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Thursday, October 24, 2019
Post-duck opener hunting tips
Tuesday, November 05, 2019
White geese arriving on time

Modoc mule deer herd numbers of concern
It was nearly 40 years ago when this WON hunting editor lived, worked, hunted and fished in Modoc County. It offered up (and still is a great place in the state to enjoy the outdoors) some of the best hunting across the state especially for huge mule deer, trophy-class antelope, sage grouse and huge flights of greater, lesser and cackling Canada geese.

The northeastern corner of the state lies in deer zone X3b, which includes the Warner Mountain Range starting at the Oregon state line, moving south to the rural town of Madeline, and its western boundary would be all east of Alturas.

MODOC MULE DEER This mother Modoc mule deer and her twin fawns were part of a herd of 16 mule deer in this photo taken last week just west of Alturas. In that group of deer, there was only one “tweaky” forked horn buck — no bigger bucks were anywhere close. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Going back into the Modoc mule record books, with information obtained by way of the Modoc Record, it was way back in 1939 when the Modoc mule deer kill, based on validated tags, was 937, as reported by National Forest Supervisor Russell Beeson. In the year 1957, during the first six days of the mule deer season the count was upwards of 1,500 bucks, slightly under the last year’s first-week harvest, but considerably higher than years previous to 1956. Moving ahead to 1969 the deer kill was 2,389 bucks as of the 13th day of the season, and (this) was the second highest only to Lassen county in the state for that season.

Based on information supplied by the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Big Game Digest published for 2019, the total number of quota tags issued for zone X3b for the 2018 season was only 794 permits with an estimated hunter success of only 31 percent. According to published figures, the total mule deer harvest for this zone for the 2018 season was only 202 bucks reported killed. Of this number, 33 percent were just forked horned bucks and the harvest of 5x5 bucks was only a mere 3.5 percent.

While driving the Alturas area last week, this hunting editor only saw one small herd of mules with two small bucks fighting over 10 does in the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge. They were in their dark gray winter coats and looked very healthy. I drove up into the headwaters of the Pitt River east of Likely and saw no deer sign at all, but plenty of cut-down trees and limbs from what must have been, or is, a huge family of beavers. Another location off County Hwy. 71 that always had deer was void of any wildlife.

WON checked in with master deer guide Brent Dolby, owner of Modoc Waterfowl Outfitters (530-640-0411).

“We are just ending our mule deer season (Oct. 20) and it has been tough hunting for trophy class Modoc mule deer in the Warner Mountains. In years past we would spot anywhere from a dozen up to 25 nice bucks a day as we traveled though this mountain range. Today, if we spot 3 or 4 huntable bucks, that’s a lot. I think that hunting pressure over the decades has had some affect on the deer herd, but based on the huge mountain lion and coyote populations we have in this northeastern corner of the state I would have to believe that these predators are responsible for wiping out our mule deer population,” said Dolby.

One important source that WON got in touch with in respect to the Modoc Mule deer herd was Richard Shinn, CDFW’s unit biologist for Modoc County.

Shinn spends most of his time in the field, therefore Peter Tira, Information Officer for the DFW, was able to reach him and passed on the following information.

“Jim, your observations are 100-percent accurate. Our staff biologists have been working that area since 2002, and the deer numbers in X3b have always been fairly consistent until recently. Shinn first started seeing changes during the drought years. He conducts fawn surveys every year and during the drought years he saw fawn ratio rates drop from 45 to down to 30 fawns”, according to the report filed by Shinn.

Shinn then went on to add, “I expect to see a rebound given the return of wet winters the past couple of years and end of the drought. I saw some slight improvements in fawn survival, with the fawn ration back up to the low 40’s to 100 does.”

The report went on to state, “The deer survey in zone X2, which borders zone X3b up in the Devil’s Garden area, was a one-day survey in March 2019 and Shinn counted 740 deer. The anecdotal reports from deer hunters this season has backed this fact up. Deer hunting has been fantastic this past season in zone X2, with the harvest success way up and the number of bucks taken, 4 points or better, was way up.”

Shinn then stated in his report, “We don’t know exactly what’s going on in X3b and why the deer numbers remain down. We hope to do more capturing and collaring of deer in this area to find out what’s biologically going on.”

In addition to the above information on zone X3b, Tira made the following mention, “There are some theories: The black bear population appears to be way up in X3b. Bears are known predators of fawns, especially.

There was also a huge fire back in 2001called the Blue Fire, that resulted in a wide-scale landscape that has matured almost 20 years after that fire. It may just be less attractive to deer than it was prior to that fire.”

In wrapping up the report from Tira, he quoted Shinn as saying, “Incidentally, there was another huge fire in Modoc County’s deer zone X2 this past summer that burned 14,200 acres. It is now contained, the Tucker Fire, which could impact the big deer herds and future success in zone X2.”

Of note: Shinn further mentioned this about the bear population, “With regard to bears, they are also known to steel mountain lion deer kills and caches. So, more bears robbing mountain lions of their deer kills also means those mountain lions have to go out and kill more deer than they ordinarily would.”

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