It has been far too long since I reported on what I consider to be the finest Columbian blacktail operation in North America. Jim and TinaMarie Schaafsma of Arrow Five Outfitters (Tel. 707-923-9633. Web: www.arrowfiveoutfitters.com) offer not only blacktail and wild boar hunts in northwest California, but also mule deer and Coues deer hunts in Sonora, as well as antelope hunts in New Mexico. Their specialty, however, is trophy-class Columbian blacktail deer.
It is rare to find an outfit that has produced better than a 98 percent hunter success over the years (even for their archery hunters), as well as superb trophy quality. The Schaafsmas have not only been responsible for more entries in the record books than any other blacktail outfitter, but they continue to add huge bucks every year. For example, last season they produced 17 bucks scoring over 130 points, including nine bucks that scored over 140! (The B & C All Time minimum is 135.)
The Schaafsmas have hunted their main ranch since 1989, and also have another adjoining property, as well as a ranch on the coast. The main ranch is one of over 75 properties enrolled in California’s successful Private Lands Management (PLM) Program, which stresses intense wildlife management in exchange for economic incentives for landowners. These incentives include, among other things, specially extended seasons and the right to charge fees for hunting. Despite what you might assume with their outstanding trophy quality and hunter success, this is not a high-fenced operation. They rely on ample water, food sources and cover to keep deer on the ranch. An integral part of their management plan also includes conservative harvests and a robust selection of management deer hunts.
This ranch is covered in large grassy slopes and meadows broken with oak and timbered draws that are perfect for spot-and-stalk hunting. The ability to carefully glass their quarry is only one reason why the Schaafsmas continue to produce such outstanding results. They are able to thoroughly judge a buck before deciding to harvest it or let it grow older.
Arrow Five has a wide variety of blacktail hunts, including youth and women’s hunts, as well as management and trophy hunts for both bowhunters and rifle clients. They can also accommodate almost any schedule during the fall. For example, their early archery hunt on the 6,000-acre coastal ranch starts in late July. Hunters on the early hunt stay in wall tents complete with comfortable cots and mattresses. This is a five-day, 1 x 1 hunt that costs $2,000, plus a $2,000 trophy fee. Bowhunters spend most of their time in tree stands or ground blinds and have an excellent chance at bagging a Pope & Young buck (minimum 90 points). Hunters can expect to see a buck scoring better than 115 points, a very respectable blacktail, and the Schaafsmas expect their archery hunts to produce at least one buck each season scoring in the 130s. Last season, 17 bowhunters killed 15 bucks and a dozen of them made the record book with the largest scoring 147 points – certainly much larger than normal! Although the Schaafsmas spend almost every day working on the ranch, they had never seen this particular buck before it was killed. Years ago, while hunting with this outfit, I killed a big non-typical buck scoring in the top 10 SCI records which also hadn’t been seen before the fateful day TinaMarie found him. Both examples are ample evidence that bucks come and go as they please on these unfenced properties.
On their five-day blacktail General Hunts (conducted on the adjoining property to their PLM ranch and scheduled only during California’s general deer seasons), both bowhunters and rifle hunters can select a management or trophy hunt. The archery hunts start in mid-August and cost $3,500, plus an additional $2,500 trophy fee for a 3 x 3 or better buck. Bucks scoring more than 130 SCI points, cost another $2,000 (a total of $8,000). For rifle hunters, a management buck hunt (with no upgrade option) costs $2,500. A management buck has a forked horn on at least one side and is at least 4½ years old. The trophy hunt costs $5,500, with an additional $2,500 trophy fee for a buck grossing more than 130 points (for a total of $8,000). The rifle season normally starts in mid-September and runs through mid-October.
The Schaafsmas’ most popular hunt is the PLM trophy rifle hunt, which they are now booking for 2010. This hunt is conducted on the ranch enrolled in the PLM program, which has reaped the benefits of years of careful game management. Although there is a management hunt option on this hunt (again for $2,500), the trophy hunt is designed to harvest the biggest bucks available. The archery hunt starts in mid-August and costs $4,000, plus a $3,000 trophy fee. Add another $2,000 if the buck grosses over 130 points (a total of $9,000). If you tag a management buck, there is no additional cost other than the base hunt price.
