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  • Writer's picturePeter Maggenti

Sharing the Tradition Hunt 2019

It started with a phone call from an old friend. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Jerry Springer. I hadn’t spoken to him a couple of years. I have considered Jerry a friend and someone I looked up to, since I was a young lad and he published my first hunting article ‘Three Points to Take Home’ a recounting of one of my first Mule Deer Hunts, which he published in his magazine ‘California Hunter’, I won’t say what year, but it was a’ while ago’.

Jerry was actually calling to congratulate my daughter Montana for being drawn for a tag in the Sharing the Tradition Hunt at Tejon Ranch for Antlerless Deer! I was surprised, I had not expected her to get drawn. My older daughter Jackie had been drawn for this very same hunt some 10 years ago, and I thought the odds were against us, yet it seems the Gods of hunting smiled upon Montana and she was drawn, out of the 175 juniors who applied for this year’s hunt. The hunt was set for the weekend of December 7th & 8th at the Tejon Ranch in Lebec, CA.

It always amazes me when people don’t know about Tejon Ranch. It began as a Mexican Land Grant in 1843. In the 1850’s & 60’s, under the ownership of General Edward Beale, 4 more land grants were purchased, increasing the size of the ranch to over 270,000 acres. The ranch was historically visited by some very notable people including Jedidiah Smith, Kit Carson and John C. Fremont! It is still the largest privately-owned contiguous property in the State of California! The ranch also sits on the Grapevine between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, which amazes most people. Tejon Ranch is California's largest private hunting ranch and offers a wide variety of guided big game hunts including trophy Rocky Mountain elk, deer, turkey and wild pig, as well as upland game birds!

This was the 16th year of this hunt, Jerry Springer has organized and coordinated it every year, with the help of some great sponsors. Over the last 16 years, 242 juniors have been able to experience this wonderful hunt, 192 of them for deer, and 50 for hogs. For many of these juniors, this is their first time harvesting a big game animal. The drought a few years ago, caused the hog population to take a big hit and they are again only doing the hunt for deer. The junior hunters have enjoyed a 97.4% success rate, with only 5 juniors not taking home a harvested animal in 16 years, that is outstanding! This year the juniors had a 100% success rate. All 5 harvested their does on the first evening, which was nice considering a storm front on its way for Sunday morning!

The big debate for Montana and I was on whether to drive down the night before and get a hotel room, or just get up at 3:00 am and drive down in the morning as we were to meet at the Ranch Office at 10:00 am sharp on Saturday the 7th. Then, with no luck for us, the week before we were to leave, my truck broke down! Fortunately, we have the best landlords/neighbors you could ask for who kindly allowed us to use their truck for the weekend. Friday rolls around and we decide it would be best to drive at least most of the way and get a hotel room, we were less likely to be late that way. I ended up driving all the way to Bakersfield and we got a room with about a 45-minute drive left for the morning. We managed to get about 6 hours of sleep before heading out in the morning.

That morning we arrived at the ranch office around 9:45 in the morning and met Cody Plank, one of the guides. We went into the conference room to wait for the other hunters and Jerry to arrive. We were given our paperwork to fill out and had a chance to visit with the other hunters and their parents. Because Tejon Ranch is a part of the Private Land Management program, they have their own tags and they exchange your unused tag from any other zone in California for one of theirs. Once all the other hunters had arrived, Mike Campeau, the Senior Vice President of Ranch Operations, talked with us for a bit while we waited for Jerry to arrive. Once Jerry was there, he brought duffel bags for all the hunters with goodies from the sponsors of the hunt! We all loaded into our vehicles and followed Mike across the ranch and into the hills to the Lodge where we would be spending the night.

The participants this year were 3 young men and 2 young ladies, including Montana. Montana and I got a room to ourselves as did the other young lady and her father. The young men and their fathers stayed in a large bunk style room. The lodge was very comfortable with two large bathrooms and a large open floor plan Dining room, kitchen and living room with a large fireplace that was overlooked by a regal Elk head. The front yard with firepit overlooked a long deep valley dotted with Oaks offering and incredible view.

The first thing we did after getting all our gear stowed into our rooms was meet in the living room. All the hunters sat on the couches around the fire so Mike could go over the rules and safety concerns, along with some good old-fashioned advice on how to act with a guide. He then assigned each hunter to a guide he thought might fit them (he choose Tana). Jerry then talked about photography, the sponsors, and the wonderful opportunity that is being presented to the young hunters.

Once the safety talk was over and guides and hunters paired up, we headed to the range where all the hunters shot their rifles and made sure they were sighted in and to show the guides they were comfortable with their firearms. Barnes Ammunition provided all the ammunition for this hunt, so some of the scope were be adjusted for the new ammunition. Within a few shots everyone was shooting well, we loaded up with our guides and off we went to start the hunt.

Mike decided we would cross over to the desert side first to see what was there. We weren’t far out of camp when we spotted our first buck, a nice 3x3 who was laying in the brush and calmly watched us drive by. Mike was very personable, and he and Tana carried on a great conversation. He seemed genuinely interested in her and her hobbies and what she wanted to do in her life, and Tana was very relaxed and was enjoying the hunt and the company.

It had rained earlier and the road over the top of the mountain proved to be a little too muddy for safe crossing with the Ford truck. We slipped and slided until we could get back around and headed back down the same side we went up! We decided to drive out the front of the ranch the way we had come in and cross I-5 to hunt the high desert on that side of the ranch. We passed a few does and yearlings on the way out; however, they weren’t what we were looking for. Tejon uses this hunt to remove some of the older does who are no longer fawning and are just eating food for the younger, still reproductive deer. So, finding the right doe isn’t always as easy as one would expect.

