My second hunt of 2020 at Diamond C is the latest I’ve ever hunted there arriving Friday November 27th. It’s a clear crisp cool evening and we patrol seeing several bucks and many does out. We time our return to the lower ranch perfectly to intercept a buck nicknamed ‘Hook’. We see him near a rock at 200 yards and I simply exit the truck. I have to sit as the grass is too tall to go prone. Clayton films from the passenger seat as I shoot at him standing broadside. The first shot is perfect but he turns and runs stopping shortly. A rushed second shot is a miss and then he starts back peddling and goes down but is right back up again moving forward when I shoot and then he’s down for good. He is an awesome old buck with such great mass. I’m thrilled to have taken another great blacktail.
Preface –My blog serves more like my personal hunting journal probably including more details than most are interested in. After an evening of poor shooting, my guide Jerry delicately broached the question of how I would relate the events at camp. I was inclined to simply say I had ‘missed a bull at distance’ but instead decided to come clean. In that spirit, rather than present my hunt as a singular triumph, I have included all the embarrassing errors that preceded my eventual unlikely success.
“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” – James 1:2
Sunday, September 6
In August the San Mateo portion of the CZU fire raged just south of our home in La Honda. The first day after a night of nonstop lightning strikes it showed a few fires and the next day it looked as you see below on the Cal Fire topo map. Fortunately for us, the winds primarily moved it south. On August 20th we were forced to evacuate and returned a week later. I wasn’t sure if things would calm down enough for me to actually go on this hunt but by the first week in September things had settled down enough for me to decide to go.
I had been looking forward to this for months and my last elk hunt was three years ago in Wyoming. I had taken advantage of a COVID cancellation to book at a private ranch in New Mexico in the same unit I took my first elk back in 2006. That was with a rifle and this time would be with my bow. I’ll be hunting with David Lane of Sacramento Mountain Outfitters and my guide will be Jerry Miller.
I’m up at 5 am for an early departure planning to drive as far as Flagstaff AZ. Down the hill and about 20 miles from my house about to get on highway 280, I realize I left my phone on the charger. Not a great way to start a long day but grateful I realized it as early as I did. Back home and grab my phone and now I restart the long drive to Arizona. Not the first time my phone will be a problem.
At a gas stop I’m in line to buy coffee and a couple of waters. A cute blonde twenty-something is distressed trying to use the gas station phone but it’s not connecting. As I finish my transaction she pleads with me to use my phone. I just hand it to her and wait nearby as she tells her mom her phone is broken and relates some drama of her day along with instructions. She thanks me and gives me back my phone. I see her car has Oregon plates, wish her well and am back on the road.
I make my way through the furnace hot route that takes me just south of the Mojave where I took my CA desert bighorn bringing back memories. Stopping for food in CA is still takeout only due to COVID forcing me to eat in my car instead of taking a nice break in an air-conditioned restaurant.
Feeling fatigued I decided to stop at Kingman just west of Flagstaff as I’m pretty tired. Find a cheap room at a Motel 6, not much to Kingman. The room is a little shabby and no wi-fi. I just turn in for an early start the next day.
Monday, September 7
I’m on the road by 5 am again and heading east over the first rise I’m greeted with ‘Kingman proper’ which features an array of nicer places I could have stayed. Typical of my cross country misadventures. Soon up driving through some mountains, I have my phone in the holder with Waze on to get a sense of miles to my turn off. Suddenly my phone emits a startling alarm like an amber alert and announces that it is notifying 911 and all my emergency contacts. In a panic, I try to press the ‘cancel notification’ button. Finally do. I pull over and my phone is now frozen with a ‘cancel notification’ display and there is nothing I can do to unfreeze it, holding the power button won’t reboot it either. My imagination runs wild thinking the girl that borrowed my phone somehow called a number to hack it and is now proceeding to extort my contacts with the ‘distressed traveler’ scam. I returned the sheriff department’s phone message regarding the dropped 911 call. Finally fiddling around with my phone I get to a browser and discover that my iPhone 11 has a new convoluted reboot process ‘press volume up, press volume down, now press power to reboot’! Thank you, Apple. Later I discovered my phone holder was pressing both sides as my phone slid down pressed on the power button for a long enough time to activate the new 911 SOS feature. Wonderful. Turned that feature off.
Relieved to have my phone back in action I make the turnoff south towards the Petrified Forest. I’m reminded of some story where a guy is cursed with bad luck after ignoring the signs not to take anything from the Petrified Forest. The road is desolate and foreboding but soon after some mountain passes reveal pleasant towns with green grass and trees. I get into Alamogordo around 5 pm. Staying tonight at a much nicer Holiday Inn Express. It brings back memories of staying there back in 2006 for my first elk hunt. That time I flew into El Paso and rented a Ford Explorer. On that flight, my gun made the plane but my bag did not and was only delivered to the motel ten minutes before we all left for camp. Maybe flying is a better solution but I want to get all of the meat back.
Tuesday, September 8
After a nice relaxing evening in Alamogordo and get to sleep in for a change. I decided to scope out where I can find some dry ice for the trip back. Albertsons has it in town. I head out and up to Cloudcroft. My first stop is at Cloudcroft Archery to see if I can do some shooting and talk to Justin there about getting my broadheads to fly straight. My fixed blade G5 Strykers are pretty far off. I get there and they don’t have much inventory. He’s busy cutting arrows for a family of 3. I do some shooting while he’s working. I share the range with a young kid. We have a funny exchange. He tells me he shoots birds with his bow. I ask him what kind and he says ‘blue jays’. Oh, I ask if they’re scrub jays or stellar jays? He doesn’t know. And Justin really can’t help me. I can’t shoot any broadheads here and will just have to sight in at camp.
Demonstrating to my guide that I can shoot always makes me nervous. For me, trying to get fixed blade broadheads to fly straight makes it even worse. They never do. I had thought about using expandable Rage Trypans that fly straight like field points. I’ve killed two blacktails with them but they are not great for elk and the ones I have wouldn’t even stay closed. I’m sure my email exchanges with David asking if I can use expandables has him thinking I’m going to be a pain in the ass. He’s not a fan of expandables but ok with me using what I want. I pick up a box of Slick Trick 100gr four blades to have something else to try just in case. While still in Cloudcroft, I stop at the Dusty Boots Cafe for a nice lunch.
