2003 Deer Hunting Journal-

Well, this is year three for my online hunting journals. If you're reading this, thanks. For my part, I'm sure enjoying putting it all together... almost as much as I'm enjoying the hunts that make it up.

I suppose the original intent, to collect data and identify trends (such as weather patterns and moon phases) has kind of gone by the wayside. Most of the time, the weather during the CA deer seasons is pretty much identical anyway.

This season promises to be a busy one for hunting. First and foremost, I managed to draw an X3-A tag for California. That'll put me in some prime mule deer habitat. I've been working with a friend on a 7000 acre ranch in that zone, and that's where we'll be hunting. That hunt begins on October 4.

The X zone hunt overlaps another major hunt, a Colorado elk trip that begins on October 11. I'm planning to leave directly from the X zone hunt to make the Colorado trip. That means I need to score early in X zone, in order to have time to drive to CO without marathon driving.

Finally, I chose an Archery Only tag for my second CA deer tag. This gives me access to the A zone, B zone, and all D zones, both during archery and rifle season. Essentially this means I could potentially hunt from July 16 through the first week of November.

As a surprise, I also got the opportunity to go to South Carolina for the deer opener to bowhunt deer and hogs at the Bostick Plantation.

So here goes!

July 31 - August 1 - Another trip to Sonoma with Mike Patt

Some of you may have read about my hog hunt with guide Mike Patt. As you might imagine, then, I was surprised and pleased when he called and invited me to join him for another hunt for hogs, and the possibility of putting an arrow in a blacktail buck as well. Of course I jumped at the chance, even though it meant finding time off from work during the week. Even better, the hunt was on a friendly basis, no guide/client deal here.

If that's not good enough, he also asked if I had a friend I could bring along, so we could hunt in pairs. No problem there, and I called my friend Steve Brown to join us. Steve's new to CA hunting in general, and very new to hog hunting. Since I had yet to shoot an arrow at a big game animal, I figured this would be a great opportunity for both of us.

The hunt plan was to meet up on Thursday afternoon, hunt the evening, camp overnight, then hunt the Friday morning. Steve needed to be back at work by 1000, and I also wanted to be in before noon.

We arrived right on time, and by 1700, we were in the field. I teamed up with Mike, and Steve went with Mark.

Mike and I had just started up the trail when we heard the unmistakeable sound of pigs trotting through the brush. We kicked it into gear, and headed up the hill to try to get ahead of them. When we reached the clearing, though, another sound came to us... the sound of a bulldozer grinding up the opposite side of the hill. Apparently the landowner's caretaker had decided to do some firelane cutting in the late evening, curiously synchronized to the same time that we'd start hunting.

As we sat on the hillside, discussing how to proceed, a forked-horn buck busted out of the brush, then cut along a trail into the thicket. We looked at one another, then made tracks for the far side of the thicket in hopes of catching him. Mike then dropped over the ridge and circled around, thinking that he might push the buck back toward me. No go, though, as the deer had apparently taken a left when we expected a right.

We moved higher up the ridge until we hit a prime-looking saddle. Several trails converged, and Mike suggested that we split up. I moved along the ridgeline, while he worked down from the saddle.

Near the peak of the ridge, I started finding a lot of fresh pig tracks, including a very fresh trail through the grass. Many of the stems were still bruised and fresh, and I could tell that something had just come through. I picked up the trail, gratified to feel the wind quartering across my face.

The trail led to a fence on the property line. The fence was knocked over, and heavily trampled across one area. I decided to move off to the side of the trail and take a stand for a while. Just as I was getting comfortable, the FRS radio in my pocket buzzed and crackled, nearly scaring me off the rock I was sitting on! I thought I'd sat on a rattlesnake.

I pulled the radio out, and started to turn the volume all the way down when I recognized Steve's voice. "Hey, Mike." he called. "I've got a pig down, right here!"

I had to listen closer. Had he just seen a pig? No, I was pretty sure he said he had one down. It was confirmed on his next broadcast.

Mike's voice came next. "Can you see it?" he asked.

