BIG DEER TV Hunts California

cali big deer

As you read this I will have traveled up into Oregon and be in the midst of a 10-day quest for mule deer after a fine week of hunting in the Central Coast of Cali, near the town of Paso Robles, or “Pass of the Oaks.”

The highlight of the trip was obviously shooting the 130-class 3×4 buck; B&C minimum for a Columbian blacktail is 135, so this is a great and above average deer, about as big as they for these parts. Twenty inches wide, even had one small eyeguard.

Note the compact camera rig we used—Nikon DSLR, 80-200 mm lens here I believe, w/shotgun microphone. Cameras for filming the outdoors have come a long way. I remember not too long ago when the guys carried huge, heavy Sony Handicams the size of suitcases. With a good lens, the rigs cost more than 100k.

It’s a good thing we had the small camera because the buck hunt was fast and action-packed. Blacktails are not called Pacific Ghosts for nothing. I stalked my buck bedded and hidden beneath an oak tree. He jumped up and trotted through a basketball-size opening in the brush, giving me a split-second opportunity. With his small rig held right over my shoulder, cameraman Nolan was able to run with me to a set-up tree and find the buck in his lens just as I took the quick shot. The buck ran 50 yards and expired.

After we gutted the buck, we lashed him onto our California Pack Mule, a 10-year-old Jeep decked out for serious backcountry hunting, with spare gas and water cans and a couple of indestructible,5-year-old Yeti Tundra coolers. How cool is that rig!

A lot of people don’t realize that there is still much beautiful and remote deer country to hunt in Cali, but you have to find the right place and go with the right people. Like my friend Doug Roth, who has been operating Camp 5 Outfitters for more than 30 years. He’s one of the best blacktail hunters in the state. Doug and I hunted a 22,000-acre private ranch, and we were the only ones on it. Zero pressure, and that’s how you kill big deer of any species.

cali wine country

Most people don’t think of fancy vineyards and wild pigs in the same breath, but I do. There are more than 170 immaculate wineries in this region putting out some of the best Cabernet and Merlot in the world, and I managed to squeeze in visits to a couple of them. My favorite was Hidden Oak, a small vineyard operated by Mike and Martha James, very nice people making fine Central Coast red wine in their retirement.

cali pig

Just miles from the impeccable vineyards, I shot this pig in heart at 110 yards as it gobbled acorns beneath an oak tree. This region of the Central Coast has the highest population of feral hogs in the state, and you should buy a pig tag ($71 for a non-resident) along with your buck tag.

This unique and fantastic BIG DEER TV show will air on the Sportsman Channel next summer.

2014 Hunt Season is Here!

trail cam mini beast

Here’s another look at “Mini-Beast” that a hunter in the Midwest has had on camera for a couple of months. I thought this was a great image, with the other smaller buck hiding in the background.

The sight of this velvet giant has the BIG DEER TV Team fired up as we hit the road for Season 4. We are starting super early this year, with teams hunting and filming from Colorado to Kentucky next week.

Next week… I can hardly believe the season got here so fast!

I’ll be archery hunting the opener in the Bluegrass State, where there’s a 50-50 chance that if I see and get a shot at a big deer his rack will still be in velvet. Or maybe half in velvet and peeling and bloody, a rack like that is cool.

Season 3 of BIG DEER TV is rolling along strong right now on Sportsman Channel, Wednesday nights 10/9c through December. Set your DVR!

Friday shout out to our great sponsors that make all this possible: Remington Arms, Trijicon, Cabela’s, Wildlife Research Center and Yeti Coolers. You have my word that I only promote hunting gear that I use and trust, and these are the best hunt brands on the market. Thanks for supporting our sponsors, and all we do here at BIG DEER.

I’m expecting a big rack year across America this fall–good luck and be safe when you hit the woods. And remember the BIG DEER motto: Hunt hard, have fun and respect the game.

Is It Safe to Hunt in Mexico?

mexico comprssed

Thirty years ago American hunters freely crossed the border to hunt for big deer in Mexico. Just across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, American hunters had huge leases, and on those ranches they grew and shot trophy whitetails, notably huge, wide-racked 10- and 12-point typicals.

