Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hunting Santa Catalina Island - Day 2 of 2
Getting up early for a hunting trip has never been too hard for me. It's the staying awake part during the drive out there that can be tough. Day 2 of my Catalina adventure started off with the alarm on my phone going off at 3:30am. I was very tempted to hit snooze for a few minutes, but I knew that I HAD to be ready to leave by 4:30am or risk being left behind. I gathered up my things, got into my camo and after doing an inventory of burritos for our breakfast, Jim and I went outside and met Chuck and Juanito. 

The fog was smothering.

At times, the fog cleared for some beautiful scenery.

Our plan of attack was to head to the West End to see what we could see. We didn't get a 1/4 mile when we hit the fog. We had 20+ miles to drive on dirt roads with no guard rails in pea-soup fog. It was going to be a slow going morning unless something changed for the better. At one point the fog cleared and we were able to see some of the canyons open up, but it didn't last long. As soon as we reached the gate we knew our trip had been for nothing. The fog was so thick we could see only 150 feet in front of the truck. After a quick discussion and a couple burritos (warmed up with a Burton Stove To Go), we decided it was in our best interest to turn around and head to lower canyons and ridges for a better attempt.

Once we hit the lower elevations we started seeing bison. We were able to get close to a few of them as they were right along side the road. It was a thrill, but we were still cautious and didn't hang around long. Jim thought there might be a chance at seeing some deer over a deep ridge he knew about. He took point and as he crested the rim he stopped immediately. "They are right there on the opposite side. Come look, but come slowly." We inched forward and sure enough we spotted them. Three nice does standing about 300 yards away. I pulled up my bino's and searched the hillside. Then, like from a page right out of a book, it happened. I was glassing and stopped on some bushes to look for movement when from behind a bush emerges a beautiful forkie with high antlers and a wide spread. Not super wide, but enough to make this guy stop on a dime and hiss, 'Buck! Buck! Right above the furthest doe.' Everyone agreed he was a nice buck. I had done my part and scoped out the area and spotted a buck. The guys decided the deer were in a tough area and we decided to move on.

Just over the next high ridge I spotted a beautiful 3x3 buck and a doe in a scene that would have made an award winning photo had I shot a photo instead of just staring in amazement. To paint the picture for you, he was standing in the dip of a saddle about 500 yards out. The saddle wasn't connected to anything, so it stood out very 3D-like. The backdrop was the ocean and a few houses, so a shot wasn't even an option, but it was beautiful. The doe was ahead of him and they were both broadside. It was a beautiful sight to see and one I may never see again.

We drove, glassed canyon after canyon, and after 5 hours decided we had had enough. Each of us was tired and wanted a good nap. Jim drove the truck to one more spot where we all got out and while the guys glassed I soaked up the view. I was standing on a cliff right along the ocean, salt-soaked breeze filling my nostrils and the different blues of the water were captivating. In those blue waters were a group of seals playing with each other, fins breaking the surface of the water like sharks. It was magnificent! We didn't see any deer, but I didn't care. I was loving life. This was a magical place that I had to come back to.

Slinking back into our seats, we all decided that there were lonely pillows and couches back at Jim's place. We had put some serious miles on Jim's truck (for an island vehicle) and needed to let her rest, too. So, we drove towards town and about a half-mile out, Chuck turns to look back up the hill and spots three deer on the fire-burn. Everyone looked at me and Jim asked me if I wanted a shot at trying to get close. 'Damn straight' were the only words I could utter in my excitement and sluggishness.

Jim turned the truck around and drove back up the hill. Once we got to a spot near the burn I got out. I figured this was going to be my test. Even though I was tired, there was little cover and the wind was not ideal, I had to try. The fire-burn was about 40 yards wide (give or take 10 yards) and I was 150 yards from the deer. The fire-burn followed some power-lines and I put one of the giant poles in between myself and the deer. I was able to see them pretty well without my binoculars. There were three does, all eating and facing away from me. The wind was blowing left-to-right, but I couldn't walk through the thick cover, so I was going to have to hug the edge of the burn and be very patient. Lowering my body to the earth, I started shuffling and inching closer and closer to the group. I got to 100 yards away from them when I got busted. Not by any of the three visible deer, but by a doe protecting her fawn that had just been out of my line of sight. She climbed out from behind a large bush, with her young one, and locked on to me. I had to laugh because ringing in my ears were the words of Phillip, over at The Hog Blog
'Al, it would be an extremely tough place to bowhunt, but it’s do-able. The canyons are crazy steep, and it’s pretty tough to move quietly.' 
He was right on. It's tough, but it IS doable. The five deer bolted shortly after that and I just sat there smiling for a minute or two. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to be there at that moment. I needed to take that time to just revel in God's wonderful creations.

Jim drove us back and after a short nap, packing up my gear and an awesome taco dinner cooked up by Jim's wife, Kimberly, I had to head over to the boat for my return trip back to Long Beach. Jim drove me over to the launch and I thanked he and his family for their generosity and hospitality. It was a very short day and a half, but it was an incredible adventure. I thought I would have plenty of time to ponder my trip on the way back, but shortly after the Express left the dock my eyelids grew very heavy. I woke up as we entered the port and it gave me just enough time to review the two days in my head. It truly was a fun adventure and I had an amazing time, but I didn't even scratch the surface of what hunting the island has to offer. More time was needed and the weather pattern didn't help. What was I going to do about it? Well, I am already planning a hunt for next year and yes, it will be with my bow and arrow.


  1. Bummer that you didn't fill a tag, but I have no doubt you had a great time. It's a pretty magical place... about as pretty as any place you'll ever hunt!

    Who knows? If all goes well, I might get back over there next year too!

  2. It truly is, Phillip. I will certainly try to get over there again next year. It is such a vast area to hunt, but oh so beautiful.

  3. Hey man, I just found this blog and this post caught my eye. I've been out to Catalina to hunt mule deer twice now, I was lucky enough to have a good friend who worked as a hunting guide out there. We had rifles, of course. I actually don't know a lot about private hunters out there, he works for the Conservancy so we were following their first tag's a doe rule (actually both mine were does, which is fine by me). Do the residents out there get to shoot whatever or do they have to follow other rules?

    If you want to look, I've got a blog (that I've neglected lately) that I think has some good pics of the hunts and the island, look in the posts from last December and August: