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Thread: Coyotes, Mountain Lions and Game Management - The Future of Deer Hunting at VAFB

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    Default Coyotes, Mountain Lions and Game Management - The Future of Deer Hunting at VAFB

    This is an opinion piece only.

    Over the years, I have seen the population of deer decrease at VAFB. There could be many reasons for this troubling issue. Here, I’ll discuss some ideas of my own based on observations and from other hunters I have listened to.

    1. Coyotes. For the past 7 years I’ve taken a keen interest in coyotes and their effects on deer populations. I’ve spent hours reading published scientific reports and other hunting related articles reported from farmers, ranchers and hunters. The consensus of my studies strongly indicate that coyote population left uncontrolled can be devastating on the deer population. I have shared some of my information to the Conservation Law Enforcement and Rangeland Management officials.

    For many years, coyotes were not allowed to be killed on base. The only exception to that was if an individual felt “threatened”. That is no longer the case and has been that way for some time now. Yet, I still get questioned by a hunter about killing these dogs.

    These past few years I have encouraged hunters to kill every coyote they see, especially while they are deer hunting. Unfortunately, many deer hunters think that if they take a moment to kill a coyote, they may spook a nearby deer.

    I recently read articles on this issue of killing coyotes during deer hunting season and the opinion of spooking deer is about half against killing coyotes, and the other half saying there is no affect the deer hunt if a coyote is killed. Some hunters reported that a big buck was harvested soon after killing a coyote. Likewise, some stated that they killed a buck soon after a coyote passed by.

    Based on my studies and on my experience and observations, I have concluded that killing a coyote while deer hunting has very little, if any, effects on a mule deer hunt. Therefore, it is my strong opinion that if a hunter is not killing coyotes during the deer hunt, they are ensuring that chances of a fawn survival has decreased significantly. I reported last year that I witnessed a two coyotes attacking an adult doe near the Santa Ynez River.

    One the biggest obstacles to legally killing coyotes on VAFB is the type of weapon allowed to be used. There are limited areas that are legal for rifle shooters, like myself, yet some of the problem areas on base are in the shotgun/muzzleloader area. I attempted to take coyotes with approved 3.5” shells with T shot. I missed twice and at $5.00 per shot, that’s just too expensive. Buck shot is not allowed on base. I know it is possible to kill a coyote with a muzzleloader because the first dog I killed on base was with my TC Omega .50 caliber.

    I really think that officials on base need to rethink these issues and relax the rules. I prefer to use my .224 caliber rifle and I load my rounds with a 50 grain Barnes Varmint Grenade. The VG bullet is probably the safest bullet to shoot. Its advantage is that it provides instant fragmentation and the effective range use is limited. Even when hitting a small cherry tomato, the bullet will virtually vaporize (https://youtu.be/sYigC49tnh8). Therefore, I believe that some of the B District areas should be opened to coyote hunting rifle shooters using only this bullet in .224 or .204 caliber. I also recommend, for a period of time, that the requirement for signing out to a hunting zone be suspended, and the hunter be required to send in monthly postcard or downloadable internet form kill report. (But when the new base hunting app is live, this may not be as much of a reporting issue.)


    2. Mountain Lions. Here is problem that I had not really considered until this year. Most people rarely ever see one. Those that do see one are consider very lucky. As for me and my hunting partner, we have already seen two in the first three weeks of deer hunting season. The most recent we observed was in District C4 just before sunset. We observed the large cat for about 20 minutes. Additionally, not far from the old Manzanita Public Charter School on base, we interpreted two sets of tracks as being a female with at least one cub.

    I’ve read that one cat covers about 10 square miles. That means there is a potential of 15 cats roaming VAFB. I’ve also read that a cat will kill and eat one to two deer a week, but that can vary depending on the reading source. Considering a maximum cat population on VAFB, the potential minimum deer loss per year is 780.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much we hunters can legally do in the state of California. Until the law is changed, we are not supposed to kill these cats.

