Over the years since I started putting together these hunts at the Tejon Ranch, one of the most common questions I get is, “what should I bring?”
It’s actually a pretty good question, and as this year’s big trip looms (I’m hitting the road tomorrow night), I thought this was a good time to give it a go.
First, we’ll dispense with the basics, Guns and Ammo, Optics, Gear, and Vehicles.
Guns and Ammo:
I’ve written about this before, but my recommendation is a centerfire rifle in .270 or larger. Sure, a smaller rifle will kill hogs. A rock will kill a hog. But stepping up to something with the range, accuracy, and power of at least a .270Win gives the advantage of a versatile round that allows you to kill a large hog cleanly from powder-burn range to a couple hundred yards. Especially at places like Tejon, where the terrain varies so widely, it’s good to be able to take the shot you’re presented instead of the shot you’d prefer (within reason, of course).
You’ll need to be shooting lead-free ammo, so you’ll need to find the kind that shoots best in your personal rifle. Options are currently, ETip, Barnes, Hornady GMX, Lapua Naturalis, and Remington Copper Solid. I’ve been real happy so far with both the ETips and the Barnes TSX. I’ve yet to try the others, however, I have seen good results from the Lapua. Keep in mind that Tejon Ranch has a total ban on lead ammo, and you are not permitted to possess any on the property… period. Make sure you clean your vehicle out before you arrive.
A lot of folks want to know about handguns. I don’t recommend carrying a handgun as a “backup”, simply because it’s generally a lot of extra weight. If you choose to do so, however, remember that it must be loaded with lead-free ammo even if it’s not your primary weapon. I do keep my .44mag in the truck, particularly in case I decide to go hunt the bedding areas. I also carry it if I’m called to help out on a bad blood trail. But when I take the handgun, I generally leave the rifle behind. There’s just not much need to carry both, in my opinion.
If you want to carry a handgun for primary, I recommend a .44mag orlarger. Again, I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, but the bottom line is that it takes a lot of oomph and penetration to bring down a big hog. Most of the semi-autos and such are designed for lighter rounds that don’t pack the foot-pounds you’ll need for a clean kill. For example, the .40 and .45acp are fine for finishing shots, but not recommended for big game hunting.
No western hunter should ever hit the field without a pair of quality binoculars. Buy what you can afford, of course, but you won’t be sorry if you spring for the best you can manage. I like at least a 10×40 (ten power with a 40mm objective), because that’s plenty of power to glass the shadows and draws, but it isn’t so powerful you can’t hold it steady without a tripod. An 8-power glass is workable, but I wouldn’t bother with anything less.
You don’t need a spotting scope for this kind of hunting unless you’re specifically after trophy boars. I’ve tried using one twice now, and it really was just more hassle than benefit. Binos worked just as well. There are plenty of good opportunities to use one though, if you feel the need. There’s lots of open country and cross canyon vantage points.
Rangefinders can be helpful, although in general I think they’re over-rated for rifle hunters. I have made good use of the rangefinder in my Leica GeoVid, especially with visiting hunters. If you’re not used to estimating range in this canyon country, a measured distance can be good for the confidence. Most folks tend to over-estimate anyway, but my rule is, if it seems “iffy”, then get closer or find another hog. In my opinion, if it’s too far to hold dead on, then you don’t need to take the shot. You can do better, especially at a place like Tejon Ranch.
Most of the hunting at a place like Tejon consists of spot and stalk. You’ll seldom be more than a mile or so from the vehicle, so an extensive pack isn’t really a necessity. When I leave the truck, I usually have about a liter or liter-and-a-half of water, a few trail bars, and some striking paper. I also carry a signal whistle, two skinning knives and a sharpener (a hog is tough on a knife), a game bag or a couple of pillow cases, and several yards of parachute cord (550 cord). There are also usually a few odds and ends, including some rudimentary first-aid stuff, but that’s the critical content. All of this fits in a medium sized fanny pack, or in the tactical thigh packs I use.
While I never carry enough gear to fill a frame pack, I do carry one most of the time. I have a tendency to drop my animals in some fairly inaccessible locations. With a frame pack and some game bags, I can bone out a hog and lash it to the pack frame for a relatively easy recovery. I never try to drag an animal, unless I’m really close to the vehicle. An added benefit of the frame is that it makes carrying the little bit of gear I have a lot easier… I just lash the fanny pack to the frame.
