By: Roy K. Keefer

Next year if you begin to get antsy in the summer and can’t wait for hunting season to open in your home state; then maybe you should look around for states with early season hunts.  This year after a little research I learned that Columbia blacktail can be hunted in California starting in July.  With that in mind, I set out to find a guide and subsequently booked a hunt with Arrow 5 Outfitters.

The only draw back to this hunt is that in July it’s hot even in northern California where I would be hunting.  When Shelby, my wife, and I left Las Vegas, our home, it was 108° but it was supposed to be around 95° at our hunting spot near Garberville, California.  Well you know how the weathermen sometimes miss their predictions and it happened on this trip.  It was 100° when we pulled into camp, but the next day a cold front moved in with temperatures in the high 40’s in the morning warming up to 70° during the daytime.  The wind blew continuously and gusted to 40 MPH just about every day.  We had packed our clothes for extremely warm weather so we had to wear umpteen layers of clothes to keep warm in the morning.

We planned to sit in treestands in the mornings and evenings and do some spot and stalks during mid day.  And that’s what we did for 6 days.  But the weather and especially the wind hampered deer movement.  We saw deer every day but didn’t get the opportunity to close the deal on any trophy bucks.

This cousin of the mule deer has many of the same characteristics.  Young bucks are inquisitive and somewhat stupid.  The does and mature bucks are a different matter.  The old boys are spooky and not dumb at all.  I read somewhere that the archery success on them is around 5%.  I don’t know if that is true but I do know that taking a trophy blacktail is not an easy thing to do.

We had to return home after the sixth day but those little rascals had peaked my curiosity and desire to harvest one.  Fortunately, I was able to schedule a return trip with the outfitter to hunt on a different ranch in August.

The 32 mile trip from Garberville to the new ranch took 1 ½ hours.  The roads were curvy and had slipped over the hillside in many places.  This was remote Trinity County, California.  Later I learned that many people in this area lived without electricity or running water.  I can understand why they lived under such conditions, Trinity County is beautiful.  The mountains, and there are a lot of them, are tree covered with large splotches of golden grass waving in the wind. The Eel River meanders through the mountains making a truly scenic landscape.

In the first trip we had lived in very nice wall tents, but this ranch had guest houses for the hunters.  Our approach would be the same as the last trip, hunting treestands in the morning and evening and spot and stalking if the opportunity presented itself.

I was up bright and early for the seventh day of my expedition to bag a blacktail.  The weather was great, cool and quiet.  Deer were moving and I saw a lot of them the first day.  Shooting opportunities presented themselves but the bucks were small and needed some age to develop into trophies.

The second morning was the same as the first.  Several deer but no shooters.  My guide suggested that we put up a different stand for the evening.  As we drove to a fork in the road, he said, “Here’s where we have to make a decision.  We can either have lunch and hang the stand later, or we can hang the stand now and eat later.”  I didn’t want to disturb the area twice and leave more of our scent than necessary so I suggested we hang the stand later and then immediately hunt it.

Driving back to camp my guide spotted a nice buck lying in the shade of an oak tree taking a nap.  I guess he didn’t like the glaring sun and 85° weather anymore than I did.  The spot he had chosen gave me a chance for a stalk.  It was brushy and I hoped I could slip in while he dozed.

When I closed the distance to 25 yards I drew my bow and sent an arrow into his midsection.  He jumped up with all four feet leaving the ground, ran off a few yards and looked back at us.  I guessed the yardage at 40 and sent an arrow into his front shoulder.  He sprinted another 20 yards and laid down.

Later at camp, we measured my 5×4 buck at 115″ green score.  The Pope & Young minimum score for the record book is 90″.  He weighed 122 pounds field dressed.  This was the second heaviest buck the camp had taken this year.  This was the 15th species that I have been fortunate to take of the 28 big game animals in North America.  I will never take all 28 animals but I’ll keep trying for those that are feasible and practical for me.  Next we will try to take a Shiras moose in Utah later this year.  I’ll let you know how it goes.