Opening day in Angeles National Forest is like hunter’s Christmas. It’s the day we drop all of our plans or promises, and readjust so that we can put ourselves through the spectacle that is every opening day of rifle season on public land. The driving force that gets us into the canyons well before day break is the hope of bagging that opening morning buck and relaxing the rest of the season, knowing that the freezer reflects the accomplishment made on that first weekend. The chances of pulling the trigger on opening weekend is significantly higher than any other day during the season. Opening day in Angeles National Forest is for those that thrive on disappointment.
Opening Day in Angeles National Forest: Disappointment
Every year, we have the same list of hopes.
We hope the weather is set up for the rut. The rut is a mysterious time where male deer lose all survival sense and start dancing in the hills for hunters to pick off once their seed has passed to their deer maidens. Personally, I’ve never experienced such a thing. I only see solo-bucks sneaking their way through bushes as silent as death. I may have had a second-hand glimmer of it once when Mike took a strong buck home in 2016. That buck had does with him along with other bucks, but the sequence of events were too quick to identify the fabled rutting behavior. The shanks didn’t smell at all like piss.
We hope we are able to get in further than any other hunters. We hope our 4x4s, fleeting youth, and the years of exploration we’ve put into the zone can get us further back and away from the generalized “truck hunter” who is a hair away from resting his rifle on the hood of his rig. Every year, it ends up being more of a pumpkin patch of blaze orange no matter how far we hike in.
We hope to be successful. I have no idea why. There’s a ~5% success rate in the zone with this OTC tag and we see dozens of people along the hill side, the likes that are akin to fishing a tournament at a cement pond. If a lone buck were to be wandering the canyon the swarm of hunters have posted on, that would fulfill the 5% success rate for the day. Statistically, no other hunters associated with that event would find success. It’s like the Hunger Games … if you hear a shot, it wasn’t you.
Opening Day in Angeles National Forest: I’ll Do This Every Year
There are close to 100,000 acres of public land in California. Hunting with an over-the-counter tag, on accessible public land, and during opening day of rifle season ends up being less of a remote experience, and more of a chess game with other hunters. That isn’t much of a deterrent, however.
Every year, we run into a group of other hunters in a competition to find success. It’s a strange relationship here. On one hand, you obviously don’t like the other guys. They’re here to take your buck, or they’re there to hike up the hillside faster than you and take your glassing spot. On the other, they’re the same beer drinking, public land hunter you are. When you peel back the competition and realize that everyone is here for the same event, opening day ends up feeling more like a hunter’s festival than it does competition.
After the end of morning light, as hunters return to their trucks and find their mountain brunch; everyone is happy. As you drive through, people are smiling. They’re waving. They stop to see if you’ve found your buck because you’re driving away and not taking a nap, readying for the evening hunt. On this opening day, we didn’t.
There isn’t a true feeling of disappointment. Rather, the feeling is more like appreciation. There is an appreciation for being able to do something as cool as this. Sometimes, you just gotta toss it up to the gods to decide who gets the gift of luck. Last year, I was successful. The year prior, Mike was successful; and I had a shooting opportunity I blew. The year before that, we chased a buck during archery season in their beds. We’ve been mathematically fortunate these last few years, and while I’d like to chalk it up to skill or experience; I kind of prefer it being luck.