Antelope Hunting in California
I have applied for a California Antelope Tag for most of my adult hunting life, well before California started with all the points stuff. But this year in 2018 to my surprise I drew a tag. I have always put in for Likely Tables Period 2. There are 45 tags available for Period 1 and again for Period 2. Unfortunately, everyone and their brother but in for these tags and I will tell you why. Likely Tables has a huge population of antelope, and I mean huge. In addition to the large population you have very accessible public land and the antelope are actually on the public land during antelope season. So if you draw the tag and if you hunt, you will see antelope and you will more than likely get a shot a decent buck. I have assisted two other hunters take antelope in this zone and know the zone very well. But again, I just couldn’t seem to draw the tag.
(not the buck I shot, this a buck in the Mt Dome area. not in my zone, He likes pringgles potatoe chips)
In 2018 I started looking at the Big Valley Antelope Tag and was aware of a piece of private property that I could hunt within that zone. After some long evening of thought I decided to give up on a Likely Tables Tag and instead put in for the Big Valley Tag. As soon as I hit the submit payment button I began to have regrets. I know the area well when it comes to deer hunting but really had not studied the antelope situation. I did know that the antelope in this zone were primarily on the alfalfa fields around the towns of Adin and Bieber all private. I pretty much figured I wouldn’t draw the tag anyway because there were only 20 tags for the entire zone.
On June 13th I heard the results of the big game drawing were available online and I immediately checked DFWs website. To my udder amazement I had drawn a Big Valley Antelope 750 tag, one of those 20 tags I figured there was no way to draw. I was happy and at the same time a little stressed. I had drawn a tag for an area that I was somewhat unfamiliar with when it comes to speed goats. I knew I needed boots on the ground research to be successful.
I have always wanted to shoot a big antelope on public land. We all see the shows and read the articles from Wyoming and other areas in the west where all you have to do is drive up to any sage flat and bust a huge buck and be back eating at the local burger joint by noon. I knew this was not going to be the case. Most the online map programs showed plenty of public land in the zone but most of it was high mountains and pine trees or brush choked mule deer country that no sane antelope would want to hang out.
I finally decided to concentrate on five or six public areas and knew I had to scout the area before the hunt either by going up a week or so in advance or arriving a day or two early for my hunt.
I don’t know how your daily life is but mine is always subject to change and change is what I got. On July 23, 2018 that huge Carr Fire broke out several miles from my house. I wasn’t concerned at all. It would have to burn through several miles of national forest, a national park with a big lake and then the BLM land and if that didn’t stop it there were several small residential areas it would have to snake through to get to us. Well I was wrong, on July 26th, all hell broke loose in Redding. The fire decided to head east at full throttle and unless you have been living under a rock you pretty much know the rest of the story, it turned into a 160 mile an hour rotating fire tornado that covered about 12 miles in about 3 to 6 hours depending on who you talk to. I do know these the last 4 miles were covered in about an hour because I was watching. This led to a major evacuation and we were all loaded up and on the road. Between the ice chests, dogs, miscellaneous items including guns and ammo we looked like we were ready to take on the zombie apocalypse. We were lucky though after a 4-day evacuation we were able to come back to our house, many people were not about 1300 families lost their homes.
Of course, the evacuation weekend was also supposed to be the scouting weekend for my antelope tag and the subsequent weekends we were on a standby to evacuate should the fire decide to kick up again. The weekend prior to my hunt I was committed to a wedding. The only reason I had decided to go to the wedding was that it just happened to be in Fall River Mills right smack dab in the middle of my antelope zone. We attended the wedding and like any dedicated hunter I slipped off right after the reception dinner and went scouting for about an hour before dark. I was truly disappointed. I didn’t see even one single solitary antelope. I had seen plenty of deer, some nice ones too but no antelope. I was bummed.
On Friday August 17th, the day before the weekend opener for my antelope tag I left. Within my zone on the western side of the zone about a week prior another new fire was blazing just outside Fall River on Hwy 299, it was now under control. On the other side of Big Valley was the Stone Fire east of Adin on the eastern edge of the Big Valley Antelope Zone. To say it was smoky up there would be an understatement. Ground visibility was down to about ½ mile with no solid wind direction. One thing I was familiar with when it comes to antelope hunting in California was the relentless mosquitos. It’s been my experience that the mosquitos in the Big Valley area and Likely Tables area are of the aggressive variety with long barbed teeth and a special blend of especially itchy venom for this reason I had planned on staying in a motel as opposed to camping. I was proud of my decision to “motel it” after losing about a pint and a half of blood the afternoon evening before the opener due to a poor decision to wear shorts. Although low on blood and scratching like a cat, I was able to spot a very nice antelope buck on public land about 20 minutes from town. I watched him until dark and then headed for the motel. The motel room was a nice break from the buzzing of the mosquitos, that was after I killed off about 25 of them that had made it into my room.
