What A Year!
by Chuck Kolesar
For the majority of California big game hunters, bringing home one animal a year can be rewarding. For my 15-year-old son, Neal, this past year has been a dream come true.

In May, he began his quest with a weekend pig hunt on Wilderness Unlimited property. In camp the night before our hunt he struck up a conversation with other hunters. We fell asleep that night thinking about a story of a large boar taken that hung over the edges of a truck's tailgate. I remember suggesting to Neal that he start with something smaller. The next evening he downed a large boar on the edge of a barley field.

Neal Kolesar with his boar that tipped 205 pounds on the butcher's scale. Neal took his boar on the Gallatin Ranch near Red Bluff. This is a Wilderness Unlimited property.
In September, Neal connected for his first buck, a forkhorn blacktail, once again on W.U. property. What makes this hunt so memorable was that two days earlier he had injured his knee in a football scrimmage. His first words to me when I went to see him on the sidelines had been, "We're still going hunting, aren't we?"

I gave him the choice of two hillside openings on Sunday morning. I heard his shot as I answered nature's call. He connected with a standing 125-yard shot, as he hadn't yet reached his chosen stand location.

Neal took his forkhorn on a W.U. property, the Maguire Ranch, near Willits.
Neal joined his grandfather, uncle, and me in Michigan for our annual November whitetail hunt. Neal chose to miss the first three days of the season to start his hunt over his Thanksgiving break. He chose well, as the first five days were unseasonably warm and the deer nocturnal. On the seventh day a light rain in the morning turned into a full snowstorm that dumped eight inches of heavy, wet snow by noon. At 4:20 that afternoon a lonely spike buck crawled out of a gnarly cedar swamp into Neal's sights. When we cleaned the horns for mounting we discovered one antler had almost broken off at sometime. The healing process left an extensive repair ring around the base. Must have been quite a headache.
Neal and his Michigan whitetail spike buck.
The last hunt of 1999 was the best. Neal was drawn for the California Daugherty Wildlife Area Either Sex Junior Hunt that began on December 19th. His Michigan experiences with the rut were helpful for this hunt as the deer were in a full rut pattern. As we glassed a hillside on opening morning we spotted a 3x3 and 4x4 bedded down about 500 yards away, but they moved out quickly as does passed upwind from them. A stalk failed to produce but did expose a line of rubs and scrapes.

The next morning as we were getting into position, two deer stood up in some oaks. With

minimal light it took awhile to see that one was a nice buck, perhaps even a 4x4. Neal took a position to fire and did so as the buck turned. Three shots later the deer disappeared out of sight over the ridge and untouched. I know Neal is a good shot so we found a place to fire his gun at a makeshift target. To our dismay the target was untouched. We had failed to sight in his rifle upon our return from Michigan (never again!). We can only suspect the scope was jostled in travel.

The third morning Neal took my rifle. At midmorning, having not seen anything, Neal suggested we work a ridgeline into the prevailing wind. As we were crossing a grassy road between oak groves, Neal sighted a thick- necked 3x3 walking head down toward us. He held his shot until the buck turned, putting him down in his tracks. Standing side by side, I think my heart rate was higher than Neal's.

The rules of the hunt allowed vehicles to be driven in to pick up downed game. I wonder what Neal thought about as I walked the hour-long trek back to the parking lot. Perhaps, "How lucky can one kid get?"

I don't know what 2000 holds for Neal, but I think I'll take him along and rub his head "just for luck."

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