    3. Game management. I’ll tread lightly here the best I can. I have heard many comments from hunters about their concerns on base game management. The consensus is that good and proper management has been lacking for years. And years later, as I look back, I tend to somewhat agree. I think the current officials are doing the best they can now, without shutting down deer hunting. There are still deer on base, but the numbers are obviously down significantly. Just look at the number of the deer harvest this year alone. I’ve been out many times before the season and can count less than a handful compared to areas where I used to count over 30 from one observation point.

    I would very much like to head up some volunteers to conduct a limited deer census sometime after this deer hunting season and before the antlers drop. That is if I can get base approval. I know how to do it. Years ago, I volunteered at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for two seasons of deer census. If this interest you, please contact me. It will require a team of 4 people and an 4X4 truck. Considering the size of the base, four teams would help it go more quickly. One problem that may be encountered is the equipment that is required and the cost of it. At Fort Sill, all the vehicles and equipment was supplied by the post.

    4. Drought. The current drought in California may have some effect on the deer population, but I haven’t come across any articles on that. From what I’ve learned about deer, they generally do not need an active water source. I have read that deer mostly meet their water needs just by the food they eat. I haven’t seen the lack of food on base.


    5. Sudden Ranch (District C5). I mention this just as an observation. Hunting at District C5 has been limited over many years and the number of kills have been limited too. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to consider that over-killing the deer there does not exist. If that be the case, then regulatory deer management is not a likely problem. Yet, the current deer population appears to be low.

    Conclusions. It is my opinion and best guess, when considering the coyotes, mountain lions, and other possible reasons, deer hunting at VAFB could be wiped out in two years. I hope I'm wrong! I have to say that if it is the unpublished and unsaid intentions of state and base officials to eliminate deer hunting at VAFB, I think they are accomplishing that mission. When it appears that hunters are excluded from any game management decisions, and some decisions are made on the reaction of just one bad hunter (yet I'm not aware of an investigation), I think that is reason to believe that there is a hodgepodge system.
    Last edited by DaveGray; 09-06-2016 at 04:17 PM.
    Dave Gray
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    All cogent and well reasoned. However; the drought has affected the available food supply on PARTS of the base. That said we have seen numerous does within the last few weeks with twin fawns. Always a good sign. The predator population IMO is the single largest factor on the herd. I also think 15 cats is a low number.
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    Thanks for starting this discussion. Though I strongly agree that predators have had an enormous impact, I think you underestimate the impact of the drought. After years of drought, one year of average rainfall is simply not enough to overcome the defecit. I hunted there for the first time in three years this year. I intentionally did not purchase a tag the last two because of the conditions. But having been up there a few times in the recent months I can absolutely say that the range remains in poor shape. It is the same here at Camp Pendleton where I work and hunt. The lakes, marshes and ponds up there remain dry and continued grazing of cattle has served to worsen conditions for wildlife. I hunted down in A5 during archery season and the cattle completely destroyed the understory there. It is amazing to me how wildlife managers consider wild pigs to be invasive, but not cattle, which do far more damage then pigs. To appreciate how much the drought has impacted the range, I looked at some 5 year old pictures I have of me at the top of Globe Rd. Just 5 years ago you could not see to the bottom or the earth in C1. Now you can glass all the way to the bottom from the top. Here at Camp Pendleton, Las Pulgas lake is completely dried up. In 30 years of being on and around this base I have never seen that. Many of my other 'honey holes' here look like moon scape. Though fire is a natural occurence in the west, without rain to replenish the growth it is merely destructive. At this point, I think I will likely take off another year up there as well as here at Pendleton if we do not have an epic winter season rainfall total. I only purchased one deer tag for the past two years and maybe I will take the year off next year. I don't want to be part of the problem, but part of the solution. However, I will continue to assist with predator management.

    Regarding Sudden- it is an easy area to overhunt because of the type of terrain and again, because of the drought there is alack of cover for the animals to hide in. Just 5 years ago, I remember the grass being so tall by the ranch house deer would bed down right in front of you and you would not know they were there. It is bare earth there now. It is tough times here, no doubt. But we fool ourselves if we do not consider whether we are contributing to the problem.

