All posts by calstaff

A snake hunt


By Tim E. Hovey

I’ve always been fascinated with snakes.

I will admit that as a youth they absolutely terrified me. While I ran around catching lots of lizards and frogs, whenever I bumped into a snake, I did less catching and more running.

A rattlesnake

A western diamondback rattlesnake shakes its tail. Despite their dubious reputation and potentially fatal venom, most rattlers want no part of interacting with humans. Still, it’s important to be aware of their presence when out in the field. (GARY STOTZ/U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE)

As I got older and learned more about them, I began actually seeking snakes out in the hopes of seeing them up close and capturing them. I’d carefully handle the nonvenomous ones, take a few photos and then release them. I did get bit a handful of times, but for the most part the encounters were interesting and educational.

Every spring, as soon as it starts to warm up, I begin to see many of Southern California’s snake species out and about again. And as temperatures start to rise, usually during late April to early May, I start slowly searching the backroads for snakes.
Southern California has almost 20 different species of snakes, some of which are very comfortable living near suburban areas. Gopher snakes and king snakes are common species in many residential areas, where they find plenty of prey in the form of mice and other rodents. Those living in more rural areas will see coach whips, patch nose and rattlesnakes, all of which find their required habitat and forage near these less-developed areas.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to find almost all the species indigenous to the Southland. It may seem a little odd, but my favorite snakes to encounter are rattlers. Their diamond-shaped heads, thick bodies and telltale rattles seem to signify authority and an animal that means business. Whenever I come
across a rattlesnake, the first thing I grab is my camera. And I never get tired of seeing any of the species of rattlesnake that occur in Southern California.
The southern Pacific rattlesnake can be found close to urban areas anywhere small rodents and ground-dwelling birds exist. This is a very common species and is usually the one encountered by hikers and anyone spending time outdoors. Often referred to as a diamondback for the dark diamond shapes on its back, the southern Pacific comes in a variety of different color schemes. I’ve seen this species from a cinnamon brown to a dark gray in color.

Caution sign detailing the dangers of rattlesnakes

A warning sign in California’s Sierra Nevada reflects that areas where rattlesnakes are present should be taken with extreme caution. (ALAN LEVINE/WIKIMEDIA)

This species occurs in the southern portion of the state, and in my opinion is one of the prettiest snakes out there. The body is a uniform cinnamon color, lacking the darker diamond shapes of the southern Pacific. The tail of this species has several black and white bands located just before the rattles.
Also referred to as the Mojave rattlesnake, this species has several differing color variations, including a green hue. This species has an overlapping range with the southern Pacific rattlesnake and is often mistaken for it. However, the diamond patterns on the Mojave green rattlesnake fade as you move towards the tail. An aggressive species, it feeds on mice and lizards.
Also called the horned snake, the sidewinder is a smaller desert species that moves over its sandy environment in a sideways manner. A relatively passive species, the sidewinder is tan to sandy in coloration, usually speckled with darker patches on its back. Distinct eye bars extend from the back of the eye over the jaw line. Sidewinders feed on pocket mice, lizards and kangaroo rats.
When the days get really warm, my daughters and I like to head out to the desert and drive the powerline roads looking for snakes as the temperatures drop in the evenings. We call these outdoor adventures snake runs.

During the blazing heat of the day, snakes seek out cooler spots or head underground to avoid overheating. As night comes and temperatures become more bearable, the snakes head out to feed and can be encountered warming themselves on desert dirt roads.Directions for how to treat a snakebite

We arrive with about an hour of daylight left and the kids usually hit the ground running. Both my daughters have been on snake runs before and they know how to be safe and what to look for. Using their snake sticks, they head out to search the desert terrain.

On this trip, Jessica was the first to find a snake. The small sidewinder rattled loudly as we gathered around to check him out. It was a beautiful specimen, and we kept our distance so as to not stress out the snake. We took a few nice photographs, took a waypoint on the GPS and left the snake where we found it.

As the sun dropped, we headedback to the truck. We grabbed some snacks and drove to the starting point for the evening run. The spot I chose has almost 20 miles of dirt road that travels through some great snake habitat. It was to be a moonless night and within the hour it was going to be too dark to see without lights.

By the time we started driving the roads, it was dark and the weather had definitely cooled from the 105-degree daytime temperature. In the world of reptiles, this is the time to move.

If you’ve ever driven dirt roads at night, you’ll notice that small mammals regularly use these cleared spaces to prey on invertebrates and to move easily between areas to search for food. In turn, snakes will take advantage of the open areas of the roads to prey on the mammals.

We traveled slowly and searched the road in front of us carefully and began the snake run. For the first hour all we spotted were the occasional kangaroo rat or field mouse. Specifically searching for snakes during a run isn’t easy and you may need to drive several miles before you encounter reptiles. Despite the lack of snakes, the
kids stayed positive.

Another rattlesnake

The southern Pacific is one of the most common rattlers found in Southern California. It feeds on small rodents and mammals. (TIM E. HOVEY)

We turned down a side road and our luck started to change. My friend, Jose, spotted the first snake of the evening. Stretched out across the road was a beautiful Mojave green rattlesnake. I have encountered this species dozens of times in the wild and they all seem to act the same way: very aggressively.

True to form, the 3-footlong rattler began rattling loudly before we were out of the truck. He coiled defensively and never stopped rattling. The coloration on this particular specimen was amazing. He had a uniform green hue and was in perfect condition. I took a few photos, and to keep him safe, we used the snake sticks to move him off the road.

A mile later, we added a second sidewinder to the snakes we encountered on our desert snake run. A relatively passive snake, and smaller than its more aggressive relatives, the sidewinder is unique in behavior and appearance. The sidewinder will bury itself in the sand and ambush prey that passes by. It possesses eye horns, or supraocular scales, that may aid in protecting the eyes in the sandy environment.

The sidewinder posed nicely for photos and remained calm the entire time. It was getting late, so we moved the snake off the road and called it a night. With three snakes encountered and two species recorded, it was definitely a great snake run.

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS… I do understand the fear that snakes invoke in many. I used to experience the same emotion before I understood the reptiles’ behavior. If you take a few seconds to watch a snake react during your next encounter, you’ll notice that they form themselves into a defensive posture and position themselves to escape. In short, they want no part of interacting with a human.

A sidewinder

This sidewinder rattlesnake blends in nicely with the desert terrain it inhabits. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Fear is natural when it comes to dealing with snakes, but many species help keep prolific mammal populations in check. Even rattlers provide a valuable service in the wild and, in my opinion, are the most unique and beautiful species of snakes out there. Next time you encounter a snake of any species, take a few seconds and watch it react. I guarantee that as you do, any fear you may have will turn to appreciation and respect. CS

A snake hunt

When on the lookout for snakes in the desert shrub areas of Southern California, the best time to find rattlers or other species is in the evening hours when temperatures drop. (TIM E. HOVEY)


Fisherman at the lake


By Mike Stevens

With a quarter-century career of Eastern Sierra fishing in my rear-

Brookie in Skelton Lake

Trout as beautiful as their surroundings can be found in the Eastern Sierras; this brookie came from Skelton Lake, a hike-in water. (MIKE STEVENS)

view mirror, I feel I can maximize the efficiency with which I chase trout up there by following a finely tuned, day-by-day game plan for trips of various lengths. For nearly three decades, I have discovered new spots, eliminated some others, and have taken a wide variety of factors into consideration when deciding on which day of the trip I will make each outing.

Obviously, this attack plan is geared toward the type of fishing I do, the areas I do it in, and where I’m based. So I don’t expect anyone to do exactly what I do, but maybe if you see where I’m coming from and how I get there, you can come up with a similar playbook of your own.

