the 3-point the day before. Linda was following as I crested a hill. To my surprise a really nice 4x4 and a smaller forked-horn were lying out in the open just below the crest of the next hill about 175 yards away.
"As I motioned for Linda to hurry, the bucks saw me, immediately got to their feet, and headed for some trees to their right. The 4-point was leading and would soon disappear behind the trees in about three steps. I couldn't wait for Linda. I dropped to a knee and found the buck in my scope. His head was already behind the first tree as I lowered the crosshairs of my 3x9 Bushnell onto the buck's back and squeezed the trigger."
The impact from the 7-mm magnum round knocked the trophy buck over the crest of the hill and out of sight. Dave found him only a few feet from where he was when he'd been shot.
Gibson's high-horned buck officially scored 134 5/8 SCI points, ranking it No. 9 in the typical coastal blacktail category.
THE SHERROW BUCK
Greg Sherrow of Arnold hunts public and private land in the lower Sierra foothills of Zone D-5. On opening day he and hunting partner Seth Mitchell hunted BLM land and spotted a big buck at 300 yards that they both shot at but missed. Though disappointed, they remained confident that they'd find other legal bucks in the following days.
The next day, Sept. 28, the two young men were on a private cattle ranch at 2,200 feet. The guys are ranch hands here during the summer, and they saw some nice blacktail bucks while working.
Thick white leaf manzanita and chemise-covered hillsides make the terrain fairly rugged and difficult to hunt. The main ridge here flattens out, however, to a big wide-open bench that leads into a small valley before it falls off steep to New Melones Reservoir. Cattle and deer graze and get water here, and Sherrow knew of a big spring near the bench that attracts deer during summer. White oak acorns found near north- and east-sloping ridges here help to layer the fat upon the deer. Thin, rocky soils of serpentine and limestone - the highest in calcium of the aggregates - are part of the area's geology.
After only seeing a few does through midday, Mitchell was ready to call it quits. Sherrow, however, wasn't. He talked his reluctant partner into moving to the spring for an afternoon hunt. The hunters set up about 60 yards from the spring and had a good view of the brushy slope on the opposite side where game trails lead to the water.
The two buddies sat side-by-side, enduring the 90-degree heat, and at about 4:30 a 120-class 4-pointer came into view, cautiously easing down one of the trails. Mitchell had never killed a buck, so he whispered, "Is it all right for me to shoot it?"
"Yeah," Sherrow told him.
Mitchell's 75-yard neck shot from his Winchester .243 was true. The buck went two more steps and fell. Mitchell had his first buck! Sherrow immediately told him to stay calm, and the two hunters remained quiet and still, giving time for the buck to expire peacefully. The young hunters' actions can be a lesson to all big-game hunters.
A previously hidden deer took off at the sound of Seth's blast, running uphill away from the perceived danger. Alertly, Sherrow raised his Model 70 .270-caliber Winchester and attempted to find the wide-racked buck in his scope. The trophy was about 160 yards away when it stopped, turned broadside, and looked back down toward the spring. Mitchell, intent on keeping a watchful eye on his deer - never saw the buck. Sherrow quickly aimed at a front shoulder and fired.
"The buck jumped up in the air and headed straight downhill digging with its back legs for about 15 yards, then he quit," Sherrow recalled. After helping Mitchell field-dress his fine buck, Sherrow finally found his way up to his deer. He was amazed at what he saw as he pulled at the buck's rack to free it of some brush. It was the biggest buck that he'd ever seen on the ranch, with four well-defined points on each side, good brow tines and mass.
The Sherrow buck officially scores 152 3/8 SCI, tying it at No. 10 (with another 2003 buck) in the inland Columbian blacktail category.
THE HOSKINS BUCK
Rick Hoskins of Placerville is a skilled and passionate big-game hunter and founder of the California Records of Big Game. He is an official SCI measurer and serves our country in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Hoskins has harvested almost every North American big-game animal, including a trophy buffalo with his compound bow in South Dakota. But his favorite big-game animal to hunt is California's Columbian blacktail. He has taken numerous blacktails with gun and bow, and holds the No. 1 typical archery coastal buck in the California record book.
His passion for California's blacktails draws him to public lands at low foothill elevations. He incorporates motion detector game cameras in his off-season scouting and now has four of them that allow him to thoroughly scout new areas.
At 2,000 feet in Zone D-5, he found an area that appeared to have good habitat for blacktails, but the cameras showed no deer there during the summer. However, as cooler weather came in the fall of that year the cameras started capturing more and more deer on film there, and Hoskins harvested a mature 3x3 on the final week of that season.
Hoskins passed on several decent bucks early in the 2003 season. He tells California Game & Fish that most California deer hunters get too excited and take the first legal buck they see. "You have to discipline yourself to wait for larger mature bucks and pass on smaller ones," he said.
On Oct. 31, Hoskins headed to the same area he'd harvested the huge 3x3, and this time a small storm brought rain, cooler temperatures and then frost to Mother Lode country during that final week. Hunting conditions had finally turned favorable as Hoskins gathered his rifle, backpack and sleeping bag and began the 5-mile hike to where evergreen forest gives way to oak and brush. By the time he bedded down that evening, clear, cold, starry skies prevailed.
He glassed and still-hunted the area at first light but saw no deer. Late in the morning, somewhat disappointed, Hoskins started still-hunting back toward his truck. About 4 miles later he was high on a ridge and looking down at a small flat when he spotted two does about 150 yards away. He thought that with the rut nearing there had to be a legal, mature buck close by. He was right! He quickly positioned himself to get a better view of the area and spotted a tall-tined rack.
Through binoculars he determined that it was the shooter buck he'd hoped to find. Hoskins had to act fast, as the trophy was one step away from going behind some thick brush. He immediately pulled on the legs of the attached rifle bipod and lunged forward to the groun
d, accidentally plunging into a low shrub. He had no time to look for suitable ground so the spot would have to do, however. The buck was feeding broadside about 175 yards below him, and while Hoskins was able to quickly place the crosshairs of the 4-16-power scope on the buck's shoulder, a small pine foreshadowed the targeted area, nearly ruining the shot. Rick had to make a quick, rushed attempt. He aimed about an inch above the small pine and squeezed the trigger of his Weatherby .30/378 (wildcat), and the buck disappeared.
Hoskins found the heavy-horned buck a few yards from where it once stood and marveled at the tremendous mass and deep forks of its rack. The Hoskins buck is a massive 4x4 with brow tines that officially scored 164 7/8 SCI, ranking it the No. 4 typical in the inland blacktail category.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For great blacktail deer hunting videos and information, log onto www.blacktailcountry.com.
(Author's Note: Congratulations also to Sacramento's Chad Major and his 152 3/8 inland blacktail.)
(Editor's Note: Attention southern California deer hunters: Openings are available in the California Records of Big Game's mule deer subspecies categories. There's no entry fee required to list your trophy. For score sheets and information write to CRBG, P.O. Box 107, Greenwood, CA 95635, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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