Farther west, Americans crossed at Nogales, Arizona or flew into Hermosillo to hunt the state of Sonora for giant desert mule deer, and Coues whitetails in the mountains.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, Mexico was a deer hunter’s paradise: Cheap to travel there, lease land, stay in a hacienda on a ranch for a few weeks each January (when the weather is perfect and the bucks rut) and shoot big deer.

Then came the drug wars and violent crime that we see and hear about to this day. Now, nobody in his right mind would try to cross the border with rifles at Laredo or any other checkpoint in South Texas. Chances are you’d end up in a Mexican jail like U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has been held for more than 120 days after he mistakenly crossed into Mexico with guns.

And even if you did make it into northeastern Mexico where the whitetail hunting used to be so fabulous, you’d be taking your life into your own hands. I hunt in South Texas a lot, just miles from Mexico, and I have friends and acquaintances in various law enforcement and border agencies down there.

“Fifty-fifty whether you’d get out of there alive,” one guy told me. “You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to go down there,” said another police officer. These guys have offered to show me pictures of mutilated bodies, decapitations and the like, but I have declined. I do not exaggerate. No wonder the number of American whitetail hunters is basically zero in Mexico now.

What about farther west, out in Sonora south of Arizona? I hunted there 20 years ago and loved it, and I killed a good Coues buck. Is it safe to hunt there now? Surely there are drugs and cartels there too, but how bad?

I had to think about all that last January, when out of the blue I got the opportunity to hunt Coues in Sonora again. I called my buddies in Texas law enforcement. They said the situation was better there, but still risky and unpredictable. “Travel at your own risk, and here’s the number of a guy if you get in a jam,” one officer said. Not too comforting, but not too bad, the world is a dangerous place.

I chewed on it for a while, and I went. In January, I flew into Hermosillo and immediately ran a snag. To enter Mexico with a gun you get a permit from the Secretary of National Defense. You work with your outfitter in Mexico who works with the government to get the paperwork right. Rule #1, that rifle permit needs to be in order, and you need to keep it on your person at all times.

sonora

At customs, a nice senorita surrounded by soldiers in fatigues and holding what looked to be full-auto rifles opened my rifle case, checked the papers and found a discrepancy. A signature was in the wrong place from the little Spanish I could gather. They were about turn me around and send me back to the states (or worse) when my liaison, Jorge, showed up and haggled with the authorities for an hour in a flurry of Spanish that I would never understand. Ultimately I was ushered through customs and away we went for camp.

Lesson #2: Every outfitter in Mexico has a liaison to meet and greet you at the airport and ferry you to and from your camp. Get to know your man well, treat him right and do not let him out of your sight while you’re still in the city and on the road to and from camp. Give him a crisp $100 bill up front to take care of you.

The delay at the airport cost us. We had a grueling 5-hour drive out to the remote ranchlands where I’d hunt, and 2 hours in it got dark. Rule #3: Never drive yourself in Mexico—your liaison drives–and don’t travel after dark, even with your front man driving. Around midnight, still a good 2 hours from camp, we popped over a hill and our Jeep was suddenly blinded by enormous spotlights. Vehicles roared out of the darkness, two mounted with machine guns, and in a plume of dust blocked the road. Twenty men on foot with long guns surrounded the vehicle.

“Soldiers,” Jorge said casually as he rolled down his window. I froze and wondered if that was good or bad. Jorge talked with the two leaders for 10 minutes and I deciphered “Americanos” and “para venado” (here to hunt for deer). They waved us through. No money changed hands on the spot, but I got the distinct impression arrangements had been made. I wondered what that meant for me, and my wallet.

We made it to camp and things were fantastic. The hacienda was charming and comfortable, and the very authentic and gourmet Mexican food was the best I’d ever eaten (the Carne Asada was to die for). For 5 days I hunted tens of thousands of remote, unique, beautiful high desert acres with no other hunters within 100 miles. On a clear day you could look across the vast shimmering desert and see all the way to the Gulf of California.

