It took me five long years to find what I consider my honey hole. I held off hunting it all this year to save it for the late season. Now that the late season was here Brett and I were excited to finally make it out there. The rain was pouring down as we drove up to the trailhead. We should have known that something bad was bound to happen. The gate was not only bolted shut, but it was completely blocking any access to the trail. To make matters worse it was also bordered by private property on one side and a fence line on the other. There was now way around it, we were not hunting this area today.
After contacting the local public works department later that week, and seeing no other access point on the map I started another search. I looked over my maps and decided to do some during-the-season scouting. Saturday afternoon I drove to the gated location to find it still bolted and locked. I drove around for a bit trying to find another access point when I decided to change strategy. Instead of focusing on this one trail, I got back on the main road and started searching the landscape for trailhead access points. After fifteen minutes of driving I hit pay dirt. I found a public trail that looked promising!
I have a great deal of confidence in me regulating my water consumption and I am proud of my hiking ability. Herein lies the challenge as I had not planned on hiking any trails, but when the opportunity presented itself I could not resist! In my hand was my only bottle of water for the hike. There were a few more in the trunk of my car, but there was a reason for the one bottle. The first was carrying space and the second is I have a rule that when I hike in to an area and get to my halfway point of my water it's time to turn back. Now this works within reason, but it was 55 degrees and the hike did not look overly strenuous. I had my binoculars, bear spray, water and a bag of sea salted almonds for a snack. After parking the car I hit the trail.
Careful to stay close to the base of the foothill, I stayed on the well-used trail. This past week brought lots of needed rain and the trail was very muddy. I did wear my Schnee's Wilderness boots for good traction and comfort though. I also dressed like an everyday hiker by wearing no camouflage and no hunting gear. Just some khaki shorts, wool socks, fleece and hat. The fleece was a good idea at first because of the cool air, but I found out fast that my pace had my core temp rising rapidly.
As I hiked up the trail, I stopped in multiple locations to glass for deer or sign. I found a plethora of game trails on a far canyon, but it was surrounded by private homes. I moved on and spotted a lone hiker at the peak of the foothill I was ascending. In his hand I noticed a leash and knew there was at least one dog with him. A few minutes later I spotted the dogs coming down the trail long before they spotted me, so I stopped and waited. Sure enough the lead dog locked on visually, then went back up the trail and suddenly there were two beautiful golden retrievers running toward me. Hand on the bear spray I called out to the owner who confirmed the dogs were friendly. They were indeed friendly and the older gentleman and I chatted for about a minute about the climb and being out of breath.
Not five minutes after our conversation, I reached the summit. It provided a fantastic view of the surrounding area. I logged into ScoutLook from my phone to see if the trail went any further. To the naked eye it appeared to dead end, but ScoutLook came to the rescue. Not fifty yards from where I was standing was a dirt road hidden from view. I hiked over and there it was. Not a footprint on it from the past few days either. It looked muddy, but it was time to really put my boots to work. I felt my feet sliding on the greasy soil as I continued down the road. Taking my time, I searched the ground and hillsides for animal sign. It didn't take long for me to find exactly what I had been hoping to find...deer tracks and fresh ones at that! Knowing there were deer here made my decision to hike feel so good!
Again, I got out my iPhone and pulled up ScoutLook. I marked the location and scanned the map to see where my old hunting ground was compared to where I was standing. You can imagine the surprised look on my face when I saw that it was only about 3/4 of a mile down the road and around a bend. Anxious to check it out I began hiking, but after a few steps I suddenly stopped. My water bottle was half full and I hadn't told anyone where I was going. Plus, it was now 3:00 PM, I was wearing my sunglasses (I left my eyeglasses at home) and it would be dusk in just over an hour. The decision to turn back was an easy one.
On the way back to my car I found plenty of these California sunflowers. They may just seem like pretty flowers to the naked eye, but to anyone hunting deer around here you would know that these are a favorite food of deer down here. The fact that there were so many told me that the deer were staying at a higher elevation or getting their food from another source. Most times, in my experience, when I have found deer they usually decimate these flowers quickly, but then again I am no expert.
The day turned out much better than I had even hoped! Now I just needed to get back out here with my hunting partners, a loaded pack, camera and more water. After sharing the news with the guys and explaining we had little time to waste we opted to hike and scout the trail this Saturday. We are on a mission to get us a deer and when obstacles are presented and walls blocking your way, well, you find a way over, under or around. I have said it before, hunting in Southern California is a challenge. Throw in some closed trails and only two weeks left in the season and the challenge intensifies. Personally, I thrive on challenges and I am excited for Saturday to get here!