The number one question I get asked is how do I find a place to hunt in Southern California? Homework and a positive attitude are two things you must do and have to hunt the areas here. You also have to have the courage to hike to new locations, glass and burn boot rubber. If driving is a factor in your decision, keep this in mind; most areas to hunt are anywhere from a half hour drive to a 3 hour drive – one way! There are many factors that I have to consider when planning for a hunt. I will share some of them here.
Maps and Boundaries
Maps can be a hunter’s best friend, so I scour maps all year; online and paper topographical maps. My hunt preparation, no matter where I am going always includes maps. I usually start reviewing area in Google Earth because it’s easy to mark locations, east to share with your hunting buddies, and it’s free. I like topographic maps because I can review the terrain and more importantly locate water sources. Whether it’s a map printed off the internet or a topo, I always have a map of the location I am going with places highlighted to check out.
Forums and Other Hunters
Online forums and other hunters are a great source of information. Around Southern California a couple that are good resources are DIYbowhunter.com and Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors. Most hunters like to brag a little when it comes to finding a good spot, or animal, to hunt. When I first started out hunting in SoCal this is exactly what I did. I gathered as much intel online that I could. I processed it, asked questions and verified that the areas where I wanted to scout were public land, legal to hunt and had a chance for finding animals. This is also a great way to meet other hunters who are looking for hunting partners or have land they are willing to allow you to hunt. Now don’t get your hopes up there, but it IS possible. With some browsing, phone calls and asking questions you CAN find private land to hunt that won’t cost you anything but a tank of gas to get there and back. It just takes perseverance and some work.
Cameras and Scouting
An often daunting task is to find the deer on public land. Trail cameras and scouting are the very best ways of finding a shooter deer. The logical thing is to combine the two. Bring a trail camera or two when you go scouting and if you plan to set up some trail cams bring out your optics and glass. One of the challenges here is that your cameras will mostly be going on public land. Putting your cameras on public land will give you some great information, but the cameras seem to be a big target for thieves. Use common sense and don’t put them in easy to find places. Take the time to hide it, lock it up and take it down when you have the information you need.
Check Over Your Gear
Often overlooked is the shape of your gear, namely your bow, arrows, release and any electronics. I can tell you that having your gear fail on you will make your heart sink. I have had the misfortune of having a release seize up due to the dry, sandy conditions of the high desert and I have had my trigger fall right of my release while hunting. Fortunately, I have a backup release with me at all times, but that isn’t always true with a bow. I don’t always take a backup bow with me, so it’s a priority to go over it carefully and make sure it’s lubed, string is waxed, screws are tightened, and everything is in place.
Packing In and Packing Out
Lists can be a downfall for some people, but I thrive on making lists and planning. I like to be sure I have everything I am going to need for a hunt and that I haven’t left anything behind. I have been on a few hunts out here now and don’t make a list every time I go, but I have a good idea of what I will need. A few nights before a planned hunt, I will lay everything out and make certain it’s in the right place. It could be in my pack or in a tote to go in the truck, but it’s there. If I have to purchase something at the store I will know it long before the day of the hunt. Don’t wait until the last minute and realize you forgot an important piece of the puzzle.
Setting a Safety Net
An important feature I have added to my hunts is a safety net. Not a safety net in the literal sense, but I a plan in case something goes wrong or if someone needs to find me. I start by making sure to give my wife has a map of the area I am hunting. On that map I mark up the roads or trail heads we’ll be parking at and where we plan on hunting. I give here the directions I am taking to get there. If I am going hunting with my hunting partners, I am sure to give her their names, cell phones and email addresses should she not hear from me. I also give her times I will be going in and coming out. One feature that I must add to my plan is the local hospitals and their phone numbers. Hopefully she’ll never need to call, but in case she does it’ll be readily available.
There are many different ways to plan a hunt in Southern California. Every person has a certain approach to the way they plan out a hunt and each time may be slightly different. Even mine gets adjusted from time to time. It all depends on the person and the hunt itself. No matter what, have fun in the preparation and planning. The anticipation that builds through the planning of a hunt can be almost as good as the hunt itself. Almost.