Heading east now and it’s not far to David Lane’s place. I drive in and park and David emerges from a large garage to greet me. David runs Sacramento Mountain Outfitters. We talk a little and soon I’m following him to the ranch house. Just across from his place up 8 Mile Canyon road is the Coleman Ranch that we are hunting on. We arrive in camp and I meet the other guides: Jeff, Michael, and my guide Jerry Miller. The other hunters are also there. Mike Cohen and his son Michael. Kerry and Aaron his son-in-law. Counting me I’m the fourth ‘Michael’ in camp. I have a nice private room. There is no wi-fi and my phone has no service. Apart from a few random connections hiking at altitude, I am off the grid which is just what I needed.
After getting settled in I go set up to try and dial in my broadheads. The Strykers are still way off with my new Hoyt RX-4. I also have my old bow, a Hoyt Carbon Defiant for back up. David suggests trying that bow. Seems like a good idea. With the Defiant, I proceed to put a Stryker dead center in the 40-yard target. David says let’s see where two more go. I put two more right next to the first shaving two fletchings off one of the arrows. Probably the tightest group I’ve ever shot with broadheads. No one more surprised than me. We decide to I will use the Defiant which seems to make sense. This demonstration prompts David’s wife Sissi later that night to exclaim to everyone ‘Sean can shoot’ which was true as far as she knew. The other hunters were polite enough not to mention me putting one over the 50 and other shots that would contradict her assertion. I’m rarely the best shot in camp. I attribute my success to luck and perhaps divine providence.
I also set up the Slick Trick broadheads and my RX-4 seemed to shoot them perfectly. I put one into the 40 with it and decided that will serve as my backup bow.
Our cook is Kenna Leonard, she arrives in a yellow FJ Cruiser. She is delightful and runs a bakery in Cloudcroft called KennaBelle’s Kreations. She makes us wonderful food every day, a lunch to pack, and dessert every night. I ate everything including biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak, all the wonderful food you could imagine, and still had lost weight by the time I got home. Elk hunting is a true all-you-can-eat diet program.
Wednesday, September 9
On the first day of the hunt, it is a little cold and it rains off and on. We access the ranch roads with a very comfortable enclosed Can-Am side by side 4 wheeler. Jerry and I do a great deal of hiking and calling but we can’t seem to get a bull to come to us. It is unusual for them not seeing as many elk and it seems like the rut is not yet in progress. We cover a lot of ground and I feel good. I’m able to keep up ok, the altitude is less a factor than I anticipated. We stay out all day and then eventually I get set up in a ground blind. I have a close shot towards a salt lick and a slightly longer one to water. It looks like a good set up. As time goes on it gets very cold. I’m soon wearing every bit of KUIU gear I packed including my rain gear to try and stay warm. Nothing comes into the blind at all and we call it a little after 7 pm.
Thursday, September 10
Thursday morning Jerry and I are off again in the Can-AM. We do quite a few long hikes again which I enjoy. We hear bugles. Jerry calls and often gets answered. We try and sneak closer and draw one out to us but usually end up getting busted first by cows on the periphery of the bull. Periodically we’ll see a train of elk leaving ahead of us and sometimes a good bull among them. Eventually, we start thinking about what blind to sit that night and we go investigate a couple. These have makeshift brush blinds and big ponds of water but Jerry is not enthused by the lack of tracks. While at one David, Sissi, and Mike Sr. all arrive so we joke that we were keeping it warm for him. Jerry has another one in mind so we head out. We go to one high up called ‘Ridge Wallow’ which looks more like a big circle of mud and a small puddle of water remaining in the middle. It looks exactly like the kind of wallow you see elk in. The ground blind is close providing a great shot and it looks like it has been visited quite a bit by all the tracks.
Jerry sets me up and then drives pretty far off for the evening leaving me with a walkie talkie to contact him should I get lucky. This evening is much warmer and it is a great blind to be in. Soon all sorts of birds are visiting the wallow. A pair of ravens alight on the berm and hop down to drink and flutter their wings in the water. Later two stellar jays appear, reminding me of the kid at the archery range. As the evening goes on I hear more bugles in the distance. Soon I’m hearing heavy hoof falls behind me and imagine it’s a huge bull. An ancient cow comes into view. She makes use of a salt lick far off to the left of my field of view. Another small cow comes in after her. Soon I see a big bull across from the blind in the trees. I try to film him too. He’s a nice 5×6 and he chases a cow around a tree and then stops to bugle. He’s running around the edges of the blind and then all of the sudden it looks like he’ll come in. As he approaches I’m filming and when he nears the mud I drop my phone on my jacket and lean back slightly to be in the shadows as he enters. My web chair makes the faintest creak which stops him dead in his tracks. He decides something is not right here and then fades back into the forest. Man, this is going to be tough it seems. The blind is very open and I’ll need to be motionless until I get the chance to draw. I leave encouraged, this is a very fun blind to sit in.
Friday, September 11
Friday starts with all the usual long hikes, chasing bugles, busted by cows. Still, we can’t get any bull to come into us. I’m typically ahead of Jerry finding a good spot with cover. I wait and eventually he signals to move toward the bugle or at some point, we break the stalk off. I think this day a nice bull actually came to him but way behind me. We have lunch back at the ranch this time and then head back out to the blind around 4:30. This time we have a new chair that one of the hunters offered. It’s called a Chama chair which is quiet, higher up, and also has adjustable legs to level it off. This seems perfect. Soon a cow and spike come in to drink. I film them with my phone and try to get a sense of how exposed I am in the window. I have to sit pretty still as they often seem alerted by my slightest motion. The spike drinks and climbs the berm to a salt lick while a cow is on the salt lick to my far left.
