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!

September 16-19 - Finishing the A-zone at the ranch

I've been drooling over the amount of deer and deer sign at the ranch where we keep our horses ever since I first started going up there. First of all, it's relatively close to home. Second, there are simply a ton of deer moving around there... almost completely unpressured!

Anyway, earlier this summer I was talking to the owner of the ranch about hunting, since he used to do a lot of it himself. I mentioned that I'd seen a couple of nice looking areas up the road from the ranch, and wondered if he knew anyone who would mind letting a bowhunter come in and try his luck. After confirming that I would only be bowhunting, he offered to let me hunt right there!

Some caveats came with the deal though. First of all, he felt that some of the boarders would get a little upset if they knew someone was hunting in the area. I needed to keep the hunting as a secret, and try not to be obvious about what I was doing. He didn't want me to hunt weekends, since that's the busiest time at the ranch. And of course, I couldn't go out there if anyone was riding on the trails.

I thanked him, and told him I'd be letting him know before I came out.

Well, the season flew by, and I never bothered to take him up. I was a little concerned about upsetting the boarders and getting them mad at Bob for letting me hunt. I also wasn't sure that he hadn't had second thoughts, but he's not the kind of guy to take something back once he offers it. With this in mind, I decided I may not make it out there.

My resolve got shaken as the season end drew near, and I spotted several bucks in the area chasing does. The rut would be coming on soon, and this meant the bucks would be moving. I called Bob and asked if it was still OK for me to hunt. "Of course," he said. "I thought you'd already be out there by now!"

Just when I thought my archery season was over for the year, I suddenly had four afternoons available.

09/16 -

I couldn't believe how much anticipation had built up between my conversation with Bob and actually getting out here in the field. As I drove up across the pasture, I was practically beside myself. I knew the bucks were moving. I knew there was no pressure on them (minor misconception). And best of all, I was hunting within a short drive of home. I could just go right after work, an opportunity I haven't had since I left North Carolina.

I pulled up into the pasture, planning to "hide" the truck over a hill in the pasture where the boarders probably wouldn't notice it. As I pulled in, I noticed a man I had never seen before, sitting on a log with binoculars, looking back over the canyon where I'd be hunting. Now what's up with that?

Turns out that he's a friend of Bob's son, Steve. He's been hunting here with a rifle for several years, but since he is hunting for trophy quality bucks only, and stays way out at the far end of the ranch, nobody has said anything. Steve introduced him to me, and I decided he was a pretty good guy.

I geared up, looking at the clock. I'd only have about an hour and a half of actual hunt time, but that should be the prime time anyway. I slipped off down the trail to a spot I'd scouted earlier. My spot put me up over a little funnel where several trails came together. From the number of fresh tracks, it appeared that this was a major travel corridor. I settled in under a huge old oak, and began my wait.

For the first hour, very little happened. I kept anticipating someone to come trail riding. If they did, I'd have to try to hide behind the tree and hope they didn't spot me. Most people aren't all that observant anyway, and I was fully camouflaged. But I was afraid the horses might wind me and spook. My trepidation was unfounded, though. No one rode through.

My head was actually starting to nod when I heard a dog bark up near the pasture. Some of the ranch hands live up that way, so I figured someone was just messing around with the dog. But suddenly I heard the sound of deer busting brush, and coming right toward me!

I had the bow up and an arrow nocked as the first deer hit the clearing at about 20 yards. It was a decent sized forkie, but he was bounding through the brush and I had no shot. Right on his heels was a HUGE four-pointer! Another nice forkie followed them, along with a smaller forked-horn. I never had a chance at a shot as they crossed, passing within 10-15 yards before bounding over the fence onto the next property. A few seconds later, another fork came bounding through the same trail, followed by another heavy-antlered buck. I watched in awe as the four-pointer slowed to an ambling trot as he moved away across the pasture, safe on private property and well out of range.

My heart was pounding as I watched the last buck cross the fence. I stood staring as I heard even more deer coming. This time it was does. The first doe was running right at me, and actually leapt over the branch I was kneeling behind. Several more does charged through and disappeared up the trail I'd been covering.

When the noise stopped, I was breathless. I knew there were some deer here, but I never imagined there were that many! But now they'd been busted off the property. Was the hunt ruined? I looked at the area and realized that there was a little trail coming back from the other pasture. It led along a very thick edge to a spot where the fence was partially down. This crossing was about 25 yards from my seat, and even from there I could see the clumps of deer hair on it.

Just past the fence crossing, the trail came toward my stand before dropping down the hill and joining up with the main trail, where the does had run. I thought, "now, if I were that big ol' buck, I would use this trail to come back and rejoin the does."

Less than 15 yards from where I was sitting, the trail passed between two oak trees, offering a perfect window for a shot. In my mind's eye, I could see the deer standing there, broadside, as I took him with a textbook shot. It was an archer's dream.

Less than five minutes later, I caught motion coming down the sneak trail. First I caught the gray body, then a glimpse of heavy antler. Sure enough, the four-pointer was circling back! He reached the fence and jumped over, then slunk low to the ground along the trail. As he passed behind the first oak, I brought my Moriez recurve up. It was as if the whole thing were scripted! He stepped into the clearing and paused, just like I'd planned it. He was directly broadside, and looking away, toward the trail the does had used. It could have been a magazine cover.

I came to full draw and released!

The arrow hummed out and stabbed harmlessly into the ground at the buck's feet.

The four-pointer jumped away without looking and bounded across the trail and uphill behind the does.

I sat in shock, unable to believe I'd just missed that slam-dunk shot. I wanted to cry for a minute. Not only had I just missed a simple shot, but it was on one of the nicest blacktails I'd ever seen! How did I miss?

Replaying the shot in my head, I realized that I had never "picked a spot" on the deer to shoot at. I simply looked at the whole deer. That's a major mistake, and I'm glad that I didn't wound him instead of missing clean. It would have been a lot worse to wound and lose such a beautiful animal than to have simply missed. Counting blessings, I suppose. It could have been worse.

Needless to say, I'm still kicking myself over that one. But it happens. At least I know there are a lot of legal bucks on the property, and I still had three more evenings to hunt.

Next Evening's Hunt

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