It’s that time of year again. The crisp, frosty mornings, the promise of autumn storms and the scent of sage in the air mean the D-19 zone General Deer hunt is here, begin ing at dawn Saturday, Oct. 7, and ending at sunset, Nov. 5.
Zone D-19 encompasses an enormous area, including portions of Riverside, San Diego and Imperial counties. Its borders are defined by county Road R-3, state Route 79, state Route 78, state Route 111 and Interstate 10. But most of the area within this zone is not available to hunt. Wildlife preservation areas, refuges, state parks, cities, towns and Indian lands are off-limits to hunters.
Most hunting takes place on private land with written permission or federal lands such as Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest lands. Only 1,500 “tags” are available for hunters to purchase for this zone.
The state biologists report that the mule deer herd is healthy and stable, with a slight decline from herd numbers reported in the 1960s and 70s.
“These long-term declines have been due to land management practices that have precluded fire, resulting in changes toward more mature and less diverse habitats, and to reduced quality and quantity of deer habitats. Short-term fluctuations in deer populations are usually attributed to weather events that affect forage production,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
Reported hunter success from the 2016 hunt was only 7.7 percent, or 113 bucks harvested. Doe tags are not issued in this hunt.
“There’s some big bucks around here, but they are few and far between,” one avid hunter said.
The main hunting destinations in the Anza and Aguanga communities are Thomas Mountain, Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness Area and Beauty Mountain Wilderness Area, and hunters tend to come out in good numbers. In all these places, hunting by rifle with the correct license, tags and attention to regulations is permitted.
Gun shots may be heard during the times between dawn and dusk. Hunting at night is illegal. Hunting is not allowed in California state parks, Riverside County preservation areas or wildlife preserves. The harvesting of antlered male deer or bucks is allowed on private lands with the landowner’s written permission. Reed Valley has some good deer habitat, and some landowners will give permission to hunt there.
Hunters will usually be active between dawn and about 9 or 10 a. m. and hit the trails again a couple of hours before dusk, when the animals are most active feeding and traveling to and from bedding areas.
Other public land users should wear brightly colored clothing and stick to the trails. Many hunters are weekend warriors and may hunt intensively all day on the weekends; as such, nature enthusiasts should plan rides or hikes on the weekdays, if possible. People should make normal noises as they travel and talk normally to make their presence known. If shots are heard, people should not panic, but stay still and call out to make their position known to the hunter. Sounds travel in strange ways and bounces around, and shots fired from a good distance away can seem very close. The direction from which the sounds come may be impossible to determine. Putting bells on horses or backpacks is another way to alert hunters.
State statistics for hunting accidents involving firearms reveal that 14 incidents occurred in 2016. Of these, three were fatal. Only one of those accidents was during a deer hunt. Statistics for 2015 show seven incidents and one fatality. Most of the accidents occurred with shotguns during bird hunts.
Hunters have rights, just as other people do. It is against the law to harass hunters and wildlife. The outlined areas are open for them to pursue their sport. The money they pay for tags, taxes and licensing help manage the lands that others also enjoy.
In years past, some people posted “No Hunting” signs on the Cahuilla trail system, which is federal land and hunting is indeed allowed. Horseback riders harassing deer have been observed in this same area and that behavior is illegal.
“A person shall not willfully interfere with the participation of any individual in the lawful activity of shooting, hunting, fishing, falconry or trapping at the location where that activity is taking place,” according to California Fish and Game Code Section 2009.
Additionally, California’s Mammal Hunting Regulations for 2017-2018 Section 251.1, Harassment of Animals, advised, “Except as otherwise authorized in these regulations or in the Fish and Game Code, no person shall harass, herd or drive any game or non-game bird or mammal or fur-bearing mammal … harass is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering.”
Both hunters and others using public lands can coexist if they understand and respect each other.
To learn about California’s deer hunting regulations, zones and more, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Hunting/Deer.