Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Burning Boot Rubber Leads to a Successful Scouting Trip

Driving up a Southern California freeway at 4:00 AM on a Saturday morning can be exciting when you are headed out scouting for deer. It can also be tiring, dreadful and irritating when it seems that everyone else decided to get up early, too. The freeway was very busy for an early morning on a Saturday. Even still, when Hunter Hayes is the first artist singing when you turn on the radio, you just have to smile. I mean, he has 'hunter' in his name, so what's not to like? The drive seemed short (I wasn't driving) and we made it to the trailhead well before sunrise. Time to get our game faces on!

Our bags were loaded with our gear, extra water and our bows. We figured if we ran into a coyote or some rabbits we'd do some shooting! Our bags weighed in around 53 lbs each, so we knew we were in for a long hike, but we had no idea how the day would turn out. As we turned to head up the gated road, the sun started to light up the sky with amazing colors. What a beautiful sight to take in on a Saturday morning. Glancing down, my watch said 5:40 AM. After a quick double check on our gear we began our ascent.

The sunrise was absolutely beautiful.
The hike was steep and invigorating that early in the morning. A half hour later and a mile in we spotted a lone doe on a far hillside. She was feeding down the ridge. It was beautiful! As we continued to glass, Brett spotted another... and another! There were three doe feeding, skylined on the ridge about a half mile away. We watched them feed over the hill and away from us toward the shady side of the mountain. We continued on and fifteen minutes later I glanced up to see two deer staring at us... on the same ridge, but further to our West. I quickly pointed them out and immediately we brought up our binoculars. Two bucks!! One was a spike, but the other was a definite shooter. This was VERY good news for us as finding a buck out here is a priority!

Hard to see from my camera phone pic, but the deer are roughly a half mile away.

We watched the bucks for a minute and suddenly two does materialized out of the brush. Out of the group there were three shooters, the forkie and two does. Unfortunately, spikes cannot be taken in California. Even still, we had located a decent legal buck and that was all we needed to feel supercharged! Now we just have to wait for the season to arrive and hope he sticks around or doesn't get shot.

The surprise of our scouting trip was shown on the map, but usually doesn't mean much in the high desert. What I am getting at is the presence of water. Prior to our hike, Brett and I had discussed this at length. We had hoped to find a water source, but in all my years of hunting out here they were almost always dried up. Not this time! The map showed a small stream and that was exactly what we found. Clean water for the animals to drink and a spot where we could filter water for us to drink. Double bonus! The drawback is that where you find water you also find poison oak and sure enough, there was lots of it. Brett also spotted a bobcat near the water, which I missed, but it gave us hope. Both of us have bobcat tags, so when the season hits we'll be on the lookout to arrow one.

The remainder of our hike up the hills was filled with finding snake trails, deer tracks and glassing scrub brush. We were fortunate enough to be in the shade of the hills for the hike up, but the sun was rising, as was the temperature. Our goal was to travel to a spring located on the map, but the further we got it became pretty clear that we wouldn't be going that far. As we pushed on, we noticed there were no more quail tracks and no more rabbit tracks. There were no more deer tracks either. We found this for two straight miles. As we set on foot in front of the other, nearing our destination, we found out why. Along the edge of the trail we found one of the largest mountain lion tracks we'd ever seen. We both knew why all of the tracks vanished from the dirt. With a lion around, there was bound to be far less big game in the open. Then we found a smaller set of lions tracks. This confirmed our suspicions of a family of lions and we decided not to hike any further. We were already 5.5 miles in and still had to hike out in the heat.

This is the smaller of the tracks. My pics of the larger tracks were hard to see in the direct sunlight.

While we truly wanted to hunt this spot, there was no deer sign thanks to the lions.

We ate a brief lunch, discussed our hike in and what we wanted to do. We had gone through almost two liters of water. We had each packed an extra four liters in case we couldn't find water and if we had hiked deeper into the forest. The decision was made to head back down the hill. We each emptied one water bottle to lighten our load and save on our knees. 

Although desolate, the dry landscape still offers quite a view.

The hike back to the truck was long and hot. The shade had disappeared, the sun was in full force and we had a long way to go. We hydrated often and took our time as not to overheat. Our pace quickened once we were able to cut the deer tracks from that morning again. That made the hike out a little more exciting.

We decided to hang our trail cams to see if we could catch something coming down the trail.That took the better part of an hour because of the few trees available, but I think we did a great job with what we had. Plus, we made it fun by cracking jokes and imagining what animals we'd see pop up in the images. Let's just hope they work well and that we get some good pics of some nice bucks in the area! Once our cameras were hung we sauntered the rest of the way to the truck. We still had a long way to hike and our shoulders were killing us. Even after adjusting the straps on our packs, drinking more of the remaining water and taking multiple breaks we were still hurting. 

When we first caught sight of the truck we couldn't stop talking about sitting down in the AC and grabbing a cold beverage. That's exactly what we did, too. The AC felt great, the drinks were cold and after an 11 mile hike on a deer scouting expedition we felt sore, but fulfilled. We had done what we set out to do and had spotted deer, set our trail cams and now we just have to be patient and wait.

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