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.
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
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
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
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
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..
The Season, part 2
The Season, part 3