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California Hunting Mule Deer Whitetail

Special Two-Part 2012 California Deer Forecast, Part 1

by John Higley   |  July 12th, 2012 2

Photo by Curtis Mix

California’s 2012 deer seasons are about to descend on us again. In fact, depending on when you read this, the rifle season in Zone A may already be open. That’s scary, because my hunts in 2011 are still as fresh in my mind as yesterday.

As usual, in my hot hands I had C and B tags and, also as usual, I only filled the B. The places I hunt in Zone C3 have very few deer until the annual migration, and last year the fall storms of October (both of them) were short-lived and mild. As a result, deer movement during the hunting seasons was minimal, and I failed to see any legal bucks on my C zone hunts.

My family had better luck in the B zones. My son, Mark, and son-in-law, Robert Feamster, spent opening weekend in the Trinity Alps Wilderness where, despite the fair weather, Rob spotted a tremendous 4×4 blacktail buck at last shooting light. His shot was good, but rather than fall in its tracks the buck tumbled down a steep slope. And it would have gone clear to the bottom of the canyon had its antlers not become stuck in soft soil on the way down. By the time Rob found the critter it was tomb dark and, as every hunter knows, that’s when the work really began.

With Mark’s help the deer was caped and quartered and finally packed back to camp at midnight. The next day, after a grueling five-mile trek, the hunters got the deer and their camping gear back to the trailhead.

Later in the season Mark tagged his own buck, a young 4×4 blacktail, and eventually I stumbled upon a robust 3×2 buck in a recovering burn area and filled my B tag. Considering the mild weather throughout the season we did pretty well for ourselves, I think.

There are exceptions, but on average the success rate in most of the state’s deer zones ranges roughly from a low of eight to a high of 20 percent. That isn’t great, but a lot of hunters are successful, including a bunch of readers of Game & Fish. A few of them were interviewed for this article, and their tales are inserted here in hopes others will recognize the opportunities available in California.

First up is 14-year-old Liam Boyd who, after putting in for three years, drew a tag for the J10 Apprentice Either-Sex Hunt on Fort Hunter Liggett in Zone A. Liam had never hunted deer before but he was eager to give it a try. On the second weekend of the two-weekend hunt in October Liam and his dad, Bill, drove to Hunter Liggett from their home in Green Valley to see what they could find.

Click to enlarge image.

“We saw lots of does and fawns on the first morning when we started out,” Liam said. “I could have shot a doe but I really wanted to hold out for a buck and we finally spotted two of them. One was a spike and the other was a big-bodied forked horn. He was 150 yards away and moving when I shot him with my Marlin .30-06. The first bullet stopped him and the second put him down for good.”

At the end of the day Liam’s deer was the biggest of five bucks hanging in the skinning area and the lad was quite pleased by that fact.

Kim Blake, of Redcrest, passed the hunter safety course when she was just 16, but didn’t start hunting deer until seven years ago when she was 32. To date, she’s harvested three bucks. The biggest is a 4×4 blacktail she got last August on opening day in Zone B4.

“My husband, Colin, had a permit to hunt on private timber land and we took advantage of it because there isn’t much public land in this zone,” Kim said. “We were driving back roads on the property when we saw this great buck standing on the edge of the timber. I got out, found a rest for my .243 Winchester Model 70, and connected with the first shot. I didn’t need to shoot again.”

Kim was tickled to get such a great buck, but she saw an even bigger one in the same area and she has her hopes set on getting it this year. With her gung-ho attitude toward hunting, she just might.

Meadow Vista resident Jeff Tentes, age 39, calls himself an all-around outdoorsman. He hunts anything in California, from deer and wild turkeys to squirrels and mushrooms. Sometimes Tentes hunts deer in the Sierra foothills close to home, but he prefers to backpack into remote country in Zone B1.

“I moved to Meadow Vista seven years ago,” Tentes said, “and I like to hunt around here, but I really missed my backpack hunts in the northwest part of the state. Last fall I decided to go back to my old stomping grounds.”

Tentes and his father-in-law, Anthony (Buzz) Narlock, hiked into the backcountry and set up camp. They scouted the area previously so they knew right where they wanted to go. Turns out they made a good choice.

“We like to spot and stalk,” Tentes said, “and we were glassing when Buzz spotted a doe in a meadow around 300 yards away. I had a hunch more deer would show up and, sure enough, two forked-horn bucks came out. I dropped the biggest one with the second round. It wasn’t a giant trophy, but it was a real hunt and one I hope to duplicate in 2012.”

Finally, there’s Jason McKenna, a 27-year-old accountant from San Ramon. An avid bowhunter, he was drawn for the A12 hunt in Zone X6b along with his uncle and regular hunting companion, Tom Chaney. Together they have hunted mule deer in A12 several times, and knowing the area is certainly to their advantage.

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