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Feature Article: Archery Deer Season

It’s here already!

BY DURWOOD HOLLIS/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Aug 07, 2018

With the archery deer season on the Central Coast open and the general season not far off, it’s time for hunters to gear up for big game hunting

CENTRAL COAST — Believe it or not, opening day of the A-Zone archery deer season was July 18 this year, and just a few weeks after that is the Aug. 18 general season deer opener. A total of 65,000 tags have been allotted for the 2018 general season, far more than any other state deer hunting zone. Best of all, a hunter can purchase two-buck tags for this zone. In my own more than two decades of pursuing deer in this region, I never failed to fill both of my tags.

What is it about the Central Coast that affords such great deer hunting? Simply put, it’s a combination of good weather, excellent habitat and lots of private ground that combine to provide the deer herd tremendous protection and potential. Basically, two different genetic deer species variations exist along the Central Coast. In the northern portion the deer are Columbian black tails, in the southern half the deer are California mule deer and in between the deer have hybridized and often manifest characteristics of both subspecies.

locatingdeerLOCATING DEER WITH binoculars and then getting in position for a shot is the best way to fill your tag. PHOTO BY DURWOOD HOLLIS

Typically, west of State Highway 101 and somewhat north of Paso Robles, the deer possess greater black tail characteristics. These animals field dress in the range of 100 to 130 pounds, and usually possess forked horn or 3x3 antler formation, with an occasional 4x4 buck taken. East of State Highway 101 in the Inner-Coastal Mountains, the deer have strong California mule deer characteristics and are somewhat larger both in body and antler size. The rut in this zone usually begins about the second week in September and reaches a crescendo in early October.

Along the Central Coast, both in the Coastal and Inner-Coastal Mountain ranges the deer are non-migratory. Even during winter months the weather is pleasant enough that the phenomena of “winter kill” is generally unheard of. In addition, the presence of several oak species offers an excellent source of deer nutrition and intermittent stands of dense chaparral provide protection from both predators and inclement weather. Of course, the further protection of the vast number of private ranches in this region also provides continual food, water and shelter. For deer, this is a “win-win” environment.

Even though much of the ground along the Central Coast is held in private hands, there is some public hunting access on Bureau of Land Management holdings, National Forest land and a three Military Bases (Vandenberg Air Force Base, Fort Hunter Liggett and Camp Roberts). Parcel boundaries and military hunting regulations often change fro year-to-year, but it’s still possible to find deer hunting success on public land.

THIS FATHER AND his two sons were able to score on a pair of forked-horn bucks just after first light.

The two keys to successfully tagging a Central Coast buck are: one, have the where-with-all to afford a hunt on a private ranch with a guide; or two, be willing to put in the time and boot leather necessary to fill your tag on public ground. Additionally, timing your hunt to coincide with both a dark moon phase and the beginning of the rut can further tilt the odds in your favor.

Hot weather deer hunting can place special demands on both the hunter and any harvested game. Keeping hydrated is absolutely essential, so carry water on every hunt. Also, wearing a hat or cap can keep the sun from frying your noggin. And some form of sunscreen and lip moisturizer can offer enhanced protection from ultraviolet rays. A pair of well broken-in boots, a light jacket, brush resistant trousers and a breathable shirt is about the hunting attire you’ll need.

If you’re successful in tagging a buck, then immediate field dressing and prompt skinning is necessary to cool the carcass and ensure adequate meat integrity. Covering the skinned carcass with a mesh game bag will further protect it from insect intrusion. Other game care essentials like a knife, sharpener, gambrel hook, hoist, deer drag and a fanny or backpack can all come in handy.

When it comes to personal hunting gear, in my opinion, a good binocular is essential. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but bargain basement optics are a waste of funds. If you can afford one of the high-priced German-made optics, then go for it. However, even a mid-range priced binocular is quite able to do the job. Look for a name brand and select something offering 8x magnification or higher. Spending more time behind your binocular than covering ground is a proven method of successfully putting meat in the freezer.

While it is true that hot weather hunting isn’t everyone’s “cup of tea,” nevertheless, the A-Zone is one of the most productive deer hunting seasons in the state. Personally, sunshine, pleasant weather and dry trails are a lot more comfortable than gray skies, freezing weather and snow. Given the choice, I’ll choose sunshine every time. After all, I am a Californian at heart!

usingahoistUSING A HOIST (top) and gambrel hook (bottom) can enable even a solo hunter to hang a deer off the ground to facilitate skinning.

everyhuntersEVERY HUNTER’S GAME care kit should include a pair of protective gloves, a mesh game bag and other field essentials.

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