Have you ever spent opening morning or maybe opening week hunting a location where someone told you there was a big buck only to learn that it was a wasted effort because the information provided was not even close to accurate or maybe completely false? It has happened to me more times than I would like to admit. I wish to provide you with hunting locations and zone by zone information that may help you locate a decent buck. I will also cover the California Big Game Drawing and how to properly assess your preference points and how to use them to get a good California tag. I also hope to help you not waste your points on a tag you could have drawn with zero or no points. An example of this would be, do you spend 16 points on a premium tag that only authorizes 30 tags for that zone that you may draw once in a lifetime if you draw it at all. In the hopes of shooting a spectacular buck, or do you instead apply for a zone with 350 tags, that has just as a good of a success rate, that also produces some super bucks and you could draw it every 5 years. Personally, I would rather draw a super deer tag every 5 years instead of 1 tag every 16 years. The information I provide will be as accurate as I can make it and I will not provide information to you that I have not gained first hand or from a very reputable source. I will also cover Tag Strategies and how to develop a plan to build up points and start drawing good tags every year. There is a strategy to it and a good plan will lead to good tags and happy hunting.
Deer Hunting in California
I remember when I first started getting into deer hunting I was attempting to gain knowledge of the deer habits and locations from fellow hunters. The conversations almost always came around to what caliber to use and rifle or bow. So let’s discuss this, you could read an article online everyday concerning the proper bullets for deer hunting and bullet performance. The truth is you need to hunt with whatever rifle cartridge combination you have and learn to hunt well with it. Almost all center fire rifles of today offer loading that in the 1950s and 60s were unheard of. The cartridges are fast and bullets are just made better. When I was 12 years old I bought my first rifle from my uncle a WWII German 8mm Mauser. My uncle had told be the year prior that he would sell me the gun if I had $50.00 now this wasn’t some beat up army surplus rifle. My uncle at one time worked for Weatherby and had since retired to do his own thing that being gunsmith. He had sporterized the rifle taking all the old wood off and adding a custom walnut stock, hand checkering a bolt job and a trigger job and in my young eyes it was very cool. He had made a rifle like this for himself, his two brothers (one being my father) and one of my uncle’s sons and his son-in-law. Well the son-in-law didn’t work out and so he had this extra rifle. He never in a million years thought I would come up with $50.00 dollars so the following year he was surprised to say the least when I walked up to him with $50.00 mostly in change to buy the rifle. He even gave me several 3 pound coffee cans full of ammo for the rifle. Then every year after that when he came up he usually brought a couple more cans of ammo. The point I am trying to make is this, I hunted with that rifle year after year, I never knew what grain the bullets were or how fast they were going, all I knew was that this rifle was a killing machine it could take a deer or knock down a 300 pound boar, it fit me perfect, and never let me down.
There is an old saying “SHOOT, WHAT YOU SHOOT WELL”
So hunt with what makes you feel good and what you can hit the target with, not what some guy wants to sell you at a sporting goods store.
Now with all that being said, if your hunting in California, remember that it’s not uncommon to walk around the corner and be face to face with a wild pig or a bear. So no matter what your deer hunting with make sure it can take down a very angry hog or a startled bear.
Picking a Zone
You have a several zones to choose from in California. Some require preference points and some do not. So let’s talk about Preference Points in California and sorting through DFWs disinformation. You will hear me talk about the California Department of Fish and Game DFG or as it is now called California Department of Fish and Wildlife DFW in both a favorable and not so favorable light.
When it comes to statistics they use typical government math. They skew the tables in their favor to make the actual “take” or “kill” in each zone look better. In the normal world if a state sells 100 tags and 10 of those tags were filled you would have a harvest rate of 10 percent. Now that’s pretty cut and dried, something we all can understand. But this is not how California Fish and Wildlife does the math. They have the idea that at least 1/3 of all deer harvested in every zone in the state go unreported. So with their entire statistics involving the “deer take” in every zone they add approximately 1/3 to the “take”. Now some people don’t have a problem with this but I do, and here is why.
In California Zone D12, on page 30 of the California Big Game Hunting 2016 it shows the following statistic that they The California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimate that Zone D12 has a Success Rate of 25%. It also stated that the Zone sold out of tags on the June 11th, Drawing. So that would mean that 237.5 deer were estimated to be taken from that zone “estimated”. Now in normal math 25% of 950 is 237.5. But on page 24, Preliminary Deer Harvest by Antler Class, Zone D12, it states that in zone D12 the take on two point bucks (forked horns) was 30.0%, that would be 30 deer the take on 3pt bucks was 36.0 %, that would be 36 deer, and the take on four point bucks was 31.0% that would be 31 deer, and the take on 5 point or better bucks was 3.0% that would be 3 deer, their total was 100 bucks taken in that zone. So just in this one zone California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that there was 137 deer taken that were not reported! Now let’s look at zone D6, on page 24 it states that they sold 10,000 tags for that zone, and DFW estimated that in 2015 there was a 12% success rate. That’s simple math so by DFW own estimate there was 1,200 deer taken right? No according to page 24 of the California Big Game Hunting 2016 booklet it states that Zone D6 had a deer take of 53.8% two point bucks, 29.0% 3 point bucks, 14.5% four point bucks, and 2.6% five point or greater bucks, totaling 613 bucks killed. So on page 37 of the booklet it states that the estimated success rate was 12% for a total of 1,200 deer and in the same booklet on page 24 it states that the actual take was 613 deer that is actually only 6.13%. So that’s an exaggeration of almost double the actual take. So when you’re looking at that big game booklet and trying to figure out what is the best zone to put in for look at the actual take usually described as “Preliminary Deer Harvest by Antler Class” not just the information available in the “Proposed Deer Hunts” because it is exaggerated by 30% to 50% now you may already know why you didn’t get that buck last year, you relied on bad information and drew a bad tag with a lower success rate than what was originally advertised.
Preference Points in California
Preference Points in California are strait forward. 90% of the tags go to preference points and 10% to random draw. Until you get into the Elk and Sheep hunts, if you have zero preference points and you put in for an elk tag that has only two tags available one goes to preference points and one goes to random draw, if there is only one tag then the draw is a random draw no preference points are needed and you have the same chance to draw as a person with max points. But if you draw you still lose all your preference points for that species.
Taken from the California Big Game Hunting booklet 2016
Premium Deer Hunt Tags • Ninety percent (90%) of the individual zone or hunt tag quota shall be awarded using a Preference Point drawing. • Ten percent (10%) of the individual zone or hunt tag quota shall be awarded using a Draw-by-Choice drawing. • For zones or hunts with quotas less than ten (10) tags, one (1) tag shall be awarded using a Draw-byChoice drawing. Apprentice Deer Hunt Tags • Fifty percent (50%) of the hunt tag quota shall be awarded through a Preference Point drawing. • Fifty percent (50%) of the hunt tag quota shall be awarded through a Draw-By-Choice drawing. Elk, Antelope and Bighorn Sheep Tags • For quotas of one (1), the tag shall be awarded using a Draw-By-Choice drawing. • For quotas of two (2), one (1) tag shall be awarded using a Preference Point drawing, and one (1) tag shall be awarded using a Draw-By-Choice drawing. • For quotas of three (3), two (2) tags shall be awarded using a Preference Point drawing, and one (1) tag shall be awarded using a Draw-By-Choice drawing. • For quotas of four (4) or more, seventy-five percent (75%) of the quota shall be awarded using a Preference Point drawing. The remaining portion of the quota shall be awarded using a Draw-By-Choice drawing.
