The California Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement division has a limited number of wardens available to cover the entire State. There are approximately 400 wardens responsible for protecting our natural resources from poachers. Considering that there are over three million sportsmen in California, wardens are definitely outnumbered in maintaining order in the outside world.
To assist in their efforts, enforcement sometimes rely on the sportsmen themselves to report fish and wildlife violations through the CalTip program. Hunters and fishermen who witness crimes against the resource can call the CalTip hotline and report the violation anonymously.
Having enjoyed the outdoors my entire life, I take great offense to those who break the rules. Being a biologist, I understand the reasoning behind seasons, size and take limits of our consumptive resource. These guidelines are established through sound science and are applied to our hunting and fishing resources to provide a sustainable yield of that resource. Poachers don’t follow the rules, and they don’t care about resources.
A few years back I decided to pick up a deer tag down in San Diego County, very near my office at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. My plan was to wake early, hunt for an hour or two before work and then head straight into the office. I mentioned my plan to another biologist Jason Price and he asked if he could tag along (no pun intended).
Early the next morning I met Jason at the parking lot near the hunting area. We hiked in about a mile and started glassing just as the sun came up. We were late in the season and it didn’t seem like much was moving. After an hour of not seeing any deer, we were discussing our next move when we heard a single shot from the larger hunting area across the road. We had an hour left to hunt and we decided to head over to the larger parcel and finish out our morning.
We parked off the main road, several car lengths in front another vehicle. We grabbed our gear and walked into the hunting area. As we crossed a walk-in gate, I spotted another hunter walking out of the area towards the other vehicle. Jason and I quietly hiked in and started glassing. The area was a huge open field littered with several groups of oak trees. I had hunted this area the year before, and the small oak islands often held deer.
We had been glassing for a short time when I spotted movement under an oak tree about 200 yards out. The small buck stumbled out of the brush, dragging his back legs. He would drag himself a few feet and then fall over. I could see a back wound that had clearly damaged the spine. I also noticed that the young buck was a spike, an illegal age class to harvest during deer season.
We made our way over to the young buck. He made several feeble attempts to escape, but the gaping back wound had clearly severed the spine. He pulled himself up and then collapsed. To end his suffering, Jason walked over and dispatched the deer.
From what we deduced, the hunter we had seen leaving the area was probably responsible for shooting the illegal buck. Since we had finished the job, we knew that our hunt was over. We headed back to the truck and called the local warden to report the incident.
Walking back our vehicle, we noticed that the other vehicle was still there, and the hunter was poking around the bed of his truck. We knew he was waiting for us to leave, so he could go look for his illegal buck. I called the state dispatch and was patched through to Warden Sean Pirttle, the enforcement officer for the area. He was based out of our office and we had worked together on a few other smaller projects. Pirttle came on the line and I told him we were still on scene along with the other vehicle. While I was on the phone I made sure I was out of sight of the other hunter. Pirttle mentioned that he was about five minutes out and would be there shortly.
While we waited, Jason and I acted like we were packing up to leave. Since the hunter had remained there the entire time, I felt he must have known that the buck he shot was illegal or he would have dragged it out already.
A short time later, a green warden truck pulled up between our two vehicles and Pirttle got out. This I expected. What I didn’t expect was the passenger side door opening up and two federal wardens getting out. Pirttle had been giving them a tour of the state wildlife areas when dispatch had contacted him about the illegally shot deer. I remember thinking that today was not a good day to be a poacher.
The two wardens walked to the other truck and Pirttle approached our vehicle. He smiled and winked as he got close. We reached into our wallets and handed him our licenses. Checking us as well made it appear that Pirttle had just happened upon the situation.
He asked us what had happened and what we saw. We told him the story. After a brief discussion, he mentioned that he may want us to accompany them out to the area. After a few minutes, the wardens and the hunter started walking across the road to the hunting area. Pirttle looked to me and motioned us over. I still had my rifle shouldered and for a second I thought about bringing it with me, but I left it in the truck instead. The six of us hiked a short distance lead by the other hunter. He stopped at one of the oak groups and pointed towards another set of trees two hundreds out. I could hear him explain that he took a shot at a buck over by the distant trees. The area he was suggesting was over 400 yards from where we had found the crippled buck, and in the opposite direction.