Since my standard trip length is a week – give or take a day – and it’s based out of Mammoth Lakes, that is what I have outlined here. It admittedly reeks of OCD, but at the same time, it eliminates a ton of wasted time that could otherwise be used spanking some trout.
This is my travel day. I call it Day Zero because fishing opportunities are limited after a six-hour drive, and if I don’t catch anything, that would otherwise mean a Day 1 skunk, and that’s just not the way I want to get a trip started. However, Day Zero fish are bonus fish that I do count in the tally for the trip. Any Day Zero fishing is going to be done somewhere low maintenance, such as a drive-up spot that I won’t need to unbury any special gear to get to. In recent years, I have readied a rod to fish so that if I decide to check a spot out before I reach my lodging and unload, I can get in the game easily.

My Day Zero spots have included Convict Lake, the Mammoth Lakes Basin, Convict, Mammoth and McGee Creeks, and even spots hours south on Highway 395, like the streams coming out of the mountains between Lone Pine and Bishop. I have also done pretty well just turning off wherever I see one of those fishing road signs and go where it takes me.

If any fish are caught on Day Zero, I consider it a victory.
On my first full day of the trip, I stick to the easy-access game plan, but it works a little differently when I am working with an entire day instead of just a few hours. I still go to driveup spots, mainly because I am still acclimating to the altitude (the town of Mammoth Lakes sits nearly a mile and a half above sea level) and I’m not going to charge into the backcountry yet. But I am willing to walk a fair amount on flat ground.

I want to go to places that I know will have good numbers of fish on the board, even if they are just hatchery rainbows this time out. I want to get a strong start, work the kinks out, and hit the ground running toward my 100-trout (for the week) goal.

I hit the Upper Owens for at least part of Day 1. I can drive along the river, and while I do a fair amount of walking, it’s painless because it’s flat and open. Getting skunked is very rare; the action is wide open and produces gaudy numbers, plus you have a shot at big fish that snuck out of Lake Crowley.

Mammoth Lakes and Convict are still on the radar at this point, but

Lake Mamie

After a nice dinner in town, summer in the high country allows you to head to a secluded spot like Lake Mamie and cast for trout. (MIKE STEVENS)

Rock Creek Lake has also joined the fray because it’s a bit too far out of town for Day Zero, but there’s plenty of time to head down on Day 1. The lake is also easy to get around and is very much a drive-up impoundment. A boater? Perfect day for this one.

Now things are starting to get serious. Day 2 is always a Sunday for me, which means much of the weekend crowd or people whose own week long vacations are over and are now heading out of town, so any spot that typically receives heavy pressure will now be easier to fish. I also want to fish any spot on my list of favorites because if it kicks butt, I may want to return there later in the week. By now I’ve gotten used to the altitude, so at this point I can comfortably do a moderate hike. Saddlebag Lake up Tioga Pass is my favorite drive-up lake on the Eastern Sierras, and it’s almost a lock for a Day 2 spot. It takes about an hour to get there from Mammoth, and then I will take the water taxi to the far side of the lake and ?sh the shoreline right there where I’m dropped off.

Anyone else on the boat typically heads right up the trail into the 20 Lakes Basin and I’ll have most of my area to myself. I have caught big fish here, piled up numbers, and landed them on the fly rod and any other tactic you can think of. Fishing is usually so good here I will start swapping lures out that are working just to see what else I can catch them on.

If things should slow down at Saddlebag, I’ll hike up the trail and beat up brookies with the fly rod at lakes as close as a 15-minute scramble up the hill. On the way down from here, I will pull off and fish Ellery Lake by the dam where I have had some incredible days on stocked rainbows. Admittedly, I’ve had some skunkers too, but it’s right there; I have to do it. After lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining, I’ll regroup at base camp
in Mammoth and head out to an easy spot like the ones listed for Day 1 or 2.

Mountain trail

If you drove to Saddlebag Lake around Lee Vining, it’s a short hike from there to this spectacular fishing hole, Greenstone Lake. (MIKE STEVENS)

Vive la backcountry! Saddlebag Lake is a long day, but it’s pretty relaxing since the water taxi does most of the work, so I’m fully acclimated to altitude with fresh legs on Day 3. It’s time to put on some miles, and for me that usually means my favorite backcountry vein, the Duck Pass Trail.

With a trailhead near the back of Lake Mary, this trail brings me to Lakes Arrowhead, Skelton and Barney, in that order. Arrowhead gets passed up by most trail anglers, but it’s full of brook trout and a few Kamloop rainbows to make things exciting.

Skelton is a big lake as hike-in waters go, and sometimes fishing is so good there I don’t go any further. Barney, about 3½ miles in, always produces brookies. If I come back having caught any less than 25 fish up there, I’m a little bummed.

The base camp regroup usually happens around 3 p.m after this one, and it usually involves a stop at Mammoth Brewing and a nap, but again, a close and easy outing is still on the table that evening.
This is either a hard backcountry day, or my newest addition, a day spent working the San Joaquin River. I explored this area in pretty good detail last year, and I actually feel kind of lame for the fact that it took this long to do so.

I pick up the shuttle up near the ski resort that takes visitors to attractions like Devils Postpile, Reds Meadow, Rainbow Falls, and a couple of small lakes and cool campgrounds. Tying all this together is the San Joaquin River, which offers a legit shot at a Sierra grand slam – four species in one day – and good fishing on lures or flies.

I jump off the shuttle at the furthest upstream access point to the river, and work my way down. Walking along the river is easy My after-dinner runs are a biggie. After dinner each evening, I will head up to the Mammoth Lakes Basin and fish until dark. I’ll start at Twin Lakes and work my way up, sometimes spending as little as 20 minutes at a spot before moving on if I don’t like the way things look. Almost without fail, one of these lakes is going to produce a handful of fish, or even wide-open action. I like to end up at Lake Mary, because by 7 p.m., people have packed up and left and trout start visibly feeding very close to shore, all over the lake. I’ve had ridiculous fishing tossing Sierra Slammers jigs up to 9 p.m. – even if I’m wearing a headlamp, they’re still biting in the dark. I have also smoked them on long casts with a fly-and-bubble rig, or closer to shore with the fly rod. There are also times when I will get a feeling to check out a spot, earning it a hit on the following year’s seven-day rotation. That’s how I found Ellery Lake, and it’s also why Convict Lake is back on the radar after I gave up on it after a couple bad trips there over a decade ago. Stuff like this can occur at any time. While I’m based in Mammoth, if I get a tip, want to mix up the venue or, in some cases, get chased off the mountain by inclement weather (it takes a lot, but it has happened), I will head down to fish Bishop Creek Canyon. Both forks of the creek and North Lake have always been good to me; it’s just too far out of my zone for me to include it on the annual game plan. –MSthrough campgrounds and along roads, but it gets to where you need to scramble up a hill to get over an obstacle. There is some bushwacking to get to fishy-looking places, some wet wading, sliding down rocks and so on. So even though it’s all downhill once you get to the bottom, you can jump on the shuttle for a ride back up; it can beat you up. It’s a full day down there, and at the end your legs are tired and scraped up, but it’s a great area to fish and well worth it.
Ah, the lazy day. After trekking uphill on the Duck Pass trail and getting beat up by rocks, sticks and exposure along the San Joaquin, sleeping in one day doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world.

Granted, I’m not talking about the Vegas bachelor party sense of sleeping in, but I think I deserve the right to stay in the rack until 7 or so, have breakfast, and get back in the game by 8, or, dare I say, 9 a.m.

At that point, where I fish is wide open. It might be the Owens again or a short roadie to the June Lake Loop to fish Rush Creek or a lake; or it could be a longer jaunt to Virginia Lakes. I might be a whim to check an area I’m unfamiliar with, but the one activity I am not doing is hiking.