"Yeah," Steve answered. "It's right here."

"Is it dead?"

"I think so, but I don't want to push it yet."

"Good, stay away from it for now," Mike advised. "Give it time and make sure it's dead."

His next call was to me. "Phil, I'm gonna take the Jeep up there and get his pig. Do you want to keep hunting, or do you want to meet back at camp?"

I looked at the hot trail I was watching, considered the amount of sign I'd found, and made a snap decision. "I'll sit tight if that's cool, Mike. Unless you think you'll need my help."

Steve's voice came back online. "It's right by the road, if you can bring up the Jeep, we won't even need to drag it."

That made up my mind for me. I'd keep hunting until dark. I had hunted this ridge last time I was here with Mike, and figured I could find my way back to camp from here.

The radio crackled a bit more, as Mike coordinated with Steve to get up the hill and collect his pig. I turned the volume down, and moved a little further along the trail.

A few minutes later, I heard something moving over the hillside, about 100 yards from my stand. The sounds got closer, and I nocked an arrow, ready for action. Then the noise faded, and moved off along the ridge on the wrong side of the property boundary. I settled back down, and turned to look along the trail. A big rock had appeared in the trail, and I couldn't remember seeing it there before. Then the rock moved, and I recognized the bristled back of a pig. A little closer look with the binoculars showed that, even from behind, it was obviously a healthy boar.

After waiting a second to test the wind, I decided to make the stalk. The pig was about 50 yards out, and moving slowly away, browsing on acorns or something. He had no idea I was around, and I moved quickly to within 40 yards. He turned, then, and I froze. At 40 yards, and broadside, I could get a better idea of his size. I estimated him at around 200 pounds, a nice hog. But 40 yards was too far to shoot.

He turned again, and continued down the trail. I stepped up my pace as best I could, but the ground crackled at every step like walking on corn flakes. I closed to 30 yards, when he turned broadside again. I froze, tempted to take the shot. I was partially hidden by a rise in the trail, and brought the bow up once. Still, 30 yards is a bit much for my recurve. I've practiced extensively at 20 yards, and I know that even moving to 25 yards makes a drastic difference. I didn't feel confident in a clean kill, and lowered the bow.

The boar put his head in a bush, and I started to take advantage of the opportunity to move up. I crouched and started to slink toward him. I had the bow at port arms, ready to draw and shoot. Five more yards, that's all I needed. 10 more yards would be better. The boar was totally oblivious to my presence.

Then I felt the coolness of the breeze tickle the back of my neck. I felt it again, and simultaneously saw the boar's head pop straight up out of the bush. He didn't see me, obviously, but one more whiff of that breeze and he had my scent. I scarcely had time to decide what to do and he was gone, over the ridge and into the chapparal below. I heard him breaking brush downhill a couple of times, and suddenly I was alone on the ridge.

Briefly, I cursed myself for stubbornly resisting the urge to use a compound bow. If I'd had a compound, there's no question I could have shot that pig at any point in the stalk. 40 yards would have been a reasonable shot. The 30 yard broadside he'd held for maybe a minute and a half would have been a slamdunk shot with a compound. But I choose to handicap myself with a recurve bow. But as I thought it over, I realized that this is exactly why I chose to hunt with traditional tackle. The challenge of getting within 20 yards of a big game animal is its own reward. And when I do score with this bow, it will truly be a trophy!

After scrounging around in hopes that there were more pigs nearby, I moved off in search of more fresh sign. Just past the peak of the ridge, I noticed some green spots down the hill. Working my way down, I found a seep. A little further down, I found a wallow that looked like it had been used by a whole herd of hogs. I decided to sit this spot until sunset, then work my way back to camp by dark.

While the spot looked awesome, I saw nothing else during the evening. I determined that, unless Mike made another suggestion, I'd try to come back to start here before dawn tomorrow.

I got back to camp, and Steve was there, glowing... and rightfully so! His first hog was a nice sow, perfect eating size, and he'd shot it right through the heart (at 39 yards...damn me and my trad archery). I popped a beer for refreshment, then poured a couple of ounces of Cazadores (tequila) in a cup and went to help with the skinning.

