California’s general deer season dawns across much of the state Sept. 21, and hunters would do well to scout and hunt those areas scarred by wildfires two to five years ago.
“These wildfires often are devastating for us as people, but from a deer’s standpoint, they like young, new growth that comes in after a fire. That is some of the best habitat for deer,” said Nathan Graveline, big game supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
Burn scars that are two to five years old provide the best combination of forage for deer and optimal hunting conditions. The open canopy that allows sunlight to reach the forest floor and generate the young, nutritious growth favored by deer, also helps hunters move more easily through the habitat and spot deer.
“It only takes about five or six years for the brush to come back to the point where you can’t see very well,” Graveline said. “And while the deer are still doing well in those areas, it just makes the hunting tougher.”
Hunters can check for past burns at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection incidents webpage. Information on any current or future wildfire-related closures is available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/area-alerts.
Deer season is already underway in California’s A and B4 hunting zones along the coast, but the majority of general zones available to rifle hunters – B1-B3, B5, B6, C1-C4, D6 and D7 – open Saturday, Sept. 21.
A limited number of rifle hunters also get the first opportunities at mule deer along the eastern Sierra as the premium X9a, X9b and X12 zones in Inyo and Mono counties – tags available only through CDFW’s Big Game Drawing – open Sept. 21.
Several other popular deer hunting zones – D3-5 and D8-10 – open the following week, on Saturday, Sept. 28, as do the premium eastern Sierra hunt zones X8 and X10.
Hunters are reminded that nonlead ammunition is now required for hunting deer and taking wildlife anywhere in California with a firearm. Deer hunters are strongly encouraged to re-zero their rifles with nonlead ammunition before they go hunting.
Detailed information on California’s various deer zones, including season dates, descriptions and maps, is available at CDFW’s Deer Hunting webpage: www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/deer.
Biologists estimate California’s deer population at 459,450.
While resident mule deer and coastal black-tailed deer numbers are generally holding steady and increasing in some places – particularly in suburban and foothill areas and along the river corridors of the Central Valley – California’s migratory mule deer herds in the eastern part of the state are down as a result of increasing human activity, development, habitat deterioration and predation.
Eastern Sierra deer herds also have yet to fully recover from severe winter and spring weather in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in significant mortality of both fawns and adults.
With a limited deer population and increasing human recreation and activity in deer country in the fall, deer hunters are encouraged to explore new tactics and new country.
For hunters that need to or want to stick close to roads, Graveline suggests using pullouts to glass nearby slopes.
“Many hunters I talk to are moving too fast, whether on foot or in a vehicle,” Graveline said. “Slowing down and using your optics will greatly increase your odds of seeing deer.”
Backcountry hunting is gaining in popularity, particularly with improvements in clothing and equipment the last 10 to 15 years.
“Hunting the high country provides a great opportunity to experience incredible wilderness areas,” Graveline said.
Hunters are reminded that deer tag reporting is mandatory – even for hunters who are unsuccessful or those tag holders who don’t have a chance to hunt at all. CDFW has produced a video on how to properly complete, attach and report your deer tag.