During a hunt last year, my good friend Bryan missed a big 3x3 when his bow “malfunctioned.” It was our first time hunting this particular area of the wilderness in Shasta County. We had done all the research prior to the trip and were rewarded: there were numerous bucks. As all backcountry hunters know, when you pick a new spot, pack in, and are immediately witness to an abundance of game, it is a huge relief. That confirmation adds a great deal of excitement to a much-anticipated hunt. Needless to say, missing that buck after months of preparation was…disappointing.
On that hunt, we watched the bucks from a distance for a couple of days and planned how we were going to approach them. Knowing they had not seen us (or anyone else for that matter since the snow had melted) afforded us the chance to observe them from afar. Staying out of sight and smell allowed them to go about their natural habits in the basin. We noticed they would appear right before dusk and feed into a small meadow, and then work their way up to a fir-covered saddle that lead to another small basin. On the third night of the trip we saw them working their way up through the meadow, and we quickly but quietly made our way to the saddle amongst the firs to setup such that they would walk right by us.
The wind was perfect. After about 15 minutes had elapsed, we had three velvet bucks and a few does working their way up the tiny trail which wound through the Manzanita brush and up over the saddle. We had done everything to stack the odds in our favor, and it all seemed to be happening just as we had envisioned it earlier in the day. The big 3x3 followed a small fork up the trail and stopped to feed at 32 yards. Fearing detection by the many eyes and noses that were making their way towards us, we decided that it was time for my buddy to take the shot. As he came to full draw his arrow fell off the rest and to the ground.
At this point, the bucks were still unaware of our presence. Bryan was able to nock another arrow and come to full draw… only to have the arrow fall off the rest a second time. He frantically nocked yet another arrow, and at that moment the 3x3 looked up and stared at us. Bryan released the arrow. We watched it fly harmlessly a couple of inches over the back of the buck. The deer retreated back down the trail, and we looked at each other in disbelief. Bryan was so flustered after the first 2 arrows fell off that he misjudged the distance and shot over the bucks back.
Back at the local archery shop we surmised that either nock pinch or the type of fall-away rest he was using was responsible for the “malfunction”. After a little testing, we noticed that if you did not draw perfectly smooth or were too quick on the draw, the rest would literally knock the arrow right off. This seemed to confirm the rest hypothesis. Bryan eliminated this issue with one of the new Whisker Biscuits from Trophy Ridge. I made the same switch a few years back when I discovered that I did not like the possibility of having a nocked arrow fall off the rest while stalking or moving about.
Fast forward to this year. Bryan and I hungered for another chance on the mountain, so we planned a return for the opener of 2011. With Bryan’s rest issue resolved, we were stoked to hunt the Shasta wilderness again and hoped for success.
In preparing for the trip, I made a few changes to my gear, particularly in the food department. Mountain House leaves much to be desired. I do not look forward to eating it after a long day on the trail or hunt; the only thing that helps me consume it is raw hunger. A couple of months ago I started researching different meal options and rediscovered Packit Gourmet. I had read about the company about a year ago, but never got around to ordering it in time for trips. I’d always end up going with Mountain House because they were readily available. This year, I really wanted to try something new, so I went ahead and ordered pretty much everything Packit Gourmet makes. I put it all together to make about 8 days worth of food. I’ll leave the actual review to a future blog post, but I will say I will happily never eat Mountain House again. Packit Gourmet is better in every aspect and is truly worthy of its name.
While considerably excited to try the new grub, I was also eager to try out the new Jetboil Sol Ti stove I had picked up earlier this year. I had used it on a couple of short, early season archery hunts and its performance thoroughly impressed me. I hoped the stove would continue to impress on a longer trip. Previously, I used a MSR Pocket Rocket. While it’s a good, basic, stove, I feel it has a few issues other stoves have addressed. Mainly, the Pocket Rocket performs poorly in cold weather, and suffers in efficiency when used without a proper windscreen. When hunting in the backcountry, there isn’t much to do once darkness falls – a fast hot meal is all that is needed before bed. Since most of the meals I bring only require boiled water, a fast and efficient stove is a must.
Some of the guys over at the 24hourcampfire forum recommended the Jetboil Sol Ti. I am glad I gave it a shot. This stove boils water so quickly. It’s crazy! Normally I have time to prep the food while waiting for the water to boil, but with this stove, one should have everything ready to go before even setting the water to boil. The fuel efficiency is equally impressive; I still have fuel left in one of the small Jetboil fuel canisters after 6 days of boiling water for two people. I will do a full breakdown and review of the Sol Ti in a future blog post, so keep an eye out for it.
Enough gear talk for now, let’s get to the trip. With all our gear packed and ready, Bryan and I drove the 6 hours to the trailhead and packed in to arrive two days before the opener. We were anxious to see what waited for us in the basin that held so many deer last year. We spent the first night at a beautiful lake that seemed to overflow with Eastern Brook trout. My buddy wasted no time catching our dinner as I set up camp and started a fire. I employed the Kestrel Ultralight Knives Kuiu Edition Prototype to clean the fish and dice up some onions and garlic we had brought in anticipation of our catch. Eastern Brooks are way tastier than Rainbows, that’s for sure. I could eat those things all week.