Before you decide to put in for your tags decide what you want to kill. Do you want to go after any legal deer or are you looking to bag a big trophy buck? Also you may want to decide what species of deer you wish to harvest, Blacktail deer or Mule deer? Do you have the time to hunt during bow season and again during general season looking for that buck or are you going to take your vacation of a week or two, or maybe hit it hard for just a few quality days. Those are all questions you have to answer for yourself but by all means no matter what zone you hunt put in by the deadline so you can at least get a preference point.
In California you have two choices. Use your points or build up points. If you have decided to use your points to obtain a Premium Tag (that’s what DFW calls them) then you have to look at your points and select a reasonable tag. So let’s get started. If we were to imagine that you had zero points but wanted to draw a good tag, maybe not an excellent tag but just a good tag. You have several different avenues to travel. Number one, select a zone like X3A a good zone maybe even an excellent zone. The DFW statistics for this zone in 2015 were as follows: X3B, 48% estimated hunter success, 795 tags available, season runs from October 1, to October 16th 2016. In 2017 the season will be October 7th, to October 21st. The estimates hunter success was 48% per page 26 of the Big Game Hunting Guide. That’s 381 deer killed in that zone. Now remember what we discussed about how DFW exaggerates the hunter success. If you look at page 24 of the same guide it states that X3B had an actual harvest of 256 deer. That’s a big difference of 125 deer. But what makes this an excellent zone for California is that 21% of the bucks harvested were 4 point or better. Now in order to draw this zone you need between 2.5 and 12 preference points. Because 715 those tags go to the preference point applicants. The good news is that the remaining 79 tags go to the general drawing. So in reality you can actually draw this tag with zero points. It’s actually a very good tag and I personally have drawn this tag with zero points. I have also seen deer in this zone in the 26 to 30 inch class and would not be surprised at the size of any buck taken from this zone.
You also have the choice of putting in for a more reasonable tag. A tag that you are almost assured to receive should you apply for the tag with no points at all. If you draw the tag you will lose all your preference points that you may have. Zones X1, X9B, X9C, G1, and M7. All of these zones only required zero to one preference point to draw them and they are all good tags. Zone X1 for example is one heck of a nice zone. It’s big, real big and you can hunt the high country around Mt Shasta or the sage flats. It only takes one point to draw and there were 77 tags in 2015 that went to general draw for applicants with no points. Speaking of which I would like to point out something, if you look at the California Big Game Hunting booklet on page 26, Zone X1. You will see that the Highest Point Value Awarded Tag was 8.7 and the lowest was 1 point. What this means is someone or actually two or more people wasted 8.7 points each to draw a tag that they could have drawn with 1 to zero points and that is one reason I am taking so much time to explain this strategy. In order for there to be a .7 on the end this person had to be applying with another person because DFW does not give out preference points in partial value like .5 or .7. Now I’m not knocking the guy he may have been driving through that zone and spotted a monster and teamed up with a buddy and scored big time and I hope he did. I’m just saying that had he thought it out. He could have used his points to hunt a pretty awesome zone and then turned around the next year or for sure the year after and drawn that zone with zero to 1 point.
Zones X9B and X9C are also good mule deer zones and you can draw these zones with zero to 1 point. Personally I would stay out of X9C. It’s a big zone and it is mostly high desert with the occasional mountain peak, the deer live mostly on the cooler mountain peaks and it can be a real task to try and track them down unless you have local knowledge riding in the passenger seat of your truck. I think it would take a person a couple years to figure this zone out without the help of a local.
Zone G1 (late season zone C4) is an excellent choice if you have zero or one point and want to draw a decent tag with the chance of taking a wall hanger. This zone requires zero points to draw, there were 2710 tags in 2015 with an estimated hunter success of 31% that’s 840.1 the actual reported harvest was 525. Of that 525, 20% were 4point or better. This is one of my favorite zones in California. Hunt it once and you will know why. Lots of deer, it’s somewhat of a late season and the bucks are just starting to rut. By the middle of this season you will see bucks starting to fight and chase does. Most the bucks in this zone are high around Chester and Lake Almanor but the first storm starts them moving and it can be an absolute blast to hunt this zone. In the lower country around Red Bluff you may also encounter a few pigs so keep a pig tag in your pocket.
Your second choice on your application is just as important as your first choice and you must be reasonable in your choice or you will be stuck with a third choice tag that’s not what you really wanted. Most of your Premium California tags get filled in the initial drawing. What you are left with is second choice general tags. Some of these tags are good, some not so good.
Let me summarize what I am saying. If you want to build points and put in for a premium tag. Then what you want to do is put in for that tag every year. You may draw it with no points. Keep banging away at it until you build up enough points to draw that tag. In the meantime, while building points put in for a second choice tag that is something that you can hunt year after year. By that I mean actually draw the tag and have the time to hunt the zone. These zones include A, B, C and some of the D zones.
For your third choice you will have to select a B zone tag, an A Zone tag an Archery Only tag or one of the remaining D Zone tags. All your other tags will have been drawn and your choices will be few and far between. For my money I would pick B zone. You have a long enough season and the weather is better. I will be covering more about the individual zones in the California Deer Zone Section.
Back to your second choice tag, you will find that your second choice tag will be your most successful tag. Meaning you will kill more deer on your second choice tag than your first choice tag because it is a tag that you will draw every year or almost every year and you will end up hunting that zone more often and learning the zone and finding hotspots within the zone. Also while hunting this zone you will be honing your skills as a hunter. I personally believe that you should deer hunt every year even if you draw the worst tag in the world because it keeps you tuned up for the next year. Keeps your gear up to date, keeps your eyes tuned up to spot deer and you never know when that big buck will walk out and offer a shot.
Your third choice tag will only be an A tag, B Tag an Archery Only Tag or one of the D zone tags. Unless you apply for an Area Specific Archery tag that never fills. Be careful applying for these tags that don’t fill. There is a reason they don’t fill and that is an extremely low success rates, high hunting pressure and they are usually during extreme hot weather. For those folks not familiar with California deer hunting A Zone archery season on the coast opens in July when temperatures often hover around 105 up to 110 degrees, so it can be a difficult hunt for the unprepared hunter.
The California Big Game Drawing is just around the corner and as this blog goes on I will cover more Zone Specific information pertaining to areas to hunt within each zone. But right now we will stick to tag selection and burning points or saving points.
