Four Giant California Bucks

Four Giant California Bucks

These Golden State deer hunters beat the odds by killing outstanding record-book blacktails in 2005. Here are their stories. (July 2006)

Pacifica resident Craig Bucini hunted his 4x4 in the Lassen National Forest.
Photo courtesy of Craig Bucini.

Put cynicism aside for a minute.

After all, for years now, California Game & Fish has brought you story after story of successful hunters who have killed trophy deer in the Golden State. So what are the chances of it happening for you this year?

You might want to think about that question as you look at four more big bucks, all killed during their respective 2005 seasons in California.


On Aug. 21 Craig Bucini of Pacifica was perched in a tree stand overlooking a well-used game trail in the Lassen National Forest at 6,000 feet of elevation. It was the opening weekend of the archery season in Zone C4. That Sunday morning, the mountain air was calm and cool as daylight revealed lush, green foliage bordering a pristine creek only a few yards from Bucini's stand.

He has hunted this zone for 23 years, but he started hunting a particular drainage just three years ago, after finding lots of deer trails there. "I had some opportunities at some nice bucks there before," Bucini said, "but the wind wasn't quite right. It took me three years to find the right tree."

From the stand, Bucini has about a 50-yard view and can see a creek plus four good trails coming off the steep slope on the other side. The four trails funnel down into one main trail that the deer often use to cross the creek after stopping to take a drink.

On the second day of the season, Bucini remembers walking out of camp armed with a can of pepper spray, and getting to his stand at 4:50 a.m. "I've seen a few lions roaming around my stand," he explained.

He climbed the large incense cedar, sat down, and waited for daylight. For nearly three hours, there was no sign of deer movement until a huge-racked buck emerged from a thicket on the other side of the creek about 50 yards slightly above Bucini's position. The big, velvet-sheathed blacktail stopped and looked around before quartering downhill through heavy timber on one of the game trails, heading straight for Bucini's stand.

"I started shaking," Bucini recalled. "I took a couple of deep breaths and began praying that I'd get a shot at him."

The buck, walking behind moss-shrouded logs and dogwood thickets, disappeared for a minute before re-emerging just 15 yards away from Bucini. "He crossed the creek and started feeding on dogwood leaves right under my stand," he said. "I watched him through the (stand) grate for about five minutes before he began walking again."

Bucini drew back an arrow as he watched the buck take a few more steps. It was only 8 yards away when Bucini took take the shot. "I placed the 10-yard pin on his spine and let go," said Bucini.

The Rhino carbon arrow, tipped with a 125-grain Muzzy broadhead, hit the buck, but not exactly where Bucini wanted. The arrow hit to the side of the spine -- and worse yet, slightly behind the lungs. "It was hard to track," he recalled. "There were only tiny specks of blood every so often . . . we had to go and (look for) hoof marks."

Four hours later, Bucini and a friend jumped the great buck, which ran another 200 yards before lying down again. Bucini stalked to within 10 yards of the injured buck. This time, the animal stood up just in time to take another arrow from Craig's Hoyt bow. The big Sierra blacktail ran 20 more yards and finally went down for good.

The massive, long-tined buck had an overall spread measuring 24 4/8 inches, with bases that measured 4 4/8 and 4 7/8 inches. Officially scoring 152 4/8 Safari Club International points, Craig's buck ranks 7th among inland Columbian blacktail typicals in the California Records of Big Game archery division.


Sept. 2 was a warm, dry day in the lower foothills of Placer County at the 1,800-foot mark in Zone D-4. It was nearing the end of the 2005 archery season, a season that so far had drawn a blank for Dave Stallions, a veteran archer of 24 years.

A trip to the Siskiyou Mountains early in the season gave Stallions several near opportunities at blacktails, but he couldn't get in bow range to confidently release an arrow. Little did he know that a leisurely drive to a friend's property that Friday afternoon would become the hunt of his lifetime.

"I really wasn't into hunting that day," said Stallions. "I went there to let my dogs go for a swim in a pond. I threw my bow in the truck and thought that I might scout the property if I had the time."

