2023 Big Game application time, what will you apply for?
I have a feeling it's going to be a crazy year for hunting in California. So far, we have broken almost all rainfall records in the last 100 years and the snowpack is way above the yearly average.
Truth be told, we need several more years, back-to-back, of average or better rainfall and average or lower temperatures to bring us back but at this point who’s complaining.
If the plants that animals eat don’t get the water they need to mature and provide the right nutrients, then the animal that eats that plant will be starved of nutrients and will lack growth. The bone growth will be reduced as well as muscle, skin, and hair. Antlers are really not something that the animal needs to survive so mother nature will reduce the blood flow and nutrients to the antlers so that the body can have the nutrients it needs just to survive. Think about how many spikes you observed last year that should have been a forked horn or better buck. And think of all the sickly, skinny spindly looking does that you witnessed last year that should have looked healthier and had a fawn standing beside them. That my friends was more than likely due to nutrient starved plants, that resulted in nutrient starved deer.
With this in mind, I think this year and the following deer season should be much better than prior years and should you draw that coveted X-Zone tag or even a B Zone or A Zone tag I think you will be able to find a decent buck as long as you put in the effort.
It's just my personal opinion that all of the Northern California zones from the Sacramento area north to the border are going to see a trend up in fawn carry over from last year. I also feel that we had way more spike bucks than normal last year simply due to the drought. The bucks were just not getting enough nutrients to develop the antlers that they should have had if it had been a normal year. For this reason I believe we are going to see a significant increase in forked horn bucks and three points in the northern portions of A zone and all of B Zone. The X Zones in Modoc, Lassen, Siskiyou, and Plumas should also see an increase in antler growth, and I think you will see more legal bucks and many more three-point bucks. I also think it's going to be a good year for big bucks to be taken in areas that have lacked in the past due to drought.
We still have to keep something else in mind when applying this year. Sierra Pacific (SP or SP Land) and several other private timber companies that have private property that they allow people to hunt may close those properties again this year. Just because we had a lot of rainfall doesn’t mean that these companies and DFW won’t find a way to try and reduce or totally eliminate access to the public. They have found a new tool to close property it's called “Extreme Fire Danger” and they will use it every chance they get. Sierra Pacific Properties are mostly in the B Zone and C Zone areas but there is also, Collins Timber, Green Diamond, Fruit Growers, and Roseburg that all closed their land last year so keep this in mind while applying.
What are the best tags in California to apply for if you have Max Points.
I don’t have Max Points but if I did, I would be looking at, well, if I was hunting with a Muzzleloader, it would be M3, M4, M5, M8, M9, and M11. These are all solid choices with M3 Doyle Muzzleloader and M9 Devils Garden Muzzleloader being my top two choices.
For Rifle it's an easy choice for me, if I had Max Points, it would be X2, G3, and G39 but with some explanation. X2 is probably the best trophy mule deer zone in California. Not only are there some monsters in this zone but you have access. No matter what the weather is you will have access and you will have deer numbers. There are plenty of roads in this zone and it's basically all public land for the most part. The bad thing, good thing about X2 is that it's Pre -rut so the bucks are very inactive unless it gets cold. The deer here are also subject to migration. If you get a storm the deer herd in Oregon will move in and holy smokes, you will have the hunt of your life.
But even if there is no weather, there is lighter than normal hunting pressure and if you hunt everyday and put in the time you will kill a nice 3 point or a nice 4x4. There are nice bucks here for those who put in the effort, it's just drawing the tag. Now the bad thing is its pre-rut, and the good thing is, its pre-rut, so although you won’t have the bucks rutting and chasing around, they will also not have broken their horns off and if you’re horn hunting, it's nice to have horns left on the animal when you shoot it.
One really bad thing about X2 that you should keep in mind before applying for this zone. Most of the big bucks taken in this zone come off of an area owned by Collins Timber out of Lakeview, Oregon. For the last three years Collins has closed access to their property due to vandalism, theft and people killing cattle and people trying to sue them for personal injuries. This has had a major impact on the trophy animals coming out of this zone and hunter success in general. So before I applied for this tag and blew Max Points or close to it, I would call Collins Timber and find out if they plan on allowing access to this property.
