Mike with a cigar standing over my California mule deer buck

I killed my first deer this season hunting on Californian public land. Here in California, there tends to be a lot of competition, minimal buck sightings, inaccessible areas for hunting, rough western country, and anything else you’d imagine that comes with hunting with an over-the-counter tag. After two unsuccessful seasons, I was able to finally pull the trigger Sunday morning of opening weekend. I learned that the adage about the real work starting after the shot is, in fact, true. With my Esee 4HM on my hip, Field & Stream Folder in my pocket, my Bahco Laplander folding saw in my pack, and 550 paracord; I had the tools to get this deer out of the backcountry. This story will cover the hunting adventure, to field dressing, to hog-tying, to skinning and quartering an deer on the ground.

Hunting in California

I started opening day at 3:30am. I woke up, had coffee, kissed my fiance goodbye, and stumbled out of my $2000+/month 1-bedroom apartment to meet up with my hunting buddy in a ride-share parking lot by 4:30am. This particular one doubles up as a parking lot for a mid-city church, so we do our best to make our transitions before or after the sun is out. We kept pleasantries to a minimum, loaded up my gear into the back of his truck, and headed towards Angeles National Forest.

glassing high desert of california with bushnell legacy 8x42
Glassing the high desert of California with my Bushnell Legacy 8×42

We got to our parking spot at around 5:30am, an hour before sunrise. To our surprise, the dirt turnout was empty, causing us to check and make sure we were hunting the correct weekend. Last year, every turnout in the area was packed with trucks and blaze orange attire. We were, indeed, hunting the correct weekend. Maybe there was a sign we missed that closed this road to hunting? It is California, after all.

We loaded up and hiked into the high desert. We spent most of the morning watching jack rabbits, owls, and a lone doe. After she went off, we decided to move around and maybe spook something out. At around 9am, we saw our first blaze orange hunters on a hilltop. We take a peak at them through our binoculars and one is looking back through his scope in a fantastic display of safety and consideration. We saw 4 more does in the area, headed back to our truck, and talked to the methed out rider of a 4-color GSX-R that was telling us about alien abductions and tactics for outrunning helicopters.

Finding a New Canyon to Hunt

Come mid-day, we ended up at a canyon we’ve never hunted before. We’ve driven through the area before to see if the “No-Access” sign has been taken down – it never is. On the way back out from the closed-off canyon, we found a place to park the truck and decided to hike into an adjacent canyon the hard way. We start climbing hills “as the crow flies” before finding a washed out trail. It looked to have been a road once, but had been reclaimed by rain and brush. We walked the trail to the back of the canyon and thought it seemed promising enough to try.

angeles national forest canyons
Angeles National Forest Canyons

On the way out, we ran in to another pair of hunters who were away from their wives for the weekend. They were slamming beers, smoking cigarettes, and chewing – basically livin’ wild and free. We had a beer with them and exchanged stories, sightings, and other adventures – all without telling each other about our preferred locations and spots. Exchanges with other hunters are like a friendly game of poker where you talk without saying much.

As the evening hunt was approaching, we made our way back to our truck with plans of heading to the morning location. We find a spot that looks good to camp and decide to stay. Part of public land hunting is considering the other-hunters-aspect when it comes to animal movement. Perhaps our buddies would push something towards us when they start moving around.

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