Bowhunter Tags Giant Velvet Blacktail After Hunting It for Three Years
Despite busting the big buck on opening day in northern California, hunter Chris Palomo got a second chance
Chris Palomo was glassing familiar terrain for blacktail deer high on a northern canyon ridge at 7 a.m. on Aug. 19. The 29-year-old was looking for an elusive giant Columbia blacktail he’d hunted the last two seasons; he was determined this year would be his last.
It was opening day in the northwest part of California. Palomo was hunting with an OTC tag on national forest land—a place he prefers not to name but, having hunted the area for seven years, knows well.
“I spotted the big blacktail buck that morning [Aug. 19], and I was stunned, because every year I hunted him previously he just disappeared once the season opened,” Palomo tells Outdoor Life. “I tried using trail cameras to pattern him before the season, but I never could get him on camera. I would locate him with binoculars and spotting scopes from long range before season. But when archery season began, he just disappeared.”
Palomo closed the distance to the buck, finally sneaking into bow range. The buck remained bedded, and Palomo waited for the deer to stand to get a good shot.
“He just wouldn’t stand up for me to make a clean shot, so I waited, and waited, and waited,” says Palomo, a carpenter’s union representative from Fairfield, California. “But five hours later, I was still waiting for him to stand so I could shoot. Then the weather started to deteriorate with a storm building.”
The wind rose and swirled with the storm, and eventually it shifted so the buck caught Palomo’s scent—and bolted from its bed and disappeared into thick timber.
“I worked around the canyon for the rest of the day, stalking and glassing for him, but I never saw another deer all day,” Palomo says.
Palomo was back at the canyon ridge at dawn, glassing to see if he could locate the big deer again. At 9:30 a.m., he saw the buck—just 200 yards from where he’d spooked it the previous day.
“I took off running along the ridgeline and came in from behind the bedded buck. About 11 a.m. I slipped in to about 80 yards from where I’d last seen him, then started moving slowly and glassing the area carefully.”
Palomo took his time, watching and glassing and waiting. Finally, at about 2 p.m., he spotted movement.
“I saw his antlers just below me at 36 yards, then he stood up, and stepped into an opening—head down, feeding.”
That’s when the adrenaline hit him hard. Even though Palomo is a lifelong hunter and has been a bowhunter since for nearly a decade, the buck fever hit him hard.
“I thought I was all set, and started to draw my arrow, but the shaft wasn’t on the rest so if fell off the bow, clanking as it dropped,” he said. “The buck heard that sound, turned, looked at me, and we stood staring at each other for the longest 10 minutes of my life.”
Finally, the deer dropped its head as it returned to feeding at 40 yards. Palomo nocked another arrow, drew, and released.
“I glassed the deer and saw blood and I knew it was a good hit,” said the California bowman. “He ran about 50 yards and disappeared into some timber.”
Still, Palomo waited nearly an hour before looking for blood. He took off his boots and stalked to the spot where he’d seen the buck last. If the buck was still alive, he didn’t want to spook him.
“I got to the timber, and he was lying dead just five yards inside the woods. He didn’t run 60 yards from where the arrow had hit him.”
Palomo packed the buck out and delivered it to Racks and Tracks Taxidermy in Hidden Valley Lake. The 4×4 blacktail has split brow tines, with a wide 29.5-inch antler spread – a giant blacktail buck by any measure, but especially for a public-land archery buck. For reference, the state-record blacktail in California measured 175 2/8 inches. That buck was killed in 1981 and its greatest spread measured 23 inches (hard-horned and after the mandatory drying period) .
Bear season is open in northern California, and Palomo plans to return to the same area soon.
“I’ve shot a few deer, small game, and some turkeys with my bow. A bear on top of my velvet blacktail buck would really make 2023 something special.”