After the skinning, Mike whipped up a mouth-watering dinner of carne asada, beans, and salad. Several more drinks went by, and it was soon bed time.

I woke to grey light streaming through the windows of my camper shell. Sitting bolt upright, I realized that I should already have been up the mountain! Where was Mike? Had they left me?

I popped open the hatch and looked out. Mike was moving slowly...more like staggering... across the campsite. Mark was turning in his sleeping bag. There was no sign of Steve. Damn, the cost of too many drinks! We'd all overslept. I geared up, slammed down a RedBull, and announced my readiness to hunt. Mike suggested that I go ahead if I wanted, and I took off for the waterhole.

It was well past sunrise when I finally got up the hill, and I was mentally kicking myself the whole way. As a result, I wasn't paying very close attention to my surroundings when a deer suddenly bounded out of the brush beside me, then bolted down the hill. I didn't even get to see if it was a buck or doe. I mentally kicked myself again, and slowed my pace a little.

As I neared the trail to the waterhole, I thought I spotted movement under some redwoods a little further along. I crept along, noticing that the light breeze kept switching directions. About ten yards from the thicket, there was a sudden explosion of grunts and squeals, as a whole herd of pigs busted out of their beds. I tried to get a target, but the grass was so high that all I could see was ears and tails. One tiny pig, a brindled piglet, straggled behind the rest, but I let him rejoin his family.

After a moment to compose myself, I began to work down the trail the herd had taken, in hopes of finding one still confused. I managed to push a couple more down the hill, but never got so much as a good target.

About a third of the way down from the ridge, I found a well-worn trail paralleling the ridgeline. I followed this trail for a while, until I came to what I still consider pig paradise. Under three large oaks, a spring-pool fed into a small stream. The stream ran to the property line, which was marked with an old fence. At the point where the stream passed under the fence, the hogs had trampled the fence to make a virtual gate. The trails leading to and from the gate were so heavily travelled that there wasn't a shred of vegetation growing in them. There were wallows in the stream on both sides of the fence. Thick redwoods shrouded the uphill side, while the other side of the fence was all open hardwoods. If I'd known about this spot, I'd never have hunted anywhere else!

I found a good, quiet place to set up under one of the trees, and settled in. It would only be a matter of time before a hog came to this place.

Sure enough, about an hour after settling in, I heard the rustling of little feet moving through the redwood thicket. They were coming right to me, and I got into position to make a shot.

The sounds got closer, and I could hear quiet snorts and grunts. They would break cover any moment.

Then they were gone.

A moment later, Mike's voice came over the radio. "Hey, Phil. Where are you?"

I described my location and he recognized it immediately. "I'm just above you," he stage-whispered. "There are some pigs in these redwoods. Hold tight, and I'll see if I can push them to you."

A moment later, I heard the pigs again. I figured for sure they'd rush toward the opening in the fence, and I was ready for them. But then they were gone again. They never showed so much as a hair.

I held position until I spotted Mike moving toward me. He had been off to the east of me, not just above me where I thought. The pigs had hit the fenceline and run uphill to another opening. I thought he was coming down the fenceline, which would have forced the pigs to run right back to me in order to get through the fence. Oh well.

It was getting to be time to go, so we decided to work opposite sides of the canyon back toward camp. I found a lot of sign, and a really hot deer bed, but didn't see any more game. Back at camp we packed up and hit the road. I was already an hour later than I'd hoped to be, but it was worth it.

All-in-all, another great hunt, hosted by Mike Patt.

Epilogue -

Well, all good things must come to an end. Apparently there was some bad blood between the caretaker and Mike. Some unfair accusations were made, implicating Mike and his guests (Steve and myself) in unethical activities. While Mike was able to smooth it over with the landowner, she put the kibosh on any further group hunts. Mike and Mark are the only hunters permitted on the property from here on.

Mike has also decided to pull the plug on Mountain Bound Guide Service.


Next Hunt


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Copyright 2003 WPL