It could be a up a new trail, or back up one I went up earlier in the week like Duck Pass if it was awesome, or really, any spot that stood out as damn close to a sure thing when it comes to fishing success. Wherever I go, it will be knowing that the end of the trip is near, and I am going to fish hard all day, no matter what. Good fishing can really throw a curveball into the game plan at any time, but that’s a good thing.

A few years ago, I fished Convict Lake four different days because it was so stupid-good. The following year, I fished for an hour and that
was it. As structured and OCD as my attack plan is, it does allow for calling audibles to go where fishing’s good.
The easiest decision of all is where to go on the last full fishing day of the trip – the spot where I killed it. Day 7 has been Saddlebag Lake for me so often that it’s the main reason why I know I’m going to hit it early in the week, because I want to make sure going there twice is a possibility.

In rare cases, it’s been another day hike – for instance, if I caught 50 at Skelton or something. In years where I have had about the same success rate wherever I went, I might end up at the Owens one more time because of the numbers and quality factor. But at this point, I’m not only fishing and hoping that I’m about to eclipse the 100-fish mark, I’m reflecting on the whole trip and trying to determine what adjustments can be made to this seven-day madness next time. CSFisherman at the lake

Author Tim Hovey the first and second time he shot a wild swine

Hunting Summer Swine

By Tim E. Hovey

I’ve been hunting wild pigs in California for over 25 years, and in that time, I’ve chased them during all seasons.
Winter and spring hogs can be found moving at all times of the day during the cooler daytime conditions. However, when the weather heats up and the days get longer, wild pigs will adjust their movement patterns and are less likely to be encountered during the heat of the day. If you adjust your hunting tactics and know what to look for, chasing late-summer pigs can be exciting and successful.

     During hotter periods of the year, all mammals need to seek out water frequently. Most animals will visit existing water sources and usually bed down somewhere close by. When the greenery starts to dry up in the lowlands and the days get hotter, my first order of business when hunting pigs is to locate the water.
If you stand and look out over any terrain during dry periods of the year, the presence of water isn’t difficult to spot. Springs and seeps that force water to the surface or even close to the surface will maintain greener vegetation than dry areas. I like to find an elevated location where I can get a good view of the terrain I’ll be hunting and glass for green areas. I’ll look in valleys or rocky bluffs to see where the vegetation is greenest. Green vegetation almost always means water.

Wild pigs in a green field

Come this time of year, it really is all about ?nding any kind of green, which signals moisture and draws pigs. (TIM E. HOVEY)

After locating potential water sources, I’ll check and see if these areas are being used regularly. From a distance, I can ascertain if the trails leading to the water look fresh. If I can easily access the water hole, I’ll examine the tracks around the shore for recent activity.
A water source that doesn’t offer any quality cover nearby may be visited occasionally, but for the most part, I don’t concentrate my scouting efforts at these locations.
Areas that have quality bedding habitat close to available water are your best bet. If these locations are a bit remote or tough to access, they are a top priority for me to hunt. Pigs like to bed in thick cover to stay hidden, and if you find a spot that looks absolutely nasty to access, it may be just what wild pigs are looking for.

During warmer parts of the year, wild pigs will become nocturnal and usually feed in the evening. Hunters getting to the hunting grounds early can intercept pigs moving from feeding areas and back to their beds. Pigs can also be spotted on the run near sundown. In either case, these window of opportunity are very brief, and unless you are familiar with feeding and bedding areas, success will be limited.
As the vegetation dries out in the lower valleys, groups of pigs will head to higher elevations to seek out greener vegetation to feed on. Lone adult boars, usually separated from the group, will occasionally bed down at lower elevations if they find adequate water and cover to carry them through the day. When the days heat up and pigs wait it out in the thick stuff, I really enjoy picking apart the terrain and identifying these resting areas to kick through.

     When I spot a water area that looks promising, I try and develop two plans of approach to accommodate differing wind directions. I usually do this from a distance and then choose an approach once I test the wind at the area. With the wind in my face, I’ll slowly stalk in near the bedding area. I like to try and approach from the top and visualize or identify escape routes for both the pigs and myself.

Wild pig near a watering hole

In summer’s heat, just like humans, pigs are always looking to hydrate themselves. These hogs have congregated near a watering hole. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Once I get close, I spend a little time looking for fresh sign before I kick through the vegetation. Fresh tracks and scat will give you an idea if the area is being used. Bedded pigs will hold tight to cover and may not break cover until you’re nearly on top of them.
Shot opportunities may be quick and brief. This type of hunting favors a short-barreled, quick-swinging firearm. That’s why this year – when the weather started heating up – I decided to dust off an old rifle I hadn’t used in a long time.

In 1990, I was using the only rifle I owned for hunting big game, a Marlin lever-action .30-30. When I pulled it out for a pig hunt, the guide laughed at my stubby brush gun.
Before we got started, he laid out some very specific rules for my lever gun and me. My shots were to be limited to inside 100 yards and the pig needed to be still and broadside for me to even think about taking a shot.
I ended up killing a fat sow as the guide stood right next to me. I hit the pig in the back of the head, offhand, and as she ran straight away from us 100 yards out.
The guide never said another word about my Marlin.
But after I returned home, I stored the rifle in the safe and moved on to other calibers.
This year, I have been able to sneak very close to bedded animalsand have kicked pigs up anywhere from 30 yards to a few feet. For this reason, I decided to dust off the old lever gun and carry it with me while hunting the thick stuff. I hadn’t hunted with the Marlin since 1990 and was hoping I’d get a chance to once again put a pig on the ground with it.
In June, I met up with my friend Mike and we headed in to our hunting area around noon.
The plan was to head into a steep canyon where I knew pigs had been active in recent weeks. Playing the wind, I set up Mike near the bottom of the creek that overlooked a wellworn game trail. I left him there and began to hike the adjacent ridge. My plan was to get to the top, drop into the creek and slowly kick through the creek bottom. My intention was hopefully sending pigs downstream towards Mike. With the temperature approaching 100 degrees, I knew that not much movement would be taking place voluntarily.
I was following a well-used game trail and was about a half-mile up the ridge when I decided to take a water break. I bent down to place my binoculars on the ground when a large animal broke from cover a mere 8 feet from where I was standing. I had the rifle up quickly, but the large boar dropped into the adjacent drainage and out of sight in a heartbeat.

Dead wild pig with hunting rifle resting on it

While fall and spring pigs are constantly on the move and surprisingly dif?cult to keep up with, in hotter weather they tend to only get out at dusk and early evening. If you can ?nd where they’re bedded, you can have a productive and fun hunt. (TIM E. HOVEY)

When I last saw him, he was headed in the opposite direction of where Mike was set up and had dropped into a different creek bottom. I knew Mike would never see this pig, considering it was this far up the ridge and knowing his escape direction.
I ran to the edge of the canyon and waited. The creek was very narrow and I figured I could get a clear shot as the boar escaped up the opposite ridge. Thirty seconds passed and nothing appeared. I took a few more steps and looked into the creek bottom. The boar was standing in deep cover broadside. My wind was good and he appeared to have no idea exactly what had kicked him out of his bed.
I raised the Marlin and easily found the pig in the scope. His vitals were covered up by thick vegetation and I needed him to take two steps for a clear shot. Within seconds, he took exactly two steps and stopped. I adjusted, found the crease behind the shoulder and dropped him there at 80 yards. I ejected the shell, picked up the brass and instantly realized that I had just killed my first big animal with my lever gun in over a quarter of a century.

