The Mendocino National Forest east of Covelo to Hull Mountain provides some of California's best blacktail deer hunting on public land.
By Angelo Nogara
As my ears strained for a bearing on the faint sound of leaves rustling, I caught the slight movement of a deer 50 yards to my left. When it slowly stepped out from behind a tree, I couldn't believe my eyes. There stood a fully mature 3-point blacktail that would easily make the Pope and Young record book - a fine representative of a Zone B buck from the Mendocino National Forest.
I remained still as he cautiously moved in my direction. I could clearly see his extremely tall rack and large, deep forks. My heart started pounding as adrenaline rushed through my body. Slowly I reached for the string of my bow, while never taking my eyes from him. I would have but one chance at this buck.
At a distance of just 22 yards, I feared that the wind would swirl and bring my scent in his direction. He stared through the trees for a few minutes, testing the air as if suspecting he was being watched, and then began to eat foliage off a nearby plant. The minutes felt like hours as I waited for him to turn and show his vitals.
The waiting game eventually paid off when he took a step toward his left, offering me a perfect broadside shot. As my arrow hit its mark, the buck sprang into the air, ran about 40 yards and fell to the ground.
With an abundance of 4-wheel-drive trails, hunters have access to several public-land areas east of the Covelo area that provide some of the highest success rates and largest blacktail bucks in the state.
Two access points are available for this area.
To reach the northern access (Eel River Work Station), take Highway 101 to Highway 162, the Covelo exit. Past Covelo take County Road 338 to the Eel River Work Station. Take Forest Route M1 south and begin climbing up Mexico Ridge toward Grizzly Flat. This road can easily be driven with a two-wheel-drive vehicle and is safe for towing horse trailers.
For the southern access (Hull Mountain), take Highway 101 to the Calpella/Highway 20 exit. Stay on Highway 20 and take the Potter Valley turnoff toward Lake Pillsbury, followed by a right turn at Forest Route M8 to Soda Creek and a left turn on Forest Route M1. Pass Oak Flat and begin climbing Boardman Ridge to Hull Mountain. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended. Horse trailers are not.
The following spots contain high concentrations of deer and have consistently produced trophy bucks for archers and rifle hunters.
This 3-point blacktail, taken east of Covelo, qualifed for the Pope and Young Club's record book. The hunter is author Angelo Nogara. Photo by Bob Rowland
HULL MOUNTAIN AREA
Bordering a state game refuge, the areas close to Hull Mountain are some of the hidden jewels of Zone B deer hunters.
Boardman Ridge - While climbing toward Hull Mountain on Forest Route M1, there is excellent hunting on the left side of the road. The right side of the road is a state game refuge. The boundary runs to the top of the ridge at Hull Mountain. Be safe and check your maps. The refuge area is highly patrolled and zealously protected.
Another great spot is at the top of the ridge just south of Windy Gap. Park your vehicle there and glass the west-facing slope into the canyon toward Boardman Creek. Every year hunters find bucks there milling around through the brush.
I recommend walking two dirt roads in this area: Forest Routes 19N47 and 19N48. Both lead into quality hunting on the side of Boardman Ridge.
This is an excellent area to catch bucks that come out of the state game refuge. Hunting pressure is low to moderate.
Windy Gap - When reaching the top of the ridge, come down a small saddle into Windy Gap. This is a main passage for deer passing in and out of the state game refuge. Buckbrush dominates the west side of the ridge. Deer love to mill around in it throughout the day. The east side of the ridge is a heavily treed area, which runs down into a deep canyon paralleling the refuge boundary at Hull Creek.
Windy Gap offers excellent hunting throughout the season, especially during and immediately after a storm. Hunting pressure is amazingly low.
Monkey Rock - This area is known for big bucks and is an ideal spot for rifle hunters.
The area below Monkey Rock west of Forest Route M1 is composed of buckbrush and large pockets of trees. During archery season, the rock offers great glassing opportunities for spot-and-stalk archers. During rifle season, as hunting pressure increases, it offers sniper-type shots at bucks that use small passages as escape routes. I have seen some really big bucks taken out of this spot.
|MENDENHALL: BIG-BUCK CANYON|
Mendenhall, on the west side of Forest Route M1 between Spruce Grove and Monkey Rock, is home to a number of quality blacktail bucks few hunters ever see. Why? Access is restricted to travel by foot or hoof — no ATVS, bicycles or other mechanical modes of transportation.
