The Season
By Dave Gibson

..This years California's A-Zone deer season has come and gone. On our ranch in Mendocino County it was a typical hunting season. As is the case every year we were very encouraged with the number of bucks that we were seeing in the spring. During April and May when the deer are most visible as they feed on green grass, we saw more mature Blacktail bucks than we ever have in the five previous years that we've hunted this area. The bucks vanished during deer season as usual then reappeared in unbelievable numbers as the rut began in early October.

Just about the time that we bought our ranch, some of the neighboring ranches also changed ownership. During the last five or six years, the hunting pressure has greatly diminished in our area due to these changes. What we are now seeing is that the average age of the bucks on our ranch is much higher than it was a few years ago. One would think that with more bucks around and with more of them being mature bucks you would see more and bigger bucks during hunting season. This was certainly not the case this year. Although we saw plenty of bucks we saw fewer bucks than we ever have before. I believed that it had to be that mountain lions and other predators were killing more deer than usual and that the deer population in general had greatly decreased.

My brother, Dan, who disagreed with my theory proved me wrong. Rutting activity began shortly before deer season closed. Over a two day period of deer filming, Dan counted over 30 bucks. This shows that the number of bucks in our area is not only stable but seems to be increasing.

So if the population of bucks in an area is increasing, why might you see fewer bucks? I believe that as the population of mature bucks increases the younger bucks have more opportunities to join bachelor groups led by older, wiser bucks. The immature bucks then pick up the nocturnal, brush loving habits of mature Blacktail bucks much more quickly than they would if they were associating only with younger bucks. If the young bucks take on the behaviors of older bucks it seems that it could be possible to see fewer total bucks during daylight hours even though the buck population in general is higher than in previous years.|

Another factor that may contribute to this phenomenon is the scientifically proven fact that doe' s will produce more male offspring if they are not bred quickly during the rut. Nature wants the balance of bucks to doe's to be nearly 50/50. If a doe comes into estrus and does not become pregnant during her 24 hour fertile period this means that the number of bucks in her area is too low. She will become fertile a second time one 28 days later. The pH of the does uteruses will change for this second estrus cycle and if a fawn is produced there is a much higher likelihood of it being male.

This could be another explanation as to why the buck population seems to be up but the number that we see during hunting season is down. It could be that eight or ten years ago the hunting pressure in this area was great enough to significantly reduce the buck population. More male fawns were constantly being born to restore the balance. Now that hunting pressure has lessened and the number of bucks has increased, the amount of male fawns born may be far less than it was four or five years ago. With fewer bucks being born in recent years this could explain why we don't see the numbers of small forked horns and three points that we have in years past.

What ever the reason the amount of trophy class Blacktail bucks that we are seeing in our area now that the rut is in full swing is unbelievable. We've been accumulating a lot of video tape of some dandy bucks. We have three sequences that almost resulted in fights between mature bucks. It's awesome to watch these majestic bucks as they try to intimidate lesser adversaries and hope to impress the does. We are currently putting two tapes together for marketing. A blacktail rut tape, which will contain lots of video of trophy class blacktails during the rut and another called "High Country Blacktail's" which will be an informational deer hunting video on hunting blacktails.

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Even though the total number of bucks seen on the ranch during this last deer season was lower than usual it was still a pretty good year. Between Dan and I we probably passed up 15 to 20 small and medium sized bucks. Dan patterned a group of four bucks. He learned their habits down to a "T". There were two medium-sized forked horns, a really respectable three point and a beautiful four point in the group. Dan really put a lot of effort into trying to get the big one. This buck was really something. It was a tall racked, heavy horned, 4x4 about 18 inches wide. What really made this buck special were his eye-guards. Instead of the normal two eye guards this buck had four or five that forked in all different directions. The longest ones were four of five inches long and grew in every direction.

Dan knew exactly where to find these bucks almost any morning he chose. The rock outcropping where they liked to bed down just as the sun came up was on the top of a high ridge. The front side of the hill, just below the rock out cropping was open grassland. The back side of the hill was thick brush which began just a few feet behind the rocks. The bucks would end their night of feeding by heading up the open side of the hill. Just as first light came, Dan would see them bed down near the rocks. Dan couldn't get closer than 600 yards because of the completely open hillside. The bucks would lay by the rocks until the sun hit them directly at which time they would go over the top and into the brush.

Dan felt that if he was patient, sooner of later the big buck would make a mistake and follow another route up the hill which would be in range from his lookout or be a little late one day and be caught on the open hillside during legal shooting hours. Before the season he had seen the eye guard buck on several occasions feeding near a pine thicket on a closer hill about 300 yards away. Dan had also seen the big buck traveling along a creek about 150 yards to his left. Both of these areas were easily within rifle range of where he waited.

Dan was determined to get that buck. His morning hunt was always the same. He would get to his spot long before daylight, conceal himself and quietly wait, but to no avail. We even attempted coming up behind the bucks and running them down the hill but that didnt work either. They would simple trot down the brush line a few yards and disappear into the heavy cover at a different spot..

Unfortunately, the bucks never varied their routine. Dan saw them many times during the season but never close enough for a shot. But that's Blacktail hunting; you make the decision as to where you think the chances are greatest of getting a buck of the caliber you desire. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

We have been working on making a hunting videos this season and it has been very frustrating to say the least. Killing a big Blacktail buck is difficult enough without the added challenge of trying to capture the sequence on tape. A hunter can be successful in a split second, it doesn't take long to spot a buck, decide if he's the one you want, find him in your scope and pull the trigger.

Getting video of an actual hunting sequence is about a thousand times more difficult. Naturally you first have to spot a good buck. Then two people, the hunter and the camera person, must sneak within range. The hunter can't just aim and fire. He must wait for the camera person to get into position. This is a very difficult task. A hunter can conceal himself and shoot while laying prone in grass only 12 inches tall. Video cameras don't "see" as well as human eyes through stalks or grass so the camera and tripod must always be elevated above the tops of the grass, making the camera person much more visible than the hunter.

After experiencing the frustration of trying to film actual Blacktail deer hunting sequences, it became appearant why we almost never see Blacktail videos...... Continued Next Week
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Blacktail Articles Index
The Season, part 2
The Season, part 3

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