BEING SNEAKY PAYS OFF Sneaking close to bedded pigs is one of my favorite ways to pursue wild hogs in California. If you spend time glassing areas and identifying wellused watering spots during the warmer months, pigs will be bedded nearby. All you have to do is find them.
Wild pigs will adjust their movement patterns as temperatures rise. As they avoid the heat, they’ll feed more during evening hours and move to and from bedding areas very early and very late.
If you feel like extending your hunting opportunities well beyond the narrow movement windows, try seeking out summer hogs in their bedding areas. Hearing a 200-pound animal break cover right near your feet will definitely get your heart pumping. CS

Two stags on a grassy hill

Stag Party Invitation

By Simon Guild

     The snow tussocks begin to wave in a different direction, indicating a shift in the cool wind. Your scent is now heading right for the quarry, and you know it’s only a matter of time before he’s onto you. Your pulse quickens, despite your best efforts to remain calm.
You’ve been here before, not this location, but in this situation. It is familiar, yet somehow different – exotic even. You remind yourself that this very moment is why you’re here: 7,000 miles from home.

Author and his brother

“We want people to come to (New Zealand) with an adventure in mind, not a canned hunt,” says the author Simon Guild, left, here with his brother, Hamish Guild. (HIGH PEAK HUNTING)

You steady your rest in anticipation of what you know is coming. Sure enough, the stag lifts his head and turns to face you – its awesome rack on full display – trying to work
out what it is awakening his nostrils. You allow yourself a moment to appreciate his magnificence before focusing in on your scope; you have mere seconds before he’s gone. You steady the crosshairs and squeeze the trigger like you have so many times before.
Does this sound like something that lights your fire? You’re not alone. Every year, hunters from around the world make the pilgrimage to New Zealand to hunt the mighty red stag and a raft of other species that make up the most famous big-game hunting destination in the South Pacific. The dream New Zealand hunt is what they’re after, and making it happen shouldn’t be hard. However, like any high-involvement experience, there are a few simple yet vital actions that can ensure the dream becomes a re
ality and not a nightmare. Add this to the fact that hunting in New Zealand is largely unregulated and you’ll soon start to realize that a little research goes a long way.
My name is Simon Guild and my family has been hosting

A hunter, advancing crouched with gun in hand

A hunter on High Peak demonstrates the “spotand-stalk” technique in New Zealand’s rugged terrain. (HIGH PEAK HUNTING)

international hunters on our estate, High Peak, for almost 30 years. We have seen a large amount of clients over the years, sharing their experiences as they undertake a journey of anticipation, excitement and ultimately success.      Unfortunately, we’ve also heard our share of horror stories.
Over the next four issues of California Sportsman, I will be sharing our knowledge of the industry with you, along with a few insights that we’ve distilled into some vital actions to ensure you make the right decisions when booking your New Zealand hunt.
In this issue, we’ll set the scene by exploring the history of hunting in New Zealand, along with a bit about location and species, in terms that are relevant to you, the international-traveling hunter. In the next issue, we’ll look at the right type of New Zealand hunt for you, followed by the seven costly mistakes to avoid making. In the fourth and final installment, we’ll give you 10 frequently asked questions you should bring up to your outfitter.
Armed with this knowledge, I guarantee that you’ll be able to go forth and make your inquiries with confidence.

     Understanding where the New Zealand hunting industry came from provides a sound background to the advice that will follow. Wind the clock back 150 years and you’ll see a New Zealand with no species of big game – at least not as we know them.
New Zealand was a country entirely dominated by birds. The early European settlers, who were missing their favorite pastimes from back home, set about introducing myriad game species – from rabbits through to moose. Some introductions were successful, some less so, but all species were introduced on the basis of being available for every New Zealander to hunt.

Two hunters and a dead Tahr pose for a photograph

A snowcapped setting and a Himalayan tahr are part of an exotic hunting experience in New Zealand. (HIGH PEAK HUNTING)

Gone was the elitism and privilege of European hunting, and to this day it remains the right of every Kiwi to grab his or her rifle and head into some of the 4 million acres of public land to hunt.
Despite this egalitarian approach, some species did a little too well. In the case of red deer, the world-leading quality of the wild trophies in the 1930s and ’40s soon gave way to overpopulation and resulting habitat destruction. In response, the New Zealand government implemented deer-culling programs in the 1950s and ’60s, whereupon paid hunters armed with military surplus .303 rifles would head into the bush for weeks on end with the sole purpose of reducing deer numbers.
A few enterprising hunters began to realize there was a demand for the venison harvested as a result, and an export trade was quickly developed. While deer were recovered from remote locations by horseback, jet boat and bush plane in the beginning, it was the introduction of helicopters that really made an impact on the numbers. Initially using the machines as a means of transporting the meat out of the wilderness, the helicopter crews rapidly evolved into highly efficient aerial gun platforms, so good at what they did that they soon realized they were going to shoot themselves out of a job!
Again the pioneers adapted to the situation and turned their flying gunships into flying live-recovery platforms. The express purpose of this was to capture live deer and sling them back to newly established deer farms.
New Zealand deer farming was thus born and gave rise to a new industry in conjunction with the venison: deer velvet. The highly valued antler could fetch some serious money in the developing Asian markets, and New Zealand deer farmers quickly worked out
how to breed bigger and better antlers to capitalize on this growth.
Now, you can probably see where this is going. As a direct result of the breeding of better velvet stags, farmers also began to breed significantly wider, heavier and more multi-pointed trophy heads.
Before long, New Zealand was producing red deer trophies far in excess of any other country, and international hunters were starting to take note. Thus, the modern New Zealand trophy hunting industry was born, with red stag as its cornerstone prize among big game, closely supported by Himalayan tahr, alpine chamois, elk, fallow deer, wild boar and a handful of other species.


Two hunters and a dead New Zealand Red Stag pose for a picture

Hamish Guild and a client celebrate a New Zealand red stag. The country’s trophy population has become a coveted option for international hunters. (HIGH PEAK HUNTING)

So what does this mean to you, the international traveling trophy hunter? Well, you now know that hunting in New Zealand is relatively free of restrictions in terms of seasons and access. You know how our big game species came to be here and how New Zealand came to lead the world in red deer and wapiti (elk) trophy genetics. And you know that the New Zealand hunting industry is an unregulated environment, one where keeping your wits about you in the initial planning stages can result in a life-changing experience for the better.
In the next issue, we’ll explore the different hunting environments in New Zealand, how they may relate to your ethics and preferences as a hunter, and a few important things that you really should be aware of. CS

Editor’s note: Simon Guild is a director of High Peak, one of the oldest hunting estates in New Zealand. He and his brother Hamish co-wrote The Hunters’ Guidebook to New Zealand with the aim of providing quality decision-making guidelines to visiting international hunters. Find out more at

Two anglers on the Shogun boat, one holding a large fish.

