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Hunting trip gone bad

Francisco Garcia, Outdoorman's Diary, bad hunting story

f you asked me what I’d rather be doing, most of the time I would emphatically say, deer hunting. For me nothing gets the juices flowing and the imagination spinning like the arrival of bow or rifle season for deer. When this time nears every year you will find me frantically preparing my equipment and getting my body in shape for the upcoming rigors of hiking or carrying heavy weight on my back. This year’s bow season has become one of the most memorable for me and not for a good reason either.

This season I chose to accompany a good friend to his hunting spot in the Shasta Trinity National Forest near Forest Glenn. Last year he and his hunting camp saw lots of bucks running around and hanging in other’s camps as well. This was enough to convince me to try a new spot; my bow hunting spots have not been panning out in the last few years.

Deer holding tight in cover during times of heavy hunting pressure as I was about to find out. Francisco Garcia hunting story.
Bucks hold tight in cover during times of heavy hunting pressure as I was about to find out. Photo by author

This new spot is not the type of place I normally hunt, it is easily accessible and crisscrossed with roads, making it a road hunter’s paradise. I prefer areas that are hard to get into and harder to get a dead buck out. I normally backpack in and spend three to four days living off what I can carry on my back. That means surviving off dehydrated meals that only require the addition of hot water, plus dried fruit, granola bars and oat meal. This time around we would be car camping off of one of the many dirt roads and living it up; we brought steaks, bacon, and corn on the cob, cold drinks, coffee etc. This type of hunting can spoil you real quick, before you know it, you are just camping instead of hunting. For some guys opening weekend of deer season is just a big party where a lot of beer gets drank and a lot more exaggerated hunting stories get told.

My friend loves this type of hunting; he is a true road hunter who continuously drives the same dirt roads over and over until he gets lucky enough to spot a deer as it crosses the road. I personally can’t stand it, it seems like luck plays a bigger part in it then skill.

My plan was to sit in a tree stand over a spring in a big timber patch surrounded by roads. I wanted to sit tight and let someone push a deer my way or simply shoot one as it came in for a drink. I set my tree stand up on Friday afternoon and saw three different groups of bucks, ten total, all feeding or bedded down in the draw where the spring was. Normally I like to hang my stand days or weeks before the opener, but this time I was not able to do it.

That night I was unable to get much sleep because I was so amped up and full of anticipation for what the morning would bring. I had visions of bucks prancing around my stand clueless to my presence and me trying to decide which one to shoot.

Saturday morning I was up at four in the morning and snuck into my tree stand under the cover of darkness; I wanted to be in my stand well before first light. After sitting for about forty-five minutes I began hearing vehicles as they wound their way up the mountain. What happened next, I did not expect, three trucks showed up on a road near my stand and began walk hunting through my hunting area. They pretty much ruined my morning hunt by loudly crashing through the woods and spooking anything that might have come my way. They didn’t even spook a deer in my direction either, all my hard work and hopes vanished instantly - what a drag.

My only option was to climb down from my stand and do some still-hunting in hopes of spotting a buck that had been pushed by other hunters. I did this for the next three hours but had no luck; I didn’t even see a doe. My buddy had just about as much luck as I, so after some lunch we decided to drive to another location.

On our way there we had two bucks cross the road in front of us, one a forked-horn, the other a hard-horned three point. We each took our bow and attempted to catch up to the bucks who had run into the woods. We attempted to circle and get ahead of them, me going right and my buddy going left. After sneaking along for a couple of minutes I spotted them ahead of me and one was standing broadside at sixty yards. I was smacking bull’s eyes on my target in camp earlier that day and was confident I could make the shot. As I attempted to draw my bow I heard a loud THWACK and the two bucks exploded out of there. I immediately thought that my friend had shot at the bucks, I even noticed one run kind of funny.

Shortly after, my friend came over to where I was and I asked him if he had hit it. He said, “hit what?” I said “the bucks, what else?” “Oh I didn’t shoot” he says. I then asked him what that loud thwack I heard was that had the bucks running for their lives. He continued and said that at one point during the stalk he attempted to duck under a branch and his binoculars came off his neck and loudly smacked into a dead log at his feet. I mistook this noise for the sound an arrow makes sometimes when it hits flesh and bone. I could not believe what I was hearing, at first I was bummed because I was seconds away from shooting a buck but at the same time happy for my friend shooting it instead. Needless to say we both felt drained and deflated, we finally had a chance that was lost due to a simple mistake.