As time goes on I periodically test my bow pulling back with the broadhead in the corner and looking if I can see my fiber optic colored pins. Without the light on to illuminate them, they just look like black lines making a very difficult shot. I have to fiddle with the light turning it on and when I let go it keeps turning off. Screwing it tighter seems to get it to stay but it’s finicky. Finally, it seems to glow enough for me to see the top green 20-yard pin. Soon the big 5×6 appears in the distance. This time he’s with four cows and seems more in rut behavior. This time he just traipses straight in to drink. He walks directly towards me and is hidden behind a tree blocking his view of me. It seems too good. I think about drawing now and holding but am glad I didn’t as he drinks for a very long time. I’m waiting and when he appears to stop I get my bow ready. He moves to the right towards the berm instead of left which I wasn’t expecting. I’m at full draw and when he moves enough right to show me behind his shoulder I’m squeezing and then WHACK my arrow hits the tree! I can’t believe it. It’s a good three feet high and to the left of him and where I was aiming. He and the cows start at that sound but don’t bolt off. He moves to the far side of the wallow now broadside in the green grass. I had ranged that at 40 before. I hold on him with my 40-yard pin and let go. My arrow lands harmlessly underneath him. He is actually farther back than the edge I realize and closer to 48. He is gone now along with the cows. I can’t believe I missed him at 20 yards. It’s crazy. Illuminated green knocks of my arrows litter the wallow like a crime scene. I have to call Jerry and let him know I missed the great bull. He arrives to check it all out and make sure there was no blood. I feel like a kid holding a crayon after defacing the walls of my room. Jerry is charitable and supportive. He confirms the arrows are clean and the furrow in the ground shows it landed below the bull. If you draw blood the hunt is over and rightfully you pursue that animal for the rest of the hunt. We go back for dinner and I have to relate the misses which is always a little embarrassing. Am I the same guy that put 3 into the bullseye at 40?
Saturday, September 12
Saturday hiking is about the same. We cover a lot of ground, hear a lot of bugles, see some cows and bulls but still just can’t get one to come to us. I am enjoying the hiking regardless and each time we hear a bugle and make a call it is full of anticipation. I set up in perfect spots, range the nearby trees imagining the perfect moment when the big bull passes me toward Jerry and I can put a perfect shot on him as I did on my first archery bull in Wyoming. We have a good day out in the field and we return home for lunch. I take a nap and try and get focused to make a good shot on the bull tonight. We are back a little earlier to sit the Ridge Wallow again. It’s not long until I see the big 5×6 in the distance but this time he does not seem interested in coming in. Can’t blame him after my ineffective assault the night before. Soon a cow and spike come in to drink. I film them with my phone and try to get a sense of how exposed I’m in the window. I have to sit pretty still as they often seem alerted by my slightest motion. It’s getting later and I test drawing my bow back and then try to get the light to work again. Once more it turns off when I let go and screwing it tighter seems to do something and leaves the green pin adequately lit to see when placed in the window. Soon there’s a bull in the distance, he’s chasing a cow. He’s actually a 4×4 and looks like the picture of a reindeer.
Not much happening after that for a while. At one point a red tail hawk alights on the berm. I get my phone out to take his picture and as I do he takes off, luckily I capture him at that moment.
Seems like a slow night and then suddenly I see the horizon off to the left saturate the color of elk and incredibly a whole herd is now approaching the blind. There must be 25 or more and they thunder right in with complete abandon. I can’t even believe it. A huge herd bull arrives panting and bugling. I have my bow in hand. He just charges in the middle parting the cows and comes straight in to drink giving me a perfect right broadside. I decide to just pull my bow back and damn the cows. I do and most of them spook and explode out of the blind but as expected the bull just keeps drinking. I aim my bow with the green 20-yard pin settling on him and I’m slowly pulling back and then THWACK. I put one right in the tree again. I can’t believe it at first but then it dawns on me exactly what’s happening. I’m looking at my pins, fiddling with the light, with my left dominant eye open, and in the excitement of the shot, I’m still using my left eye, closing my right and not even seeing the peep. My misses aren’t random; they are going to the same spot. The bull started at the impact on the tree and he moved off a little but is still in the wallow. I grab another arrow and try again. This time look through the peep and somehow still put one right under him just like I did with the 5×6 at 40 yards. Now they all move out and have had enough of this.
I am so disgusted with myself. I can’t believe I have missed again twice on a huge herd bull. An incredible opportunity. I have to radio Jerry now and say ‘I’m embarrassed to tell you I missed again’ Jerry was understanding and still supportive. He had to chuckle a little seeing yet another illuminated green arrow in the tree. We are back at the ranch house where I ignominiously relate my second spectacular failure. I can forgive Kerry for chiding me with wondering if I really shot all those big blacktails I had shared with everyone. I felt like saying that I have also missed a lot of big blacktails which I’m sure they would have believed at this point. Jerry and I discussed the situation and we both decided I should just go back to my new bow, the Hoyt RX-4 that I had been practicing with for months, and use the slick tricks.
Sunday, September 13
Each day in the living room David would lead us all in a short prayer which I really enjoyed. On Sunday morning we also had a short devotion before we all headed out. Jerry shared a beautiful passage from Robert Morgan’s biography of Daniel Boone. After breakfast, we head out and decide to bring a target with us to take some shots with the RX-4 at first light. This is a great idea. We get to a field and when it’s light enough I proceed to shoot just fine at 20, 30, and 40 and then put a Slick Trick right into the 40. I feel good. I can’t believe I lack the self-awareness to figure out what I was doing wrong before. It was Jerry that suggested to miss by that much I probably wasn’t using the peep. We proceed with the usual bugles and answers. Setups that don’t produce. Bump more cows and move on. At one point we see three mule deer in the distance. I get some good footage of them. One 4×4 on the left is narrow but super tall with deep forks.
We go on some long treks, one takes us into a canyon where we find a nice 5×6 deadhead. I hold it on my back with my right hand for some ‘pack out’ photos and on the way out Jerry hangs it in a tree. We hike out of the canyon. At one point in the day, we see a nice size black bear. Jerry does the palm squeak predator call and the bear gets alarmingly interested in us. Finally, a few loud words has him bounding away. Jerry suggests we take the target to the ridge wallow and have me shoot from the blind. I had been thinking the same thing so we get there and I set up inside. He tries it at 20. No problem I can put them in there. The far side of the water is 28 and he says to use the 30 which works perfectly too. Last we set it at the grass on the far side of the wallow at 40 and I put a couple in there too. I’m feeling confident now that I can hit what I need to from the blind.
