My Season of Success
By Tony Grech

...It all started in February of 1998. I was contacted by my friend, and our hunting ranch coordinator, Dave Corrick. I already had an early season Private Lands Management (PLM) tag for our ranch. I was eagerly looking forward to my August B-Zone hunt in the mountains just south of Covelo, California.
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Dave called me at work and told me he had an extra, late season PLM tag and was wondering if I was interested. For those not familiar with the PLM program or the PLM seasons, the PLM program is run by the California DF&G. It is offered to ranch owners who, in turn for taking limited numbers of bucks on their ranches and making habitat improvements, are allowed to hunt from August through the end of November. To me a late season tag meant no heat, no snakes, no bugs and cold weather but most of all, it meant hunting blacktail deer in the rut. It was a dream come true and I didn’t hesitate to answer Dave with a definitive “YES!”
...Late winter turned into early spring, then summer and eventually August first arrived. Several of my hunting buddies and I arrived at our deer camp on the last day of July. The forecast was for temperatures in the 105 degrees range. We knew it would be difficult to take any decent bucks with the weather so hot but a hot day hunting with no bucks is most definitely better than work. Needless to say we were ready to hunt.
...The hot weather forecast was a double let down for me. I wanted good weather on my early hunt so I could take a good buck and still save vacation time and away from the family time for my late season buck hunt. The more time I spent hunting early meant the less time I could spend hunting in November during the rut. I figured I’d hunt a day or two and see what happened.
...I awoke at 5:00 a.m. on August 1, 1998. I could here several other alarm clocks, in addition to mine chiming and beeping throughout the camp. I rolled out of my camper, as did everyone else. A quick cup of coffee and some breakfast then the jeeps started to roar to life. We all spoke once again with each other, giving our hunt locations so we wouldn’t walk through someone’s opening day hunt.
...I left camp about 5:20 a.m. and turned from our main road onto a cat skid and drove towards my spot for the morning. It was already warm. I was wearing only a t-shirt and light cover shirt. About ¼ mile up the cat skid I rounded a corner in my jeep and saw a fallen, three-foot diameter tree lying across the skid. Daylight was coming fast so I needed to make a decision. Attempt to drive over the log, risking getting stuck and missing the opening morning shoot or turn around and try to find somewhere else to hunt.
...I gave driving over the log a shot and, surprisingly, I made it the first try. Minutes later I was sitting just under some buck brush. I had a great view of two ridgelines that led from a spring to some bedding areas. It was light enough to shoot at about 5:45 a.m. Ten minutes later, a buck stepped out of the brush. He was heading from the spring towards the beds. He was about 150 yards from me and I could immediately tell he was a shooter. I looked at him through my binoculars. He was a pretty heavy three pointer, kind of weak on one side but he was at least 20 inches wide.
...I raised my rifle and steadied it on my knees. The crosshairs of my scope landed on the buck’s shoulder, I whistled and he stopped. My .270 cracked and the 20 incher fell where he stood. The buck turned out to be a three pointer, 20 ½ inches wide by 14 inches tall.
...I was ecstatic. I had done what I came to do. I took a beautiful buck and on the first day of the season. I could now head home early, make points with my wife and at the same time, save those always valuable vacation days. Although, I did stay another day at camp enjoying the ranch and the good company. Only one other buck was killed that weekend and it was 105 degrees, maybe even hotter.
...Back at home and work, all I could think about was November. I made a couple of scouting trips to the ranch before hand but Dave told me during the rut the bucks are constantly on the move looking for does in heat. Time should be spent on the ranch when they’re ruttin’ he told me.
...November! It was finally here. I had the truck loaded with my trusty jeep in tow. I watched the weather and saw that a series of storms were supposed to hit around the 5th. That decided it for me I took two weeks vacation and was on the road towards the ranch. I arrived four and a half hours later, unhooked the jeep and headed towards the cabin. Once on the ranch, I put a few rounds in the magazine of my .270 and rested it in the gun rack next to me.
...As I picked my away around the ranch roads towards the cabin, I saw numerous, smaller bucks. The roads were muddy from the recent rains and the temperature was in the upper 40’s. I stopped several times to glass the early season “hot spots.” I looked at one particular ridgeline and noticed some movement. By the time I could focus my binoculars, all I saw was one side of a massive, four point antler. I grabbed my rifle, put a round in the chamber and scanned the area where I had seen the buck. Nothing, the buck was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
...The next day, my good friend and hunting partner Ken Westhorpe arrived. This was our first late season hunt on the ranch. I told him what I had seen the day before and that my mind was now set on a mature, heavy horned four pointer. Of course, he had the same vision. The next two days were great. No bugs or snakes and no 105-degree temperatures to deal with. We saw many, many great blacktail bucks. At one point, I passed on a mature, heavy, dark horned three pointer. His image is still vivid in my mind to this day. He was 20 inches wide, tall, had good mass and two nice eye guards, probably a 125 to 130 class buck. The weather was getting colder by the day. With no television or radio, we had no way of knowing what Mother Nature had in store for us. We would soon find out.

