Not long ago I heard a story about a school teacher in Montana who asked students on a quiz to name the four seasons. The most common answer she got was Trout Season, Deer Season, Elk Season, and Duck Season. That’s sort of the way my mind works too. Opening Day of both deer season and bear season for the Sierra Nevada Mountains is Saturday, Sept. 28. Deer season runs six weeks until Nov. 3, while bear season lasts until Dec. 29.
Hunting in California is not nearly as productive as in many other states. If you really want to stand a good chance of killing a deer or bear, you’d be far better off to drive to Colorado, Utah or Wyoming. For me however, hunting is about far more than simply killing a critter and putting meat in the freezer. My roots are here, I was raised here and learned to fish and hunt here. I have no quarrel with folks who want to hunt in other states but, for better or worse, California is home and that’s where I’ll do most of my hunting and fishing. . I enjoy the entire hunting experience, from pre-season scouting trips, to the smells of coffee and campfire smoke. I even enjoy a venison stew on a cold winter night or breakfast sausage from bear I shot.
I enjoy studying the habits of the deer and trying to think like they do. For example, there are two main kinds of deer in California: Blacktails, and Mule Deer. Blacktails are darker in color than Mulies and smaller in size. The average Blacktail deer won’t run much over 125 pounds and some costal varieties are much smaller. Mulies are a lighter grey in color and a big buck can weigh up to 200 pounds. The two species prefer different habitats and are not usually found together. Blacktails are usually found in the forests west of the Sierra Nevada crest while Mule Deer range through the open sage and aspen country on the east side of the Sierra. The dividing line between the two species is quite precise. Mulies like the open range broken by aspen groves, while Blacktail like the protection of the thicker forests.
Because of the different habitat preferences to have any chance of success you must adapt your techniques and your gear to the game you seek. Many hunters will swear that the ideal rifle for Blacktails is a lever action saddle gun with traditional iron sights in 30-30 caliber. They can be brought up to your shoulder quickly and are best suited for closer ranges. The ideal Mule Deer rifle however, is almost certainly a bolt action in a larger caliber equipped with a scope for long range shots out to 300 yards and beyond. My favorite rifle is a 7 by 57 millimeter bolt action Mauser that is neither as fast handling as the little saddle gun nor as far reaching as the bigger caliber magnums. Like most compromises it is adequate for both but perfect for neither.
Still, even though the hunting may be better in the Rockies, and I’m handicapped by my compromise rifle, I’ll be out there again this fall, savoring the smell of the coffee and the warmth of the campfire as I listen to the coyotes sing, and swap lies with hunting companions about hunts long past. Hunting season is here and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Until Next Week,