After lunch in camp, I practice some more shots and am shooting tight groups and feeling good about the evening hunt. We head out early again in the Tundra. As Jerry is ready to drop me off he suggests we say a prayer together. We have a short heartfelt expression of both thanks and hope. I have been a little reluctant to petition yet again after prayers have been dramatically answered night after night and I’ve not capitalized on my opportunities. Jerry drives back to the spot where he’ll wait. It’s a nice night again and I’m wondering if anything would come in after my two nights of slinging arrows. Not too long a cow and a spike appear again. Then about 6 pm, the big 5×6 arrives. This time he has four cows with him and is running around. He doesn’t seem interested in taking a drink now and seems pretty wary after the last time. Then a spike just boldly walks right in and starts drinking. Now the 5×6 and the two cows seem ok with the idea. He walks in and the spike moves away. He’s broadside to me drinking. I have my bow in my hand. He finally finishes and looks away from me to his left. I pull back on my bow and as I move to aim at him the two cows spook and explode out of the blind taking him too. I have to let my bow down now. I’m left shaking from the resulting adrenaline dump. Not just a little tremble but have some sort of spasm going on in my stomach too. I’m resigned now to another blown evening. Feeling a little defeated, I don’t even try to be quiet as I put my down jacket on and try to just relax. Some time passes and I am warm and settled down now, trying to imagine how I could have possibly pulled that shot off.
While I’m replaying this all in my mind I start to hear grunts behind the blind and then again then heavy footfalls. I’m thinking it’s that old cow again. I pick up my bow just in case and then to my amazement a big bull is walking right in solo. I see forked backs and am thinking six by six and a shooter. He’s with a cow but she’s far to the left of the blind. He’s drinking now and I just go ahead and pull my bow back. I move to aim at him settling my red 30-yard pin behind his shoulder. Slowly squeeze and then THWACK he is hit. He bolts up the berm and out of the wallow. I stick my head out to watch where he goes. When he turns I can see a large red spot forming behind his shoulder and know it’s a good shot. He shows me his left and I don’t see blood but think he’s still done. I call Jerry to tell him I’ve shot a good six. I start my watch timer. Jerry arrives in about 30 minutes to the blind. I relate the action and we decide to take a long hike and approach from the steep side to keep from bumping him down there should he still be on his feet. We don’t have to go too far when Jerry declares ‘I’ve found your bull’ I had to ask ‘what’ like twice not believing it possible. Finally, I just see him in plain view, he is down and done. I can’t believe it. He is a great bull, an old 6×7 even.
It’s now 7 pm so we take a bunch of pictures and then plan the retrieval. We clear a path of logs and rocks so he can back the Tundra down the sloping hill to him. While we do we find my arrow largely intact and glowing green, it was a pass-through shot falling out after the bull had walked off. The four-blade 100 gr Slick Tricks fly true with my new bow and have made me a believer.
Jerry’s truck is a custom elk retrieval machine and has a wench at the back of the cab and a big board he uses to pull the elk into the bed. It’s tricky and we need to tie his legs and then pull him straight as he is hoisted in. We get him mostly in and Jerry guts him with his rear still hanging out. We finally get him all in and then head back to the ranch. David and the guides met us halfway knowing we had probably shot something.
Congratulations are extended as everyone checks out my bull. We got him into the skinning shed and hoisted him up. Jerry and I get to go back to the ranch house for enchiladas before 9 pm. I’m so happy both with my bull and also that we got him off the mountain quickly so the meat will be perfect.
Monday, September 14
The next morning we have a great breakfast. I pack my things and then we finish up with my elk getting him into my two coolers. I’m off early to Alamogordo where I get some dry ice and a cooler for my cape. The horns just barely fit into the FJ on top of everything else. I make the long trip to Blythe and then am back on the road early the next day up I5 through thick smoggy smoke-laden air and the harsh reality of coming back to burnt California and the COVID epidemic. I have my elk meat to Los Gatos Meats by 2 pm as Fabian hangs it all up it looks great. Stayed perfectly cool for the whole trip, it’s about 200 pounds.
Despite all my screw-ups, I had the greatest time on this hunt. Jerry was always patient and supportive and I truly enjoyed every day in the field with him. We had some great talks and a lot of fun. Despite my misses, I was never truly discouraged like I may have been in my earlier hunting days. I have to credit Jerry with helping me diagnose my peep error and be successful on this hunt. I can easily imagine some guides not dealing with my missteps as graciously. Being able to spend five days in the mountains among these majestic animals was such a gift and being able to take such a great bull as well after all that was even better. I learned a lot and feel I’ll be much better prepared for success in the future. I will look forward to hunting with SMO and Jerry again.
All video in a Youtube Playlist from the Hunt:
My pictures from the hunt on Flikr:
Back at the Diamond C ranch for my annual bow hunt. Dylan had patterned a great buck he calls ‘Dirty Harry’. He’s big. His right G3 never really grew out so he’s more like a 4×3 with about a 1 inch third. He has a blind set up for me where hopefully in so many days I’ll get a chance at him.
I sat first Friday night and only saw a couple of smaller bucks. A tall 3×3 and another smaller buck with a few does and fawns passing by. Saturday as well no luck but on Sunday morning amazingly at 10 am I got my chance. This buck definitely got my heart rate going. I made a good shot on him that was a pass-through. The 100 gr. Rage Hypodermic Trypan once more did the job. Luckily after the shot, I could see it was good and I was able to keep him in sight the whole time as he bedded down and finally laid his head to rest. So great on a bow hunt not to have to track or even spend a sleepless night replaying the shot in your mind, wondering if there will be a buck there at the end of the trail.
After about 20 minutes Dylan arrived. My buck was just on the other side of the creek under a big oak. Glad for once my bow buck didn’t head straight for a pile of poison oak which seems too often my corporeal reminder of a successful hunt.