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Tony Grech with his two California PLM Blacktails taken near Covelo, CA.

...I was awakened on Monday, November 8, 1998 by the sound of pouring rain on the roof of the cabin. I climbed out of my warm bag only long enough to put a couple more logs in the fireplace. I checked my watch, 3:15 a.m., and then went back to sleep. I awoke with my alarm almost three hours later at 6:00 a.m. The sound of the rain had stopped. I looked outside the front window and saw snow falling although it was not sticking to the ground. The thermometer outside the window was hovering around 30 degrees.
...Ken and I couldn’t believe the snow. We quickly ate breakfast, geared up in warm clothes and gore-tex galore. We were in the jeep and hunting shortly thereafter. As more and more daylight showed, I could see the surrounding peaks. Sanhedrin Mountain and Hull Mountain were shrouded in clouds. There were large amounts of snow half way up their slopes.
...We hunted for a few hours and again saw several bucks but no shooters. We were both soaking wet and freezing cold from the snow and sleet. After a trip to the cabin for lunch and some dry clothes, we were back out for the evening hunt. Ken was driving his jeep and I was in the passenger seat, it was dusk and growing dark quickly.
...We both agreed we wanted to get to one particular area on our ranch before dark. The rain and snow had stopped and it was partially clearing. I could see some night sky in between the broken clouds. The temperature was dropping as the cold front arrived. I estimated in was in the high 20’s as we drove in the jeep with no windshield or top. We rounded a corner and climbed a small slope on one of the ranch roads. I noticed two average forked horn bucks fighting with each other only 50 yards from the jeep. We stopped and watched for a few minutes but decided to move on. We made another few turns and climbed another hill. As we approached the crest of the ridgeline, I saw a very nice three pointer trotting along the top of the ridge. I could not tell for sure if he was a shooter but he was definitely worth taking a closer look at. Ken parked the jeep and we climbed to the top of the ridge for a better view.
... I began scanning more of the area and saw numerous, shooter size bucks along with several does. There were a lot of deer in a small draw off to my right. It didn’t take me long to see one particular buck. The buck was massive. He was walking away from me, not running but walking. He was about 100 yards out and heading towards a ridgeline. Soon he would be out of my view and probably gone forever.
...I had my mind set on a mature four pointer and I wasn’t going to change my game plan this early in the hunt. I had the big buck in my crosshairs but he was walking directly away from me. It was hard to tell if he was a full four pointer, a four by three or even a large three pointer. Ken had his binoculars on the buck and confirmed he was a very symmetrical four pointer. That was all I needed to hear. I squeezed the trigger on my venerable .270 and the buck crumpled. His head whipped back and he rolled down the hill on which he was standing, coming to rest only 5 yards from the road we were on.
...When we got to where the buck had come to rest, I was truly amazed. He was a heavy, dark symmetrical four pointer with eye guards. He was so big my taxidermist had to use a mule deer form to mount his cape. His left ear was split and his neck was scarred from his many battles over the years. I rough scored him at about 138 Boone and Crockett. The buck officially measures 140 Boone and Crockett gross score with a net after the drying period of 136 B&C. My late season buck was officially entered into the 24th North American B&C record book on May 24, 1999.
...Back at the cabin I ate a delicious steak, drank an ice-cold beer and reflected on the day’s hunt. I truly do consider myself very fortunate. It is an amazing feeling to share the woods with these bucks. I always think about the times I spend hunting alone and with friends. To me, it’s not what you do but how you do it and whom you do it with that really matter anyway.
...Oh yeah, one last thing. After, of course, letting my hunting buddies know of my success, I found out that the B&C buck a friend took in the early season (150 class) was taken only 20 yards from where I had taken my B&C buck. WHAT A RANCH!!! I definitely knew where I was spending my next opening day.

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