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    I have ben hunting the base now for the pas 8 years. i believe the drought is the biggest factor here. I was talking to a conservationist not to long ago and she was telling me that when theres no water hogs and deer wont come into season to reproduce. She explained more to me about it. i can remember coming to the base and seeing hogs all over now you are lucky to see any and yes i do agree that the cattle have caused a lot of damage but as long as the base is making money off those farmers they wont stop letting the cattle on the property. As for the predators i know when me and my buddy go we shoot every coyote we can. if the predator population is managed than theres a problem and going back to what dave gray said i feel the same way they should allow folks to go in the shotgun zones wit approved rifles to shoot coyotes. We love to come to the base to hunt but its hard now wen you know a couple years ago it wasn't like that. maybe next year they limit the hunting passes and make it a lottery to give the population a chance to grow and hopefully we get some rain. this year was supposed to be the biggest El Nino since 96 haha yeah that never happened. I believe the wildlife management office does there best. Moses is a good guy and is always willing to engage in conversation with us when we come about the animals and the land.

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    Default Coyotes, Mountain Lions and Game Management - The Future of Deer Hunting at VAFB

    All good thoughts and ideas. I think that there is still plenty of food and water on base to support the herd. Deer are pretty resilient and survive in much worse conditions down here further south and in the desert. But the drought has made it easier on the large predator population to find and hunt the deer.
    Even now, with VAFB hunting being at its worst, it's still better than a lot of (probably most) off base public land in the state.
    But in order for it to stay that way I think a real survey and a good look at all conditions and factors need to be considered. I know the Biologist that came onboard a few years ago was making changes in an effort to help the herd. Don't know the details of her departure, but I heard there was some head butting going on and she left in frustration.
    I don't know what the answer is, kill more does?, less bucks? Incentive to killing coyotes?
    Unfortunately I don't think all the science in the world will get the ban on hunting lions lifted.


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    Although I have never hunted VAFB, I agree on all fronts, but I also agree that the 15 cats is a very low number. I hunt Tejon and personally have seen over 20 cats in the last 2 years, considering the elusiveness of these cats there must be far greater numbers up there. Just look at the Santa Monica mountains and they are tracking 28 collared known Cats, that area is tiny but is able to sustain 30-40 cats??


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    I doubt there is any less than 15 cats at VAFB. I used that number as a known study base to simply show how many deer could be killed by these cats per year. If there are 30 to 40 cats on base right now, my estimate time for future deer hunting is much less.

    How long will it be for CA officials to take actions against the slow and senseless extermination of our deer population? At this point, I'm not convinced that eliminating deer hunting on base for a few years will help. Until predator control is met with a new force, the future looks bleak.

    The good news is there's tons of quail this year.
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    My son and I hunted the northern part of C2 last week. Came across this buck as well as numerous other bones, skulls, etc from various animals. Lots of predator action going on out there.




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    Great conversation. I have to agree that predators on base and California as a whole are out of control. The drought is for sure a series issue with less forage , drier mornings and dried up seeps. Some some mentioned desert bucks. Those deer are well supported by water holes and tanks that are filled by fish and game . Base deer have no help that I know of.

    I know some hunters don't see any point in killing a dog. Well those dogs are impacting deer , quail , pigs etc... on base.
    So we all need to get after them.

    Here's the real problem. Sportsman are. It acting as conservationist, do yourself a favor and then next generation. Join groups like the back country hunters and anglers the California deer association, or RMEF. Theses groups are the only voice to protect what we have and the ability to hunt at all.

    The California fish and game is currently revised predator management practices in cali, we are going to loose coyote hunting. Look it up
    . There are organized groups specifically targeting. It killing predators. Check out this link http://www.sfgate.com/science/articl...of-6296956.php

    Don't think it will happen here. Even the great state of Montanan has a ballot measure this year to ban trapping on public land. Yes Montana.

    So please. Kill coyotes if you choose.

    BTW , there no quail on base this year




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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveGray View Post

    2. Mountain Lions. Here is problem that I had not really considered until this year. Most people rarely ever see one. Those that do see one are consider very lucky. As for me and my hunting partner, we have already seen two in the first three weeks of deer hunting season. The most recent we observed was in District C4 just before sunset. We observed the large cat for about 20 minutes. Additionally, not far from the old Manzanita Public Charter School on base, we interpreted two sets of tracks as being a female with at least one cub.