The next morning we woke up early, broke camp, and hiked to the campsite at which we’d be staying for the duration of the trip. After arriving at about midday and setting up camp, we headed out to glass the basin we’d be hunting the following morning. We saw only a single doe by the time we returned to camp that night, and we hoped the morning would bring more deer. Bryan and I made dinner and hit the sack…only to be wakened at 3am by a big black bear that probably decided to investigate if anything remained of the Packit Gourmet Tuscan Beef Stew he must have scented earlier. Waking from a dead sleep to the sound of a large branch breaking and heavy breathing at the foot of your tent sure gets your heart pumping quick. I immediately grabbed my Nitecore, turned it on, and told the bear to take off. Luckily, he obliged and took off running down the canyon.
The alarm clock woke us at 4:45. We grabbed our packs and hiked to a rock that overlooked the basin, where we glassed as the sun rose. We combed the hillside and meadow that had held so many deer last year. Blacktail deer enjoy feeding on Whitethorn Ceanothus and Mountain Spirea, which dot the hillsides and meadows like the ones below us. Whitethorn Ceanothus prefers to grow in and around Fir forests, while Mountain Spirea is normally found in the moist areas at the edges of springs. To our disappointment, we did not spot any deer. We glassed until about 10 o’clock and then decided to find some shade to hang out under until the evening.
That evening, with much anticipation, we snuck into our glassing spot to took a look at the hillside and meadow. To our astonishment, we observed 50 head of cattle mowing the grass in the meadow. Bryan’s disapproval mirrored my own as we exchanged looks and shook our heads. We are both fully against livestock grazing in Wilderness areas. I know the Wilderness Act of 1964 permits livestock grazing in Wilderness areas where it existed prior to the enactment, but I think the time has come to end wilderness grazing completely.
Let me briefly explain the reasoning underlying my stance before continuing with the trip report. In the late 1880s, the profusion of uncontrolled cattle grazing altered the California landscape forever. Native grasses were almost wiped out, and the cattle aided the spread of non-native species like Harding and Orchard grass. Other adverse effects of uncontrolled grazing include trampled stream banks and accelerated erosion, springs ruined with dung, the spread of other non-native and invasive plant species, and interference of barren hillsides in natural fire patterns. The Forest Service spends $50 million each year managing livestock. We, as taxpayers, are essentially paying to have cattle destroy our wilderness areas.
The bottom line is that uncontrolled cattle grazing harms the wilderness ecosystem and detracts from our overall wilderness experience. Uncontrolled grazing leads to the sullying and destruction of the very areas we strive to protect. The solution is apparent: retire the existing permits. I believe the federal government should fork over the money to buy out the remaining permits held by ranchers. It is not true wilderness until the cattle are gone.
Anyway, back to the hunt. With the lack of deer, we needed to find a new area, so we broke out the aerial map from Mytopo.com and studied some nearby areas. Bryan and I decided to try an area that was approximately 4 miles away. The next morning, we hiked over to the new spot. We noticed en route that some horses and mules seemed to be headed in the same direction on the trail. We could only hope that the riders were not occupying the spot ahead of us. As we neared the destination, we discovered that the mule train had in fact already set up camp in the bottom of the target basin. So much for that. Following a second map consultation, we made our way to a canyon that we thought might hold some deer. We glassed a couple of bears, but we saw no sign of deer. One bear was taking a nap under a couple of firs, and we watched him for a while; he stars in the short video below.
The mosquitoes were horrendous that night, so we set up camp as quickly as we could. We were literally getting bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes and were forced to seek refuge in our Tarptent. The mosquitoes weren’t nearly as bad last year. I’m not sure why they are so awful this year. In the morning we woke up, packed up camp, and returned to the basin in which we’d seen the cattle. We hoped one last check of that basin might prove fruitful, but we saw nothing. Feeling a bit discouraged, Bryan and I decided that if we did not see anything that night, we’d pack up and leave in the morning. Although there were plenty of bears, we weren’t after those on this particular trip. Neither of us felt any reason to stay in the area if we weren’t seeing any deer. The next morning found us leaving for home.
Although we were not successful in taking a buck, I absolutely enjoyed myself on this trip. Nothing beats being in the backcountry and experiencing all that Mother Nature offers. Backcountry hunting, in particular, is a rollercoaster that tests your physical strength, mental acuity, and resolution. I return from each trip having learned something new and having gained some valuable first-hand experience that simply cannot be taught. Every time I head out into the hills, I am able to refine my gear and cull what doesn’t work from what does. In fact, over the last few years I have been able to pare my gear down to a constant base weight of about 25lbs. The amount of food required for any given trip is the only remaining variable. I will follow-up this post with my gear list, so stay tuned. I hope you enjoyed this trip report. Please let me know if you have any questions by posting in the comments section below.