CALIFORNIA DEER ZONES
This is a big area with some big bucks, big crowds and big temperatures. For those of you reading these articles that are not aware, California’s A zone Archery season open around the second weekend in July in 2016 it opened July 9th and went to July 31st, then opens for rifle from August 13th to Sept 25th. There are 65,000 tags for this zone and that right there should tell you something about the quality of the hunting. The zone is huge with a lot of public land but it’s mostly private. I have a love hate relationship with this zone. I cut my teeth hunting this zone and loved it. Shot some nice deer and seen some nicer ones. But man is it a tough zone to hunt. The most important thing to remember about this zone is WATER! Because this zone is open for rifle and archery during the worst most unimaginable time of the year to hunt you must hunt water. So here are some tips. The deer in this zone are very active early morning and late evening. They are in velvet during archery and part of rifle season. So if you find yourself standing in an area that’s super dry with no water you’re not in the right spot. If you’re seeing tracks follow them. They are probably going to water or returning from water. Deer can really travel to and from water but more than likely you’re in the wrong spot. Deer tracks can last for weeks if there’s no weather so don’t sit on a place if all your seeing is tracks (refer to tracking section) because those tracks may be old.
Good deer hunting areas within A zone vary year to year unless your hunting private ground. So let’s get started. If you are hunting Southern California, look to the mountains around Ojai and Santa Barbara. Hwy 33 going north out of Ojai is a great place to start. As soon as you leave Ojai and you get up into the mountains look on the west side of the hwy. You will see lots of low chaparral brush and poison oak. The deer are thick in this area but they stay up off the hwy. Too many vehicles and poachers in this area. Continue on Hwy 33 until you hit Tule creek. This creek usually carries water all year but with the drought of the last few years it could be wet or dry but usually it will have water in the back of the canyon. The areas from Tule creek, directly south over the mountain and back to Hwy 33, holds a lot of deer, there are no active roads up there and as soon as the first round is fired the bucks go straight up that hill. The bad news it’s a hike and a half so take a buddy and lots of water. Another area continuing on Hwy 33 heading north is the area south of Cuyama and west of Venticopa. This is the Santa Barbara Canyon area. This canyon meets Dry canyon FR 8N19. This is the kind of area where you need a truck with a good radiator and a full ice chest because it’s a dry area. So why hunt it you ask. Because on the eastside of dry canyon is a bunch of alfalfa fields that back up against the national forests and BLM land. Look at your map and park in dry canyon, hike up over the top of the hill and head east you will top the hill and be standing right in the area where the deer are bedded and watching the alfalfa fields. It’s a major hike and in August it’s hot and loaded with rattlers but it’s worth the hike. This area and the area around Tule Creek are not what I would consider good archery areas. Shots are long 100 to 500 plus yards. Another area to look at is the Figueroa mountain area north and east of Santa Barbara. It’s off hwy 154 near Zaca Lake. It takes a bit to drive up there but you will see deer. This is a good area during the early archery season but like most areas in A zone there is a significant amount of hunting pressure. Between Santa Barbara and the Bay area you will run into mostly private land with the occasional BLM or National Forest. Most of these areas are either land locked or hunted out due to their close proximity to high density human populations. North of San Francisco you will run into the Mendocino National Forest and a fairly large amount of BLM land. I have heard of some nice bucks taken around that area but mostly they are taken on private land. Land owners in this area receive a significant amount of money from guides and hunting leases and they are not usually open to letting a stranger hunt unless you want to pay them a significant fee. It is difficult for me to comment on this area without having any ‘boots on the ground” experience.
A zone is a difficult hunt. I said earlier that I have a “love hate relationship” with this zone. If you’ve never hunted some of the better zones in California then you would think that this is a decent zone to hunt and if you have access to private property it can be a great hunt. But the truth is the DFW has this hunt early in the year for what they call “hunter opportunity” that’s a fancy way of saying “selling more tags with minimal effect on the deer” and collection of revenue. For what it’s worth and it’s just my opinion A zone has ruined more hunters and disappointed more hunters than you and I can count and this causes them to lose motivation for hunting and eventually discouraging them from hunting in California or hunting at all. So this is a zone of last resort unless you have private property or special access to hunt within the zone or a hotspot no one knows about.
For 2016 DFW estimated that they had a 32% success rate for A zone. Don’t believe that data for a second. According to their 2016 Preliminary Deer Harvest by Antler Class there was only 2014 deer killed in northern A zone and 2110 killed in the southern half of A zone. That’s 4124 deer killed. They have 65,000 tags for that zone but unfortunately they don’t tell how many A zone tags they sold so if you do the math 32% of 12886 is 4123.52 so they only sold 12887 tags for that zone? That is with their figures. But remember DFW exaggerates their success rates because they feel that hunters are unethical and do not report at least 1/3 of all the deer killed. So I have a better way of figuring the success rate for this zone. If you hunted it last year and there were 3 guys in your hunting party did one out of three guys get a buck deer? Or better yet while driving around and looking in camp grounds or in the back of pickups or while sitting at the coffee shop can you conclude that 1/3 of all the hunters you met that hunted A zone that you observed or had conversations with during season or post season shot a buck? I highly doubt it. I would bet actual success rate is more likely to be about 12% or less and for public land hunters even less.
Muzzleloader hunt M7 and M8 cover a lot of this area but are completely different hunts compared to their general season counterparts that being Zone A and D13. They are later in the year around November into December and you are hunting rutting bucks. These are very good tags and you can draw them with less than max points. They are also either sex tags so you should not have a problem filling the tag. The wildfires of 2017 may have impacted these tags in a good way. Maybe not for 2018 but 2019 and for the next few years this southern portion of A Zone should be pretty good in the burned out areas pending a decent rainfall.
I will start this by saying “I love B Zone”. I am a fan of this zone for a multitude of reasons but the primary reason is because I live in B Zone, B2 to be exact. B4 opens for Archery in July and Rifle in August The rest of B zone including B2 opens the third Saturday in August for Archery and the third Saturday in September for Rifle and closes usually around the second to the last weekend in October.
Now you heard me complain about DFW exaggerating the deer harvest to reflect what they consider to be unreported deer killed by hunters and the hunters not reporting the deer. Well the truth is in B Zone DFW is correct. There are a lot of deer killed in all of the B zones that go unreported for various reasons. I believe the primary reason is so they can sneak the deer home without filling out the tag and then they go out and shoot another deer. It’s sad but true not all hunters are ethical and if you live in B zone like I do you see it every year. So when you look at the Estimated Hunter Success of B Zone and you see 23% it’s probably even higher than that. There are a large number of hunters who live within the large area of the B zones and even more living on the outside edges and it’s just too easy to sneak them home and DFW only has so many Wardens, they really try hard but you just can’t get them all.
