The end of deer season is always bittersweet for me. Bitter because I know I won't be deer hunting for many months, but sweet because my knees can recover, I spend more time with my family and I get to sleep a bit more on weekends. This last hunt of 2012 was one that Brett and I had been looking forward to for a few weeks. Our schedules had been full with work and family obligations. Also due to a busy schedule, our good friend Brandon couldn't make it out with us, but I am sure he put a few ducks down during his waterfowl adventures. Even though it would just be the two of us, Brett and I were ready to hit the trail one last time!
The weather app on my phone said it would be 36 degrees where we were hunting. Knowing the area, I knew it would be at least five degrees cooler. It seems odd to say it might be 31 degrees in Southern California, but let me tell you, it can get colder than that and sure enough it did! When we pulled up to the trailhead it was 28 degrees! Fortunately, we had packed cold weather gear, but we were not looking forward to the hike in to our spot. There was a fifteen mile-per-hour breeze that made it feel like 13 degrees. COLD for what we tolerate!
From prior experience, I knew we should wear lighter clothing in for the steep hike so as not to sweat like mad before arriving at our glassing point. We kept to our plan and began the hike wearing very light jackets and light pants. While it may have been a brisk hike, it was also fantastic! We got to see the beauty of everything lit up by an almost full moon. Hiking by the light of the moon is an amazing experience and I encourage you all to try it. It's a sort of surreal feeling. An hour later we were swapping jackets for coats, gloves and hats.
We sat patiently waiting for the sun to come up and we actually started glassing beforehand because the moon was so bright. As we sat on the South facing slope, we glassed every ridge, canyon and trail. Nothing was moving. As we glassed some more I kept noticing a dark spot across the canyon. It never moved and finally I decided to check it out. Sure enough, there was not one, but two doe with their backs to us, and the wind, hunkered down to stay warm. On closer inspection I noticed a third standing there. I looked over at Brett and pointed them out. His eyes lit up and we glassed for what seemed like hours. The deer stayed put and I mentioned a plan of waiting until they moved to the opposite side of the hillside they were on before me made any movement. Little did I know this would take nearly an hour!
As the last doe finally sauntered off to be with the rest of her group, we packed up and started to hike around the hills. Our plan was to get in position for a stalk and we knew we had plenty of time. The wind wasn't letting up and with the way the deer were acting we could sneak in pretty close. Hiking into the wind was bone-chilling, but the thought of getting close enough to a SoCal mule deer for a shot kept us very warm!
A chilly hour and a half later, we arrived at far edge of the ridge where we knew the deer were. We dropped our packs and began our attack. As we reached the edge, I raised up just enough to see one of the doe around 150 yards to our right. It was time to make a stalk! Our hunting rules (the guys I hunt with) are that the first shot (or stalk) is determined by whomever glasses up the deer first, but I opted for a different plan. While I was first to glass up the deer, I wanted Brett to have first crack at it if he wanted it. I was fortunate to arrow an elk this year and while I have never arrowed a SoCal deer, I really felt Brett should make the stalk. He had never had the opportunity and I could tell he was hungry to get close to the deer. Without hesitation, Brett placed an arrow on his rest and crouching low began the slow stalk of a determined bowhunter.
I ventured over to a far side, way behind where Brett was making his stalk, in case the deer doubled-back and came my way. After a few minutes of sitting there I knew my plan for a shot here would not work, so I went back over to glass for Brett. Watching someone put a stalk on a deer is awesome. Anticipation filled the air as Brett inched closer and closer to where the deer were. He looked like a pro as he crawled and then hunched over walked the rim to find the deer. They were not on one side, so he inched closer to the other. More than a half hour later he spotted them and was within 80 yards. He crept closer for a shot and they took off. My heart sunk as I watched them climb the opposite ridge. To add insult to 'injury' the deer were just below where we were glassing from earlier that morning. When Brett recapped the stalk for me I could see the excitement in his eyes. Even though he hadn't shot, he was happy to have been so close.
The rest of the day was spent glassing, taking a much needed nap in the sun (out of the wind) and then hiking a ridge to glass for the evening. As we sat glassing the surrounding area, we both felt the deer were not going to move and the wind hadn't let up at all. With a couple hours of daylight left, we hiked the trail out feeling successful on the day. We had braved the cold, spotted deer and Brett had put on his first stalk. I count that as a success in my book!
On the way out I started noticing more and more trash left behind by hikers, hunters and just careless people. First it was a Mylar balloon (we usually find many of these during the season), then a bottle, a can and the list goes on. By the time we had made it to the trailhead, our arms were full and we had to hike out knowing some more trash was still on the trail. It was right then that Brett said something that made me proud to hunt beside him. He said he'd be willing to take his truck in some weekend with trash cans and bags and start packing out the trash that was there. Without hesitation, I also offered to help and we now have to plan a trip back up to the mountains to clean up what we can. We hunters also do our part for the environment and for conservation, just in case you anti's didn't know that.
We filled up the trash bin at the trailhead and loaded up the truck with our gear. The ride home was filled with stories of the season, plans for the off-season and discussions of char-grilled meat. I know that we will be find some good areas in the off season to scout and map out for future hunting trips. We know we have our work cut out for us, but we also know that hard work yields great reward.