Sometimes, it's not about how much time you spend in the field, but when you spend it.
In my hunting career, I've taken several long trips of five, six or seven days where I had plenty of time to bag an animal, but still came back empty-handed.
A couple weeks ago, I embarked on my longest trip yet. Twelve days -- three on a ranch in Santa Clara County and nine up in the Sierra Nevada above Arnold.
Worried that this could be the first season in 12 years of hunting where I haven't brought home any meat, I decided early on to hunt hard and hunt often, and it paid off in a big way.
The first night of the hunt, I was able to chase down and shoot two small pigs, which were part of a larger group of about seven.
Pigs usually get careless when they're in a group, so I was able to sneak to within 30 yards for my shots, which totaled eight.
The shooting exhibition I put on was fun, there was just one problem -- I didn't pack any extra ammo.
I now had only two rounds to try and fill my coastal deer tag, and for a guy who likes to shoot, that's not a comforting thought.
Nevertheless, I pushed on and got my chance at a nice buck Saturday.
I was lucky to have another pair of eyes with me in the field that day, as one of my hunting buddies, Gerald Dooley, pointed out the buck to me.
Since he had filled his buck tag the weekend before, this one was mine for the taking -- a wide forked horn with two eye guards.
I didn't see the buck when we went by, but Gerald did. As the deer got up from the tree he was napping under, Gerald hollered "buck, buck!" I pulled down and fired a 35-yard shot faster than a greased rattler popping out of a squirrel hole.
One round ... no problem.
After a quick trip to the butcher, it was up to the mountains for my nine-day excursion.
The first two days treated me well. I saw dozens of does and a couple of young forked-horn bucks that I passed on in anticipation of a bigger one.
And at the end of the second day, I saw him.
It was dusk, and I was climbing through a rocky canyon side on my way back to camp.
With my peripheral vision, I saw a flash up high in some rim rocks. I looked up expecting to see a chipmunk or bird, but instead caught a quick glimpse of a beautiful three-point buck passing through an opening in the rocks.
I tried to track him, but it was too dark and he had moved out long before I got to the spot where I saw him.
From my experience, high-mountain deer will use one of two tactics to avoid hunters -- move out long before the hunter ever has a chance to shoot or hold tight in some brush as the hunter walks past. This buck used the first technique on me, and it worked.
The next several days brought lots of cold wind, clouds and a touch of rain as a snowstorm began to move in. The deer must've known it was coming, because their numbers seemed to thin out quite a bit over the time frame.
With the deer disappearing all of the sudden, I was wishing I had shot one of those small forked horns earlier in my trip.
But I was looking for a wall-hanger, one to take to the taxidermist. I already had my meat buck -- now it was time for a trophy.
Despite the drop in deer sightings, I kept hunting as hard as I ever have, wearing holes in both my boots and my feet.
I finally got some action on the second-to-last day of the trip.
I took a walk down a canyon side with another one of my hunting buddies, Tim Dooley. It was the same side of the canyon I had seen the big three-pointer on.