Fifteen years now of hunting with Dylan has been the miracle of my hunting life. At this point, I will shoot whatever buck he asks me to, management buck, over the hill monarch, or as it seems every so often something extraordinary. This one certainly fits that description.
My friend Jeff Ashlock and I finally set aside the time to go hunting again. We chose Oak Stone Outfitters to try for some California Wild Pigs. I had seen many great pictures from them on their Instagram account. We set up a two-day hunt and met them at the house near Bradley midday on a Tuesday. We followed guide Cory to a ranch house where Jeff and I would be staying. We went out the first night to glass for pigs. We weren’t seeing much.
We experienced a beautiful sunset over the uniquely Californian rolling golden hills. A bald eagle soared by us. After last light, we started to see pigs and spotted a pretty large group heading for some barley fields.
The plan was to return before first light and try and catch them on their way back. That’s pretty much what happened with Jeff first shooting a medium-sized boar. While following up his pig which ended up on a hillside opposite the one we were on, a nice sized sow ran by us. I was ready as she climbed the far hillside and shot just near the top.
Luckily for us both the pigs expired pretty close to a dirt road. My sow was a very short drag to the truck and Jeff’s was a little longer all downhill. Sometimes it all just works out right.
Jeff and I had a great time, he cooked some great meals, salmon filets, and then some incredible rack of lamb. We had a wonderful ranch house all to ourselves for a great two days. We saw many deer, heard a lot of coyotes, even saw a bobcat up on a cattle trough. We’ll definitely be back and are thinking of planning a larger group to spend some time at this wonderful property.
After many years accumulating points in California and yet remaining one less than maximum, I finally found a good hunt where my points might work in my favor. The M5 late-season East Mount Lassen muzzleloader hunt is only 5 tags in the whole X5b zone. In 2017 only 2 people with max points applied. This put my odds up to about 200:1 for a great hunting opportunity. I didn’t draw the tag in 2018 but did this year.
I had talked with Josh Schulgen of Kika Worldwide Outfitters back when I drew my sheep tag. I had already booked with Dry Creek but enjoyed talking with him and we got to talking about using my CA points. I had planned to try for the M5 tag and hunt with Josh.
One thing about this hunt is that you can’t use a scope. I take the Nikon BDC scope off my Thompson Center Encore and start the research process on what to shoot and how to get it shooting. I settle on the non-lead required Barnes T-EZ 50 caliber 250gr Expanders. My first shots at 50 yards group very close to point of aim. Three clicks up get me where I need to be at 100 yards. The weekend before my hunt I give it a thorough cleaning and go back to the 50-yard range to make sure it prints where it should at 50. My shot is perfect. Centered and 2″ high of my point of aim. I put it away and go home and clean it up again. I consider myself ready.
June came along and I get the good news. Josh managed to secure a nice 3 bedroom AirBnB in Alturas which would serve as home base for our hunt. They had an area picked out about 40 minutes south near Termo. I decided to go to Redding the night before and have a leisurely drive to Alturas by highway 299. The weather was great and the scenery beautiful. Being the first one to arrive I met with the owner Victoria. She gave me the walk though, the house is perfect. Nicely decorated, great wi-fi and some great plaques with passages from scripture throughout the place.
Josh is driving up from the south so we arrange to meet where we’ll scout the night before opening day. I arrive to find Josh along with Rick Jones and Austin Young who are helping with the hunt. They all have spotting scopes set up on the mountainside and have already located a great buck. They think he’s a 5×6 and he looks big. The foreground is private land that they had managed to secure permission to hunt previously. They decide to ask again. Elias is the ranch foreman and they know the owner lives out of state. Well, the owner happened to be at the ranch and was great, we had permission to hunt their land too which would make the whole proposition a lot easier. We decide to call the buck ‘Elias’.
Saturday morning we’re there at first light. Groups of bucks are leaving the alfalfa fields for the rocky hills. Josh and I stalk a group but as we get near we see there are no shooter bucks in the group. We regroup and glass the hills again. Later Josh and I do a longer hike but are not seeing much. At one point we do get close to a nice looking 4×4. We go back and forth about how big he is. Thinking he’s not that big, then thinking, he is a super buck. We get a lot of video of this buck and start to think of him as plan B. The hunt ends that evening with no further Elias sightings.
Sunday comes and it is bitter cold. Have all my gear on. Josh and I do another hike but again no big bucks. We spend a good deal of time up on the mountain. We can see a huge herd of antelope in the alfalfa fields. A coyote on the periphery. Yesterday the guys even saw a mountain lion. We spend the usual time looking for bucks and still no sign of Elias. As the evening approaches, we decide to drive a short road that leads to where we saw the good 4×4. Before we even turn up the road Josh spots a group of deer and sees antler tips he thinks are our buck’s. We wait watching for him to show himself. He’s with about five does and a smaller buck. Sure enough, it is him. We quickly come up with a plan to try and drive back and get in between them and the alfalfa fields they are slowly headed towards. Rick and Austin drive by the other side of them to try and watch what they’re doing. As the sun goes down at 6 pm they are slowly coming towards us. Finally, we decide to leave the truck and get to sagebrush we can hide behind as they approach. As we exit the truck it’s clear our scent is headed their way and sure enough, they alert and hold up. We’re behind the bush now and Josh has a tripod high enough for me to rest my fist and rifle on. It’s now 6:20 with only ten minutes left to shoot and we’re losing light. Finally, Josh sees him broadside to the left of a pine tree. It takes me a long time to make him out but I put the gun on my fist and try to ease my front sight bead into his body. I’m there and slowly squeezing and boom, I take the shot. After the smoke clears Josh says he’s hit. I drop 3 pellets in and drive another bullet home, then recap my rifle and we move slowly after him. We flush him and I snap shoot but miss him. I reload yet again and we eventually come up to him, he’s hurt and not moving from us. I shoot him again and he only moves a few yards and is now down for good. This was a crazy few minutes. Josh was so key to us closing the deal. Making the plan, guiding me to see the buck at 110 yards in low light, and then following up cautiously to finish him. I would not want to have left him overnight with the coyotes and lion. I pick up his antlers and am so pleased, he’s a great typical, symmetrical 4×4 with eye guards and good mass. He’s a great California Mule Deer. We exchange congratulations and the team arrives soon after for pictures and securing the meat. The guys score him later that night at 174.
