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Big game hunting traditions are passed down through generations


My California Big Game Hunting “magazine” arrived in the mail last week. This is the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual publication that covers everything big game hunting, from application deadlines to zone descriptions to drawing odds. As I was sitting pouring over the information, I found myself getting giddy that hunting seasons were only a few short months off. It was time to plan. Looking at a deer zone map, I started daydreaming, looking at zones where I had had hunted over the years, and remembering my uncle’s ritual.

Each morning in every deer camp I shared with Spike Harris I would wake up to his voice bellowing out into the woods.

“Bammmmmmm-beeeee,” he would sing out.

I heard the call echo out through campgrounds at Fraiser Mountain, at tent camps in the Greenhorn Mountains in the Southern Sierra, out of his long-time hunting cabin on the Tejon Ranch, and at many other places over the years. We really wanted Bambi’s father, but this was California, afterall, and we would have been happy with Bambi. A buck. Any legal buck and the venison it would yield.

I suspect shouting out from your hunting camp an hour before first light might actually be counter-productive, but the reality is that any game within earshot already knows you’re there from the noises and scents we have poured out into the air the evening before while setting up camp. Spike, however, always said he was calling in the deer, which, of course, made everyone laugh. His success made you wonder, however.

For me, that morning wake-up call was part of our hunting ritual, part of my mentoring as a hunter. I was learning to walk and see while in the woods, which is far different than what we do back at home, walled in by the city and noise. I was learning to be a part of the natural process. Spike was my teacher, fanning that spark of a young hunter into a flame that still burns brightly and more keenly today.

When Spike died some two decades ago, I found I not only inherited his old .30-06, but also the early morning wake-up call in deer camps. It’s my voice now, but I still hear my uncle when I go through the ritual, startling hunting companions awake.

A few years ago while camped down on the Colorado River for the last weekend of Arizona’s deer season where I had a tag, I threw open my brother-in-law’s camping trailer door and gave a quieter version of the Bambi chant -- in deference to the desert and the way sound carries in that country. I went back into the trailer to put my boots on and then stepped outside. It was just breaking light, and I rubbed my eyes.

There were six deer right next to camp. I couldn’t quite believe it, and I rubbed my eyes some more. Yep, they were there are all right. It was not a dream.

I crashed back inside the trailer, scrambled for binoculars and a rifle, and then set out after them, knowing they weren’t spooked yet. Sneaking through the palo verde and mesquite trees, I was able to see that one of the deer was indeed a little Bambi-like buck, and I’m still wondering if I made up my mind not to shoot the little guy or simply never really could get the shot I wanted. I think the former. I knew there were big deer in this country, and I wanted to at least go look for them.

Or maybe I just wanted to go look, to continue hunting for a day or two, prowling around in the desert. The Colorado River desert always yields something wonderful for me on these hunts. Its diverse life just seems to materialize out of the stark landscape. I have seen coyotes, foxes, burros, deer, bighorn sheep, a host of desert birds, including Gambel’s quail. At times, it seems as though I willed the game to be there, knowing it should be in a certain place, and then having it appear. Other times, for no reason, I have turned around to see game move across an opening, visible for only the split second I turned to catch its glance at me. It was the patience of an uncle and the desert that has made me the hunter I am today.

But I had never called deer to camp before. I was pretty sure I heard my uncle laugh, “See, I told you it would work.”

My boys and I will be hunting in the desert this fall and I’m pretty sure they will hear my uncle’s ritual call out into the darkness.

Big game application

deadline is June 2

California big game hunters have until June 2 to apply for drawing-only tags for the 2015 hunting seasons. While some deer tags are available over the counter, especially for a number of Southern California deer zones, all bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk, and premium hunt deer tags are issued through the drawing.

The on-line application process is open now and the Big Game Hunting booklet is available in printed versions at license dealers or on-line. This book lists all hunts, tag numbers, season dates, and has information on hunting zones and drawing odds. The application booklet is available at this direct DFW web address:

California Deer Association fundraising

banquet will be May 30 in San Bernardino

The California Deer Association Southern California Chapter’s 14th annual fundraising banquet will be held Saturday, May 30, at the San Bernardino Elks Lodge (No 836), 2055 Elks Drive, San Bernardino.

Dinner tickets, which include membership in CDA, are $70 per person or $110 per couple. Progressive gun raffle package start at $100, and all funds are used for deer habitat projects in Southern California.

For more information or to reserve tickets, call Rick Whitefoot at 951-453-0059.


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