At about 6:30 p.m. Stallions drove to the edge of the property, parked his truck, and nonchalantly set out onto a hillside covered in blue oaks, leaving his dogs behind. He began sidehilling the steep, south-facing slope. Below him was a year-round creek bordered by tall wild blackberry thickets and other dense entanglements. Stallions noticed several well-used deer trails leading to and from the bottoms as he continued looking for sign, and a place to possibly set up a ground blind.

He'd gone about 150 yards when he came up over a little knoll and saw a shallow draw in front of him running up the slope. It was getting late, and he figured that the deer should be moving soon. He stopped right there to look for deer movement.

Looking down the draw, he was startled to see two decent bucks -- a blacktail with forked antlers and a nice 3-pointer -- that had just made their way out of the blackberries. He watched them feed for a few seconds, then noticed the rump of another deer in the brush. When the deer raised its head, Stallions started to get a sick feeling in his stomach.

"There were points going everywhere," he said. "I thought that he might be 30 inches (wide)." It was the biggest blacktail rack he had ever seen.

With bow in hand, Stallions knelt behind a small Digger pine, nervously waiting for the three feeding bucks to walk uphill and into bow range. The monster buck was in the lead.

"I guessed the distance to be 48 yards and was about to pull (the arrow) back when I thought that I'd better range him first," Stallions said. "I didn't want to blow the shot." As he reached down for his rangefinder, he was shaking so badly that he had to tell himself to calm down. When he finally did, the buck was merely 33 yards away.

With a favorable wind, Stallions knew he was in good shape. He drew back the bowstring, aligned a fiber-optic 30-yard sight pin on a small rock slightly ahead of the feeding buck and waited. When the trophy cervid stepped over the rock, Stallions raised his sights to the buck's vital area, and launched a carbon arrow across the gully. Hit hard, the buck hunched over and then took off running. Minutes later, Stallions found it, dead, just 25 yards from that spot.

The buck was a freakish non-typical, with 11 points on the left side and 8 on the right. It had an overall tip-to-tip spread of more than 27 inches. Its bases were both nearly 4 1/2 inches, and its brow tines were both exactly 3 5/8 inches. The Stallions buck officially scored 174 2/8 SCI points, and is the No. 2-ranked non-typical in the CRBG inland blacktail category, archery division.


Keith Book Jr. of Vacaville hunts Golden Ram Hunting Club property in Mendocino County in Zone B1. The elevation of this private property varies from 3,000 feet in the creek bottoms to 6,000 feet at the highest peaks. The many large hillside openings, coupled with the high vistas in this mountainous, rocky terrain, are a spot-and-stalk hunter's dream.

White fir is the predominant tree species, with a few incense cedars mixed in. Scrub oaks are found in the bottoms, supplying deer with acorns that helps fatten them up. Oak brush is the predominant shrub.

Book has scouted the area well, and found a high peak to glass from effectively. From that spot, he has a 360-degree view and can see a large saddle that extends out below the peak to the east. Rising up at the opposite end of the saddle is the apex of a finger ridge and a large rock outcropping. According to Book, the distance between the high peak and the opposing ridge is about 700 to 800 yards, but you can see for miles beyond that.

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, Book hiked to the peak before sunup and started glassing as soon as it was light enough to see. A couple of hours went by as Book continued glassing for any deer movement coming out of the deep draws, and onto the bald side hills and ridges. He spotted two bucks walking out in the open at the end of the finger ridge about 800 yards out. As the bucks started to feed, Book noticed that one of the bucks was so huge that at first he thought the other deer was a doe.

Keith watched the bucks for five minutes determining that the deer appeared to be "comfortable, and not nervous."

"They'd probably be feeding there for a while," Book surmised.

He started off the peak and went down into the saddle, planning to sneak around the rock outcropping to get about a 200-yard shot. "I got out to the outcropping, but the wind was wrong," said Keith. "I was frustrated at first. I started trying to think of how I was going to do this."