I photographed this mountain lion track near where I had my tree stand. Francisco Garcia.
I photographed this mountain lion track near where I had my tree stand. Photo by author

We continued hunting until the day of our departure, which was Monday, but did not get any more opportunities. The deer sightings dropped drastically due to all the pressure.

Sunday night was our last night there and turned out to be pretty exciting. We had been camping on a creek bottom and found fresh mountain lion tracks in the soft soil a couple hundred yards from out camp. We had been looking for a pool of water to wash up in when we found them. I have seen two in the wild in my years of hunting and a few sets of tracks as well.

That night we stayed up later than usual due to it being out last night there. It was exactly midnight when we finally started getting ready for bed when suddenly my friend says “listen, what was that”? Listening intently I began to hear it too: GROWWELLL, GROWWELLL, GROWWELLL! It was the mountain lion calling in the night close to our camp where we had seen the tracks earlier. It was an eerie, hair standing on the back of your neck sound. It continued for a little bit then stopped. We could not believe what we were hearing and didn’t want to stay up any longer to see what would happen next.

We had been sleeping in the camper shell of my friend’s truck so we weren’t afraid; in fact I kind of liked it. Nature is a powerful thing; experiences in the wild like this make me feel alive. The next morning I hunted along the creek and below our camp and again didn’t see a single deer but I did see more lion tracks; this time had my camera and took pictures. On the way back to camp I shot two fat mountain quail using a judo point. Quail season with archery equipment opens up the same weekend deer season opens; they are very challenging and delicious table fare. I later marinated them for a day and then grilled them, delicious. They also provide great practice and are real hunting just the same.

When I got back to camp my friend was already there and had taken it upon himself to pack up all of our stuff into our vehicles and was ready to go home, he hadn’t seen anything either. Obviously the hunter plus mountain lion pressure had the deer spooked and very hard to find. They are probably holed up in an area where most hunters won’t go to because it’s too rugged or brushy. A buck sometimes will hold in these places and will not move until it gets dark or he is practically stepped on by a hunter.

After driving a mile or so we noticed that the straps holding my friends quad runner in the truck bed had loosened and needed to be retightened so we then promptly stopped at the next nearest flat spot. At one point during the time we tightened the straps my friend needed to get into the passenger side of his vehicle and so he took his bow that sat in the seat and placed it on top of the roof of his cab. Just like when people place a drink or something there and then forget and drive off, that is exactly what happened. As we started up again we had to climb a very steep section of road that’s when it happened. I was behind him waiting for my turn to go up, so when he went up I saw something fall and noticed that it was his bow. He had also seen it and quickly stopped half way up the steep incline so he could retrieve it.

I will never forget what happened next; it unfolded right in front of my eyes like a bad dream. My friend climbed out of his truck and got three steps away from it, and then his truck began to quickly roll back, gaining speed rapidly. As it did my friend attempted to climb back in and stop it. He managed to get in and stomp on the brake but as luck would have it he managed to stop the truck right as the back tire rolled directly on top of his bow and then skidded to a halt with all the weight squarely on it. The bow had been brand new three weeks earlier and now was just a four hundred dollar paper weight. We were both in shock, for a little while. It could have been a lot worse though, the truck could have run my friend over, and it barely missed him. Also, if he didn’t stop it in time, the truck would have rolled to the bottom of the mountain and destroyed everything.

After we got our composure back we gathered all the broken pieces and quietly drove home. To make matters worse half way home I noticed that my tree stand wasn’t in the bed of my truck. I had placed it behind a tree in camp just to keep it out of view and my friend didn’t pack it when he picked up camp because he didn’t see it.

Wow! What a trip, I hope I never have a hunting experience like that again. Sometimes when you have a bad day it just continues into the next and the next. When this happens you just have to sit back, relax and look at the positives in it. For us it could have been a lot worse, I could have lost a friend, instead he only lost his bow and I lost my tree stand.

In the end we came home safe and sound to our families, which is what is most important anyway. In fact I always say a little prayer when I venture into the woods. I ask the Lord to protect me and bring me home safe and sound to my family; secondly I ask for a deer. So far my first wish has always been granted, sometimes both. Good Hunting!

Francisco Garcia lives in Tehama County and is a passionate outdoorsman. His free time is spent in the woods hunting, fishing or camping. He fishes local rivers, streams and lakes for trout, salmon, steelhead, stripers, largemouths and shad regularly. He also hunts birds and big game with a rifle or a bow. He holds a BA degree in Recreation Administration with emphasis in Outdoor Education and is a proud father of two.

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