By Michael Schmaljohann
Just prior to the hunting season, the Northern California’s central valley becomes dry and parched. The grass sways in the blistering wind like brown waves tossed about on the open sea. During these scorching days in June, July and August the temperatures can hang well over the century mark for days on end. Yet during these same months, hidden high in the confines of the surrounding snowcapped mountains, Spring is sprouting forth on every sunny slope and the meadows are becoming lush.
The Trinity Alps Wilderness Area is the preferred summer home of some of the healthiest and most prized specimens of California’s blacktail deer. This majestic high mountain paradise is nestled in the midst of the “B” Zone, known as the ‘Deer Factory’. It is accessible only to the heartiest hunters and that’s why there are few that hunt there.
We spot an unusually high number of bucks on the way to the trailhead. A grin creeps over my face as it becomes apparent that my clients are about to experience a very special treat. The energy level hits a new high as the horses are packed. Each hunter readies themselves for the hike. We have miles of strenuous hiking before us; a small price to pay for a premium wilderness experience.
Early evening finds tents erected, bow hunting equipment organized for the o’dark early start and binoculars scanning the surrounding draws, wooded groves and brushy ridgelines. There are bucks sighted in every direction. Within minutes everyone realizes that this hunt has wonderful potential of being spectacular.
Mick, Mike and Tim spotted a number of premium 4 point bucks running together and they decide to work as a team and settle for nothing less than one of the big ones. One nice shooter was spotted by the trio bedding down in a grove of unapproachable pines set on a knoll. They position themselves to cover the three most likely exits and settle in. Time grinds on. Finally the grand deer and his lesser companion cautiously break cover.
Mick has hidden himself 20 yards above the most likely trail. He comes to full draw and follows the two bucks waiting for just the right moment. Then unexpectedly they sidestep the trail and travel through the brush. Mick is forced to settle for a private puppet show of antlers with no opportunity to shoot.
Mike is focused, watching the trail in front of him. Then something catches his attention behind him. It’s the bucks! As he painstakingly repositions himself for the shot, they spot him and freeze. He carefully aims and releases his arrow on target, but the wise old buck easily jumps the string and Mike’s arrow passes cleanly through the thin mountain air.
From a distance Tim watched the prized buck foil his two friends. As the buck momentarily drops from view Tim quickly moves his adjustable sight-pin to 50 yards and draws for the shot. The lesser buck walks into view on cue. It’s still. Moments like these take a long time in passing. Out of his left eye he catches a flit of motion and his heart sinks. The big boy is a mere 17 yards to his left. It’s snap decision time! In one fluid motion he spins, aims and releases. The buck is already airborne and the arrow misses its mark, but not the deer and the broadhead slices a devastating path through meat, tendons and veins. A short while later it’s photo time.
On his way back to camp from relentlessly chasing a bachelor herd all over the high country, the “bear magnet” (so called for his many bear sightings) spots yet another fine bruin. The bear and John study each other while John takes aim. He shoots and the bear is gone in a flash, sprinting through the brush and trees. Confident of his shot, John puts forth great effort and picks up the trail far down the hillside. Wisely John marks the spot of first contact and heads for camp. It’s growing dark and for safety’s sake we decide to pick up the trail at first light. In the early morning light, the trail is easy to follow. Clearly the bear hadn’t lasted long, but had covered a lot of ground at high speed. A short while later John is all smiles.
Often times the responsibilities of being trail boss cuts into my hunting time, but I don’t mind. After all, most of the guys that hunt with me only get a few days to hunt, while I have the entire season to roam my favorite landscapes. This early evening finds me heading back to camp working the mountainside as I go. In the dimming light I catch a slight movement 100 yards or so down the hill. When practiced, I’m good to 70 yards. I duck down and move quickly to close the distance. In moments I have a record book buck centered in my peep sight at 65 yards, but my shot confidence is only 50%. My aging light gathering sight pin disappears against the majestic buck’s fur! I let down and sneak in a little closer. It’s still a no go. I watch 4 more shooters parade by and the 6th is by far the best. I draw again only to get the same disappointing results. I can’t see my pin well enough for a SURE shot. With a deep breath to help me relax I settle for the view and the memory.
I have new pins. I can see them in dim light. If the monster bucks show themselves to me again this year, I have every confidence I’ll be singing a different tune. In all I let 7 bucks walk last year. Down in camp they were having some excitement of their own.
The 4 point and John’s bear were both dressed and hanging. Suddenly, this young buck appears on the far side of the meadow. Mike, donned in his special camo attire of flip-flops, shorts and a tank-top, snags his bow and attempts to cross the meadow for a shot. The buck breaks for cover at 50 yards. The boy buck reappears! Mike again takes pursuit and again at 50 yards the little buck bounds off. This buck has a death wish! Our master of camo takes pursuit for a third time. However, this time he stops short at 70 yards. He tells the story afterwards, “I just pretended I was shooting at a 3D target. I checked my stance and paid attention to my form. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. When my pin covered the heart I let ‘r’ go.” Everybody in camp watched as the arrow traveled a high arc and vanished into the forked horns chest. He jumped high, mule-kicked and in an instant was gone. Mike’s antlered prize was discovered only 40 yards past the meadow’s edge. He had cut the deer’s heart nearly in half.
When all was said and done; we had counted 39 distinctly different bucks. Later we calculated that in all some 80 bucks and 12 bear had been sighted.
And they want to hunt with Mike’s Outdoors again this year, go figure.
You can contact Michael Schmaljohann or his staff by going to www.mikesoutdoors.net or calling (888) 505-1870.