This was an amazing adventure and such a great use of my 16 years of California preference points.
So my annual hunt at Diamond C proceeded with great anticipation. I was to hunt a cool non-typical buck named Rojo. By the time August arrived, we changed plans and decided to sit a blind with a very large, Boone & Crockett class buck they were calling the ‘cracked pond buck’ probably from where they first sighted him.
After sitting for him three days and no sign of him we were out patrolling and caught sight of a mature 3×3 with two other smaller bucks. He looked great to me and I have actually only taken on straight 3×3, a hard horned buck Scarface Jr. This one is in full velvet and looked great. We proceeded to stalk the group and cresting a grassy hill they were only 150 yards. I had my Remington 700 custom .270 rifle, put the VXR red dot on the crease and shot. The buck did not go very far although out of our sight. When we came on him we saw how lucky we were as he’d slide down the top of a steep hill towards a creek under a fallen log and his rack stopped right at the top. This made for a fairly easy recovery.
Every hunt at Diamond C is a new adventure and many times it doesn’t work out as anticipated. Many times it does. It’s always a great time and I treasure my relationship with the wonderful Carr family and all the great times I have had hunting the Diamond C.
August 1st is the start of my annual blacktail deer hunt up in Humboldt County at Diamond C Outfitters. Have been talking to Dylan for the past few weeks and we’ve identified an old buck we’ve seen over the years we call ‘Tank’. He has been pretty active in a clearing in a more thickly wooded part of the ranch and Dylan set a blind up a couple weeks before.
I get there uneventfully on a Wednesday and am fortunate it is not the usual August heat. I’m in the blind at 5 pm with a lot of daylight left. I have my comfy chair and am settled in for what I know might be a few days of waiting until I see a good deer and maybe longer to get an opportunity for a good shot.
I’m not in the blind more than thirty minutes when Tank himself appears at the edge of the clearing. I can’t believe it. I have my bow on my knees with an arrow knocked and watch as he seems to poke around but not enter the field. He’s at thirty-five yards. He never offers me a good shot and leaves as quietly as he appeared. I’m still excited to have seen him and know he’s not spooked. Am confident in time I’ll get a shot at.
Within the hour does and fawns appear, a dozen turkeys slowly work their way across the field. A big hare at one point is with the turkeys. Another doe and fawn even bed down not fifteen yards from me. As the evening comes I start to see some young bucks, two different fork horns, and a couple young 3x3s also come through.
At about 8:45 dusk has come and I have another 10 minutes of shooting time left. Then incredibly Tank appears again at the edge of the field. This time he enters the field and is browsing but facing me head on. He seems to move and then stop not presenting a shot. Then two younger bucks appear off to the left and I get ready thinking this may get him to move. I have my bow in my hand when he stops perfectly broadside and am drawing almost as he stops. I’m holding on him steady at only twenty yards, my green pin just behind his shoulder as I release. I hear the smack and the see the green lit knock glide and land on the hill behind. He bolts and traces a semicircle that has his off side right in front of the blind window and I see it round with red.
I text Dylan to tell him I made the shot and think it’s good. I give him the details and wait. Dylan and Clayton drive up about 30 minutes later. When they get to the blind they tell me they passed him lying dead in the creek maybe forty yards from the shot. Am so happy to have made a good shot on such a beautiful buck and for the immediate recovery, not having to sleep wondering if all went well. The shot was perfect, complete pass through the heart. Was my first try with Rage Trypan, they did the job and flew accurately.
So thankful for having met the Carr’s thirteen years before on a management hunt and now having such a great relationship with them and probably the best hunting opportunities in our state.
So excited to learn my California Desert Bighorn Ram picture was included in this year’s California Big Game Digest. Thanks to the Dry Creek Team to have me take a picture ‘with the CA tag on’ to send in. And later I was surprised to see me again in the California section of the May Huntin Fool magazine. Was so happy to see them both!
On June 12th I’m at work when my friend Dylan jokingly texts me he drew two B Zone deer tags again. The CA draw is out. I tell him I’ll check it tonight after work. When I finally do I’m dumbfounded by the mysterious Y next to ‘Desert Bighorn Sheep’. It takes me a long while to believe this could possibly be true. I started hunting late in life, one year after CA started preference points so I have one less than max. Still somehow I had drawn the one random tag for Zone 9 Cady Mountains! Having hunted for fifteen years I still feel like a newbie. I’ve been making up for lost time though taking deer, antelope, elk across the southwest, wild pigs, blacktail bucks in northern California, Pope & Young mule deer in Colorado. I owe my success to the expertise and patience of many wonderful guides and some very fortunate friendships I’ve fostered along the way.
When my disbelief on drawing the tag subsides I get in touch with Dry Creek Outfitters and secure their services for my hunt. I’ll leave on the 27th right after Christmas. Between this time and my hunt I will be laid off from my job, kill my first elk with a bow in Wyoming, and ultimately find a better job that starts right after my sheep hunt! It seems I already have so much to be grateful for.
Preparations begin immediately, what better reason to buy a new rifle!
I frequently consult with Kyler Hamman my favorite California pig guide on all things shooting, reloading, and hunting. He guided me on my first ever big game hunt back in 2002 when I took a great boar. That experience changed my life and ignited my passion for hunting. He suggests I consider a Cooper Backcountry rifle. Ordering one takes six months so I find one on GunBroker. It’s a lightweight rifle at 5 3/4pounds. I decide on .300 Winchester Magnum and top it off with a Leupold VX3i 4.5-14 CDS scope. With Warne Mountain Tech rings and scope it weighs in at exactly 7 pounds.
Ever since I started hunting I enjoy collecting and reading all the classics. It’s amusing to read Jack O’Connor in ‘Sheep and Sheep Hunting’ write about his favorite pair of Biesen stocked model 70 Winchester .270 featherweights that come to ‘a perfect 8 pounds’ and would be ‘difficult to improve on’. I wonder what Jack would think about our modern rifles, lightweight hi-tech clothing, laser range finders and turret scopes. I like to think he’d be pleased with our progress and not that we’re a bunch of wusses.