Park your vehicle and horse trailer by the locked gate at the beginning of the trail, and your journey begins.
You'll find a few horse camps in the area during the opening week of the season, but hunting pressure is extremely low after that. This allows you to hunt undisturbed bucks. Mendenhall is excellent for hunters who don't mind putting in the hard work that's necessary to score a trophy buck.
For backpackers, the hike in slopes gradually downhill. The hike out can be strenuous depending on how much venison you are packing. Try to keep your pack at about 45 pounds for a three-day hunt, and no more than 60 pounds for a 6- to 10-day hunt. I use a Peak 1 semi-rigid external backpack because it is lightweight and flexible. It is also convenient to remove the main carrying bag and convert it into a pack frame for carrying meat.
Make sure to bring a collapsible bucket for drinking water and a top-qual
ity water filter, such as the Swiss-made Katadyn. I have used mine for years. There are plenty of water sources in this area, but the presence of Giardia and other unpleasant things requires that you treat all local water before drinking it.
Depending on your physical conditioning and the size of your buck, you may have to make two to three trips to retrieve your meat and camping supplies. You'll need to bring heavy-duty game bags for carrying boned-out meat. — Angelo Nogara
There are usually a couple of deer camps in this area during rifle season, so try to set up on escape routes and use the hunting pressure to your advantage. One such route, which I have personally viewed bucks passing through, is located in a small ravine south of the rock and parallel to the ridge. The bucks run toward Windy Gap and the refuge when hunters pressure them. This is a good spot to position a shooter for a deer drive. A great morning hunt would be to side-hill the ridge from Monkey Rock to Windy Gap.
This area is good for opening weekend and the early season, but hunting pressure is high.
Red Rock Ridge - Just across the road from Monkey Rock is Red Rock Ridge, which overlooks a large canyon.
Use the 4-wheel-drive road off Forest Route M1 to access the ridge. Hunt the south side of the ridge into the canyon.
Great deer habitat with plenty of water, as well as trees with open pockets make this area good throughout the season for still-hunting by either archers or rifle hunters. Hunting pressure is low to moderate.
Red Rock - About one mile north of Red Rock Ridge and about one mile east of Forest Route M1 is a favorite hunting spot for archers and opening-weekend rifle hunters.
Consistently a producer of quality bucks, this spot is interspersed with heavily treed areas and large open pockets to accommodate longer shots. For rifle hunters, the rock offers a great opportunity to sit and wait for bucks passing through the area. Archers can enjoy the many game trails throughout the area to set up a close-range ambush. Hunt north to Spruce Grove and south to Red Rock Ridge.
Red Rock is excellent during the early season and again in the late season, during the rut. Hunting pressure is moderate to high during opening week only.
Spruce Grove - Some three miles north of Monkey Rock off Forest Route M1, Spruce Grove is known for large numbers of deer, making it a popular spot.
As a designated group campground, its conveniences attract many deer camps throughout the season. Plenty of water, cover and food make it a perfect habitat for deer.
There are many areas where you can get away from the crowds to find some nice bucks. From camp, there are a number of 4-wheel-drive roads that offer some good opportunities. Another option is to take Forest Route 20N05 to Tar Flat and Low Gap. Both are very good hunting spots well worth the short drive.
While hunting pressure is high, Spruce Grove is a good place to hunt on opening weekend and again in the late season during the rut.
GRIZZLY FLAT AREA
Located on Forest Route M1, Grizzly Flat is one of the better-known hunting areas throughout this mountain range. From here, you can access a number of excellent hunting spots, including O'Neil Ridge, McCoy Ridge, Thatcher Ridge, Old Man Ridge, Horse Pasture Ridge, Skunk Rock and Thatcher Creek.
Some of these spots may require access by either a 4-wheel-drive vehicle or ATV.
Thatcher Ridge - This is a trophy buck area. To access the ridge from Forest Route M1, take Forest Route 22N49, about three miles north of Grizzly Flat, toward Skunk Lake. About one mile before Skunk Lake, take the 4-wheel-drive road that runs the top of Thatcher Ridge.
Hunt the east side of the ridge into the canyon toward Coffee Mill Flat. The best way to hunt this canyon is to take two vehicles. Leave one at the top of Thatcher Ridge, and take the other to the top of Coffee Mill Flat on Forest Route M1 just south of Grizzly Flat. Hunt down into the canyon toward Thatcher Ridge. You'll only have one ridge to climb and you won't have to walk the four miles back to your truck.