Book snuck around the rocks and headed straight down the ridge at the bucks. He couldn't see them, but still had hope the bucks would be there.

When he was about 75 yards off, Book saw the back of a deer. The hunter stopped and lifted his binoculars, his eyes now focusing on the wide rack that filled his optic lenses. It was the monster buck!

The deer was quartering away to Book's left. Book dropped to a knee and raised his Ruger .338 Magnum. He looked through the 3x9 Leupold scope, placing the crosshairs on the back of the buck's rib cage and squeezed the trigger.


Book knew immediately that he'd forgotten to chamber a round. Ducking down, he quietly slid a round into the chamber, slowly rose up, aimed, and fired.

The buck turned and started heading off the top of the ridge. The trembling hunter tracked the animal down into a steep-sided canyon and caught up to it on a side hill that the buck was struggling to climb.

"I was about 30 yards from him when I slipped and started sliding," Book said. "I looked up, and the buck started sliding too. We both slid about 100 feet down to the creek bottom. I got to my feet and watched him expire."

Book's buck is a wide-racked 5x5 with a 26 5/8-inch overall outside spread. It officially scored 158 4/8 SCI and is the biggest non-typical in the CRBG's coastal Columbian blacktail rifle division.


"It was a lousy season," said veteran hunter Julio Cerquettini of San Francisco. "There was no weather, and it was warm the whole season." But if Cerquettini's buck from 2005 is what gets taken under such conditions, perhaps we should ask for warmer seasons more often.

Cerquettini, his son and nephew, all members of the Golden Ram Hunting Club, have been hunting a 16,000-acre tract of private property above the Eel River in northern Mendocino County for 15 years. Canyon country predominates at the 2,000-foot elevation, with the tops and sides of the hills heavily forested in coastal redwood, Douglas fir, cedar and madrone. Dropping toward the canyon bottoms, the conifers give way to black oaks, white-leaf manzanita and ceanothus.

To find deer, Cerquettini and his relatives have learned to glass through openings in the forest from a dirt road that snakes down to the bottom of the canyon.

According to Cerquettini, the deer inhabiting the area are year-round residents that do not migrate. They will move during bad weather, however, as well as in preparation for the rut by season's end. "That's when we usually get them," Cerquettini told California Game & Fish. "Especially the big ones."

Saturday, Oct. 22 began warm and dry. It was the last weekend of the Zone B1 general season. The three hunters planned an afternoon hunt and dropped Cerquettini at a pre-determined spot, where the seasoned hunter would spend the rest of the afternoon carefully glassing openings and oak-covered benches.

Cerquettini watched his son and nephew drive away, chambered a shell into his Winchester Model 88 in .308 caliber, and walked over to the edge of the road. He peered over the side and saw a deep draw down below. He noticed movement from a cedar thicket about 50 yards below him, and saw the glint of deer antlers.

Julio couldn't believe it. He watched the deer for a moment to make sure that it had a legal antler before raising his rifle and peering through his Leupold 3x9 scope. He had to wait for a moment for the buck to clear the thicket. Then he placed the cross hairs on the buck's front shoulder.

Boom! His shot echoed through the canyon, and the trophy deer dropped immediately.

Down the road, the younger Cerquettini thought, "You're kidding me." But he turned his truck around and headed back to his dad. "He's down there," his father said, pointing down the hill.

The buck was the largest blacktail that Julio Cerquettini has ever taken. Even he was in awe of its massiv

e rack. The Cerquettini buck is a typical 4x4 with good mass and brow tines. Its bases measure 5 3/8 and 5 4/8 inches. The overall outside spread spans 26 inches. Impressively, Cerquettini's buck ranks as the No. 1 typical coastal blacktail in the CRBG's rifle division, officially scoring 159 6/8 SCI.


Contact the California Records of Big Game at (530) 409-9720, or log on to

For information about the Golden Ram Hunting Club, contact Nick Tacito at (916) 941-7880.

Taxidermist Ken Slattery of Grass Valley can be reached at (530) 273-9793.

Find more about California hunting and fishing at:

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