The ‘Velvet’een Blacktail
The month of July is not normally synonymous with hunting in the dead of summer. But in California, archery Blacktail deer season is abnormally placed during the hottest month of the year. Because of this, most do not go in pursuit of the ‘Black Ghost’ because of the extreme hot temperatures and dry landscape in which they inhabit. But for some, that is more reason to get out and test new gear and chase what Chuck Adams stated as "One of the most difficult mammals to harvest in the North American 29."
During the spring months previous, I had made a commitment to shoot my bow daily with the mental blueprint process of “perfect practice makes perfect”. This meant that I would routinely only shoot 3-5 arrows every evening with the commitment to focus intently on each shot like it was my last. In addition to that, I would participate in a few of the local 3D shoots to help with shooting at various distances and angles not normally practiced in the back yard. Day after day, I could feel myself becoming more and more comfortable locking that shot routine into muscle memory. I was ready to put my process to the test.
It was opening day and I had spent a lot of time with boots on the ground the previous month scouting for deer. With the moisture year California had experienced, it provided for lush foliage and water pockets that had been dry for many years previous. With the limited amount of public land in California, it makes it difficult to turn up a good deer during the early part of the season. Like deer hunting of all types, weather plays a large part in hunter success. When temperatures exceed 100+ degrees, Blacktail deer move very little during daylight hours and can become nocturnal. They tend to feed late in the evening and come to water sources throughout the course of the night. When you boil it all down, you either tolerate the heat or go home eating tag soup.
I had spent the afternoon of the opener with my hunting partner Brandon Williams glassing thick
forested timber pockets in hopes for a flicker of an ear or tail. Not only is pursuing Blacktail deer one of the more challenging mammals to harvest in the West, trying to find them in the hottest part of the
day makes for an even tougher contest. After continually wiping sweat away from our eyes, we remained persistent on putting hours behind the optics in search of that one deer we had been scouting for all preseason. Slowly pacing through the thick oak scrub and manzanita, we continued our quest in search of that mature deer with hopes to have one opportunity. As we began to walk out for the evening, we had spotted four deer feeding in a flowing river bed below. The grass was so tall that it was hard to depict what we were looking at as they continued with their heads down feeding the lush green grass. When we both focused our glass on them, it was obvious there was mature bucks in the group. Brandon glanced over at me with ‘that look’ and I knew right then that there was a good buck in the bunch. Three of the four were considered California legal deer with at least having a fork on both sides. But there was clearly one that towered above all the others and he picked the wrong day to be out.
With only having a glimpse of light left on opening day, it was time to make a move on these deer. I slowly worked my way down to 77 yards which was the last range I shot. Based on the topography and loud crackle of the dead oak tree leaves, I could not get much closer so I settled in and quickly adjusted my single pin sight to 81 yards. The deer was slowly feeding towards my direction with only giving me a straight on frontal shot. It was time… Arrow nocked, bubble level set, and as I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, my arrow set flight arriving at its destination with a loud pop. It was not obvious as the arrow struck a rock pile in the ground and the four deer scattered. I could see the nock wedged in the dirt and figured I had shot low. Brandon was under his optics during the shot and also thought the arrow had landed short of its mark. As we glassed the deer trot off, we only counted three leave the area. I immediately felt my adrenaline dump and thought that all the preseason shooting and practicing I had done possibly paid off. A few minutes passed and we continued to pan the area sweeping left to right in hopes the deer was laying down in the riverbed. We both agreed it was time to go retrieve the arrow. That was a slow 77 yard walk playing back my pre shot routine over and over in my mind. As luck would have it, I could tell there was a slight color variation on the fletching. When I put my fingers on the arrow, it was obvious the color distinction was blood that had coated it from the broad head to the nock. My body filled with joy knowing that the arrow had made full pass on the animal. I then looked off to my left and could see about 30 yards the silhouette of an
antler in the green grass. As I walked up to the motionless deer, it was the most surreal emotion to see this giant up close. There was no better feeling than wrapping my hands around this tall typical 3x3 basket framed deer covered in velvet. The fuzziness of the antlers added a new dynamic to my portfolio as I had never taken an animal in the early velvet stages of antler growth. This buck had everything a deer hunter on the central coast could ask for: eye guards, symmetrical G1-G2 fork, tall G3 tines, and mass carried throughout the rack.
On that warm summer evening, Brandon and I sat under the light of the full moon enjoying the comradery that goes along with a successful harvest. Many go for the thrill of the chase on public land and never prosper. Others make a personal commitment to pursue one of the most treasured species of deer on the West coast. I’ve always said that hunting is a journey, not a destination. We should always strive to push the limits and continuously learn how to better our preparation and skills. These attributes are what creates accomplishment and makes the reality of an ethical harvest come true. On this night, we found success, and will be a memory that is forever imprinted in our minds forever. This hunt is a true testament to the meaning ‘Hard work pays off every time!’