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California Hunting Mule Deer

2009 Big Buck Outlook

September 29th, 2010 0


Plan your trophy hunt using our analysis of the best zones from 2008. (September 2009)

More than half of the deer taken annually in most of the state’s 44 deer zones are not trophies. They are simply 2- and 3-year-old bucks.



Chris Stone (left) and Aaron Brooks show Stone’s 4×5 archery buck from Zone D5.
Photo courtesy of Chris Stone.

Of course, there are some very respectable bucks harvested in the Golden State every year. Some of those big ones are killed by lucky hunters who happen upon them. Most are the result of well-planned approaches by skilled hunters.


Overall, some zones produce far more trophy-class deer than others. For example, in the 12 zones with the highest percentage of 4-point bucks, at least 10 are familiar X zones, such as X2 (35 percent), X4 (29 percent) and X5b (49 percent). The other X zones, where 4-point bucks were taken more than 25 percent of the time are X3a, X3b, X5a, X7a, X7b, X9b and X12. Also on the list are zones D12 and D17, each of which produced big bucks at a respectable pace in 2008.


However, considering the number of tags available for the D zones, the overall percentage of success does not measure up to the majority of X zones. For example, in D12, the hunter success rate was 9 percent. But 36 percent of those deer were 4×4 or better.


Turns out, 9 percent was also the average success rate for all D zones combined.


Meanwhile, the average hunter success for any legal bucks in the 17 X zones was 32 percent, with some individual zones producing bucks between 40 percent and 50 percent of the time.


Chances were good X zone hunters killed a buck, and when they did, it was often a 4-point or better.


Many D zone hunters struggled to even shoot a buck. But if they tagged one, there also was as good a chance it was a 4-point or better.


Freund’s 8×7
Freunds took a trophy deer in 2008 after waiting 17 years to draw a rifle tag for Zone X7a. Here’s how he transformed that privilege into antlers.


A lifelong California resident, Freunds, 48, has hunted since his youth. He was somewhat familiar with X7a because he hunted there as a teenager. Thanks to those long-ago days, Freunds still had some idea of where he and his buddy, Steve Swaringen (who also had a tag), should start hunting. (Continued)


As it turned out, Swaringen saw a respectable 3×2 buck a short distance from camp on the first morning of their four-day stay, and he put his tag on it a little while later.


Meanwhile, Freunds came up short on the first day. The morning of the second day wasn’t much better, but Freunds had a plan for the afternoon that seemed promising.


“I had Steve drop me off where the road skirted a long ridge, which I planned to hunt in the direction of camp,” said Freunds. “I knew it would take awhile, and it might be dark before I got there, but I thought it was a place with potential — and it was!”


Freunds didn’t get very far before he rounded a bend and spotted a deer 80 yards away looking right at him. “At first, I didn’t realize it was a buck because it blended into the background so well. Then he moved his head and there was no mistaking the antlers. I’ve been hunting for a long time, but I started shaking with excitement anyway.”


He raised his Remington 7mm rifle and fired. The buck took off, but didn’t go very far before he piled up. Freunds and Swaringen followed the blood trail and found the buck dead in tall grass less than 100 yards away.


“I still can’t believe how fortunate I am,” Freunds told California Game & Fish. “That buck was really heavy.”


Freunds’ buck wore antlers 22 inches wide and 24 inches tall with 8 points on the left and 7 on the right.


A DFG biologist said the buck was probably 6 1/2 years old.


Freunds has his deer on his wall.


“He’s a constant reminder of one of my best hunts ever,” Freunds said.


Newlen’s G6 Buck
Like Freunds, Bakersfield resident Robin Newlen applied for a specific tag for several years before being drawn. And then she wasn’t sure if it was a good deal or not. Robin and her husband, Kevin, a well-drilling supervisor, normally take their young sons, John and Seth, on family hunts in Colorado. But last year, her G6 Kern River Deer Herd Buck Hunt tag (one of 50) would keep them from doing that.


“Honestly, I was disappointed about losing out on the Colorado hunt, but my husband assured me the tag I got was really worthwhile,” Robin said. “It was a late hunt in Tulare County, and he said the high-country bucks would all be down on their wintering grounds and just waiting for me to come along. Well, it wasn’t quite that easy, but I’m not complaining, believe me.”


The G6 season opened on Dec. 6 and ran for two weeks. The Newlens planned to hunt the first four days and each weekend thereafter if necessary.


The first day was both exciting and disappointing. They drove through the rugged terrain for hours, stopping often to glass for deer. At first, they saw only a few does. But late that afternoon, they spied a nice 3-point buck and a doe feeding near the bottom of a canyon. The Newlens drove to a spot below the deer and started hiking up from below.



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