I had some great companions (picture above, left to right: Jesus, Miguel, me and Roger Cook, an Arizona hunter who’d come down to help me out and translate. We hiked 5-7 miles a day, sat on hilltops and glassed for the elusive and little gray deer. We grilled burritos over an open flame for lunch, and then lay in the sunny desert for afternoon siesta.

We saw some deer and a few bucks, but not as many we should have. Since fewer American hunters have been coming to Mexico in recent years, the money has dried up. Many outfitters and ranch managers have not been able to maintain improvements on their ranches, most notably not putting in water tanks. Deer have to have water in this arid world; there was a lack of it on the ground we hunted, thus not that many deer. Rule #4: If you decide to go to Sonora, check with your outfitter and make sure the ranches you’ll hunt have adequate water.

I did see several mule deer in the lower elevations (the Coues stay high and the muleys low), including 2 bucks that would go 170 or so. “No grande,” Miquel had said. Not big enough, though I was not cleared to shoot a muley anyway (read I had not spent enough money, as Coues are much cheaper to hunt than the coveted desert mule deer). One good thing about fewer Americans hunting Mexico is that the bucks have not been shot; they have aged to 5, 6,7 years and older. There are some slammer mule deer bucks in Sonora right now, 180 inches to 200-plus, some with magical 30-inch-wide racks. That is what I’d go back there to hunt if I had the money ($10,000).

You’ll have to wait until the TV show airs later this fall to see if I shot a Coues buck or not, and how big.

While I enjoyed my time hunting in Sonora would I go back? Would I recommend you hunt there? Some thoughts:

Do not even think about crossing the border into Mexico from El Paso east to Laredo to Brownsville, where the whitetail hunting was once so fine.

I might travel to Sonora again, maybe, with the understanding that the trip would not be without risk. Remember rules #1 and 2: Have your gun permit in order, and do not let your Mexican liaison out of sight when you’re in the cities and on the road driving to your hunting ranch. Once I arrived at the ranch and was out in the sunny desert chasing deer, I felt safe and comfortable, but never let your guard down.

Remember rule #3: Do NOT travel anywhere in Mexico at night. Plan your travel to arrive and depart Sonora in daytime only, whether driving down from Arizona or flying through Hermosillo.

Good luck if you ever go, it really is a unique and fun place to hunt once in your life. Maybe I’ll see you down there one January…or maybe not.

Anybody ever hunted deer in Mexico before? Would you ever go now or say to hell with it, just isn’t worth it?

NRA Mag Names Remington Model 783 “Rifle of the Year”

Model783Crossfire

In bestowing the honor on the Model 783 American Hunter (May 2014) said: “Here’s a case where top-tier performance comes at a bargain price…a big-game rifle showcasing accuracy, dependability and a retail price of only $451.”

Having carried two Model 783s (a .30-06 in fall 2012 and a .270 last season) countless miles in mountains and woods, I can attest to the dependability and especially the accuracy of this no-frills but hard-working rifle. I noted how surprisingly fine my Model 783 in .30-06 shot in this review I wrote a year ago…and I had even better accuracy results with the .270 I used last year.

I sighted-in the .270 Model 783 (topped w/the fine Trijicon Accupoint 3X-9X scope) on a cold, snowy bench in Saskatchwewan last November. The temperature was minus 5 and there was some wind. My first 130-grain Remington Bronze Point cut the target about an inch high. My second shot (I just watched the TV footage and have close-up proof) clipped the first hole. I stopped right there, having shot a 100-yard group of like .1 in brutal outside conditions.

As outstanding as that accuracy was, I decided to use my second rifle, a Remington Model 700 in .30-06, on that hunt. I wanted the added power of a 150-grain bullet for those heavy, gnarly Canadian bucks.

MikesDeer

But I did use the sweet-shooting Model 783 in.270 on several hunts later in the season, and shot a couple of great bucks with the 130-grain Bronze Point, including the North Texas Panhandle beauty pictured above. You can watch the action on BIG DEER TV later this summer and fall.

If you are in the market for a deer rifle you should check out the NRA’s Rifle of the Year. The Model 783 is available in .308, .270, .30-06 or 7mm Rem. Mag, so there’s the right caliber whether you hunt whitetails, mule deer, elk or a combo of the animals.