We got on the highway and drove for a few minutes, then turned and went onto another highway until we reached the road that led back into another part the ranch. This was a completely different landscape here, with open sage brush and rock hills. We drove across the flats for a mile or so and started searching small canyons in the rocks. The sky was cloudy, and it looked like rain was on the way, but it held off for the time being. We searched and searched, only to find one lone coyote running across a big flat. We crossed back over the two-lane highway and hunted the other side, but much the same. It had recently rained on this side and we were back in the mud! Tana commented that the mud clods shooting from the tires that it had seemed as if the road was attacking the truck! We made it out of there and back on the road towards the headquarters side of the ranch.

One of the other guides came across the radio and said he had seen a good doe in a particular canyon and that she and the other doe and yearling might still be there, his hunter had already harvested her deer, so we were welcome to pursue this one. We headed that way. We came down to the area the deer had been spotted. They were in a canyon that lead right down to I-5. We crossed the highway on an overpass and turned onto a dirt frontage road. The deer were about 300 yards off the freeway in a tall grass field at the bottom of the canyon they had been spotted in.

It felt a bit awkward getting out of the truck with Tana and her rifle right alongside I-5, but the guide seemed okay with it. The canyon floor and meadow where the deer were, was not very wide, only a few hundred yards and canyon walls coming down almost to the freeway, so really, people driving by didn’t notice us there. We snuck into the field and found a high spot where we could see over the tall dry grass. I hung back and let Mike and Tana go forward ahead of me. He was the guide; I was just an observer on this hunt. They watched the deer through binoculars for a few minutes before Mike said, “yes this is the one”. The stalk was on.

We crept our way slowly forward, hunched over using the tall grass as cover. We got to within about 170 yards and the grass was getting a little shorter, much farther and they would see us for sure. Mike asked Tana if she felt comfortable with the shot, she said yes. He set up his sticks and told her to get settled on them. The doe and yearling were to the left of her doe and were getting nervous it seemed, they had either caught wind of us or seen us. They started to move off, but the mature doe stayed put for a bit. Tana took her shot and missed. The deer started moving now. The doe and yearling moved off to the left, but the mature doe was not moving as fast. Mike and Tana moved up quickly to a better spot and got set again. This time, when Tana took the shot we heard the impact and the doe showed signs of a hard hit and went down. She got back up and started to move directly away from us, but that was uphill, so she turned to right and was crossing in front of us again. Tana got set again and Mike said “put one more in her”. This time the shot was final, and she went down immediately. Mike turned to Tana to congratulate her and commented that rarely had he seen a first-time hunter, let alone a female, remain so calm and collected while taking a shot, and then a follow up shot. Tana replied telling him that she is only calm on the outside!

We walked through the dry grass towards her deer. She had been moving near a dead tree trunk and was laying there not even 15 feet from it. After a few handshakes,hugs, and congratulations, Mike looked back at the truck and decided he could drive it back up to where we were. Tana and I talked about it and how she felt about everything, and just soaked up the moment. By the time Mike was headed back towards us, two of the other guides with their clients had arrived and drove up with him. They told us they had been sitting on top of the overpass and were able to watch the whole stalk and shots completely unbeknownst to us!

We had quite a bit of help to get Tana and her deer set up for photographs. Jerry Springer was there as well as Ryan Olson from White Bone Creations, the photos turned out amazing! They really did a great job of cleaning all visible blood, clearing the weeds out of the way and positioning the deer so she looked her best in the photos. After we took all the photos we wanted, two of the guides made very quick work of cleaning the doe and loading her in the truck for the drive back to the lodge. Once at the lodge, we backed the truck down to the skinning pad, where they have a large steel frame and gambrels mounted on cable with hand ratchet cranks. It really makes incredibly easy work of it, with lights and hoses right there, the skinning only took a few minutes, then the bag was put over the deer and left to hang and cool overnight. All the juniors on the hunt had harvested their deer on the first evening and before the expected storm front was due!

Dinner was served and we all sat around a large table and regaled our stories of the day, experiences and lessons learned. Tana’s shot had been the longest of the group, by a fair amount, and all were impressed with that. One by one, people faded out of the conversations and went off to their bunks to sleep. Jerry Springer and I ended up being the last to head that direction. We sat at the table and talked for a few hours about our lives, friends and families. It was good sit and catch up with Jerry. He had always been an inspiration and made me want to be an outdoor writer.

By the morning all were ready to go, but we were reluctant to leave. A fire was lit in the firepit outside the front door and coffee was in the pot. Some of us sat around drinking coffee and enjoying the comradery of a fire in the early morning. Soon people were stirring and packing their things, preparing for their drive home. Tana and I were the last to drive out with our guides and Jerry spinger in our small caravan headed down off the mountain to the main gate. As we got onto the freeway, it was just beginning to sprinkle.

This hunt, while not physically challenging, was perfect. It was an amazing experience for a young woman to harvest her first big game animal. As a hunter and a father, I want my children to hunt with me. My daughters have always loved being in the mountains and outdoors. Jackie and Tana have both spent plenty of early mornings in the turkey blind or the duck blinds with me. We have walked fields and creeks in search of doves and quail. We have spent days hiking in the mountains for deer. But when your child takes their first big game animal, that is something different; It is exciting and scary at the same time. You never really know how anyone will react the first time they shoot a big game animal. Will it be too much emotionally or not? I know it is a very impactful moment for me, even now in my fifties after a lifetime of hunting. Each animal is different, but for all of them, it is emotional to me. Having a professional guide there with her, let me sit back and watch, and just be there for her, not worrying about shooting advice or decisions, but just be there for her. I am a lucky man to have been able to have two of my daughters experience big game hunting for the first time in this way. And for that I will always be grateful. I will end this by saying to you, Share the Tradition, it is the only way we can keep what we love forever.

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