California Big Game Drawing 2020, The California Deer Tag Dilemma,
Its that time of the year when normal people are planning their vacations and scheduling boat rentals and cushy campgrounds where they water ski by day and sip margaritas by night. Where the smell of tanning lotions, bud light and hotdogs burning on the grill weaken the strongest of diets.
But for those of us with the deer hunting fever, every year we tend to obsess over the looming date of June 2nd. For those of you who don’t know what the hoopla over June 2nd is about, it’s the last day you can apply for the controlled hunt drawing for California’s Deer, Elk and Antelope.
The dilemma I usually have is three fold. What tag do I want to draw? What tag is the best tag? What tags conflict with my schedule for hunting other zones or other states and then the reality of what tags I can realistically draw with the points I have, or in my case “don’t have”, and with those points or lack thereof, where is the most realistic chance of shooting a decent buck or at a minimum filling my tag and not going home empty handed.
You can read the statistics in the 2020 California Big Game Hunting Booklet until you can't see straight, and their statistics are somewhat inaccurate to say the least so its difficult to put your “Hopes and Dreams” into trusting their math.
With CDFW you have to remember they are all about what they like to call “Hunter Opportunity”, That sounds good until you realize it just means that they want to sell as many tags as they can with minimal impact on the deer herds giving you the “Hunter” the “Opportunity” to both draw a tag and go hunting, they do not care about your success rates, its about selling as many tags as they can. That’s why you see all these deer seasons in California at such ridiculous times of the year when deer are nocturnal due to the heat.
When I look at the Big Game Hunting Booklet, I generally focus on three areas.
#1, The actual success rate. This is reflected this year (2020) on page 24 and 25 titled, “2019 Preliminary Deer Harvest By Antler Class”. This is a complicated way to say, “this is what people actually reported killing” Not what Fish and Wildlife are guessing that they killed.
I to look at the success rates for every zone as described on pages 30 through 39 but I really don’t give the success rates much weight. The reason is, California Department of Fish and Wildlife or CDFW conduct surveys in different zones, by setting up roadside Check Stations to check hunters as they are returning from their hunts and CDFW use this information to estimate what they think is the actual deer kill within each zone.
The truth is CDFW doesn’t believe hunters and they have a tendency to think that at least 1/3 of all deer harvested are not reported. So when you look at the Estimated Success Rates in each zone remember THIS IS ONLY AN ESTIMATE, CDWF adds 1/3 to the actual reported kill to reflect what they feel is the unreported deer harvested. Its kind of an indirect way for CDFW to say at least 1/3 of all hunters are poachers who don’t report their kills, while at the same time boasting about the higher than reported harvest to make their programs look like their working.
#2, The second thing I look at is how many tags are available for that zone and what is the Lowest Point Value Tag Awarded for that zone. This is reflected on pages 26 through 29 titled, “2019 Deer Tag Drawing Statistics”
If you have Max Points you are actually more concerned with how many people applied for the tag, and how many Max Point applicants there were.
This year for 2020, the Max Points a person can have is 18. Last year it was 17, so when you see a Zone that has 100 tags that go to the Preference Point Quota and 300 people applied all with max points, its pretty simple math, you have a 1/3 chance of drawing with Max Points. By the same standard you can look at a Zone that has 100 Tags that go to Preference Point Quota and there was a only 70, First Choice Max Point Applicants, that means with Max Points you have a very good chance of drawing that tag.
The simplest way to estimate if you will draw a controlled tag is to look at the minimum amount of points a person needs to draw a tag in that zone. If the Lowest Point Value Awarded Tag was 4, and you have 7 points, realistically you should be able to draw that tag, but there’s always “Points Creep”. This is when the points value for the tag increases every year and so far in California in most of your top zones the Points Creep is going up by about 1 to 2.5 points a year.
If like me, you have Zero Points because you drew a Premium tag last year, then you are looking at how many tags are available in the Random Tags Awarded to 1st Choice Applicants. This is commonly referred to as the “Random Draw”, this is also reflected on pages 26 through 29.
A good example of this would be X3A, last year there were 35 tags available for the Random Draw. There were 354 tags total, so you take that number and you subtract the Preference Point Tag Quota from the Tag Quota:
(354 – 319 = 35) What is left is 35 tags for the guys with no points or points less than what the Lowest Value Point Tag Awarded was, in this case it was 4 points.