Pirttle glanced my way as the hunter started talking with the wardens. I subtly shook my head indicating that the suspect was lying. I also nodded my head back towards where the deer was really located. Pirttle nodded and reengaged with the hunter.
Within minutes the group reversed course and was headed back towards the true location. We were approaching the oak grove where we saw the deer when Pirttle grabbed my arm. I
looked over and he was pointing to a legal buck walking 90 yards from where we stood. The buck was a nice 3X3 and it had no idea we were there. Pirttle leaned in, “you should have brought your rifle,” he whispered.
We finally reached the base of the grove, and the hunter admitted that he may have taken a shot at a buck in this area. I let Sean know that he was telling the truth. Up on the hill, we located blood and a pretty noticeable drag mark leading to where the dead deer lay.
The hunter finally admitted that he had shot at a buck in this area and couldn’t find it. He also admitted that he had no idea if it was a legal buck or not.
Pirttle escorted him back to his truck, issued him a citation and sent him on his way. We helped Pirttle load up the small buck as evidence. He thanked us, gave us a ride to our truck and drove off.
Before Jason and I headed back, we made plans to hunt the area the next morning. I got behind the wheel to head to work and thought about the big buck we had seen. I closed my eyes and realized I should have taken my rifle. ASJ
Story and photographs by Walt Hampton
[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”6″]S[/su_dropcap]he was a big old doe, with that long head and thick, squared-up body; she conducted herself with a caution and attention not seen in the younger deer. She was alone with no trailing fawns; they had been weaned and were off seeking their own way, and she was only concerned with the white oak acorns at her feet. Hidden in a pile of brush, just an odd-shaped stump, nothing to worry about here, I watched her, had been watching her, as she had first appeared and while she worked the thicket, first out of range, now closer, now close enough. I had hoped for a shot that she would never detect, but of that I was disappointed; at the moment of truth she suddenly turned her head toward me and the arrow was away and that was that.
The first deer of the year is always for me a jolt back in time to the very first one, decades ago— the nerves, the concentration, the frost on my boots, the first crows of the morning, the sun just painting the tops of the trees. I do not expect anyone else to understand why I am here and what I am doing — if you do not hunt, you cannot conceive the concept. This is one human endeavor that must be experienced, that cannot be told in words. It is life. It is my life.
She wheeled and smashed her way through the brush that was impenetrable, through the blackberry and catclaw that would stop a tractor, and in an instant she was gone, but the crashing I could still hear — then the last crash and silence. I played it over in my mind, seeing it all again and I knew I had done it right. I fished a cigar from my pocket and gave her the time that she, and I, needed.
When the cigar was done I gathered my things and found the blood where she had disappeared. With care I worked out the trail as so many I have worked out in the past, slowly, listening and watching. She left the thicket and crossed the heavily frosted broomsage corner, down, always down, toward the creek. It was in the creek I found her and relief washed over me, and joy and yes, a moment’s regret — but just a moment. She was living and beautiful and now she was meat and it wasn’t really pride I felt so much as accomplishment and gratitude — that’s as close as I can get you to where I was this morning, standing beside 2015s first deer, in frosted grass to my knees, and the sun just hitting my shoulders and two chickadees greedily pecking the blood on the dead leaves.
That is a deer hunt. ASJ
Known for big mule deer, Sonora also has solid numbers of Coues whitetails. They’re not as big as bucks to the north, but if you’re looking to double-up with a muley, this is a good option. Hunting is by spot and stalk, and flat ground is covered by driving in high-rack trucks.
(Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Oregon)
Colorado is kicking out some monster muleys, but many are on private lands or require a lot of points to draw. Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Idaho offer multiple options with over-the-counter tags in some regions. Oregon and Southwest states that produce big bucks also require tags to be drawn.
Idaho is tops when talking big Western whitetails and lots of them. The northern half
of the state has loads of bucks, as do neighboring Montana and Wyoming. Eastern Washington and northeast Oregon are also producing great whitetails each year.