B zones reported a total of 4209 actual deer killed (not estimated) for 2015. Of that the bulk was made up of deer killed in B1 a total of 1,421 and B2 a total of 1,288. That is great for a general tag that allows you to hunt all six B zones B1, B2, B3, B4, B5 and B6 and allows you to hunt both archery and rifle and get this you can buy two tags for that zone. Let me put this in a better prospective. In 2015 the Preliminary Deer Harvest by Antler Class (page 24 of the big game hunting booklet 2016) our beloved X zones, zones X1 though X12 which is seventeen different rifle zones and the same zones for Archery Zones A3 through A20 The total General season buck kill was 2021 and Archery was 277 for a total of 2,298 compare that to 4,209 for only six B zones that means there were 1,911 more deer killed out of just the six B Zones than all of the X zones combined! Now you can argue that its apples to oranges because the X Zones are all Mule Deer and the B Zones are all Blacktail deer and that is true but you can also argue that it takes a minimum of about 3 to 4 years to draw a decent X zone tag but you can draw a B Zone tag every year as a second choice tag, bank your preference points, and then turn around and buy a second tag if they haven’t ran out.
(update in the recently released 2018 Big Game Hunting Digest going off of pages 20 and 21 if you add all the reported kill for all the X Zones and the Area Specific Archery tags for those X Zones, the Combined Reported kill for all the X Zones in 2017 was a measly 2,319. The combined kill for all the B Zones if you add them up the B Zones Combined Kill for B1 and B2 was 3,061 and if you add B3, B4 B5 and B6 it is a grand total of 4,551. Not including statistics for AO tags that you can also use to hunt B Zone)
B Zone is huge and there is more country to hunt in this zone than any person needs but it sure is nice to have. You can hunt the lower country which is actually at sea level on the coast or you can hunt the Trinity Alps around Thompson Peak at 9027 feet.
If you are in limited physical condition you can break the bank road hunting these zones. There are roads and roads and more roads twisting and winding all these mountains and they’re all open to the public. Not only can you hunt the National Forest and BLM land you can also hunt most of the private timber company land without a permit such a Sierra Pacific and a few others. There are several large bodies of water Shasta Lake, Trinity Lake (Clair Engle) and too many other small ones to mention so in the last years the drought has had an effect on the deer population but not to the extent that it has had on other parts of the state. One of the primary affects the draught has had on the deer population in the B zones is that because the lake levels have gone down over 100 feet in some areas causing the deer to be exposed around the edges of the lakes. This has caused a significant increase in deer hunters hunting the edges of the lakes and really knocking the deer down.
Archery season in the B zones can be incredible one week and disappointing the next. This is primarily due to the hot weather of August into September. No matter what people tell you about how smart a wary old whitetail is or how hard it is to hunt mule deer I can tell you this, you won’t see them making a lot of hunting shows about killing big Blacktail bucks. Not because there aren’t any but because they are so unbelievably smart and difficult to hunt. Blacktail have a keen sense of smell and eagle eyes. They are bold enough to hold their ground until you step on them and skittish enough to leave an area if they think you may have them figured out. During the early archery season the bucks have beautiful velvet covered antlers and are often seen out in the open avoiding the brush that snags on the velvet and avoiding the hordes of mosquitoes and gnats that feed on their tender blood filled velvet antlers. This makes spotting the bucks much easier.
Most people I know hunt the Trinity Alps or the lower areas near the Alps and around the lakes. It does not take long and you will find that within a couple weeks of opening day of archery most the bucks in these lowers areas have moved into thick brush and become nocturnal due to hunting pressure. Now you will need to change up your game and start hunting about 150 yards or more off the roads and lakes. At this point in the game these bucks tend to move away but not move out, not just yet anyway. If you don’t believe have your buddy drop you off on a ridge that parallels any major road on B Zone. Start walking that ridge and look at all the deer activity. The deer will stage in these areas, sitting above the road watching their backtrail. Then when it gets dark they will work their way down to the edges of the road or cross the road to feed or water. I have heard that Blacktail deer generally have a home range of less than 1 square mile and to some degree I think this is true but I have seen bucks with an identifying antler configuration in one area one day and then a few days later seen them in a different canyon several miles away. I have also watched them run for several miles across open land to go hide in another area when hunters start moving them on opening day. I have also watched these deer swim across both Shasta Lake and Trinity Lake for no apparent reason at all so I am not sure how true this theory is. Maybe in Oregon or Washington where the forest is more dense than Northern Californian it may be truer that Blacktails have a home range of only 1 mile
Places to hunt in B Zone in include the Trinity Alps and the Yolo Bola Wilderness Areas but these places generally require a person to be in good physical condition or at the least able to hike in and out uphill and down for at least a mile in both directions. So more specifically I would look into the west side of Trinity Lake (also known as Clair Engle Lake). Starting points would be Granite Peak trail head and Mule Canyon and Long Canyon trail head. Long Canyon is an easy approach into the wilderness area and you are up high enough to start seeing nice bucks. Swift creek is also a common entry into the Alps but a lot of outfitters enter into the alps through this area and it can have too many people early in the year. Swift creek road also breaks off and will take you up to Lake Eleanor where you will find deer bear and the occasional skinny dipper. North of Carrville is Coffee Creek. This is one of the best access points into the wilderness area. The road travels for several miles up a canyon eventually it will dead end at the wilderness area. This place gets a lot of day hikers and non-hunters but so far I have not had a bad encounter with anyone but there is concern over leaving vehicles in such a remote location. This trail will get you into some beautiful area with lots of deer and bear.
The area between Trinity Lake and Shasta Lake holds a significant amount of deer due to the amount of water and available feed. Unfortunately it also holds a lot of hunters and is only a 20 minute or so drive from Redding so it gets hit hard. The area I am talking about is the county line road known as 34n05 it is best accessed through French Gulch. When you arrive in French Gulch you can either go left on French Gulch Mine Road or Trinity Mountain Road. French Gulch Mine Road goes west out of French Gulch and joins 34n05 way up at the top of the mountain, and then you go north eventually joining Trinity Mountain Road. You can also stay on the main road in French Gulch, this is also the same Trinity Mountain Road, it travels north and dog legs up the hill (several miles north) and joins 34n05 and this road can take you north all the way to Highway 3 or you can drop down any dirt road going west and end up on the back side of Trinity Lake or any dirt road east and end up, well lost or on Interstate 5. It’s a good place to hunt especially late in the season.
There are plenty of deer in this area so pack a lunch and your binos, and for goodness sake take a Shasta Trinity National Forest Map with you or a GPS. I have meet many a lost hunter up there on a quarter tank of gas driving in circles because it all looks the same.
From Interstate 5 north of Redding to the Oregon Border take any road west, Sugarloaf at Antlers in Lakehead, Volmers, Lamoine, Flume Creek, Forest Service 25, and 26, these roads all lead into higher country with robust herds of Blacktail. Most are forks and 3 points but these areas hold a lot of deer.
I will cover more area on B zone later in the year as I put in for this tag every year and know the zones well.
C Zone tags are now a draw tag. You can obtain one on a second choice, it's about a 50/50 chance on a second choice and if you have one point it's almost a sure thing. But if you have even one preference point you might want to put in for a better zone with bigger bucks. Or if you still want to hunt C Zone and you have even one preference point you should be putting in for a G1 tag. This tag is a late season hunt in Zone C4. If you draw a C Zone tag it allows you to hunt C1,C2,C3 and C4 during the general rifle season. It does not allow you to archery hunt during the archery. That is a separate tag and that is an A1 Archery Tag.