Chunking Chips for Tuna

By Steve Carson

Much has been written about the use of various live baits for tuna, and heavy chumming of the live stuff is almost always part of the program.
In a record-setting tuna year like 2015, what can a California small-boater do with limited live-bait carrying capacity and equally limited financial resources?
The technique known as “chunking” is nothing new and is practiced just about everywhere tuna are caught on the planet. Typically, California anglers cut up sardines into about four pieces each, an inch or two long, and toss them overboard at regular Two anglers on the Shogun boat, one holding a large fish.intervals.
“Small-boat owners can generally only hold a scoop or two in their boat’s live bait tanks, usually just enough to use as hook baits. Even carefully saving the baits that die and cutting them up into about four pieces used up our limited bait-carrying capacity pretty quickly,” says Doug Kern, manager of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle Shop (619-221-8500; in San Diego.
“This season, we have also been buying an extra scoop of live sardines and just putting them into a 5-gallon bucket. We cut the sardines up into ultrathin slices, not much more than the thickness of a potato chip at only one-quarter of an inch or so. The yield is around eight or nine slices per sardine.
“Any time we are near a kelp paddy, get a jig strike or have a good meter mark, we set up a drift. Start out by throwing a handful and then just keep a trail going by tossing one steadily every 30 seconds. The water this season is so clear, you can see the chunks 50 to 75 feet down. If all of a sudden you can’t see them, it’s probably because the fish have come through and eaten them. When you cut your catch open later, you will see that they have been eating your chunks. This year there has been a lot of waiting it out, but if you lay out a line of chum over a stretch of water of 300 or more yards, they will eventually find you.”
Dwayne Patenude, the past club president of San Diego Anglers (, agreed with Kern’s assessment.
“We use the chunks as hook bait too, and the fish are not shy about hitting on 40- or even 50-pound line,” he says. “We use a short piece of fluorocarbon, mainly for abrasion resistance, on a 3/0 circle hook. There are enough 50- to 60-pounders in every school that you don’t want to go too light. A long soak is not necessary; just let the hooked piece drift freely back with the chum about 100 feet, then crank it in and start over. The key is trying to make the hooked baits drift naturally back with the chummed baits.
“The whole technique is just a reaction to limited bait capacity. By doing this, you can stretch your chum power out three or four times longer on a private boat. Party boats, of course, have an almost unlimited supply of live bait that they can chum with.”
Chumming with the chunks, and then fishing live sardines as bait the standard way also works.
“On our little 17-footer, we thinslice the sardines ahead of time, and chum a slice regularly every 30 seconds. Then we just do a long soak with live sardines, every once in a while putting the reel in gear and cranking in a little, then letting it back out,” says Dawn Davis, fishing manager at West Marine (949-6739700) in Newport Beach. “We have done very well this season on bluefin tuna up to 50 pounds using this technique. Some days we’ll leave the harbor at 7 a.m. and are all done by 8:30 a.m.”

Another technique that has rapidly gained popularity over the past two seasons in California and northern Baja is topwater poppers. The most common species targeted with poppers is yellowfin tuna, and in some cases yellowfin will actually hit better on a popper than on live bait or traditional lures.
Yellowtail will also readily hit on poppers, as will skipjack tuna, although bluefin and albacore tend to be a little more reluctant. Dorado will often go after a popper, but there can be a safety issue with dorado that are jumping high in the air. They also can thrash on the deck, causing the lure to fly loose and injure anglers. Wahoo also love poppers but can be an expensive proposition with their razor-sharp jaws biting off a high percentage of lures.
Best popper sizes for local-grade tuna are around 2 to 3 ounces, with a popular choice being the 2½-ounce Williamson Jet-Popper. For larger fish, the 4-ounce Williamson Jet-Popper works well, and the extra water it pushes with each splash can sometimes trigger even small fish into biting. Conversely, finicky fish may prefer the slight subsurface disturbance created by the Williamson Surface Pro stickbait. Color is not as important as getting the proper splash on the retrieve, but natural colors like blue sardine, dorado, or black/silver all produce fish.
Spinning tackle is called for in most cases, especially if casting directly into the wind. Tuna fishing is definitely not the setting for inexpensive spinning gear. When fishing schoolie-size fish up to about 50 pounds or so, a PENN Spinfisher SSV7500 filled with 65-pound superbraid is sufficient. On multiday long-range trips that may regularly encounter tuna in the 75- to 125-pound class, stepping up to a premium-level PENN Torque TRQS9 filled with 80-pound superbraid is standard.
A short, 2-foot leader of 80- to 100-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon is primarily to allow easier handling of the fish on deck, and provide chafe resistance near the lure. Either a worm knot or John Collins knot connects the superbraid to the short leader. Due to the dead boat-style and lack of ability to chase the fish, spinning gear is not appropriate on party boats when tuna are exceeding 125 pounds.
In some cases, the hooks on less-expensive poppers may need to be upgraded to a heavier grade of wire or they may bend under the heavy pressure. When fishing is very good or when smaller fish may need to be released, changing the treble hooks out to single hooks is appropriate.
This writer always has one or two poppers with literally no hooks at all. When limits have been achieved or the grade of fish is a bit small, cranking back a hookless popper can result in 10 to 20 or even more spectacular strikes in a single cast! CS

Editor’s note: You can contact the author at

Adkinson with Bluefin Tuna

To The Blue!

By Chris Cocoles 

When Southern California angler Craig Adkinson and his buddies head out of port onto the Pacific Ocean to chase tuna, dorado and

Adkinson with Tuna, holding fishing rod in his mouth

Big fish like tuna, dorado and yellowtail are waiting to be caught off Southern California, as a happy Craig Adkinson shows off during a recent trip. (CRAIG ADKINSON)

yellowtail, the trip turns into an impromptu dolphin-watching tour.
“We look for porpoise (pods). We’ll follow the dolphins and try to get ahead of them. We’re talking huge groups of a couple hundred together all working bait,” Adkinson says. “They’ll follow the bait, and, of course, the tuna will go with the dolphins. And then the tuna start smashing on the same bait ball. And then you’ll see the birds going crazy.” It’s been another productive summer in the Pacific for the fish species that are usually more prevalent further south in waters off Mexico. But from San Diego north to Orange County and beyond, anglers continue to take advantage of weather patterns that have driven fish to usually colder water.
“The best thing we’ve been finding because the water temperatures have been rising because of what they call the Super El Niño, they’re finding what they call a current break,” Adkinson says. “So you’ll look where there’s a difference in the temperature of the current, where the water temperature goes to, like, 71- to 74-degree water; that’s where all the baitfish travel.”
What boats should be looking for are giant bait balls on their fishfinders, then traveling along the current break and zigzagging the boat in an S-style pattern.
“We catch them by doing what most call fly lining. That’s with a regular tuna rod set-up, with 20-, 30- or 40-pound test, depending on if they’re line-shy or not,” Adkinson says. “We have different set-ups for different grades of fish. So if the fish are in the 20- to 30-pound range, you can use 20-pound line. If the fish are in the 30- to 50-pound range, you use 40-pound test. My buddy just landed a 134-pound tuna on 50-pound line. So that should tell you the line

A Kelp paddy in the water.

Kelp paddies scattered throughout the offshore areas don’t necessarily have to be huge to contain a lot of fish underneath. (CHRIS RHODES)

There are several hotspots for catching tuna and other species. Adkinson has fished a lot in what’s known as the 209 or 277, between the lower side of Catalina Island and San Clemente Island. The kelp paddies that break off the main islands are an alternative to looking for dolphin and bird activity.
But there’s more than just finding a kelp paddy and fishing it. How you approach such areas is just as critical as how to fish them.
“We see a lot of people do things wrong; they’ll come up to the paddy all super excited and super fast. By doing that, they scare the fish and push the fish down that were under the paddy,”
Adkinson says. “They’ll have engines roaring and music blasting and they get up to it and throw out bait; they wonder why they don’t get bit and they leave.”
It’s also worth noting that sometimes boats won’t stay at a paddy long enough and will leave for another spot prematurely when it appears fish aren’t biting.
Adkinson has learned some tricks from veteran ocean fishermen Chris Rhodes and Dave Pearson. When approaching a kelp paddy and you are within about a football field’s length, slow down the engines to a trolling speed. Then do a loop around the paddy and troll the area. Chunking some bait around it should bring fish like dorado up to the surface.