There were 1,529 hunters applied for the hunt, 319 tags went in the Points Round so you subtract 319 from 1,529.
(1529-319=1,210) so that mean 1,210 people are competing for those 35 tags. Keeping the math as simple as I can when you deduct 34 tags (leaving one left over for you) (1,210-34=1,174) you have a 1 in 1,176 chance of drawing that tag with less than the minimum points, which in this case was 4 points. The good news is someone has to draw those tags so why not apply.
#3, The third thing I look at is what tag can I realistically draw. This is where many hunters really get lost. Some Zones and Additional Hunts have extremely low draw odds even with Max Points. Additional Hunt G3 is one of them.
This is the famous “Goodale Hunt” with only 25 tags available. 23 of these tags go to Preference Points and you need max points to draw (again max points in 2020 is 18) only 2 tags go to the random draw. That’s a 1 in 4,125 chance of drawing. The draw odds for one of these tags are terrible and worse yet the quality of the bucks found during this late season tag are not worth the points. I can prove this very easily just do a youtube search for “Deer Hunting California Gooddale” and you will see that there are a lot of bucks, mostly small 3 points and small four points most with broken antler tines because this hunt is at the end of the rut so they have bashed their horns up fighting and so the trophy quality is tough unless you get very lucky.
For what you spend in points for this tag you could have hunted several of the X Zones several times over and probably scored a couple of nice bucks for the “Point Price” of these tags.
My Choices for 2020
First Choice X1,
If given a choice I like to have two deer tags for California. One for Mule Deer and one for Blacktail. I have been researching and decided I wanted to have a decent tag and for Mule Deer that’s within a reasonable drive of Redding California and a tag that also will not conflict with my Oregon Tag Choices for Elk, so I have decided on Zone X1. There are some incredible bucks killed in this zone every year. I wish I could show you a photo of my friends buck he shot out of X1 in 2018. I don’t have his permission to post the photo but it’s just an incredible buck, something you would see in an old photo from the 1950s all kinds of mass and tall super tall. As a matter of fact in the northeast corner of this zone, you are actually hunting some of the same deer that cross back and forth between X1 and X2 and also from X1 and the Oregon border (same with X2).
During this last year in 2019, while helping a friend of mine with his X2 tag I noticed that a huge number of deer were crossing from X2 into X1. So why not hunt a zone that requires about 4 points to draw and hunt the same herd that is moving out of X2 that requires 8 points to draw.
For my Second Choice I have decided on B Zone,
I love this tag. It’s a productive zone, it’s a long season and you can hunt from the last weekend in July (Zone B4) to the end of October (B2). I have scored a lot of deer out of this zone, it’s a guaranteed tag and I have plenty of experience in the zone.
I will not need my third choice tag because I will draw a B Zone tag if not an X1 tag. But If I didn’t want to hunt B Zone for my Second Choice, I would apply for a C Zone Tag. This is also an exceptional tag and a very huge healthy deer herd.
Second Deer Tag Application,
This year I may apply for an Archery Only Tag. If not maybe another B Tag for all the same reasons I mentioned.
Now for my wife’s tags,
She has been holding out for a Super Buck. One only dreams are made of. She has (to my frustration) passed on more deer than I care to think about, forkies, three points, and odd balls. She wants a “Super Buck”.
She has 13 points and is putting in for an X2 tag. I have assisted several hunters in this zone and know it very well. When I helped a friend last year, he was not able to hunt until the second week and when we arrived, we were seeing three points and small four points every day. Sometimes five or six bucks in an evening all from the road (he’s 70 years old) so there is no shortage of bucks and because it’s a Pre-rut tag they have nice clean horns that haven’t been bashed up. He ended up killing an average three point because he passed on too many large deer and on a third trip up on the last evening about 3 minutes before end of shoot time he shot a three point from the road on the way out.
If you draw this tag send me a note and I will turn you on to some good spots.
For her second tag she will also apply for B Zone. Its close to the house, we can be hunting in 20 minutes and there are plenty of deer to go around.
I ended up drawing a B-zone tag, I am happy with that, B Zone is one of the few zones I have hunted where nearly every year for the last 25 years I have either shot a buck or at least had the opportunity to shoot a buck. You just cant say that for most zones.
My wife ended up with a X2 tag. She's super excited and looking forward to hopefully bagging a wall hanger.