I’m also training physically and trying to not overdo it and risk injury. I alternate days with sessions on a stationary bike and running the hills in my La Honda neighborhood in the Santa Cruz Mountains. As the holidays near I start to get a little paranoid when my wife Kari catches the cold that’s going around. Many colleagues are sick as well. My Christmas spirit this year featured frequent and fervent self serving supplication to the man upstairs in support of my ongoing health. He must have heard my call.
Getting closer the excitement builds. The DF&W orientation in Sacramento is well done and gives me new appreciation for all the hard work these folks have done to allow this hunt to even take place. I didn’t know about the history and their successful efforts to open the hunt in 1989 after 114 years. They do a super job and It gives me some hope that our unfortunate abalone closure won’t be permanent as I also enjoy ab diving and spearfishing.
News of Jason slaying a new state record ram ‘Goliath’ isn’t the first biblical reference I’ll find on this epic adventure. Other pics of rams in social media fuel my excitement. I was anxious to see how my own story would unfold.
Wednesday – December 27th
Finally I leave for the hunt. As I near camp driving Interstate 15 I pass a gauntlet of billboards at regular intervals featuring each of the ten commandments and finally a passage from Revelation 3:20. It feels like I’m being challenged; do I deserve all this?
I arrive at Camp at 3pm and I get the tour. I have a comfortable 2 person tent. There is a spacious canvas mess tent with a wood burning heater where we enjoy Tim’s cooking and assorted delicious homemade cookies and Christmas treats like ‘Crack Balls’ and ‘Magic Bars’. I’m starting to think this may be the one sheep hunt you gain weight.
I show Tim my rifles and gear. Tim offers me use of a walking stick made from a saguaro cactus rib. Some carbon trekking poles have collapsed on hunters giving them a spill so I decide to give it a try. It’s strong and extremely light. The stick was perfect for negotiating loose rock on steep hills or as a bino monopod in the field. Later on in the hunt I notice a well worn inscription ‘Joshua 1:9’ I don’t know my bible verses but in this best of all worlds we live in it’s no further than my phone. The passage includes:
“Be strong and corageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”
A great theme for any hunt and as I read it I can’t help but hear Tim’s voice. He leads us in a brief blessing before dinner each night and in the morning before we all head out. I really appreciate Tim sharing his words of faith with us and he does so with grace and humility.
Our team are: Tim Mercier, Cliff St. Martin, Kirk ‘Sawyer’, Tom ‘Tanto’, his son Luke, and Ben ‘Grizzly’ from Arizona. As night falls they each return to from scouting and compare notes. Several rams are discussed with names like the ‘Broken horn ram’, ‘Juicy’, and the ‘Short horn ram’ None are quite the class of ram we’re looking for.
Thursday – December 28th
Our first morning we leave at 6 am with an hour drive out to a point for glassing. We spend all day glassing the opposite mountain side. It is bitter cold in the mornings. I’m pretty sure I had every layer of Kuiu gear I own on at one time. If there is one thing I should have done differently it is to buy or borrow 15 power binoculars and a tripod. My early efforts free hand glassing with my ten power Leica’s could best be described as morale support. Eventually I’m startled when what I think is a sheep actually stands up! I do get better at it and it starts to get fun.
Friday – December 29th
We leave camp in separate trucks driving for about an hour until we park and all pile into Tom’s lighter rig to make it up a steep sand dune. This necessity makes for some entertaining discussion about the relative merits of Dodge vs Ford trucks. Having arrived in my Toyota FJ Cruiser I elect to stay out of it. We leave the truck near some hills they call the three sisters.
Not far in we spot 2 legal rams bedded in parallel one above the other both facing left. They look like two sentinels guarding the entrance to their world and we give them a wide berth so as not to spook what giants might lurk behind.
We trudge through sand dunes with our wooden walking staff’s like sojourning desert pilgrims. The dunes are periodically pocked with some sort of rodent holes and every now and then your foot abruptly sinks way down giving you a stiff jolt to your back or knee. I try and follow Cliff through this mine field hoping he’ll clear my way but I seem to still hit just as many holes as he does. It’s alternatively annoying and comical as we each hit one hole after another.
On our long hikes I appreciated having the light Cooper Backcountry rifle and frequently forget it’s attached to my day pack until I try and sit down with it on. Soon Cliff informs me we are pinned down on a rocky hill between other sheep. We spend a long day on a hill covered with loose sharp jagged rocks trying not to blow a good ram out of the country. On our way out we all join up and see several rams put on a great show for us on the distant skyline. In silhouette they work a cactus barrel with their horns, butting it open, pawing at it, fighting over it. It’s a beautiful show.
Saturday – December 30th
We make the same drive in and this time we’re seeing rams again but nothing big. Cliff decides to go scout it out solo and see what’s behind the mountain and try not to spook anything. I stay glassing with Ben. This time i’m finally finding some sheep with my Geovids which makes it a little more exciting. I proudly announce to Ben as he returns from natures call that a ram has stood up. Just doing my part. Later in the day a single bee finds a drop of water on my drinking tube and pretty soon I have all kinds of bees hovering around me. Luckily the only plague I must endure. I manage to ignore them and after tucking my drinking tube in my pack they eventually move on. Again, as the evening comes more rams are seen on the skyline. Cliff returns and never saw any better rams. We appear to be done with this part of the country.
The rocks here often contain beautiful pieces of quartz crystals and agate. An earlier hunter even found an intact spear point. During down time many of us scour our rocky surroundings. My sole sorry find is a modern green sunglass lens. It reminded me of my first deep scuba dive off the coast of Monterey. As we descended into the mysterious dark deep and settled into the soft sea floor at 130 feet the mystique was broken when my dive light illumnates a crushed Coke can and Hot Wheels truck. While the desert is mostly pristine, more than one sparkling rock in the distance I’m told were metallic party balloons released and all seem to come to the desert to die. In the heights and depths of my adventures I’ve witnessed breathtaking beauty and all too frequent signs of human disregard. Hunters need to be recognized for their defense of our environment and the habitat of the game we cherish. No amount of millenia will elevate the regard for stuff we’re presently leaving behind to that of a clovis point.
