Mike with a cigar standing over my California mule deer buck

California Mule Deer

Mike rocking a Scala Classico Crushable wool hat and glassing the canyon
Mike rocking a Scala Classico Crushable wool hat and glassing the canyon

We found a clearing in the canyon’s ravine to sit over and watch.

We’re deep enough into the canyon where the white noises of cars going down the road have disappeared. The wind working its way through trees is the loud. Dead tree branches moving against one another create an alien sound when they rub. I could totally see why people claim cryptozoological experiences out here. A small bird fluttering in a bush can sound like a huge animal crashing through branches. When the wind isn’t moving, you can hear the sound the air makes when gliding over the feathers of an overhead crow.

In the final moments of shooting light, I spot a deer making its way through the ravine towards us. It’s in no hurry and is working on bushes as it goes.

As I mentioned, I can hear the sound of a crow gliding overhead, but when a deer is working it’s way towards us, it does so in silence. It’s within 200-yards and we still can’t make out the gender in the quickly dimming light. As it gets within 100-yards of us, I put my rifle scope on it. It’s a small buck. It silhouettes itself on a white gypsum wall and I still haven’t determined if it’s legal to take. I wanted nothing more than to see a nub of an antler poking from its spike, but couldn’t focus in enough to find it. I let it walk slowly up the hill and behind us. It was within 70-yards and had no idea we were there. What an exciting thing to be doing…

overlooking an opening in the ravine in angeles national forest
Overlooking an opening in the ravine

Sunday of Opening Weekend

A survival bandana in blaze orange tied to my pack
A survival bandana in blaze orange tied to my pack

Night was nuts. We saw the longest shooting star we’ve ever seen. It lit the sky from one side to the other and was close enough to see sparks coming off of its tail. Sleeping was sparse. Coyotes sang throughout the night and animals kept walking through camp. I noticed the next day that we camped next to a highly used game trail. I swear I heard deer walking by my tent.

We headed to the same spot the following morning to see if we’d run into similar luck. After not seeing much movement in the first few hours, we decided to walk and hunt while moving deeper into the canyon. We spotted our old buddies on a hilltop pounding brews against the sky-light (it’s 7:30am), so we keep moving deeper, past where they’re able to see.

We find a spot to sit on a steep hillside at the back of the canyon and wait. At around 9:20am, we’re about to call it a morning but see the first bit of movement for the day. I briefly see a deer come down the opposite side of the canyon to us before it ghosted into the sycamores. It keeps disappearing between bushes but we can see that it’s moving fast.

The back of the canyon in Angeles National Forest
The back of the canyon in Angeles National Forest

It crosses the canyon at some point and is out of sight for a few minutes. I can’t remember if we determined the gender yet but I think we had. I think we were questioning whether it was legal or not. Mike thinks it was making its way towards the back of the canyon away from us and suggested going in for the stalk. The other option was to wait a bit longer to see if it came up a hill so we could confirm which way it was heading. I opted to stay put.

I can’t describe the moment when the decision you made manifests into a deer body a few crests over. The sun is shining strong into the canyon and the body of the deer has a halo of sun around it as it moves between bushes. I put my scope on it as it’s walking and it stops. I see it’s full body, it’s head, and a fork antler on each side of it’s head – it’s a legal buck. My rifle is resting on my backpack and I’m leaning over it trying to get within relief range of the scope. The butt of the rifle isn’t tight on my shoulder as I’m hunched over. I already know that I’m going to scope myself. I whisper to Mike, “I’m gonna shoot that buck.”

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