Various rods and reels

Set-ups and techniques aren’t very complicated for scoring big on tuna and other species fished off the Southern California coast. The biggest factor is knowing where to find fish. (CRAIG ADKINSON)

“Once they get excited on the bait you’ll throw your live sardines or mackerel in there. You can hook it in the nose or the stomach – what we call ‘butthooking’ – and it will swim away from the boat better. We’ll just throw it out fly lining; no weight on it and towards the paddy,” Adkinson says.
“As long as your bait is swimming toward the paddy, let it free swim and keep working your spool. If you’re bit, just put it in gear and reel tight. You don’t even have to set the hook. Once you come tight with it the fish is already hooked up. When we fish the paddies we just turn the engines off and just drift.”
As for artificial baits that can catch fish, Adkinson likes a new line of Shimano-made lures: Flat Falls, diamond-style jigs that work well when fishing anywhere 30 to 200 feet down. It’s a simple way to fish these spoons: tie it on and let it sink as far as your line will let out. Tuna love these baits. Adkinson also trolls with Magnum Rapalas or tuna feathers.

Adkinson with Bluefin Tuna

Adkinson with a gorgeous Pacific bluefin tuna, which can be caught with simple tactics like trolling spoons or fly lining live bait near a kelp paddy. (CRAIG ADKINSON)

“These are pretty simple set-ups. The techniques to catch them are fairly simple,” Adkinson says. “The hardest part is finding the fish.” CS 

"WATER WANTED IN FIELDS" printed in white over a dry grassland


By Patrick Kittle 

When Filling out the federal paperwork at the time of purchasing your shotgun this year, don’t forget to write in the state of your residence as “arid.”
We have been reminded that, although waterfowl migrate here to winter grounds, California is considered an arid state and waterfowlers will be experiencing more of the same from last year. More of the same drought conditions would result in less planted rice ?elds.
The ground that has been taken out of production in Colusa County is around 40 percent; to the east towards the Sutter Butte Basin, the percentage of rice is reduced to nearly 60 percent. This results in less wintering food sources for the visiting waterfowl.
The Colusa National Wildlife Refuge has planted extra watergrass and other “duck” food just for this reason. Another fall with scant rainfall will mean less water available to ?ood hunting ?elds. Whether the ground is fallow, planted or in natural vegetation, a duck blind is rendered nearly useless without surrounding water. Most ducks prefer large areas of water to feed and rest. The open water is a protective barrier from four-legged land predators.
If the conditions continue to be dry, those hunting ?elds that do have water will have more of the same success they experienced last year. The lack of water concentrates the birds and helps the success rate. It also opens up opportunities for dryland goose hunting. The goose hunting de?nitely opened up last year, and those who put their time and material into it really capitalized on the larger daily bag limits.
The polar blast that swept through the majority of the nation last Two men and their decoy ducks in a pondseason certainly sent some of the migration to California in bigger groups earlier than normal. Another year of that would put a big positive on an expected dry season.

There is a rumor in the weather mill that El Niño is positioning itself to dump ?oodwaters starting as early as October on California. That would be a complete game-changer and all scenarios covered here would be all wet. Stay tuned as we close in on waterfowl seasons in October. CS

Editor’s note: Patrick Kittle is the general manager at Kittle’s Outdoor Sports in Colusa. Kittle’s preseason waterfowl and dove opener sale begins on Aug. 22 and will run through Aug. 31. For more information, call (530) 458-4868 or go to

Two blacktail deer standing on grass.

Obsessing Over Blacktails


I only caught the quickest glimpse of the buck as he dashed across a narrow opening before disappearing down into a gully thick with oaks. A moment later I understood why. From in that leafy thicket came the ancient sound of two bucks locked in combat, the eerie clash of antlers, which sounded like two cue balls struck together hard and fast. It was stirring “bone music,” that even excited me. Suddenly, as fast as it all began, it fell strangely silent again.
The author stands with a gun over his shoulder and binoculars to his eyes.   I was lying atop a weedy knoll in Northern California, where I had a good view of three deer trails that came up out of surrounding oaks meeting at a single ridgeline trail. As I waited to see what would happen next, I briefly glanced beyond the hills to the cold, dark waters of San Pablo Bay, which began to show a silver shimmer at the first rays of rising sunlight. Further out, I could even see
misty spires of tall buildings rising in San Francisco over 20 miles away.
The buck came up out of the thicket and stopped on the trail to look back down, ears forward, body taut, adrenaline still coursing through his veins, as if to say, “had enough? Learned your lesson?” He was satisfied he’d vanquished his foe and started down the trail in those little mincing steps blacktails always take as he delivered himself to me. At 40 yards, I began very slowly lifting my custom-made .270 Winchester loaded with 130-grain silver tips. When I snuggled in behind the scope I knew I could hardly miss.
This little tale is just one of the many methods and tactics I’ve used against the West’s most prolific big game animal, the widespread, antlered blacktail deer.

     When you say “the West,” most riflemen outside this region think only of mule deer; that is not the case. Blacktails have one of the longest north-to-south ranges – spanning 1,500 miles – of any big game animal on the planet. Beginning at the Mexican border they dominate the land throughout California, Oregon and Washington – from the Pacific Ocean inland over 200 miles – across the border into British Columbia and all the way north to Southeast Alaska, where their genus is called the Sitka blacktail. In the easternmost region of the three states below the border with Canada, mule deer only take over as the dominant species beyond the highest eastern peaks, where the land opens up and a high desert takes over. This dividing line can almost be drawn with a pencil on a map at that cover break because blacktails are cover deer that live out their lives in the thickest brush, tall timber or a mix of the two. Tens of thousands of Western sportsmen and -women rely on blacktails to make the term “deer hunting” a reality.
To hunt them successfully you must go into various types of cover and elevations to learn how to ambush them. The Golden State has all three types of cover in abundance. It’s an exciting and intriguing way to tag a set of antlers, if you learn your lessons properly. The easiest way to do this is to take these cover areas one by one and see what works for each. I’ve spent a lifetime doing so here. Here’s what’s worked for me:

     In the lower elevations of California, rolling hills and low mountains are the rule and dominated by vast inland brush fields that seem to run on forever. Blacktails revel and prosper in it. Add to that the fact that deer season can open in early August when temperatures often run into the 90s and even triple digits, and you’ve really got your work cut out for you. It’s about as untraditional a way and time to hunt deer as is imaginable.
These bucks of summer are cagey, cautious, sneakers and peekers that know how to use cover to their best advantage. I’ve chased The author with a buck he shotbucks around in manzanita, chemise and ironwood jungles without ever getting a glimpse of them, even though I could hear an animal moving as I did. They did not abandon cover and run for it as other big game would; instead, they stayed right in the jungles where they played their little game – and often won doing so. That’s what I call smart as well as bold thinking.
So how do you choose a place to hunt in this land that all looks so much the same? You do so by finding water of any size and getting above it. This can be anything from a bubbling puddle to a bathtub-sized spring. And when water is found in this land, it’s nearly always in lower basins, pockets and canyon bottoms in shady spots, under leafy pepper trees or down rocky gullies.
These deer will not only bed down nearby but also come in to drink at all hours of the day. I’ve watched them do this from the sit, when the worst heat of midday was sizzling hot, when you would naturally expect them to be down still in the cover of shade. The hotter it gets, the more likely deer will come to drink.
There are two productive ways to hunt these important hidden spots. One is for the lone hunter who has the patience to get comfortable in brushy shade above a wet spot and wait them out. When most other hunters are back in the shade of camp hydrating, you’re out on a stand biding your time for that magic moment when antlers suddenly show up.
One of the finest, heavy-antlered blacktail bucks I ever saw came in like this right at high noon. I sat motionless under a big manzanita bush barely 60 yards above. The sweat running down my face was not just because of the heat.
A second style of hunt requires you and one amigo. One gunner drops down into the canyon or pocket, moving slowly in a widening circle starting just at the top and going lower with each circle through cover. A partner on top moves with the other, keeping pace but staying high. From this topside one can see all that lies and moves below and can also look down into even thick cover because of the angle. If a buck is moved, whether the other hunter below sees it go out or not, the top hunter will get the shooting. This is a deadly hunt in thick brushlands.

