Double Up For Deer

Double Up For Deer

Why do some hunters score consistently in the low-density D11/A31 Zone? When you take to the mountains in the Los Angeles area, here are secrets for success.

John Lewis took this buck in the D11/A31 Zone last year.
Photo by Dave Dolbee.

There's no real secret to hunting the Los Angeles either-sex hunt, A31 Archery-Only, or filling two D11 buck tags, for that matter. The success rate is amazingly low, yet I know of several hunters who have filled one or both of their tags for the last half-dozen years, all on public land.

If you have never hunted D11, or if you just want to fill your tags, here's how.

Look to the top and bottom of the zone and work in. Starting from the top, the A31 areas to watch are Quail Lake Road, Liebre Mountain, Atmore Meadows, Sawmill Ridge and the Burnt Peak area.

From the southeastern boundaries, Messenger Flats, Mount Gleason, Mount Wilson, Strawberry Peak and Mount Pacifica are the areas to focus on. All of these areas offer great access to public lands. But be sure to check with the Forest Service before committing. It seems that right before hunting season begins, certain forests are closed for fire hazard.

At first I thought the anti-hunting activists were up to something, but the Forest Service has been fair about the closures. They shut the forests to other activities as well, such as boating and horseback riding.

John Lewis, a local hunter and friend, has filled two D11/A31 tags for at least the last six years in a row. He's helped me fill a tag every year that I have hunted the zone.

What's Lewis' secret to success? Pre-season scouting.

I wish it were as easy as giving you GPS coordinates, but things change and so does the deer's behavior.

Where To Scout
Start scouting the first weekend in May. Then by opening day, you should know where the bucks are and what their habits are like. The D11 Zone is open with a low deer density. Therefore, don't expect to go in scouting and expect to find trophy deer. Sit down and let your binos work whenever possible.

Walk the fire roads and drive the logging roads. If you're going to walk a firebreak, look for activity at first light. If you don't get a good sighting, come back a day or two later and try in the evening.

Pay particular attention to springs and seeps -- these are critical to all animals' survival. Though you may see some tracks, don't focus on water sources 10 yards from the road. As soon as hunting pressure increases, activity at these watering holes will drop to near zero.

When it's warm, focus your efforts on the northern slopes. To beat the heat, deer will seek out the shade and slightest breezes.

When you're glassing, pay particular attention to the undersides of trees and brush, while checking the shade of rock outcroppings.

What draw are they using? Are they walking a main saddle? What's their route? To beat the heat, the deer will get as high as they can. Don't focus on the dead brush; deer will be looking for the green stuff.

Most importantly, the higher elevations get them away from the deer flies that drive them nuts.

This is especially true of the bigger deer. The older the bucks get, the edgier they get, and they seem to hate the flies and heat even more.

In cold weather, switch your efforts to the southern sides of the slopes. During this period, the deer will shift to the sunny areas in the early morning to warm themselves.

As the day heats up, they get up to move, shifting back to shaded areas at midday. So an all-day hunt would be a good idea.

All these tips are helpful, but still leave you a lot of area to cover.

Scouting Tips
Driving the roads will get you sightings, but if you spot the same animal from a road more than a couple of times, it is going to move.

Likewise, it will have been spotted by a dozen or so other hunters, so if you are serious, give up this tactic. Instead, try to get off the beaten trail and think like the deer do.

Take the animals into consideration. What do the deer want for safety and comfort? Then position yourself where the glass can do the work for you. Look for deer trails, beds and food sources. This is where to do your scouting and homework.

You can pattern these mule deer, but they're not as easy to pattern as whitetails, for example.

"Three mornings in a row, I watched the same buck come up the same draw to the same spring," said Lewis. "A fourth day wasn't possible because the third was opening day."

Remain Undetected
Of course, every hunter should enter a hunting area with the objective of having a minimal impact with maximum effectiveness.

While that sounds good, it's not practiced nearly enough. Here are a few easy, inexpensive tips to help you minimize your footprint on any area.

When it comes to a deer's defenses, scent is supreme. Moxy, a new company, offers a promising technology to filter scent from clothing. For scent reduction, carbon suits have been popular, as have a dozen or so other competing clothing technologies and chemical applications. At the very least, use a cover scent.

Lewis prefers raccoon scent, noting that it's powerful and that raccoons are found all through the D11 zone.

For a cover scent, I prefer sagebrush. You can find the plants everywhere, and all you need to do is snip off a few branches and stuff them in a bag with your clothing for a couple of days. Best of all, that won't cost you a thing.

But scent won't matter a lick if the deer hear you coming. Pick up a pair of foot covers, like Baer's Feet. Anything that essentially covers the bottom of your boots and quiets your footfall during those final yards of the stalk is worth it.

Practice your stalking skills. Even if you thi

nk you're going slow enough, cut your pace in half.

Remember, when stalking in a dry, crunchy, noisy area such as D11/A31, you're not trying to sneak up on a deer as much as you're slowly shifting position, waiting for the deer to sneak in front of you.

Check Out The Burns
Here in Southern California, we always have a burn area or two. Within a few weeks after a new burn, get in and scout the area. Take maps or a GPS if possible. After a fire, deer trails, water sources and beds are extremely evident. This can be some of the easiest scouting you'll ever do.

Due to the recent fire, your chances of busting out that trophy buck are nearly nil. But in two or three seasons, these burn areas will be your go-to hot spots. Burned areas will eliminate most of the impenetrable brush that bucks love to hide in, and also the layers of dry leaves and brush that create a ruckus when you're trying a quiet stalk. New growth will provide the greens that deer focus on for food. And if you did your scouting, you will have mapped where the deer will be.

Their watering spots will be the same. They'll be using their old trails, determined long ago by the terrain and topography. Deer will still travel them while the new growth fills in.

Just because a zone like D11/A31 has a low success rate doesn't mean that your chances of success are lower. All it really means is that if you've done your homework ahead of time, you'll have less competition when filling your tag.

Dave Dolbee is associate editor of Petersen's Hunting.

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