Years ago C1 was actually Zone X1 and Zone C4 was actually Zone X11 with C Zone in the middle between the two. Then DFG changed all that up and long story short it's all comes under the C Zone Tag and you can hunt all four zones, all of them have the same opening dates but C1 closes earlier than the rest followed by C4 and then C2 and C3 close on the same day. C1 is a nice zone to hunt, there is plenty of public land and I have seen some good bucks come from that zone. They are all Blacktail and Mule Deer hybrids. By Boone and Crocket Standards there are no blacktail bucks in these zones they have to be scored as mule deer. There are other clubs that consider them blacktail but genetically they are not. C1 does not get as much pressure as the other zones and the area between Yreka and Macdoel and south of the Oregon border is a darn good place to start looking.
Zones C2 and C3 are decent zones but not real great. C2 is the north shore of Shasta Lake to Hwy 89 and from Interstate 5 across to the Pit (check your Regs). This zone has limited access off Interstate 5 due to private property. Zone C3 is also a tough area to hunt on its west side due to bush and private property but its east side has a significant amount of private property open to hunting. This is the area off of Hwy 299 east, Hwy 89 and Hwy 44 but that may change and in a big bad way. An Investment company out of Australia has apparently bought up the land previously owned by Roseburg Timber Products this amounts to about 175,000 acres right smack in the middle of those three roads. And as of opening weekend of turkey season March 31, 2018 most of it has been posted “No Trespassing” especially the area around Whitmore and Oak Run. This may prove to be a problem come deer season and I will update this if I get any more news of it. In C2 the area south of Hwy 89 from the highway to the top of the mountains above Shasta Lake offers some excellent deer hunting and you will probably see several bears. This area is excellent during archery season due to the new acorns on the scrub oaks. You will see plenty of deer, bears and Ruffed Grouse. There is good public camping all along the McCloud River and there will be significant hunting pressure but you will need that pressure to get the bucks moving. Be sure to take your trout rod.
The good thing about zone C2 and C3 along with B2 is that you are allowed to hunt from a boat in Shasta Lake. So many hunters especially during archery season and the first weekend of rifle season take the boats out and cruise the lake and get their bucks. Some nice bucks get taken off this lake every year and the C3 area in the Jones Valley and Pit River Arm produces some fabulous bucks. I saw a 3 point in the back of a boat one year that was very impressive and every year you hear of someone taking a nice buck from the lake in general.
Most people that I know who hunt C Zone hunt either C1 or C4. They have more open area and produce more deer and bigger deer. Zone C4 starts up around Mt Lassen and Chester and drops down to Hwy 70 and Interstate 5 and covers the area around Chico. This is a huge zone and it produces some great bucks and a lot of them. The area around Chester and Lake Almanor has considerable hunting pressure during archery and rifle season. Most people who draw an A1 Archery tag hunt the Chester area opening weekend and they hit it hard for the entire two weeks that it's open. Big bucks come out of this country and it's actually a nice area to hunt. Rifle hunters hit this area as well and hunt the areas west of Hwy 89 along the lake and the areas around yellow jacket springs. There is a significant amount of BLM Land in the lower western edge of this zone. These areas are Inks Creek, Bend and Hogs Lake Plateau. If you decide to hunt these lower areas tag a pig tag with you. There are a considerable amount of wild hogs in this area and they are mostly on private land but when the hunters on the private land start chasing bucks around they tend to kick the pigs out onto the bordering public land.
Zone G1 is a late season C4 tag. For my Money this is one of the best tags in California as long as you’re willing to get out of the truck and actually hunt. This tag runs from October 27th to November 4th so you will start to catch the beginning of the rut. This season is only 9 days long, and usually right around the middle of the season you will see the bucks really start chasing the does and sparing and letting their guard down. This is the primary reason this zone has such a good success rate. In 2017 this zone sold out 2,710 tags and hunters reported killing 702 bucks of which 25% of those bucks were 4 point or better bucks, that’s not bad for a zone that you can draw with zero points.
Think about this for minute, during the archery season A1 archery hunters reported 151 bucks killed of which 15% were 4 point or better. During the C4 season hunters reported 824 bucks killed of which 18% were 4 point or better. The exact same area during G1 late season reported 702 bucks of which 25% were 4 point or better. That adds up to 1,677 bucks that were actually reported to fish and wildlife (not estimated) of which an average of 19.3% were 4 point or better. That is not bad at all and this zone has an incredible amount of public land and access. If you are a backcountry hunter there is plenty of that and if you are a road hunters you can go broke driving the roads in this zone and most of the roads are two wheel drive roads.
I have only hunted a few of the D Zones and as I promised I will be honest with you and if I haven’t hunted it I won’t just make it up. The only D Zones I have hunted is D4, D8, D11 and D13.
When I use to hunt D13 it was a decent zone but unfortunately it has really fallen behind and I just can't recommend this zone. It's too close to Los Angeles and it gets way too much pressure. Hunters here are desperate for a buck and if it's got even a slight fork it will get shot opening day. DFW estimated that this zone had an 11% success rate. I can’t agree with this statistic because I have boots on the ground experience in this zone. This zone did not fill in 2017 so with limited information it's hard to estimate how many tags were sold and how many deer were harvested to arrive at an estimated 11% success rate. But hunters did report that they killed 257 deer in this zone of which 74% were forks and only 7.4 percent were 4 point or better. If your okay with shooting a fork and most people are, I know I am, especially during the last week of season, and you need to hunt close to LA then D13 will work. Access off Interstate 5 is limited to Alamo Mountain east of Interstate 5 via the Gorman exit and Frasier Mountain off of Lockwood Valley road. Hwy 33 has additional access points and Mt Pinos, Apache Canyon and Mutau Flats have all produced some decent but not plentiful bucks in the past.
To tell the truth when I hunted D11 it was terrible and I just don’t remember enough about it or D8 to make and honest evaluation. When I hunted D4 it was private property in the middle of all the rice fields and there were a lot of bucks for the area and for a general tag. But because it was private property and the hunt only lasted about 3 days I can't make an honest evaluation of the zones public land deer hunting. But this tag includes zonesD4, D5 and D6 so there is plenty of public land available to hunt but it does have significant hunting pressure because it is close to Sacramento.
I have had experience with X1, X2, X3A, X3B and X10 either as a hunter or assisting other hunters.
In Zone X1 you will have plenty of public land to hunt. This zone is the Mt Shasta area and the zone has plenty of road access and the area is truly beautiful to hunt. The archery tag for this zone is an A3 Archery Tag. They only have 100 tags with an estimated 44% Success Rate with an actual reported deer kill of 32. It is a decent tag, but you will burn your points should you draw the tag. But 60% of the deer killed during the archery season were 3 point or better so that’s not bad at all.