The problem I have with G3 and G39 is they are very weather dependent. No weather to start the migration, no big bucks. The other thing is because it's a post-rut, most of the big bucks have broken horns. This is probably the biggest complaint I have heard about these two zones. People say they see plenty of big bucks, but they are all mostly broken off, and if you are going to blow max points on one tag you want something to mount. I would hate to draw either of those tags and end up with a busted buck that you can't or don’t want to mount. But you will kill a buck in these zones with much effort. But really what are your chances of drawing either of these two tags, your chances even with max points are incredibly low. For what it takes to draw one of these tags with max points you could have drawn other X Zone tags 4 times and killed just as nice of a buck or maybe even a better buck.
Tags X5A, X5B, are also excellent choices for max points, but remember X5A and X5B are really rough hunts. You will be out in the desert sage brush with these huge mountain peaks that pop up and that is where the big bucks live, and you will burn some shoe leather getting there. I would not say this is a hunt for us older guys unless you have a trailer to stay in and a side by side. This place will really try to ruin your truck.
If you live in Southern California, I would be looking at X9A for a hunt closer to home and a zone that holds some really exceptional bucks. There is good access in this zone, and you could easily come out of there with that once in a lifetime buck. I once witnessed a guy shoot a 36-inch 3x3 out of this zone. To this day it's about the prettiest 3x3 I have ever seen.
If you are under Max Points, say in the 5 or 6 range I would look into X3A, X4 or even X1. All of these zones hold some massive bucks, and you will have an exceptional hunt in all of these Zones. X3B is a little tougher and I have heard some reports that people are not seeing the bucks they used to see. So, I am not sure if I would put in for this zone (X3B) with 5 or 6 points, but if I had 1 or 2 points why not.
If you’re down to zero points or maybe 2 or 3 points and you want a good hunt to look into X1 or G1. X-1 has a lot of tags that are not in the points draw so you have a chance there, same with X3B. But if I had zero or 1 point and I wanted a really good, somewhat late season tag, I would be putting in for G1, which is Late Season in Zone C4. Look at the statistics on G-1, 520 bucks came out of that zone with 20% of them being 4 point or better and you can draw that tag every year almost with zero points and every year with 1 Point. This is a really good option for a First Choice Tag for a guy who just wants to take a buck home.
YOUR SECOND CHOICE
Please remember that your second choice on your first deer tag application is just as important as your first choice. This is the tag that you will most likely draw, that is “If” you put in for a General Tag as a second choice. This is the zone that you will probably draw year after year, and you can plan that hunt and learn that zone year after year, so think about this while applying.
Other than just putting in for a General Tag like, A Zone, B Zone, or a D Zone, think about putting in for a C Tag. A C Zone Tag is good for all the C Zone units during the general season (Not archery that’s a separate tag) and there are some excellent bucks in this zone, again look at the statistics for C Zone. Another alternative that you can often draw as a second choice is M7 Muzzleloader. If you look at the statistics for that tag you would conclude that the success rate is terrible, but that’s not true. This is an either-sex tag, there are a lot of Does killed during this season that are not entered in the Preliminary Harvest by Antler Class statistics.
What are my Deer Tag Choices for this year?
Most people who really know me, already know what tags I will be putting in for in California because I always seem to circle back to those zones, but I just can't seem to keep things simple, and I have confounded my tag choices by applying in other states. This year I applied in Nevada and didn’t draw and in Oregon I just applied for Points.
In California I will be applying for an X3A Deer Tag for First Choice and putting in for a B Zone Tag for Second Choice and picking up a second B Tag on my Second Deer Tag Application. If I don’t draw the X3A tag I am okay with getting a B Tag because I will be picking up a General Oregon Elk Tag and a General Oregon Deer tag if I don’t draw the X3A tag.
At least that is my plan so far and is subject to change.
I hope this helps and I really do appreciate you reading my article and I truly hope you are able to harvest that once in a lifetime buck.
UPDATE: I ended up Drawing a B Zone Deer tag and a Siskiyou Cow tag.