PSE’s Albert Quackenbush Hunting Deer in NY vs. CA
By Albert Quackenbush
Bow hunting for whitetail deer is awesome! It is one of my most favorite things to do. I was surrounded by it growing up. Quite often I am asked how hunting in Southern California differs from hunting back in New York State. In all honesty, there are many similarities with a DIY whitetail hunt in New York and a DIY blacktail hunt in California. That being said, there are also dramatic differences to consider. They are both skittish cervids and are intelligent creatures. Factors like weather, huntable land and animal characteristics are much greater once you have had the chance to experience them in California. That being said, if you put your mind to it and use the same principals for a whitetail hunt, you can hunt Southern California blacktail.
Hunting farmland in Upstate NY made for some great hunting opportunities. More often than not, the farmer was planting crops and had an ongoing supply of food for the deer population. We could glass a field in the evening and see if the deer were feeding. Whether it be a clover field or freshly cut corn field, you could spot the deer pretty easily. Based on your intel, you could go into the area where they came from or were going to and set up a treestand or ground blind. In the foothills and high desert of Southern California the deer are constantly on the move and food plots aren’t something we are allowed by law to plant. The best thing to look for is water. Finding a water source begins by reviewing maps and then hiking out and actually finding them prior to hunting season. If you can find a water source you are in good shape to begin your scouting. In California, you can’t sit over water for more than 30 minutes, so you have to come up with alternative strategies. Just like the food plots or corn fields on a farm, finding where the deer are coming from when they come in to drink will give you an advantage.
When I was exclusively hunting whitetail deer, the first thing we would do every year was look for game trails and fresh sign. We’d look for tracks, rub lines and scrapes. Hunting blacktails in SoCal is similar in some ways. Once I get to an area I use my optics and glass the terrain. I look for animals that silhouette themselves or are bedded down in the shade of a manzanita bush. If I can’t find an animal I look for game trails. Out here you can usually see them zig-zagging along a foothill or running near a ridge. Then I try to find tracks going to or coming from that area.
Getting as far away from the hunting population as you can is one of the keys to success. This rings true for both NY and CA. Hunting whitetails in New York, you want to be far enough away from other hunters for a few reasons. First and foremost, your safety. Second, you want the least amount of pressure on the animals to give you the best chance of success. Most Southern California hunters will not venture more than a couple miles on foot to find a spot. Add in steep terrain, lack of water, and shade and you lose another percentage. If you can find a remote, hard to access area you are off to a good start. This is also a good place to start glassing for animals. Personally, the farther I can get away from other hunters and see animals the happier I am. I know that most of the bigger animals are far from roads and people. No matter what, it will not be easy, but it will be worth the effort.
Weather seems to be a major factor to people and it does come into play, but for different reasons. The weather in NY can be very fickle. You might find snow in the morning and then have 80 degrees by afternoon. I’ve experienced this first hand and while that is an extreme case, it does happen. It can do the same thing in California. You can have 30 degrees in the morning and by noon the mercury is reaching 100 degrees. Let me focus on the California heat for a second. I have no problem hunting in the heat. Sure, you need plenty of water and sunscreen, but I have found deer moving at all times of the day out here. They will gravitate toward the shade of trees and bushes, but they do move. The major drawback in hunting the heat is making sure that if you are able to fill your tag you field dress and get the animal cooled as quickly as possible. When you are three miles deep in the forest that can be very hard to do. I will ask any hunter to please consider the care of your animal before taking the shot.
A major difference I have found is the proximity in which you can hunt. In New York, I was able to hit the woods with my dad and brother for the first three hours of the day. We’d park ourselves in a treestand and wait, and wait, and wait. Then, usually around 9:00 AM, we’d convene at the truck and head back down the road for breakfast. Over bacon, eggs and coffee we would talk strategy and be back out in the woods within an hour or two. In California, especially where I live, I need to drive at least forty minutes just to get to a trailhead. Then I have to hike in a few miles to where I am going to start glassing and wait for sunrise. For those reasons, I usually plan on staying out all day. Also, patterning the SoCal blacktail in the areas I hunt has proven difficult. Sure, I have figured out the main trails they use and what time if day they may walk through an area, but 99% of those deer are does and fawns. Locating a mature blacktail is a challenge. You see, in most of the areas out here you cannot harvest a doe. I know, it sounds crazy right? We can pull certain tags that allow us to get a buck or a doe, but they are limited.
Whether you are hunting in New York, California, or any other area, you have to your research, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. The harder you work, the sweeter it will be when you can fill that tag and look back at the effort you made. Make some friends, plan some hunts, and just enjoy the outdoors. Any day I can get out and enjoy the outdoors is a good day in my book. Happy hunting!
Albert Quackenbush has been bowhunting for more than 28 years. He shares his adventures on his blog, SoCalBowhunter.com, and also writes for Bow Adventures e-magazine. He is a Pro Staff member for DIYbowhunter.com, Piranha Custom Bowstrings and Field Logic. He is a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, California Deer Association, and is a Life Member of the North American Hunting Club.
Albert was born and raised in New York State where he learned to hunt everything from squirrels to whitetail deer. He currently resides in Southern California with his wife and daughter and hunts year round.