The X1 rifle or general methods tag is the exact same area and DFW issued 760 tags for this zone with an estimated success rate of 45% (342). The actual reported kill was 284 of which 35% were 4 point of better. This is a very good area to hunt. It's all blacktail mule deer hybrids until you get east of hwy 89 and get into the mountains in the Fall River Area. From here to the eastern boundary of the zone and north to the Oregon border is mule deer country and you will see some big ones here.
As of 2017 the X1 tag requires 2 points to draw with 76 random tags, A3 Archery requires a minimum of 1 point to draw with only 10 tags in the random draw so it's a complete toss up and comes down to what season you want to put in for. Both are a good option.
Zone X2 is a very tough draw for general methods and for A4 Archery tag. The archery tag only has 10 tags and boasts a 22% estimates success rate. That’s 2 deer, one was a 3 pt one was 5 pt. The minimum to draw this tag last year in the points draw was 4 points. It's hard for me to justify burning up 4 points for two deer but it may not bother you and you may know a good place within the zone.
The rifle tag or general methods tag (X2) required a minimum of 7 points to draw in 2017 with 171 tags in the points draw and 18 in the random draw. But this zone puts up a huge estimated success rate of 65% and a reported success rate of 114 deer with 57% of those being 4 pt or better.
There are several factors that make this zone so good. One reason is that the limited amount of tags means less hunting pressure also the road access in this zone is very good and it is a very huntable zone. There are mountains but there is access into them by road or trail. There are several outfitters that have guides in this zone so they have most of the alfalfa fields leased up and that is why you see such a high average for 4 point and better bucks. The other reason, this is just a darn good zone it has everything you need if you can just draw the tag.
Zone X3A and X3B are top zones as well. X3A covers some ground and took a minimum of 4 points to draw in 2017. I was one of the lucky hunters to draw this zone in 2017. I have actually drawn this tag three times, the first year I got a nice 4 point and my buddy got a 30 inch 3 point. The second time I drew it I shot a 3 point and another guy I was hunting with shot a 151 inch 4 point and a third hunter missed a huge 4 point from about 200 yards standing still, it was heartbreaking. The third year I hunted it in 2017 we tried to hold out until we saw something big, but with four days left in the season and freezing our butts off with six inches of snow on the ground, we decided to tag out and go home having seen close to a dozen legal bucks and two okay 3 points. So even with local knowledge we didn’t get big bucks but we did see bucks and we got two bucks which is a “win” in my book.
This zone has an estimated success rate of 53% and hunters reported killing 168 bucks of which 33% were 4 point or better. The A5 archery tag for this zone is not so good there are 40 tags with an estimated success rate of 35%. Hunters reported killing 11 deer of which 27% were 4 points and there were no 5 point or greater bucks taken.
In 2017 there was a major wildfire northeast of the town of Adin. This fire devastated the national forest and BLM land in the area burning from the area of the Pit River west almost all the way to Lookout-Hackamore road. The deer were not in this burn during rifle season and I am not sure if this area will be open to hunting in 2018. The outskirts of the burn did hold a significant amount of deer both bucks and does but this is mostly private property with little or no access and getting permission to hunt might be next to impossible.
Most the hunters in this zone focus their efforts on the public and private timber land that is open to the public in the Knox Mountain and Likely Mountain areas. The table top mountains or flats above the alfalfa fields between the town of Likely and the town of Alturas have good deer numbers early in the year but once rifle season opens the deer move out into the middle of the alfalfa fields until season is over.
X3B and X3A are separated in the middle by Hwy 395. X3B is in the north eastern corner of California and is a very good zone to draw. In the past you could draw this zone with one or two points and there was a good possibility of drawing it in the random drawing as I did once. In 2018 there are 794 tags available and DFW estimated the hunter success to be 37% that’s 294 bucks. Hunters reported killing 243 bucks so the actual success rate was 30.4% somewhat within the margin of error. Of that 243 bucks 30% were four point of better that’s not bad. In the 2017 drawing you needed a minimum of 2017 points to draw this tag but they did have 79 tags in the random draw. The archery tag for this zone is A6 Archery. There are 70 tags available for this hunt in 2018. In the 2017 drawing it took a minimum of one point to draw with 7 tags for the random drawing. Without getting to deep into the statistics hunters reported killing 17 deer in this zone of which one measly buck was a 4 point. That’s a tough tag to swallow and I think your points are better spent somewhere else, but it is beautiful country to hunt and there is always that chance.
This zone is big and with it comes big bucks. I have hunted this and helped other hunters who drew this tag and you will see bucks during rifle season but not so much during archery, it's just too hot and too early in the year. The area of Patterson Lake has produced some nice bucks. I personally chased two huge 4x4s around this lake off and on for two weeks during archery season and ended up with tag soup. I had several chances at some small forks but passed on them because I was so dead set on getting a big buck, “lesson learned” The South Warner Mountains goes right down the middle of this zone from north to south. The northern end of the mountains at the Oregon border gets a push of bucks coming over from Oregon especially when the Oregon zone 174B opens earlier or at the same time as X3B and it works the same in the Oregon area. This year in 2018 California’s A6 Archery (X3B Archery Season) opens on August 18th and closes on September 9th. Oregon Bow season Archery Tag 174R2 on the other side of the border opens on August 26th and goes to September 24th, and it's one buck with visible antler. This tag does eventually fill and there are 94 tags available but the success rate is very low so I wouldn’t worry about hunting pressure at this time. The rifle season in the Oregon unit 174B opens on September 30th and goes to October 11th so you will have bucks that have been pushed over early during the X3B rifle season.
The valley floor along Hwy 395 from the border all the way to Likely produces deer and the area is not nearly as physically demanding as the Patterson Lake area. The BLM land that is low along Hwy 395 just south of Alturas has a good population of deer and should not be over looked.
Local Knowledge Tip
The Alturas Ranches located south of Alturas operates a large alfalfa ranch that is loaded with antelope and mule deer. I have seen some phenomenal mule deer and countless antelope in the 18 inch category in these alfalfa fields. Alturas Ranches sell permits to hunt the mule deer and the antelope. The Permits usually run around $1000.00 for the season. For the right person this is a good deal. The ranch is huge and depending on how many permits they sell it could be a good deal for the right person, especially if you would like to take one without having to climb a mountain.
I will cover more of the zones as this blog progresses please check back in from time to time for updates.
Elk Hunting in California
There are a few questions you must ask yourself before deciding to put in for an Elk Tag in California. The first question is “do I really want to try and hunt an elk?” if the answer is yes, then why are you putting in for a tag in California? You have a very small chance of drawing a tag and if you do draw a tag you will only have one attempt to bag a bull because there is very little chance that you will draw that tag again.
If you are after a specific type of elk like a Tule Elk that is a different story. There is only one state that offers tags for Tule Elk and that is California. Personally, I am holding out for a Tule because if you ever burn your California points on a Roosevelt Elk Tag or a Rocky Mountain Elk Tag the chances of getting a Tule Tag a few years later are few and far between. Unless you have an unlimited amount of money are willing to pay upwards of $8,000 or more for a PLM tag and a Guided hunt.