After a good night sleep, I was up and on it early they next morning. I had decided to get to the area about an hour before first light and set up in the dark. This plan was a solid plan and unfortunately, I didn’t see any deer. But I did see some huge X1 bucks walking around. It was also opening day of X1 Archery Season (Area, Specific Archery Tag A-3) I had bucks and I mean big bucks, nine of them within spitting distance several times. I was about a half mile off the dirt road and apparently this was where they had decided was a good place to dodge the archery hunters. I was able to watch them from up close on opening day and I learned a lot about they, way they hide and maneuver as they hear traffic approaching.
Unfortunately, several archery hunters had seen these bucks in the days leading up to the opener and they were driving through the area looking for them and I think this pushed the antelope out of the area. After a about 3 hours it was time to leave. I decided to jump across the valley and hunt an area of BLM land that bordered alfalfa. I had been in this area the day before and it looked promising.
I came into the area about 11:00am and with my binoculars I spotted another hunter about 900 yards away cleaning an antelope out in the open BLM land. Not too far from him were two other bucks. They were too far away to evaluate their size due to the heat waves and the thick smoke. I decided to come back later for an evening hunt as it was already in the 90s and the antelope had been pushed out.
I returned to the area about 2:00pm to sit in the shade and watch the area and ran into the hunter I had seen in the binoculars processing his buck. He had shot a very nice antelope and had just got back to his truck. A four-hour pack out in 90+ degree weather can be a bad situation. He had packed the hole buck back to the truck minus the guts. He had quarters the animal and packed out the head, all four quarters with skin attached and had just finished skinning it at his truck. The buck had started to smell as antelope do if you don’t get the hide off them. We talked for a bit and I encouraged him to get the buck on ice before it was too late.
I continued to hunt the area and about an hour before dark I spotted a small barely legal buck that was too close to illegal, so I took a pass on it. To be legal In California a Pronghorn Buck had to have horns longer than the length of his ears. This one made it but not by much. He was with seven or eight does and I watched them until dark with plans on returning the next day.
The next morning Sunday there was more smoke than the day before. There were fire trucks zipping around everywhere and I learned that now not only was there a fire west of me and one east of me there was a new one south of me and there was serious talk of the roads getting closed and evacuations in my area and closures of the BLM and National Forest Lands around the valleys edge. With all this going on somehow, I was able to get out to the area I was hunting well before light and parked the truck and kicked back half asleep until sunrise.
At first light I glassed from the truck quietly trying not to disturb nature. It was difficult to see anything, and I was admittedly getting somewhat depressed. I decided to walk east of the truck and went about a half mile until I ran into timber and decided to turn around. I decided to walk back towards the truck and walked about a half mile west of the truck. The sun was good and up and the smoke had lifted off the valley floor. I was scanning with my binos when I spotted a decent antelope buck a little over 400 yards away. It was not the buck of my dreams, but it was a clearly legal buck and with the lack of bucks I was seeing, the fires and the smoke conditions I decided to try for him.
I didn’t like the shot, I was using my .243 Winchester in a Ruger American Compact. It’s actually my wife’s rifle and I really like it and its super accurate, but I just wanted a better shot. I moved closer and after about a half hour I was within 300 yards of him. My last range on him was 357 yards as he walked in and out of the junipers and so I figured I had covered at least 60 yards before setting up. Somewhere around the 280 to 300-yard range I was able to spot him feeding out from behind a juniper. I couldn’t get a solid rest in prone position or in the kneeling position, so I used my primos trigger sticks and from a standing position I was able to place a shot into the vitals. The buck ran only a few feet and fell down dead.
(I put the shot right behind the right front leg)
(It wasn't a bad pack out. I always quarter by big game kills for the pack out.)
Standing there looking at him I knew he wasn’t the biggest antelope in the world but considering he was a public land buck, in an area where three fires were burning with smoke covering most the zone, emergency vehicles driving around everywhere, the possibility of the public land getting closed, and I had done the research, the tag strategy and taken the buck myself on my terms, I considered him a trophy to me and so I aptly named him the “Fire Buck”.
(not the biggest speed goat but all things concidered he was a trophy to me)
Later that evening, on the news the folks that were managing the Stone Fire ended up closing down Hwy 299 and all the power went out for the motel and the area I was staying including gas stations and all the other businesses. I was very happy that had decided on taking the little buck.