    I’ve read that one cat covers about 10 square miles. That means there is a potential of 15 cats roaming VAFB. I’ve also read that a cat will kill and eat one to two deer a week, but that can vary depending on the reading source. Considering a maximum cat population on VAFB, the potential minimum deer loss per year is 780.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much we hunters can legally do in the state of California. Until the law is changed, we are not supposed to kill these cats.
    My family and I consider ourselves very fortunate to have seen one in C-6 this morning. We spoke with a gentleman who tagged a nice buck and came across a mountain lion in roughly the same area. Guess the mountain lion didn’t appreciate losing a potential food source.

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    I was 12 ('62) when we moved out of Cali. and I'm not a hunter so I can only comment from a veteran's point. First, you signed as "Unofficial VAFB Rod & Gun Club"; have you met with other hunters and base officials to try to make this a reality? Second, have you tried to get an appointment with the base commander or his rep. to discuss your concerns? Military Installations will comply with state regs. but the land is under federal jurisdiction and commanders may be able to secure some exceptions concerning wildlife management especially if the 'yotes or lions pose any type of threat to the base population. I know that yotes can be particularly good at spreading diseases. This is a good discussion and I'm learning allot from this and other threads.
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    I m a local boy and I have been hunting the base for the last 14years. I have seen some ups and downs throughout. Predators, without a doubt put an impact onthe deer population. Mother Nature has an effect as well.But let me bring up an opinion that was touched on.Over hunting.This year alone, I experienced some issuesthat had me shaking my head.Throughoutthe season I saw a spike dead on the side of the road in C1 right across fromthe beach access.I saw a dead spike onFire Fighter road left to rot.In the harvestlog in the game shack, someone tagged a 1x1.Why are we shooting spikes?Ispoke to the Gamey a few times and he was shaking his head because some guyswere checking in does with spots still.Now, it’s perfectly legal to harvest does, butwhen people are “ground checking” deer and shooting fawns, nothing will have achance to grow and get big like in the past. Me, I am a horn hunter, I saw some dinks thatI hope made it.That biologist was on tosomething. She closed down areas, and cut the season down to 3 days.The following year, some good bucks came outof C1.C 1 will always have deer.Surround by the Branquinos, Righitti, and Casmaillia, they will be in there. Would putting ahorn or point restriction help? It might help bring back the caliber of bucks.It’s dancing on the same lines of My Friends410, when he was expressing his concerns when it came to shooting wet sows andpiglets. Perfectly legal, but now the pig population isn’t what it used to be. It’s my opinion and some will agree, some willdisagree and I’m totally cool with each. Cheers


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    Quote Originally Posted by P304X4 View Post
    I was 12 ('62) when we moved out of Cali. and I'm not a hunter so I can only comment from a veteran's point. First, you signed as "Unofficial VAFB Rod & Gun Club"; have you met with other hunters and base officials to try to make this a reality? Second, have you tried to get an appointment with the base commander or his rep. to discuss your concerns? Military Installations will comply with state regs. but the land is under federal jurisdiction and commanders may be able to secure some exceptions concerning wildlife management especially if the 'yotes or lions pose any type of threat to the base population. I know that yotes can be particularly good at spreading diseases. This is a good discussion and I'm learning allot from this and other threads.
    YES! I have been communicating directly with the base commander. Although he is a hunter, he is fairly new at the base and has a lot on his plate. However, I think in due time there will be some improvements.
    Dave Gray
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    I ve been hunting on base for 8 years now. I remember when we would come hunt and you would see 20-40 hogs in a weekend now i havent seen any in the last 2 years which is sad. i do feel that the drought has a big part to play in this cause i also was told by a game warden that with the drought that the animals wont reproduce. I also feel that the predators are a problem. i ve only seen maybe 3 cats total but i know there are more. Maybe the base should hold a day and night predator hunt one weekend. It would be a lottery hunt that way folks werent close to each other. I also feel that closing down a zone each year would help or change the regulations as far as taking a buck is concerned. So instead of fork n horn nothing smaller that a 3x3 that would help some of these smaller bucks grow and we wouldnt have folks shooting spikes. I mean you should know what your shooting at anyway but this would help.

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