DFW’s SHARE tags offer unique hunting opportunities on private land
By JIM MATTHEWS
California hunters face a dizzying array of options in the drawings for big game tags. This year’s deadline to apply was June 2 and there were 85 different deer hunts statewide. There were 65 elk hunts, 13 pronghorn hunts, and nine bighorn sheep hunts. And these numbers don’t include the hunts just for junior hunters.
Most already know how they fared in the drawing process and know if they were drawn for that special hunt, or not. For the very limited tags that all of us want, the odds can be as high as 2,000 to one against us. So we sigh yet another year, and wait to apply again next year, hoping against hope.
Or do you have to wait until next year?
There is a relatively new California hunting program that pairs private land owners having big game depredation issues with public hunters selected through a drawing process, a drawing process outside of the regular big game drawings. The Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement, SHARE, for short, is only in its third year for 2017.
This year there are 10 hunts for elk in northeastern California (plus two for juniors only), along with eight deer hunts, seven quail, four dove, and one turkey hunt on two ranches in Santa Barbara County. The SHARE application period is open now and doesn’t close until July 24. The best part of these hunts is that you can apply for each and every hunt (not just one application per species, like in the general drawing), if you get a tag you don’t lose your bonus points for the regular drawing, and the success rates are 100 percent on most of the elk hunts.
Ask Dan Bowring of Hesperia about the opportunity. Last year, Bowring was drawn for one of the 37 Roosevelt elk tags available through the SHARE Program hunts held on 20 properties in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Siskiyou counties.
“The odds were pretty slim, but what an opportunity,” said Bowring.
How slim were the drawing odds?
Victoria Barr, the SHARE Program coordinator statewide, said there was an average of 943 applicants for every “any bull” tag in the SHARE program in 2016, and Bowring beat those odds. He also found a Roosevelt elk that hunter’s dream about on the second evening of hunting.
“The first group we saw was all small bulls – not anything I was interested in,” said Bowring. But as the afternoon wore on, they kept watching a timber line and more and more bulls kept coming out of the redwoods. One was a really big, heavy five-by-five bull.
“I was vacillating. Finally, my host said to me, ‘If you came all this way to shoot a big five-by-five, that’s the biggest one you’ll ever see. If not, quit looking at him.’ So we kept glassing and more bulls kept coming out of the timber.”
While there were some cows and calves in another field in the distance, this piece of ground was holding all bulls, from the big five-by-five to spikes and rag horns. When the 20th bull emerged, Bowring knew it was something special. He worked closer and put the elk on the ground with a single shot.
Bowring’s bull carried a seven-by-nine point rack, with two small points on the left side of the rack. Officially scored by the Boone & Crockett scoring system early this year, the bull had 338 6/8 inches of gross antler and the net score was 331 2/8 after deductions. It will easily make and rank pretty high in the all-time record book.
Bowring had never hunted Roosevelt elk before and really wasn’t prepared for how big these animals were compared to Rocky Mountain elk, which the veteran hunter and cut up and packed his freezer with before.
“These Roosevelt elk are huge. For guys used to hunting Rocky Mountain elk, these bulls are just massive,” said Bowring.
The CDFW says big bulls will weigh from 1,000 to 1,100 pounds, or about 200 pounds more than big Rocky Mountain bulls. Once home, Bowring and his wife spent two days cutting and packaging the elk, and he estimated he had 500 pounds of boned out meat in his freezer when the task was done.
“I told you, they are huge. Each backstrap was five feet long and had to weigh 40 pounds,” said Bowring.
An avid back-country hunter, I asked if he’d do it again.
“I was hesitant going in. I like hiking and getting back in there. This is not the regular hunting I’m used to. It’s nothing like the quintessential elk hunt where you pack up horses and gear and get out there for three or four days,” said Bowring.
“But this was a good experience. I had an opportunity for a really nice bull, and I felt like I was able to help some people out. After what I saw, I definitely think they could issue more tags. Ninety percent of the elk are on private property, most cattle ranches. I know most of the ranchers would like to see more tags issued,” said Bowring.
“Land owners in this area are having issues with elk, and with the SHARE tag, the hunter gets free access. My tag was good on eight different properties,” said Bowring.
He spoke of meeting one landowner whose property had been in her family for 98 years. “Until 10 years ago, they had only seen one elk on the land. Now, their apple orchard is destroyed, gardens get eaten each year, fences broken, and the elk are competing with cows in pastures.”
The CDFW is working to help these ranchers with these hunts, and they give the public a unique hunting opportunity. From 37 elk tags last year, Barr said the number was 49 this season and there are two new complexes of ranches that have joined the program. But the program isn’t just for elk. In Santa Barbara County, there are two ranch cooperators who are offering deer, quail, dove, and turkey hunts this fall through the SHARE Program.
Hunters who are interested in applying for any of these hunts can get more information from the DFW website at this direct link: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Hunting/SHARE.
Dan Bowring (above) of Hesperia with the huge Roosevelt bull elk he shot last season on the Department of Fish and Wildlife SHARE hunt in Northeastern California. Cut and wrapped, the bull put 500 pound of meat in Bowring’s freezer. (Photo courtesy Dan Bowring)
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.]