Get through heat,


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Nov 29, 2001
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By Terry Knight
Fishing and Hunting News

LAKEPORT, Cailf. — The A Zone deer season kicks off on Aug. 14, and hunters can expect a challenge.

Overall, the state's coastal deer herd continues to struggle, and with a drier than normal spring, hunters are going to have to work hard for their bucks.

The A Zone stretches from Mendocino County in the north to Los Angles County in the south.

This year it's broken into two sections: Northern Unit 160 and Southern Unit 110.

But although the Department of Fish and Game split the A Zone for management purposes, a general A tag is good for both units.

All the deer in the A Zone are classed as Colombia blacktail, and last year hunters had a success rate of approximately 26 percent.

As is typical in blacktail hunting, 2-pointers make up a majority of the take.

For the 2003 season, 68 percent of the bucks were 2-pointers, 23 percent were 3-pointers and 7 percent were 4-pointers.

Water works

Without question, the best hunting will be in the Northern Unit.

Despite a drier-than-normal winter and spring, there's still plenty of feed, and many of the springs still contain water.

However, some springs have dried up, so deer will be concentrated near the wet springs and feed areas.

In the Southern Unit, it's a different story. The continuing drought and tinder-dry woods have suppressed the deer herd.

Portions of the Los Padres National Forest are little more than a desert, with many of the springs resembling dust bowls.

As in past years, the best hunting in the Southland will be on private property, but for hunters who don't mind hiking several miles, the national forest just east of San Luis Obispo does offer a fair chance of bagging a buck.

Rick Copeland of Wilderness Unlimited (510-785-4868) says that his organization's ranches in Southern California should provide good hunting despite the drought.

Wilderness Unlimited has seven ranches in the southland.

According to Copeland, the 15 Wilderness Unlimited ranches in the A Zone in Northern California look much better, with ample feed and water.

Mendocino NF

Whereas most of the prime A Zone hunting areas are on private ranches, there is an abundance of public land where the chances of bagging a trophy buck are very good.

Topping the list of public lands is the Mendocino National Forest, which ranges in elevation from 500 feet to more than 6,500 feet.

The terrain varies from thick brush and woodlands to pine forests.

The most popular section in the national forest is from Upper Lake in Lake County to Lake Pillsbury, but areas like Horse Mountain, Pine Mountain, Deer Valley, French Ridge and Goat Mountain all have some good bucks.

This year the national forest is drier than in past years, and the deer will be concentrated near the wet springs.

The western side of Horse Mountain has some springs that stay wet even in the driest of years. At Pine Mountain, hunters should check out Bucknell Creek.

Deer Valley draws a lot of hunting pressure but also holds some excellent bucks. Every year several good bucks are taken off French Ridge.

Goat Mountain, at a 6,000-foot elevation, holds some good bucks, but it will take hiking to get to them.

On the eastern edge of the national forest is Indian Valley Reservoir. This is rugged country, but it can offer very good hunting.

The best area is on the ridges above the eastern shore of the lake along Walker Ridge Road.

Cache-ing in

Another good area is the Cache Creek Wildlife Area in eastern Lake County.

Last year, hunters reported seeing a good number of bucks in Wilson Valley, a 5-mile hike from the trailhead.

Butting up to the Cache Creek WA is the Payne Ranch, another Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding.

This is 20,000 acres of public land that holds some excellent bucks, but the downside is that it's all hike-in country.

The better bucks are concentrated along Cache Creek.

More options

The Knoxville Wildlife Area, located on Knoxville Road out of Lower Lake in Lake County, has more than 16,000 acres open for hunting.

This is also a hike-in area, with the best hunting on the eastern border near Big Blue Ridge.

The Cow Mountain Recreation Area, BLM land located just east of Ukiah, has more than 50,000 acres of hunting land.

Much of it is dry brushland and the deer population is still down, but a few areas are worth a try. The Red Mountain area holds some deer.

Another area that has a few bucks is the old Norris Ranch (Eight Mile Glade). The ridges below the TV translator station are also worth a try.

Southern options

In the Southland, the Los Padres National Forest offers the best chance for the hunter on public land.

However, only those willing to put in the time and do some preseason scouting can expect to score.

Most of the national forest is tinder-dry, and there are fire restrictions throughout.

No campfires are allowed outside of designated campgrounds. In addition, there is a restriction on target shooting. The only exception is for hunters.

Questa Peak, located near San Luis Obispo, offers limited hunting opportunities.

The national forest west of Frazier Park from Tejon Pass to Reyes Peak has a few deer, but the hunting terrain is rough.

Early heat

Hunters should expect searing temperatures during the first few weeks of the season.

By the first week in September the weather should cool and the bucks will start into rut the final week of the season, which ends on Sept 26.

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