feature By: Michael J. Poulos | September, 19
As all years start for me, I print out a calendar with all twelve months plus January of the next year all on one page. I mark the due dates for applications and when results are posted for each state in which I apply. After the draw results come out, I then mark the dates of the hunts and let my very understanding boss know when my vacation days will be needed.
Last year, I applied for and drew a California antelope tag. Drawing this tag is about as momentous as drawing a coveted Arizona antelope permit near Prescott. I moved to California to start my veterinary career in 1985. My first California antelope application was submitted in 1986. So, after 33 attempts to secure a tag to hunt pronghorn in my home state, I had one in my pocket. As the rest of the draw results came in, I had secured a Kansas whitetail muzzleloader tag, a black-tailed deer tag in California and an either-species deer tag on the eastern plains of Colorado. If I could just get a Coues’ deer on my annual trek down to Old Mexico, heck, I could really put an exclamation point on how lucky one person can be in a single hunting season.
Opening day of California’s antelope season found me in a good friend’s driveway outside Susanville at dark-thirty. Mike is also an avid hunter and had drawn this coveted tag several years before. He wanted me to get a good buck and had assured me he had seen some good antelope not far from his house. During his pre-hunt scouting for me, he thought he spotted one that would suit my needs and was worthy of spending this long-awaited tag on.
As the day broke and the sun’s rays just started to peek over the ridge to the east, we found the antelope we were looking for. The buck was as good as Mike said it was, and it looked good enough to me. Harnessing the “buck fever” took a bit before the shot, but these animals weren’t nervous because they’re virtually not hunted, and we had time. After 30 years and 30 minutes, my California antelope hunt was over, and I had scored on my largest antelope to date.
Whitetail hunting is something I never gave much attention to for many years. I live in California, and all we have are muleys and blacktails. Through my career, I met and became good friends with a veterinarian who is a rancher and lives a few miles east of Wichita, Kansas. I have gone white-tailed deer hunting at Roger’s place annually since 2005. When you live in California, the hunter-friendly state of Kansas is such a joy to go to for many reasons, and the people who live in Kansas are even nicer. I go to Kansas twice a year. Once to help Roger gather the pasture cattle he takes in, and approximately a month later to hunt. It took a few days because of extremely high winds in late September, but finding the right whitetail buck eventually happened.
When I got home from Kansas, I got a call from my longtime childhood friend Jeff. He has a ranch west of where I live, and he told me he had spotted a “pretty good” blacktail on his place. I had traded Jeff some veterinary work several years ago for a chance to hunt his ranch, and he was finally going to pay his “bill.” It took a couple of attempts, but we were finally able to locate the buck, and soon I had my largest blacktail on the ground. As it turned out, Jeff had another motive. We did some more horse work later in the month, and now he owes me another hunt. I wonder how long I will have to wait this time.
A hunter who wants to shoot a big deer needs to hunt where big deer live; and if you study hunting like I do, you learn where those places are. Colorado’s eastern plains happen to be one of those places. I met Mike, who lives outside Burlington, Colorado, through my other friend Mike (the one who pointed me toward my California antelope.) Are you seeing a pattern of “Mikes” here?
Do you remember my reference to an “annual trek” to Old Mexico? Sixteen years ago on a mule deer hunt in Mexico, I befriended a couple of young entrepreneurs just getting out of college. They were brothers; one was the camp cook and the other was the interpreter. At that time they were working for their cousin, my outfitter. We were roping a plastic steer head after lunch and got to talking. They wanted to get into the outfitting business and asked if I would help them. I said, “Sure,” and the rest is history.
When California Mike told me he had a friend who lived in Colorado’s eastern plains and liked hunting as much as I did, and he might be interested in hunting in Mexico, the “wheels began a turning.” I called Colorado Mike and began a friendship that is now in its fifth year. I go deer hunting on the Colorado plains and Mike comes to Mexico with me. Our relationship can’t be working any better for a couple of die-hard buck hunters like Mike and me. Two years ago, I shot a 33-inch behemoth mule deer with Mike. In 2018, I was looking for a mule deer with my either-species tag, but when Mike and I located a big whitetail, my mind changed and the hunt ended with the largest whitetail I have ever shot.
Now I had my largest Antelope, largest blacktail and my largest whitetail in the books. My trip to Mexico needed to produce a mule deer and a Coues’ deer to complete my deer saga. First up in late December was the Coues’. My good friends in Mexico lined up a hunt in eastern Sonora with some ranching friends of theirs. December 2018 was the first time in 23 years that I got snowed on while hunting in Sonora in December or January. When the clouds lifted from the storm, and within a few hours behind the glass, we were able to locate the second-largest Coues’ buck I have shot.
It was a 4x5 that ended up being younger than it looked while sizing up its antlers with a spotting scope. I shudder to think how big it would have been in another year or two. The deer was on the Rancho El Papalote outside of Pitiquito, Sonora. This is the country Jack O’Connor made famous with some of his hunting stories. This ranch is owned by brothers Jose and Rodrigo Lizarraga. They started Trophy and Desert Outfitting many years ago, shortly after our time together roping the plastic steer head. They own more than 30,000 acres and lease whatever land they need to accommodate the number of hunters they have for the season.
I hunted for several days on Papalote before I stumbled on to a 32-inch Sonoran muley. It is not my biggest or highest-scoring Mexican mule deer, but it ranks right up there. You know the story . . . “If only the antlers would have done this or grown that.” This deer had great back forks and its front forks were a little weak, but the buck is over that magical 30-inch mark all mule deer hunters strive to find. I am proud to have brought it home from Mexico.
My 2018 season is now in the books. I can’t believe it turned out the way it did and that I was able to hunt all those great animals. All my successes can be attributed to 40 years of making friends. I have friends from many walks of life. I even have friends in the “hunting industry” and magazine business. Every one of them has contributed in one way or another to the success of this hunting season. They have factored into every hunting season before and will contribute to every hunting season I am blessed to have in the future. Even if a hunter doesn’t have much money, if he has good friends . . . he has it all.