My 2022 Deer Season in Review
This year I ended up drawing absolutely nothing, which, with the weather we had, probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I would have hated to draw a coveted deer or elk tag in California or Oregon and ended up having most of the hunting areas closed due to wildfires and hot, dry weather.
(Photo of tall Spike buck in the Trinity County Area, drivers side looks like it's a small fork but that is actually some leftover velvet)
So, it was B Zone for me, but that’s okay, I like B Zone and it’s close to my house as in, right outside my front door. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it's close, bad because the season is very long, and you can really rack up a fuel bill and hunt way too much (if there’s such a thing).
Where I usually hunt in B Zone is the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the BLM and private timber lands that are open to the public, around the National Forest. I prefer the lowlands around the lakes and a more casual approach, it's an age thing for me as I’m starting to feel it when I get out and hike around. Also, most of the people I have hunted with over the years have “aged out” and frankly they are not able to safely go back into the wilderness. But I do love hunting the wilderness areas up high and making a trip out of it, but for pure success, I have found that the low county produces more than enough bucks, but they are usually not of trophy potential, mostly forked horns, 3x3s and the occasional 4x4s. But you have to remember I am first and foremost a meat hunter and I would much rather pack a deer out for a mile or so than 5 or 7 miles out of the wilderness for the same amount of meat. That being said the wilderness area, by far, will hold bigger bucks and more bucks in general, it's just a longer hike and takes a full commitment to the hunt.
This year honestly was a tough year for me, I had developed some health issues that somewhat prevented me from hunting as aggressively as I usually hunt. Nothing life threatening (now that it's been corrected), but let’s face it, if you don’t feel good it makes hunting difficult and it's hard to get into the hunt if your mind is somewhere else.
I also had some family issues, that have since been solved and that made it difficult as well, so with health issues and family issues, this made for a tough deer season for me, and I was kind of in a funk.
We must evolve as hunters and take on unexpected changes or in my case expected changes and be willing to continue on in spite of the odds. Over the last 5 years or so, I have had all of my hunting buddies retire and move away, die off, or just run out of interest in hunting or just become sour and too bitter to hunt with. Until this year I had not realized how much that had worn off on me and affected my hunting strategy, basically getting lazy. So, over the last couple years I have made a concentrated effort to find new friends and hunting buddies so that I can continue my quest to hunt right up until the day I die.
There were times this deer season where I could have just stayed home and gave up the year and just put it off until better weather and circumstances were better. Fortunately, this deer season I was hunting with my good friend Ben, who is a very positive force, who stayed motivated and kept me motivated and going forward and wouldn’t let me quit and I thank him for that, “Thanks Ben”!
Ben and I hunted the lower country around the water and to tell the truth we did see a lot of deer. There were some days when we would 30 to 60 deer, but they were all does and fawns with small bucks all sporting Spikes. And when I say spikes, we really saw a lot of spike bucks this year. Most were small spikes maybe 3 to 6 inches and most were lopsided, but many of them were really tall spikes. I saw several spikes that were over 12 inches and one or two that were an easy 18 inches, which I found odd.
I am not sure because I am not a deer biologist, but I am a deer enthusiast and study and learn and get into all the intricate “ins and outs” of deer and deer hunting and I have read in other publications that this odd, reduced antler growth and lopsided antler growth is often attributed to drought and hot weather early in the spring. The drought this year and over the past 12 years has obviously had an effect on the antler growth because there is less water in the ground and the plants that the deer eat, do not receive enough water to develop as they do in normal years and thus do not provide enough nutrition to promote normal antler growth. I have also read that hot weather earlier in the spring during a drought causes the plants to die off earlier than normal and not provide their usual amount of nutrition, so it is my personal belief that the bucks across all of B zone just didn’t get the nutrition that they usually get in a normal non-drought year with normal weather conditions.
The photo taken for this article is a photo of one of those bucks taken near the Lewiston Lake area. I took this photo to show an example of what we were seeing all year. I did see a couple of very small forked horns very early in the season on public land that I was just not interested in at the time. To tell the truth, I have shot way more than my fair share of deer, and this year I decided I was not going to shoot a small buck, so therefore, I let them walk.
One of my mistakes this year was to pick probably the worst year on record to try and shoot a big deer when you consider the weather, the drought, and the before mentioned family and health issues. Hindsight 20/20, I should have just shot the first legal buck I saw and called it a year, but they were very small bucks hardly worth wasting a tag for 35-50 pounds of meat, and I just didn’t want to do that.
The strategy Ben and I decided on was to hunt water and hunt often. Most of our hunts were in the mid-day/afternoon into the evening finishing at dark with a couple of morning hunts sprinkled in. If I can and if the weather is right, I prefer to hunt in the morning then when it starts to get warm, take a break and then hit it again after about 4:00 PM and hunt until dark. But when it's 100 degrees or more from 9:00am on it's tough to justify hunting all day. Another concern I have is meat spoilage and meat bees or Yellowjackets. If you have ever shot a morning buck and had to contend with Yellowjackets on the pack out you know the pain, sometimes very literally. If you haven’t experienced the joy of “A Thousand Stings” and the itchiness of the post stings along with the grogginess of 4 or 5 Benadryl on the hike out, then you truly don’t know what you’re missing. If you want to experience this sometime, pack a buck out of the Los Padres National Forest in August.
As I said we concentrated on the water. We did not hunt up in the wilderness areas but stayed pretty low between 1000 and 4500 feet with the occasional trip above 5500 feet. Unfortunately, the truth was whenever we got off the lakes and creeks and went higher, we lost the deer sightings both buck and doe. I feel that this was primarily because the middle ground between the high county and the low county was just so incredibly hot and dry. Our biggest concentrations of deer were all around the water near the lakes, with no legal bucks to speak of mostly the before mentioned spikes.
I have to admit, where I think we lost out this year was my situation of not being healthy enough to go into the high country and my family situation that caused me to have to stay within cell phone coverage or emergency contact throughout my deer season. I just wasn’t able to hunt the way I wanted to hunt.
Now even though we had a tough hunt, we had a good hunt. It's not always about getting an animal, but that is the goal, so if we don’t achieve it, we feel slighted by nature. That being said we should all understand that there is more to a hunting trip than the hunt itself. There is the conversation, the laughter, the close calls, the unhealthy food, the feeling of being young and invincible and the recalling of past hunts with new friends that passes along our traditions not only to our next generations but to the next generations of our friends and their families as well.
Which brings me to my final thoughts.
On this hunt I learned a few things, and one of those was that we don’t always get a buck, even the very experienced, often times it just comes down to plain old luck. I also learned that even an old guy like me is not bulletproof and gets down in the dumps about the season and having a positive force in your hunting group (Ben) to push you forward even on the bad days is probably the most important tool you can have in your arsenal. You can have all the top of the line hunting equipment, the best scope and rifle combination, the best backpack and rifle, the most expensive boots and a set of binoculars that dazzle the minds of the scientists at NASA, but if you don’t have the support of your family and a good friend to hunt with, you really are setting out for a tough season.