Hunting Santa Catalina Island - Day 1 of 2
The boat engine roars to life. The ocean swells roll 2-3 feet high and lull you into a sound sleep. Then, after what seems like only a few minutes, but was really an hour, you wake up as the Catalina Express is docking in Avalon. My journey over to Santa Catalina Island, or Catalina as most of us know it, was a refreshing one. This trip would have many firsts. It was my first opportunity to go hunting with my friend Jim Felix, one of the island residents. It was also the first time I was able to view the island from a different perspective. I was not just a tourist this time. I was here to help Jim find some mule deer.
Jim was waiting for me at the landing when I disembarked. We loaded up my gear in his truck and drove off to his apartment to drop some things off and make plans for the day. My goal for this hunt was to be a glass-man. I was signed up as an observer so I could see what the island had to offer me for archery hunting next year. I truly want to hunt a place remote and tough to hunt like Catalina, but I want to do it with archery tackle. This would be my test.
I first met Jim over three years ago. In a bar. Really. My wife and I were spending our first anniversary in Avalon. We were spending it on Catalina because we love it there. Our second date was spent in Avalon and it was a wonderful experience that made quite an impact on me. I had proposed behind the casino there on our second trip to the island together (uniquely I might add) and the rest is history. We had decided to go bar hopping and there really wasn't much going on the night we were there. We played about 10 games of pool when a rowdy crowd came in. We ventured to the front of the bar, introduced ourselves and hit it off. Jim and his wife Kimberly were there to let loose and we all partied the night away. We became instant friends. Almost a year later, my wife Kymberli and I ventured to our local Subway for dinner. When we walked in I noticed this guy staring at me. I kept glancing over knowing that I knew him, but I couldn't place him. Who was this guy eye-balling me? All of a sudden his wife called out to us knowing who we were and there you have it. We talked, caught up and said we needed to get together very soon. Then they had a child. Then we had a child. Life hit us head on and it took me three years to drag my sorry butt over there.
Our first mission was to head down to the Conservancy Office and sign me up as an observer. It meant that I could go out and glass for Jim, but that I would not be hunting. No problem in my book. I wanted to get a feel for the island before I decided to hunt it for a long period of time. I was only scheduled to be on the island for one and a half days, so glassing would be perfect. Once I was signed up, we changed into our gear. Jim and I chuckled at one another when we saw what the other was wearing for the afternoon hunt. Hunting Catalina usually means long rifle shots. My approach was to to glass and try to utilize my bow hunting skills to get as close to the deer as possible. Jim wore his sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. I wore my MAX-1 suit, Danner Jackals and DIY camo hat. We both got a good laugh, yet both understood why the other wore what he did. The one item we both were required to wear was a blaze orange vest. I do not like to wear blaze orange too often, but this time my mind was made up for me. I had to abide by the laws and wear it. Hmmmph!
As soon as we started up the roads on the backside of Avalon we hit fog. Thick, rolling, nasty fog. The kind of fog that sticks to the road like peanut butter does to the roof of your mouth. It wasn't terrible, at first, but we knew that the second day was going to be brutal for hunting. Beyond the locked gates and the hum of civilization we encountered some of the steepest, most beautiful hunting area known to man. When I say steep I mean you had better be in good shape and have a good pair of boots to protect your feet. Going in December offered me some relief from rattlesnakes, but I was still cautious with each step. One of the things I really enjoy about Jim is that he is a wealth of knowledge about the island, the hunting and the areas that are good to glass from. I wanted to learn as much as I could, so instead of being the talker that I normally am, I listened. I listened carefully. Jim stopped at a lookout point and we raised our binoculars to view the mountains and canyons. We had only been glassing for a few minutes when he spotted movement below us. "There's a deer right there and he looks like he's in a hurry." I found the deer quickly and surmised he was a spike. Jim said they had been seeing a lot of spikes this year. Knowing he wasn't a shooter we continued on.
We spotted plenty of American bison on the hillsides. If you look close in the near center of this photo you can see two bison milling around. The original bison were brought to the island in 1924 for the filming of The Vanishing American. We were seeing the descendants. Jim explained that the herd was in the hundreds and when it grew too large a few bison were captured and transported to Indian reservations somewhere in the Dakotas or Wyoming. I had seen bison here before, while on the paid interior island tour with my wife, but it didn't even compare to this. Being out there and seeing them grazing from the cab of a 4x4 pickup was incredible. I was able to capture a few photos on day 1, but I was there to glass for deer. I could always go sightseeing at another time.
Over the next four hours Jim drove around and gave me a tour that tour guides dream of giving. He knows all of the spots on the island for good hunting. We spotted plenty of does, but no bucks, and they were all spooked. We didn't get close enough to any of them to get a shot. Seeing as it was the tail end of the season I understood why. Jim was pretty disappointed, but like I always say, for me it's not always about the kill. I was having a great time. I was hunting with a friend, seeing parts of the island I have only imagined and I was soaking up all of the information Jim was able to spit out. It was fantastic!
We drove back to his place at dark, changed into street clothes and met up with his cousin Chuck and Chuck's roommate Juanito (Juan). Our stomachs were growling so we hit up a great pizza joint where we proceeded to order a bit of everything off the menu. It was very filling and we were all beat. We all walked back to Jim's apartment, had plenty of laughs over the next hour and then hit the sack for an early date with the West End of the island. Be sure to tune in for the next day hunt story full of multiple deer sightings, lots of fog and more laughs!