For archers, a great spot to put a tree stand is on the other side of the creek bed below the Barnes Ranch. Some very nice bucks are taken as they mill through this spot. Place your tree stand at least 15 feet off the ground near a main game trail. Rifle hunters do well here, too.
Thatcher Ridge offers excellent hunting throughout the season, with moderate to high pressure only on opening weekend. After that, it's all yours.
O'Neil Ridge - To access the ridge from Forest Route M1, take the road behind the forest service facility at Grizzly Flat. Hunt the south side of the ridge and into the canyon to Salmon Creek. From there, you can also take Forest Route 21N32 and hunt to McCoy Ridge.
Primitive and formal camping are available in a variety of places throughout this part of the Mendocino National Forest. Bring your own drinking water. If you must use local water, be sure it is properly treated.
Grizzly Flat — many primitive spots to camp in.
Skunk Lake — primitive camping next to the lake.
Coffee Mill Flat — primitive camping available in many places.
Spruce Grove — designated group camp area.
Red Rock Ridge — primitive sites near the springs at end of the 4WD road.
Windy Gap — a small spot for primitive campers east of the road just beyond the gap.
Boardman Ridge — a few primi-tive spots west of road M1.
Mendenhall — pack-in camp only.
Wells Cabin — designated camp-ground.
Little Doe — undeveloped camp-ground area.
Hammerhorn — designated campground. — Angelo Nogara
Great early season hunt, with moderate to high hunting pressure.
McCoy Ridge -Located east of Coffee Mill Flat, McCoy Ridge is an excellent area for big bucks.
From Forest Route M1 south of Grizzly Flat, take Forest Route 21N32. The south side of the ridge is the place for those who don't mind putting in some legwork.
There are plenty of water sources and very few 4-wheel-drive roads to disturb the deer. Hunt the ridge down to Baldy Creek and over toward Buckhorn Ridge.
That lack of roads brings just low to moderate pressure on these deer, and hunting is excellent throughout season.
Old Man Ridge/Horse Pasture Ridge - These are both trophy buck areas. To access the ridges from Forest Route M1, about two miles south of Coffee Mill Flat, take Forest Route 21N08. After about six miles, the road will veer to the left and turn into Forest Route 21N19 to access Horse Pasture Ridge.
Hunt toward Old Man Ridge and Thatcher Creek. I recommend that you walk the 4-wheel-drive road on Old Man Ridge. It's an excellent area to still-hunt.
Low hunting pressure leads to excellent hunting throughout season.
Skunk Rock/Skunk Lake - To access this spot from Forest Route M1, take Forest Route 22N49, about three miles north of Grizzly Flat.
Skunk Lake is a great spot to set up camp in a central location close to some of the best trophy buck hunting in the area. From here you can hunt Thatcher Ridge, the area below the Barnes Ranch, Old Man Ridge, Horse Pasture Ridge and the large canyon toward Coffee Mill Flat.
The area offers excellent hunting during the early season, with high hunting pressure.
MENDOCINO PASS AREA
Access this area from the Eel River Work Station, northern access. Take County Road 338 to Mendocino Pass. There are a number of 4-wheel-drive roads north and south of the pass that provide excellent hunting.
Anthony Peak - About four miles north of Mendocino Pass, take Forest Route 23N60. Take the 4-wheel-drive road 23N17 and hunt the north side of the ridge.
The first week of the season sees moderate to high hunting pressure. Anthony Peak is known for being good in the early season.
Little Doe/Little Doe Ridge - About eight to 10 miles north of Mendocino Pass, the Little Does can be reached by taking Forest Route M2 to Forest Route 23N37. This is a popular hunting area with an abundance of 4-wheel-drive roads.
You'll find great early-season and late-season rut hunting here, with moderate to high hunting pressure the first week of the season.
Hammerhorn - This area is some 15 to 20 miles north of Mendocino Pass. Take Forest Route M2 to Forest Route M21. About one mile from there is the Middle Fork Eel River. Hunt the river area south of Hammerhorn toward Devils Den for a great early-season hunt. The only high hunting pressure you'll encounter is during the first week of the season.
Several sources of information are available for deer hunters here. The Mendocino National Forest office in Willows can be reached at 530-934-3316; the Covelo Ranger Station number is 707-983-6118; Department of Fish & Game, Sacramento, 916-227-2245; and the U.S. Geological Survey office in Denver can supply topographic maps, 303-202-4700.
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