When I use the term “mountains” in the context of blacktail hunting, I’m talking about modest elevations that can also include foothills leading up to them. Throughout California this elevation can be between 2,500 and 3,500 feet. It’s also worth remembering this starts literally at the high tide mark of the Pacific Ocean.
Cover changes in this up-and-down land, from the smothering brush fields of interior valleys to taller, mixed cover such as spruce, ironwood, oaks and digger pines along rocky ridges. These changes dictate how you must hunt here. Because the land is a bit more open you have a real chance to catch deer out both early and late.
Blacktails that have fed all night move toward bedding grounds at sunup. My three hunting sons and I use what I call our two-hunt approach to match the deer’s natural timetable by extending the original hunt into a second one. We use this when taking on big canyons or sidehills, with the four of us spreading out on various high points along ridges. Of course, two or three rifles can certainly do the very same thing.
We position ourselves above deer trails, little basins and pockets where deer will go to bed down for the day, stay there until well after sunrise, watch and wait. If nothing shows up, the last rifleman – the one farthest down ridge – drops off the top heading downhill into the lower reaches of the canyon before starting back parallel toward the next stander. Reaching him, the second man moves down too, just above the lower hunter, both coming parallel toward the third rifle. No. 3 does the same thing slightly above the first two hunters, as all three work their way back toward the last rifleman on a canyon-wide sweep across cover areas to drive deer out. The last hunter can watch them moving toward him, plus additional animals they move out, with this three-man drive.
Bucks forced out like this often will try to climb out over the top, then drop down into another canyon or drainage and leave their pursuers behind. That last hunter is in the perfect spot to get a clear shot as they do so. The reason this tactic works so well is that even as smart as blacktails are, they are not two-dimensional thinkers. When fleeing hunting pressure, their only thought is to get away and leave trouble far behind as fast as possible; they don’t consider that another hunter is maybe waiting up ahead to ambush them.
These two hunts in one are a smart and productive way to thoroughly cover long sidehills and big canyons.

The author with another buck he shot

I’ve said diversity is the rule in blacktail country, and this final area certainly illustrates that. Beyond brush fields and hill country rises true high country along the spine of coastal mountains in northwestern California into southern Oregon.
Here, rocky peaks that go up 5,000, 6,000 and 7,000 feet see heavy winter snows and the biggest bodies and antlered bucks of all. Record-book deer have been taken from this lofty land. It’s a land of dog-hair timber in forests that run endlessly up and down steep canyons blue in distance. But heavy forests provide only minimal feed for deer. They must climb into little greensward basins and open pockets just under the peaks where forage grows in abundance and they can fill their stomachs.
Rifle hunters want to climb early into these high pockets, getting just above them on the sit, and look for bucks still out feeding as dawn lights the high country. Here you are motionless; rising air cannot give away your scent, and moving bucks are easy to see in low cover.
These three pluses are what make this type of hunt so effective. If you do not find a set of antlers with this early schedule, the second tactic is to be down in timber on well-used deer trails coming off the tops. Look for recent tracks and fresh deer berries when choosing one.
As morning sun brightens timberland, deer will start down into cover, heading for places to rest and water for the day on these trails. You will be there waiting for them as they come on.
Two or three hunters can take as many trails, upping the odds someone is going to tag a set of antlers. Either of these two hunts are very productive because both rely on the blacktails’ natural timetable, and also because you are down and still not moving as you would using other methods. They are a favorite in the high country for my hunting family and me.


I’ve hunted these animals over a lifetime in all environments in this story. No other antlered big-game animal can give me a greater thrill than wrapping a tag around the rack of one of these smart and wary West Coast bucks. It’s deer hunting unlike any other on this continent. That’s what makes it so unique, fascinating and exciting. CS

By Art Isberg

Return of the Favor


Urban Huntress 2


In 2004 I made my First trip to New Zealand with my dad to hunt the iconic Himalayan tahr. This was early in my hunting career, and it was my first mountain or cold-weather hunt ever.
I was completely unprepared. My hands were freezing in my cotton gloves, and my fuzzy fur hat is still a topic we laugh about to this day.
But I ended up loving the experience. It was a turning point for me. I got serious and realized how much I loved to hunt, and hunt hard.
That trip we hunted with Chris Bilkey of Track and Trail Safaris New Zealand (+64 3 693 7123; I swear that that man is half mountain goat; the way he trots up those steep peaks is simply amazing. I struggled to follow him when it was my day to hunt tahr.
We traversed the mountains, glassing as we went, and after a short while we found a great big wild goat and decided to take him. The area was so steep that when I lay down to shoot, I kept sliding downhill. My dad, Craig, got behind/under my feet and I basically stood on him so I could be prone against the mountain and shoot.
After I shot, my tahr fell on a rocky outcrop above us and didn’t move. Chris trotted up the mountain, across some treacherous shale and pulled the tahr loose. The animal slid down the shale, right past us and down the mountain. We hiked down and found him at the bottom. The shale is so small that the slide didn’t cause any damage, and, man, was that a convenient way to get my tahr to the bottom!Hunters glassing for Tahr
Dad got one on that trip as well. All in all, it was a wonderful experience – one that I hoped we could have again.

Time passed, as it always does, and although we kept in contact with Chris and his wife Peg, my dad and I didn’t get a chance to hunt with them together for many years. I visited them and he visited them, but never the two of us at the same time – until this year!
Finally, a decade (plus a year) later, Dad and I ended up back in camp with Chris and Peg. I’ve hunted in New Zealand a few times over the last few years, but I’ll save those stories for another time. This was our reunion trip, and it felt good!
I am a collector now, and one thing I desperately wanted to add to my collection was a free-range fallow deer from New Zealand. I mentioned this to Chris at one of the sportsman conventions in January, and he told me he had the perfect spot to find me one.
My dad, his wife Donna and our doctor friend Sadaf Khan joined me, and each of us had a personal mission to accomplish as well.
Donna went first and shot a beautiful tahr with a big blonde mane. Sadaf was after a full bag, so her mission took a while longer.
One day we decided that Sadaf and Donna would go up the backside of the mountain that I shot my tahr on so many years ago and hunt for one for Sadaf. Meanwhile, my dad and I would go with Chris and try to find a stag for Craig. We A successful hunt in New Zealand, and New Zealand's flagspotted a few stags scattered across the mountain first thing in the morning, but none of them were in shooting distance and the wind was howling.
We decided to make a plan to close the distance on one particularly odd-looking stag. It had a few broken-off tines and some strange growth that Chris was concerned would be dangerous to the other stags, if they fought.
Needless to say, Dad was more than happy to help take this stag out of the group. We worked our way along the mountain and tried to stay out of sight, but eventually the stag and a couple of does spotted us and fled. They ran into a thick patch of bush and stood in there feeding until they finally bedded down.
They were obviously not too concerned because they could have easily gone up over the top and disappeared forever, but they decided to take a nap instead. We got into position and thought we would wait them out.

An hour passed and Dad was becoming progressively less comfortable in his prone position over a pack. He was sliding and his neck hurt, but we were all afraid to look away in case the animals got up. So we made the decision to shift positions a little higher and a little closer. We were about 200 yards from them now but they were directly uphill in a very thick patch of brush. The only hope was that if they got up and moved right, they would cross an open shale slide about a yard wide. While this was not a huge gap, we hoped the shale would cause them to pause.
Meanwhile, my dad was struggling to get into position and he kept sliding. Remembering our first trip 11 years before, I got behind/under his feet and he stood on my leg as I dug my boots into the hill as hard as I could. Just then the stags were up. Chris had moved out to the side to get a better look and had been spotted.
They moved to the right, as we had hoped, but didn’t pause at all in the shale; rather, they just kept moving.
There must have been a hole in the brush that we hadn’t seen before because just when I thought the stag was gone, he emerged with a full visible shoulder. Dad didn’t hesitate to take the shot, but while the stag reacted as though hit hard, it kept moving. Dad got another couple shots in as the stag disappeared into the brush. Chris was sure that it was down in that thick stuff, so we gathered up our gear and hiked over. The area was impossibly steep and thick, but Chris managed to find the stag, which had rolled a bit and become stuck in some brush.