Columbian whitetails and Columbian blacktails can both be hunted in Oregon’s Umpqua River Valley (but not at the same time), near the town of Roseburg. Whitetail tags are on a draw or landowner preference ticket, while blacktail tags can be acquired over the counter.
Kodiak Island is tops when talking Sitka blacktails. Being dropped at spike camp is an option, as is hiring a transporter who will shuttle you around by boat. I like the latter, so new ground can be covered each day.
Posted in Hunting Tagged with: Alaska, Colorado, Columbian Double, Deer, Destination, Hunting, Idaho, Mexico, Montana, Mule Deer Options, Oregon, Scott Haugen, Sitka Blacktails, Sonoran Coues, Sonoran Mule Deer, Washington, Western Whitetails, Wyoming
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”3″]I[/su_dropcap]t began as a vision that, on paper, looked good. Some of the deer tags I held going into the season were highly prized; others were picked up over the counter. Once hunting season opened, I knew this was my best chance to secure a North American deer slam in a single season, something I heard had never been done.
When plans were finalized to hunt a Columbian whitetail, a rare Northwest deer species, in my home state of Oregon, I knew it would likely be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This was my first hunt of the season, and I wanted a good buck. Three days into the hunt, a short stalk found me in a perfect place waiting for a nice buck to move my way. Finally, as the deer slithered through tall grass, a shot opportunity opened up. When the 4×4 buckled, a lifetime dream came true.
Later in October, I was in the northwest corner of South Dakota bowhunting mule deer. On Halloween morning, the mercury registered 9 degrees. As soon as the sun started to shine on the clay-like mud, a lone buck worked its way up against a cut bank and bedded. Two hours later I was within 17 yards of him. The shot hit the mark and the 29-inch, four-point went only a short distance.
A few days later I was back in my home state, hunting Columbian blacktails on a special draw tag. Unfortunately, I only had a couple days and on day two, I had my four-year-old son, Kazden, by my side. More than anything he wanted to skin a deer with his new knife. I’ve been fortunate to take a number of record-book blacktails, so I told Kazden that the first legal buck we saw, we’d take. It was only a spike, but Kazden got to be a part of the whole hunt and even skinned the entire deer by himself, which made it the most gratifying hunt of the season.
Prior to Thanksgiving I was on the road to Idaho in search of western whitetails. Working the rugged ridges in the Clearwater region, I saw a good buck atop a shale slide. Given the buck’s position there was no way of inching closer. At 340 yards, the bullet found its mark dropping the 5×5 buck.
Early in December I was on Kodiak Island, chasing Sitka blacktails. While setting up to rattle everything felt good. The synthetic bag blasted high-pitched sounds into the heavy air and a buck responded. When it first emerged from the thick brush I knew it was big, but when it turned sideways I saw it was a great buck.
A perfect 4×4 with eye guards, his heavy and dark rack commanded my attention as he moved through the gently falling snow. When he turned broadside I stopped him with a mouth grunt and the .300 Winchester Magnum roared. The record-class buck was a true Sitka blacktail of a lifetime.
January found me in Mexico, hunting Sonora for prized Coues whitetail deer. The conditions were tough as a record-setting, two-week cold spell put bucks in the brush. The rut was also delayed and over the course of a few days, I only saw one. Just as I got set to shoot, the buck bolted. My guide, Jeremy Toman, and I pushed on and found the buck standing next to a doe. Soon the shot was on its way, hitting the mark. Approaching the downed deer, he turned out to be even bigger than I thought.
A couple days later a hunt for desert mule deer in Sonora was underway. A pair of battling muleys caught our eyes. We could see one was pushing 30 inches wide, but he had some broken tines. The buck he fought, however, was high and heavy, and as he cleared, I let him have it.
At season’s onset, attaining a single-season deer slam seemed a stretch. But by taking it one hunt at a time, I was fortunate to experience a dream season.
Simply having the opportunity to spend time in some of North America’s greatest deer habitat is all I really asked for; everything else was just a bonus. ASJ
Editor’s note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s book, Trophy Blacktails: The Science Of The Hunt, you can visit his website at scotthaugen.com.