The trophy rifle hunt costs $6,000 with a $3,000 trophy fee for any buck gross scoring over 130 points (a $9,000 total). Last season, their 15 clients all tagged bucks, with 11 scoring over 130 points, including six that beat 140 points! While most of their best trophies are taken on these hunts, some very good trophies are taken on their lesser cost hunts. On the PLM hunts, clients stay at the main ranch in a bunkhouse complete with a pool table and very comfortable sleeping quarters. All hunts include shuttle service between Eureka and the ranch.
A bonus offered on all blacktail hunts is the option to kill a wild boar for a trophy fee of $500. Several years ago the Schaafsmas added the Russian strains to their wild feral hog herds, and some of their boars are huge now. If you want to hunt hogs from mid-February to the end of May, this 2½-day hunt costs from $750 to $850 per hunter, depending on the number of hunters in the group.
Arrow Five Outfitters also offers management deer hunts for young hunters, for whom they have always produced a buck. As supporters of youth hunting, they donate at least five hunts a year to local Hunter Safety Class programs and local hunting clubs. I have helped on two of these hunts and can say that watching the joy and excitement on a young hunter’s face is worth the effort.
In addition to their deer hunts, Arrow Five Outfitters offers two antelope hunts in New Mexico on a 40,000-acre ranch southeast of Albuquerque where they boast 100 percent success. A highway dissects this property, with a different season applying to each part. The Schaafsmas offer hunts for up to 10 hunters on the northern section in years ending in an odd number. The southern portion of the ranch is hunted in years ending in an even number, but these hunts are restricted to ladies only. They limit the southern hunts to only four clients to maintain the quality of the experience. Both hunts are 2½-day affairs that cover the two-day antelope season. While hunters should not expect to find top-end antelope on this property, there is the possibility of taking a B & C buck here. In the past three years, they have killed three bucks grossing over 82 inches, including one that scored 84 points. These hunts are priced at $2,750. Hunters normally fly into Albuquerque before driving to the ranch where they will stay at the ranch house.
Down in Mexico, the Schaafsmas have a December hunt for “management” mule deer on a 25,000-acre ranch. This ranch is fenced except for the arroyos, so conceivably the bucks can come and go at will. The feeding programs implemented here have produced wonders. Every buck killed on the ranch is weighed, and the bucks are achieving truly gigantic size for desert mule deer – often over 300 pounds on the hoof with racks to match. While there is no clear definition for management bucks on this property, the quality of these deer is worth considering. Just take a look at Arrow Five’s web site to see what I mean. Last season, they took three 180-class “management” bucks, the smallest of which almost eclipsed the magic 30-inch spread target.
A five-day management hunt is conducted on a 1 x 2 basis with both an American and Mexican guide at a cost of $5,000. The guides have full discretion in determining what bucks can be harvested as management deer. If you are interested in one of the trophy hunts on this ranch, be forewarned, the hunts cost $17,000, and there are only two hunts left for this season.
Arrow Five’s Coues deer hunts in Sonora are strictly bowhunts offered in January on a 45,000-acre complex of ranches. They are guided 1 x 2 for six days at a cost of $3,000, plus a $1,500 trophy fee. The cost includes pickup and return to the Hermosillo airport. Last January, their eight clients all harvested bucks, with seven qualifying for Pope & Young (minimum 65 points). The best buck scored 102 points. Don’t go there expecting to see high-scoring bucks on this hunt. Instead, you’ll get lots of shooting opportunities. Jim Schaafsma says one client saw over 60 deer in one day while sitting in a blind. Hunting is conducted over water holes in tree stands or ground blinds. Only three or four hunters are scheduled in camp at any one time on this hunt.
Because of Arrow Five’s track record producing such great trophies and their continuous high hunter success, their hunts are in high demand. Many of their hunts must be booked years in advance. While this is disheartening, it also can be an advantage since booking a hunt now locks you into today’s cost. There are cancellations from time to time, as well, so you should get on their cancellation list. You certainly would be pressed to find a better or more cordial outfit offering these hunts. . . Life is too short – go hunting! Lance Stapleton.