Urban Huntress 6

We were thrilled. Dad was so excited after all that suspense, even if, ironically, the whole thing happened so quickly. The stag was huge in body, with a very unique rack. The hunt was one I will remember forever because we did it as a team. The stag was management quality, a great old one that needed to be taken. Sometimes it is more important to enjoy the experience and make memories than to shoot a monster. I think this stag and the hunt to get it is something that Dad and I will cherish for a long time. CS
Editor’s note: Brittany Boddington is a Los Angeles-based hunter, journalist and adventurer. For more, check out and

Story and Photos Brittany Boddington

Beat the Heat on Shore Leave


With summer heat and the drought conditions gripping The author's two daughters, gone fishing!California, it doesn’t take much convincing for my family to head to the beach to fish. This time of year, we usually set aside one day during the weekend to drive to the shore to cast a line. Over the years, the girls and I have gotten pretty good at sampling the angling action down at the beach. We challenge each other, have good-natured contests and always keep count of how many fish we catch. We go to cool off, but the action there can be hot.
Early this summer we headed north for an annual family camping trip near Avila Beach. I checked out the surf fishing report, and even though the action looked slow, we were all excited to fish a brand-new shore.
Avila Beach is located in San Luis Bay, about 160 miles north of Alyssa Hovey fishingLos Angeles and not far from more celebrated Pismo Beach. The beaches here are well protected and there are two piers open to the public. The surf in the bay is usually small and beach access is easy. We loaded the truck with gear and headed north. A few hours later, when we first spotted the large bay from the frontage road, we noticed some commotion between the two piers.
A large group of people were gathered at the center of the fishing pier and looking towards the boat moorings. Gulls and pelicans hovered over a dark spot about 100 yards from the pier. Almost in unison a dozen flying birds fell from the sky and splashed into the calm sea. Additional splashes erupted around them as baitfish attempted to escape the predators from above and below.
While a bird diving into a large ball of bait is something to see, I found it hard to believe that the commotion was enough to draw such a crowd. But then the birds suddenly took flight – two whales erupted from the surface, mouths open, filling them with fresh fish. The signs of life in the bay had us all excited to toss a line.
After we got settled, we headed down to the beach and walked the boardwalk, checking out the sights. The whales were still splashing around in their food and the crowd had moved further down the pier, watching and taking pictures. We had decided to wait for a better tide and fish the next morning before the crowds took over the beach.

We were out early and the girls and I headed out to fish the shore. The tide was perfect and the waves were small. The first beach was very shallow and we didn’t get any bites, so we shifted further south.
After a few casts, Alyssa, like she always does, hooked up first. She dragged a chunky barred surf perch through the surf. I could tell by her beaming smile that she wanted a photo, so I grabbed the camera. Less than five minutes later her sister, Jessica, hooked a perch. I added a very large jack smelt to the count before the fishing shut down.

Sea Lions sunbathing on a rock    We spent another hour on the shore casting before we decided to call it quits. The sand crabs were there, but not in the numbers I had seen to the south. The reports had stated that the bite in and around Avila Beach was slow and the lack of bait was the reason.
I really didn’t care. I had a great time walking the beach with my daughters, watching them catch fish and cast.
Long gone are the days where I do much for them on the shores anymore. They know how to rig, cast, catch and unhook. They aren’t tagalongs now; they’re my fishing buddies.
We ate dinner on the coast, and the girls decided that since the fishing was slow at the shore, we should try fishing from the pier the next day. After a quick breakfast, we beat the crowds and headed for the Port San Luis Pier, north of the fishing wharf at the center of the beach. I had fished this pier a few times as a boy and caught lots of juvenile rockfish.

We headed to the very end – that’s just what you do when you fish a pier – and tossed the rigs out. We started getting bites almost instantly, but hook-ups weren’t happening. I decided to rig up some smaller lines to see what was happening out in the bay.
Jessica was the first to pull one of the bait stealers from the bottom. She caught an 8-inch lingcod. The little fish was a perfect miniature of the toothy adult that lurks in the deep and eats 3-pound rockfish whole.

With the new rigs, we caught a dozen of them in half an hour. The current California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations state that lingcod need to be 22 inches long to keep. The juvenile fish were way too small, and besides, we weren’t keeping anything on this trip.

During a lull in the fishing, I watched
the girls cast and attend to their gear. I thought about the early days of fishing, when I had to take care of everything. Now, when we headed out to fish, they grabbed the gear and they cast the lines. They have become proficient anglers.

A larger fish     A few minutes later, Jessica hooked a different fish. She brought it over and showed me a juvenile cabezon, about 4 inches in length. Again the little sculpin was a perfect miniature of the adults I used to see diving. We carefully unhooked the fish and released it.
As we fished the rustic pier, the whales made a showing near the moorings adjacent to the wharf. We could see baitfish flail in midair as the huge mammals rushed the surface with their mouths gaping wide. Seagulls and pelicans dropped from the sky and feasted on the stunned and injured anchovies that floated near the surface.
I was lost in the natural moment when I heard Jessica comment on how much life there was in the little bay. She was watching the whales consume hundreds of pounds of fish in single gulps, and diving birds taking their share as well.
Life and death, I thought.
A small cabbie fish in the palm of the author's hand  Since the fishing had slowed, I decided to educate the girls on why we were catching so many juvenile fish in the bay. I told them the story of when I was 10 and how my parents let me and my brother fish this pier one afternoon.
Using tiny hooks and pieces of squid, we had caught dozens of juvenile bocaccio, a rust-red rockfish. In the times before size limits on this species, we took our catch back to our parent’s motor home and my mom cooked them all up for dinner.
I let the girls know that during my college days I worked on several marine contracts where we needed to drag sampling gear through this very bay for fish research. The hauls contained juvenile halibut and other species of juvenile rockfish. Now, bringing it back to our catch, the girls started to understand what types of fish were present in the bay. I told them that most bays and estuaries in California serve as nurseries for many species of fish, and thus are very important as far as the overall health of many of California’s A sportfishnearshore fisheries. The examples of feeding whales, diving birds and noisy sea lions also illustrated the bays’ importance.

The whales had moved on and it was getting late. We packed everything up and started walking back to the parking area. At the foot of the pier was a small shop selling all sorts of seafood. The vendor had several large tanks filled with various sea creatures that were all for sale.
Jessica and Alyssa Hovey with their catches    In an acrylic tank near the walkway sat a grumpy-looking lingcod that weighed close to 20 pounds. I called the girls over and showed them the fish. I told them that this was an adult version of the ones we were catching at the end of the pier. They were both impressed with how huge those little fish could get.
One of the things I want both my daughters to realize is that just because you come back with an empty cooler doesn’t mean the day wasn’t successful. I want them to know that the reason I teach them to hunt and fish is for the experience rather than bringing home fish or game.
I want them to remember when they fished with me on a pier while whales fed nearby. I want them to take what they’ve learned at our home fishing spot and feel the pride of fishing a new beach with success. And I want them to understand how important respecting the resource is to our enjoyment. Watching them on the pier that day, I realized they probably already know all that. CS

By Tim E. Hovey