Saturday night at dinner we’re graced with a visitor. A kangaroo rat brazenly enters the mess tent to check out the bounty inside. Calling him a rat seems uncharitable as he’s an adorable egg shaped fur ball with cartoon eyes, clown feet, and a leonine tufted tail. I dub him ‘Captain Kangaroo’ Surely our luck must now change. He seems pretty comfortable in our tent and Luke courageously allows the good Captain to walk on his open palm to retrieve some nuts. He would get his fill and speed out to store them somewhere and then be back again. Of course there’s a fine line between bravery and having to explain to someone at the ER window why you need rabies shots.
New Year’s Eve
We decide to head to another spot were another group of rams had been seen before. We drive to a plateau with a lonely old rod iron fenced grave. The crude wooden head board displays T-Bone Albright – railroad man 1933. Another rock pile grave with cross beside him is perhaps his wife.
We are seeing rams right off. There is a group of ten only a mile away on Cave Mountain. Ben, Cliff and I all sit and look through our binoculars and spotting scopes. There are two good ones in the bunch. They are close enough I can see them pretty well with my Leica’s and better yet with a spotting scope Cliff lent me. I start to get pretty interested in one. He’s a little bit broomed on the right side but seems heavy and wide. There is another pretty good looking one. After much discussion Cliff advises that he might go mid 160’s depending on his bases. Cliff also reminds me that he’ll be the only California Desert Ram I take in my life. I still think he looks great so we decide to take a closer look.
We drive down off from the plateau and get to the base of Cave Mountain. We hike in very slowly stopping often looking for sheep as not to get busted and blow out the rams. Ben leaves us for another vantage point and Cliff and I proceed to a ridge where we think we’ll see the rams. At this point they have moved off leaving a lone ewe on the other side. We backtrack to come up another way and get the wind on our side. We have a long trek up a gradual rocky ridge and finally we are at a point we think we’ll see them. Cliff slowly advances to see and sure enough they are there. I follow him slowly until we find a nice flat rock for me to use as a rest. We put my pack on it and slide my gun up. Additional pads are produced to try and get me comfortable in the jagged rocks. Cliff ranges them at 350 exactly on a rocky hill top in the distance. After looking at the rams Ben suggests the other ram is much better and cleaner and after getting a look up close I quickly agree.
I’m on him bedded at 350 yards trying to steady my gun when they all just bolt upright and start cavorting down the hill right to us like someone just rang a dinner bell. I had feared when we peaked over the ridge they would all alert and I would have an urgent distant shot. Now they are closing the distance to us fast. Cliff says 260 and I’m out of the scope adjusting my turret. Now I’m trying to get on the right ram again. Cliff tells me he’s rubbing a bush with his horns. I finally locate him. So glad to have Cliff by my side, calm and cool giving me all the necessary info. Soon they are all just walking and feeding together, I wait as a small ram stands behind. I’m on him and as soon as he’s clear I’m squeezing and boom he’s hit. My shot was good and took him in the right shoulder. He stands a little longer than I like so I put in another slightly higher and he’s down.
I can’t believe it. I’ve shot my Desert Bighorn. So happy to have taken a beautiful mature ram with an exciting stalk and clean shots. He’s down in a sandy wash. I get up to him and there is no disappointment, he looks perfect, holding his heavy horns. I can’t believe my good fortune to have drawn this tag and been able to spend the past five days with such a fun group of hunters. The rest of the crew eventually join up and Tim says some touching words of thanks. I echo his sentiments and thank the Lord and our team. So grateful to everyone that helped me make this happen. Night falls as we head back to camp and New Years eve fireworks are bursting colors in the distant horizon. This hunt truly exceeded some very high expectations. I can only hope I’ll draw Desert Sheep once more in another state and share this experience again with Tim, Cliff, and the great Dry Creek team.
STALK IS VIDEO 4 / WARNING KILL SHOT AT 2:55
Video Playlist from My Hunt
Back to the Diamond C for my second CA blacktail hunt of the year. Not really looking for anything specific just out for a fun hunt and see what we can see. Friday night we’re out looking in the evening. Not long we see a big bobcat prowling the golden hills. We leave him be and keep looking. At one point between two distant stands of oaks a buck is silhouetted broadside on the horizon. He’s too small to chase but makes a beautiful picture. As the sun begins to set I’m thinking tonight is a wrap but Dylan spots a buck in the distance. It’s an old 4×3 that we’ve been looking for he’s in a great spot for us to make a stalk. So just like that we are switched on and that time I savor and so look forward to, between spotting a buck we want and making a stalk and hopefully taking a shot is now on. We grab our packs and are off towards a rising hill that we think will give us the vantage point to maybe make a shot. We get close and get low, scoot up to the edge. Dylan’s not seeing him. We keep looking and soon Dylan spots him. I lower my bi-pod legs and scoot my rifle forward. Dylan gives me the range 355 yards. I’m on him and turn up my scope but he’s moving. I’m tracking him and he is walking when Dylan makes some whistling sounds and he stops. I start to make the shot but realize my safety is on. I slowly click it off an now he’s on the move again. Dylan tries it again and when he stops I’m on him. The sun is setting behind us and he appears in my scope in an orange glow. He’s quartering too and I have a perfect hold on his body and squeeze off the shot. I see him collapse instantly even through the scope. My customer Remington ADL in .270 does the trick with the Barnes 130 TTSX bullet. The VX6 at 18 power with a nice red dot lit at the reticle made it easy to hold and I find my shot hit perfectly. Dylan’s son Clayton and his girlfriend Elizabeth come join us on the Rhino quad to aid in the recovery. By the time they arrive the sun has set and soon the large full moon rises to light our way. This buck isn’t the biggest but this kind of spot and stalk and shot is my favorite way to rifle hunt blacktail. He is a great old buck with a lot of character. Such a great time hunting with Dylan and the Carr family.