I think selecting an elk tag in California boils down to the species of elk you wish to hunt and then the slocation you wish to hunt and the primary factor if Points. Do you have enough to draw a tag.
DFW really over estimates their data when estimating the deer kill in California but not so much when it comes to the Elk and Pronghorn tag, so you can actually trust their success rates but not their actual Data due to the fact that they leave out of the issuance of PLM tags.
If for example DFW has estimated that 100 Pronghorns Bucks can be taken from Zone Blue (fictitious zone) they advertise that there are 100 tags available in the drawing of which 75 tags (75%) go to Preference Points and 25 tags (25%) go to random draw. When you apply for the hunt you would expect that 100 Pronghorn Tags were available in the drawing. This is for the most part not true and is factually misleading. What they fail to mention is PLM tags. If 10 ranchers in Zone Blue request 10 PLM tags for Pronghorn and DFW issues all 10 tags they (DFW) takes those tags right off the top before the drawing even takes place. Now instead of having 100 tags available there is only 90 tags. That might not matter in large zones with high tag allotments but in small zones with only 20 tags, you could lose half the tags to PLM tags and then wonder why you can’t draw the tag with max points. DFW issues PLM tags for Deer, Elk and Pronghorn so keep this little tidbit of information in mind when applying for the drawing.
If your applying for a Tule Elk tag and have Max points the top unit is Grizzly Island. This unit is all public and very accessible. Lake Pillsbury is a good draw and there are big bulls here and they are on public land, but some do move to private. With only two tags here there should not be a problem finding a good bull on public land.
There are several good Tule Elk hunts around Bishop California. They vary from private land owned by the local water company that is huntable to private alfalfa fields. Check the zone for available public land before committing your points, but these are some good tags if you can draw them.
Roosevelt Elk Tags are in Northern California on the Coast and slightly inland. You will burn up all your points should you draw a tag. Rocky Mountain Elk Tags are in the Northeast corner of California and around the Interstate 5 corridor. If you draw one of these tags you will be able to hunt this zone once. That’s it. One time unless you draw the tag again (not likely). To apply for a California Elk Tag or Pronghorn Tag as a resident it will cost you your hunting license fee of $48.34, plus $8.13 application fee for Elk and a separate fee for Pronghorn. If you draw an Elk Tag you will pay $459.25 for the tag and if you draw a Pronghorn Tag it will cost, you $154.18 for the tag.
For a Pronghorn tag in your own state $159.18 is a good price, unless you’re like me and have been applying for the tag for 30 years without getting drawn. But yes, I still put in because most of the good units are only about 2 hours away.
For an Elk Tag I just don’t know if its money well spent. If you are putting in for a Tule Elk tag it is, but if you are putting in for a Roosevelt or Rocky tag I am not so sure and here is why and its just my humble opinion. In California that adds up to $515.72 if you draw a tag. When for the cost of a non-resident hunting license in Oregon of $167.00 and the cost of an Elk Tag of $571.00 for a total of $738.00 you can hunt Oregon, and plan the hunt in advance knowing you will draw a tag every year and you can hunt the same area or a new area and develop your elk hunting skills year after year. I pick Oregon because they have an awesome Bow Season for deer and elk. On an Elk Bow tag you can hunt almost the entire state, most of the Units are Any-Elk (bull cow or calf) and the general season is almost 30 days long. Rifle season varies by the unit you draw or the general season you draw.
Granted I live 2 hours from Oregon so its easy for me to say, but when you can draw a tag every year and not have to deal with the lopsided DFW draw system it makes the logistics and other hunt planning much easier.
Now if you’re a veteran and have a VA Disability rating of 10% or more you can hunt Washington state for Deer Bear and Elk for $100.00 and if you have a VA Disability Rating of 40% or more you can hunt Idaho for Deer, Bear and Elk for less than $100.00 (these figures include the cost of non-resident licenses and tag) Check out my Disabled Veteran Blog if you think its too good to be true.
California has several good Pronghorn tags. Likely Tables 730 Period 1 and 732 Period 2 are very good tags and so are the Lassen Zone Tags 740 and 742. All these tags have an abundance of accessible public land with plenty of antelope. In these zones it is nothing unusual to see 30 to 60 antelope in a day. Once the shooting starts they head into the trees and hide just like the deer. This is something to keep in mind when your hunting them after opening weekend. Big Valley has a lot of pronghorn and a lot of public land unfortunately most the speed goats are on the private alfalfa fields in the middle of the valley. This tag can be good, but you would really have to work the zone, but any zone with an 80% success rate can’t be that bad.
For Bighorn sheep in California “good luck!” I don’t know of anyone who has ever drawn a tag and to tell the truth I don’t even put in for it. I know somebody must draw the tags every year so why not give it a try. Truthfully speaking a non-resident can draw a tag in Idaho much easier. Nevada also has a bunch of tags, but they are expensive if you draw them around $1200.00 each.
In my Tips and Tactics section I will address a tag plan that will show you how to draw a good or even excellent tag almost every year. Its cheaper than you may think and you will be supervised at just how easy it is to draw a quality tag.
August 1st, 2018
A Zone Archery deer season is in full swing. It’s hot its smoky and the ticks are crazy thick this year. I have heard some good reports and some not so good reports.
A zone in the southern section is a tough hunt. Figueroa Mountain north of Santa Barbara holds some small deer in the higher areas where you meet the pine trees. The fires in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties really burned up the hillsides in the national forests and most the deer have moved down on to the private land.
In Santa Barbara County off Hwy 33 you will find areas where the BLM and National Forest land butt up against or near the alfalfa fields. If you look around the area where Santa Barbara Canyon in Las Padres meets the private land near the Cuyama River and Ventucopa you will find that the deer bed down in on the public land near the private and then late in the evening right at dark they move into the alfalfa.
In the Northern A zone above San Francisco its just way to hot and most the reports I am hearing are not so good. Some forked horns late in the evening other than that I think everyone is waiting for it to cool off. Rifle season looks to be better, but the truth be told if you’re hunting anywhere in A zone on public land you might be better off to shoot the first legal buck you see.
Early B Zone opens this weekend in Zone B-4, from July28, 2018 to August 19th, 2018. This is a coastal unit that is notorious for producing a significant number of small bucks during archery season with a few scatter big bucks sprinkled in. One thing that is nice about this zone is that its near the coast and even though its hot in some areas of the state its in general cooler in the portion of the zone near the ocean.
The bad news is the Wildfires burning in Northern California. I am not sure where the ones are located around Lake County there are too many to stay on top of, but you can bet there are going to be road closures and public land closures in A Zone that will lead to frustration.
In B Zone Specifically B-2 there is currently a huge wildfire burning, this is the Carr Fire. Its already over 120,000 acres and is still burning out of control as of august 1, 2018. I am staying on top of this information primarily because its burning up some of the best ears to deer hunt in B -2. Although I do feel sorry for all the people who have lost family members, homes and animals in this fire the good news on the horizon is that this will result in some premium deer hunting in 2019 and for several years after that. This area has needed to burn for about 30 plus years. I live right on the western edge of this fire and was actually evacuated for the fire and feel very lucky to have not lost my home.
