The day has come and gone, but October 1, 2011 will be a day I will never forget. I am willing to bet that my hunting partner, Michael Giudici, won't let slip from his mind too easily either.
Michael and I have been planning on hunting together since late last year. Michael and I met through a mutual friend, Jeff Abell. Michael is very much a firearm guy and he is passionate about it. He is as passionate about firearms as I am about archery. Yes, we have an incurable sickness! He decided last year that he wanted to give archery a try and Jeff mentioned he should contact me. So, for the past 9-10 months, Michael and I have been getting together and target practicing, trying out new gear, scouting a new area for hogs (we found lots of ticks, no hogs) and shooting more arrows into the burlap. Over all of this time, we realized we have a lot in common and hunting together was going to be great!
We were stoked when we finally settled on Oct. 1 for our first deer outing. Both of us have been super busy, but this was going to be the kick-off to our archery season. The maps were printed, details exchanged and our hunt was locked in. We had four dates planned, this being the first, and we we ready to rock!
My pack inventory was a wee bit heavier compared to the usual for a day hunt. My pack weighed in at 48.5 pounds. Yes, you read that right forty-eight and one half pounds. There is good reason why though. First, my pack weighs 6 lbs to start. Then you add in a gallon and a half of water, a camera, food and your bow and it adds up. Why so much water? The weatherman said it would be 81 degrees. I didn't believe that for a second and neither did Michael. We wanted to be sure we had plenty of water, so we packed plenty.
Michael met me at my place at 4 am, we loaded the car and hit the freeway. We had left in plenty of time, or so we thought. About fifteen miles into the drive on the freeway we come to a complete standstill. We both thought, 'Crap, this isn't the way to start the day!' Twenty minutes go by and we finally start moving. All four lanes are now merging into one. The reason for the standstill was a big rig flipped covering all three left lanes. The crazy thing was that if we had left five minutes earlier we would have avoided it all because the rig was only a few hundred yards ahead of us. This was just the start of a day full of surprises!
The public land trailhead looked like a golden gate beckoning to us. As we geared up, two hunters pulled into the parking area and introduced themselves and asked our plans. We didn't want to run into them, nor they us and we didn't want to ruin any plans. The good news was we were going in opposite directions.
The hike to the base of the foothill is 2 miles in. Then there's the hike up the steep face of a sandy, grassy hillside. If you ever want a challenge, try this. Pack in 48 lbs. on your back and then try to get up a sandy hillside in the dark. There was no easy way about it, but then again, we weren't there for 'easy'. We were there for a challenge and this was adding to the fun!
I am extremely thankful that I have been able to hit the gym so much this year. By working hard in the gym my leg muscles felt great during this hike. I also didn't sweat like I have in the past. I have lost nearly 48 lbs. so my body felt good! My lungs were strong, my legs were strong and I was loving life!
We side-hilled it up and were amazed at the sheer number of well-worn deer trails. Around 60 yards ahead of us, on the crest of the bowl we were hunting, I see a doe jump from her bed. We try to stalk silently, but the grass was super dry. When we reached the top, we saw the doe about 100 yards ahead of us going into the thickest brush. She was heading away from us, so we decided to find a spot in the shade to start glassing.
We quickly decided on the perfect vantage point, settled in and started scanning for deer. Twenty minutes in I noticed an odd shaped log about a mile out. Then the sun hit it just right and the log raised her head to feed. Deer! We watched this doe for about thirty seconds before I notice a bigger deer behind her. It looked like it had antlers, but I couldn't quite tell. The spotting scope came out and we surmised that he indeed was a buck. Then Michael spotted the third deer and we noticed he was a small spike horn. The doe and the larger buck were legal and fair-game. We can't take a spike in California (just ask Uncle Ted). The wind was not in our favor for a stalk and the deer were a mile away. Would the wind change direction in time for us to put a stalk on? We were afraid that if we made it down there, the wind direction would give us away. So, we decided to watch them bed down and then make a plan. Come to find out, they disappeared down a valley and three you kids with a dog walked down the road right by them. Our guess was those deer took off and were going to be spooked for a while.
All I can say is that ThermaCell rocks! Once the sun came up, the black flies were everywhere. I loaded up the ThermaCell and in seconds the flies dissipated. Ahhh, relief at last!
Some time later, around 8 am or so, two does appeared about 150 yards to our left. They were going straight downhill, away from us, but it was great to see deer moving closer to us. The great thing was they never caught our wind, or didn't appear to. They just walked down the hill and over the ridge. We figured them to be heading for the west side of that ravine for the shade. The sun was rising higher and it was getting even warmer.
We scanned and scanned, joked about the sun, discussed how awesome it was to be sitting where we were and just enjoyed the hunt. It was awesome to be outside enjoying the beauty of nature.
As we continued to view the drainages and hillsides, Michael locked on to three does feeding in the shade. Again, they were around a half mile away, and downwind. Not good for a stalk. The thing we couldn't quite figure out was what they were eating. There are plenty of scrub oaks full of acorns, so that was a possibility. We watched these deer for a half hour feeding away.
By now the sun was getting pretty high, we hadn't seen much movement and we were getting restless. That and the fact that it was hot! We wanted to check out the ridge where the first doe had vanished into and we made a plan to cover both side of the thick stuff, wander through it and look for sign. The sign was EVERYWHERE! Trails, beds, droppings, rubs on trees, you name it. Michael also found a great shed antler that had some incredible mass for a SoCal buck. Awesome! I mentioned that it would be cool if we found the second shed for a matching pair. We both chuckled at the idea and low-and-behold I found it! The other side was nice, too! It felt good to see a matching pair of sheds like that in our spot.
By this time, it was hotter than blazes and we needed shade. We made a plan, then changed it, and then changed it again. We wanted shade, but the best was a half mile down the steep side of the hill. If we wanted to hunt at the top of the bowl in the evening we'd need to find shade up here. Michael located a large bush with a canopy of branches that made for a perfecting resting spot. This would serve as our base camp for the next 6 hours. This was where we got a bit goofy and started acting like 4 year olds with the shed antlers. You decide who wore them better!
|A couple of dorky hunters with nothing better to do. Thank goodness this is an archery only area!|
Shortly thereafter, around 10 am, the two does came back towards us. The first one was a great sized doe, but the second was a yearling. It would make great table fare for sure. We anticipated them walking up a certain trail, but they fooled us and took one 50 yards from it. They disappeared over a lip and Michael went to check to see if they bedded down. He didn't see a thing.
We decided that nothing was moving and that after a quick bite to eat we would grab some Zzz's. We had already drank 2 liters of water each and it was only 11am. Good thing we brought plenty! For about 45 minutes we slept in the shade peacefully. I sat up and started glassing. I look over at Michael to see if he's awake when I see it... a slender bodied, tongue flickering reptile about a foot from Michaels head. Quickly, but calmly, I tell Michael to not move. He moves, sits up and asks why. Then he sees it and well, let's just say he wasn't too pleased with me telling him to not move.
Fortunately for us, especially Michael, it was only an alligator lizard. They do have a nasty bite, but they are pretty harmless. This one had balls, too. I took an arrow out, nudged him with the nock and he just lowered his head and flicked his tongue. Then he looked at me and just sat there. WTF! I had to poke him a few times to get him to move off and even then he stayed on the other side of the bush.
It was actually pretty cool to see some other wildlife, but little did we know what was in store for us during the evening watch.
Stay tuned for Episode Two!