That being said, where the fire was burning and where it is burning now the manzanita was 12 feet high in some places and the bitter brush and poison oak was just as high and you couldn’t even walk through it. It was not any good for wildlife primarily deer and this fire will only improve their habitat.
Updated August 24, 2018
Good news and bad news for B Zone hunters and C-2 hunters. The Carr Fire and the Hirz fire, in Shasta County have burned up a lot of county in B-2, B-5 and C-2. Add to that, because of the fire damage from the fires and the potential for new fires, Sierra Pacific (a timber company in Northern California) has shut off access to all of its properties in California. That’s all properties not just a few. On top of that Shasta Trinity National Forest and BLM have closed access for a large portion of the forest on both sides of Interstate 5 from I-5 at Shasta lake across to the trinity county line and then North to Vollmers then to I-5, then again from I-5 east at O’Brian east for several miles to the area of the McCloud River then north about 10 miles and then back to I-5 somewhere north of Lakehead.
This is temporarily a bad thing, The Hirz fire is still raging with no expected control date. The Carr fire is almost out but still smoldering. I don’t expect these lands to be opened up until after we get our first rains and when we do get out first rains you better have a shovel and some chains and maybe a wench with you if you go into these burned areas because the mud slides and flash flooding are going to be biblical.
The good news is that the areas that have burned, really needed to burn. Due to environmental laws some of these areas have been closed down to logging for 20 plus years and the understory of brush in these areas especially the Hirz fire has made the forest in these areas nearly un-accessible for hunting. In B-2 where we had the Carr Fire there had been a fire about 18 years ago in French Gulch. The scrubby new growth was mostly manzanita, scrub oak and an unbelievable amount of poison oak. The manzanita in some areas was 15 feet tall and that combined with old dead timber and rotting brush from the previous fire it was just a mess and not much good for anything and was just waiting for a spark. Why It had not been control burned prior to this fire is anyone’s guess. I am sure there is some environmental expert from the bay area who is about 24-years old who has never been outside of the bay area except for when he went for a drive through the redwoods prior to writing his college thesis who could tell us we are all wrong and control burns are bad and to never question his education, but anyway..
These fires are actually the best thing that could have happened when it comes to wildlife. Most the deer and birds in these areas were old enough to be able to escape. Unfortunately, this is not true for the smaller animals and animals that just can't travel fast and far. But next year and for about the next 7 years in these burns you will see an unbelievable resurgence of animal populations. It wont look good for a year or so but just wait. The quail population in places like French gulch will explode as well as the deer population. This will hold true for the area of the Hirz fire as well. The Hirz fire area truly has been un-huntable for years. Too thick and limited road access. In this area pubic access had been limited due to owners posting roads that weren’t theirs and posting lands as private that were actually public. Unfortunately, Shasta Trinity National Forest seemed unconcerned when confronted by public land users about this issue. This should all change now as boundaries will be easier to access and more visible to all.
An added bonus to the Hirz Fire, where this fire is burning there is a small population of wild pigs. They have been there for years and only a few locals like me know where to find them. If you don’t believe me search YouTube for “Shasta lake wild hogs” and you will see video some of the residents from the Gilman road are have posted online. This Fire should scatter these hogs and maybe create a more huntable population in the area.
Video of hogs off Gilman Road:
Reports for B Zone Archery have been poor. I believe this is primarily due to the Carr Fire and access through Shasta County on Hwy 299 and Hwy 36. If you can get above the fire and hunt west of Mount Shasta you should do well.
A zone hunters have reported a slow archery season and even slower rifle season but this zone usually picks up during the last few weeks of rifle season.
Updated October 5, 2018
As of October 5th, B Zone has been a mess. Some hunters are reporting more bucks seen this year than in years past and other hunters are reporting just the opposite.
Zone B-2 has been hit hard by the Carr Fire and the Delta Fire. Not only have the fire areas been closed to public use but the private timber land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries has been closed until recently. On October 4th, Sierra Pacific announced that they were re-opening all of their land in Northern California to hunting with the exceptions of the lands directly affected by the Carr, Delta and Hertz fires, these areas would remain closed until they determined it was safe for recreationists to enter.
This is good news for hunters because there is so much SPI land in the B Zones and in most cased you have SPI land tracts checkerboarded with BLM and National Forest this makes distinguishing the property borders more difficult. This is unless you have a map program like OnXmaps or something equal.
I have actually had good luck on the deer hunting this year and was able to score on opening weekend with a decent forked horn. I was hunting one of my not so secret “secret spots” during bow season. I won’t tell you exactly where I was, but it is near Lakehead but not in the fire closures. The Delta fire, the Hirz fire and the Carr fire have really pushed deer down low to the edges of the lake and if you have a boat or are willing to get to the edges of the lake and really hike it out you will find deer and plenty of them. I have been seeing anywhere from 13 to 30 deer a day around the edges of the lake. During bow season I was able to get to within about 60 yards of two bucks a real nice 3x2 and smaller 2x2 or forked horn. 60 yards in this are is not a safe shot, a well-placed arrow is always good but in this case being off by just a few inches either way could mean the buck could cross a canyon (has happen to me before) swim the lake (has happened to me before) or the buck could start running and end up piling up in someone’s yard (also happened to me before). Or all of the above. So, I decided to pass.
I didn’t see the bucks again until Sunday night of rifle opener when with just about 15 minutes of shoot time left, the forked horn showed up. He wasn’t a big deer or a small deer just a nice forked horn. He walked out of the brush at the edge of the lake and after zero deliberation I decided to take him. I waited for him to get down near the water line and eventually he gave me a broadside shot facing right. I was using a .243 Winchester and put the bullet right in the engine room at about 160 yards. The buck bucked and ran about 30 feet and died on the side of the bank. It was a rough hike over to the buck, I had to wade through some knee-deep mud and eventually made it over to the deer. One thing to remember when hunting the lakes is that you can not leave any of the dead animal parts in or near the water. By DFW regulations you have to hike it all out and away from the water line I believe its 150 feet from the water line.
I had to quarter up the animal and then pack all the unusable parts like the guts the back bone and the meat stripped carcass away from the waterline then I had to reload the pack frame and pack the rest back to my truck. It wasn’t a bad hike at all just time consuming. The only real issue I had was an unknown animal about 50 yards away that stayed inside the tree line while I was cutting up the deer. Just about the time I would get settled down, whatever it was, would run a few feet and it sounded like something was running towards me. The fact that I was in a dark canyon didn’t help matters and when I would shine my headlamp it’s direction I couldn’t get any eyes to reflect. That was a little nerve racking, but I am pretty sure it was just a deer or something harmless having some fun with me.
After packing to the truck loaded up and headed home. I have been back since and not seen the 3x2 but did see another person shoot another forked horn in almost the exact same spot where I shot mine.
I have one more B tag to fill for myself and I hope to get my wife on a nice buck this year. She has been holding out for a big boy and I hope she gets one, it would be well deserved.