One other note on recovery… I always try to have several hundred yards of rope back at the vehicle. In many cases, it’s possible to drop a long rope to your animal and let the vehicle do the heavy lifting to pull it out of a deep canyon. You can never have too much rope.
Tejon is a very accessible place, and can be hunted successfully from a two-wheel drive vehicle. In fact, some very productive areas can be reached from the paved road. There are several good roads, particularly when the weather is dry, so a regular pick-up truck or SUV can get around quite well. I would recommend something with a little extra ground clearance for the dirt roads. A decent, short-wheelbase, 4wd vehicle can access every road on the ranch in dry weather. Some of the trails get pretty steep, and in places there’s some deep, dusty sand, so you’ll need the extra boost of a 4wd. Long-bed pick-ups can get around pretty well too, but some roads get real tight and turning around can be a problem.
When the weather is wet and snowy, however, it’s a different deal. The high roads are often blocked by drifts, and the muddy lower roads can turn into real quagmires. The clay and stone soil get slick as Vaseline, and will pack the treads of most off-road tires in no time. In these cases, you’ll need a really good off-road vehicle combined with an experienced driver to access some areas… other areas should simply be considered inaccessible. Get out and use the boot leather.
Recently, Tejon has started to allow the use of “side-by-sides” or UTVs, such as the Polaris or Kawasaki Mule. These vehicles are useful and economical, but they generally don’t offer a lot of ground clearance. An experienced driver can probably get them into some pretty tricky areas, but it’s also pretty easy to get yourself into a real bind.
I recommend bringing along some self-extraction gear, such as a winch, hi-lift jack, come-along, and recovery straps or cables. But even more importantly, bring along some common sense. Every year the ranch has at least a couple of folks who end up going over the edge, and several more end up calling for the off-road wrecker service. In at least a couple of cases, vehicles have had to be abandoned for several days until the weather permits an extraction.
Oh, and the standard aphorism for driving at Tejon: “If the road starts looking really bad, stop and go back. It will NOT get better around the bend.”
So what else?
On most of the Tejon hunts, you have three basic lodging options.
You can stay at a local motel (in Lebec, Grapevine, or other nearby places). This puts you off the ranch, which means you have to drive in early to get in place for your hunt. It’s comfortable, of course, to have a private room with real bathroom facilities and a maid service, but it’s also kind of inconvenient.
Another option is to camp, and this is what we usually do on our group hunts. There are camping areas on both sides of the ranch (North and South). I usually hunt the south side, and the camping area there is large and open, with plenty of room for a lot of hunters. There are spots that are ideal for setting up a tent, and other places that you can park a full-sized RV. There are no utilities or hook-ups, so camping will all have to be self-contained. For larger groups, they usually put a port-a-potty or two in the campground. The camping area on the north side is a little smaller, but it also accomodates anything from a pup tent to a 40′ motor home. Open fires are generally not allowed during the drier months, and must be carefully controlled even when the weather is damp. A portable fire ring, such as an old washing machine drum, is a great thing to pack if you want to sit by the fire after your hunting day is over.
The final option is to book one of the cabins. I forget how many cabins there are all together, but this is a great option for a smaller group of hunters (8-12). The cabins range from rustic to quite comfortable, and rates are based on this. The rustic cabins run $50/person for a weekend, while the nicer cabins will run $100/person. It’s not a bad deal, but the cabins do book up pretty quickly. Make reservations early.
Food and Supplies:
I always suggest that anyone coming out to the ranch be prepared and bring everything they need to be self-sufficient for the duration of the stay. This includes ice, food, water, fuel, and anything else you may want to have in camp. You’ll also need anything required to prepare the food, whether it’s a camp stove, charcoal or gas grill, or oven range and microwave. None of this is available once you go through the gates. However, the truth is, it’s a relatively short drive to Lebec or Grapevine where you can buy essentials if you run out.
The weather at Tejon is often unpredictable, and it can swing drastically. The ranch covers a lot of territory, and there is significant elevation change. You can go from around 1000 feet elevation to over 6000 feet in a morning. You may have snow and frigid wind on the summits, while the lower flats are dry and warm. This is one of those places where they invented dressing in layers. Also, even in the “dry season” of late spring/early summer, you can still get a nasty rain storm. Be like a Boy Scout, and be prepared.
Footwear should be solid and provide good support. Fortunately, most hunting and hiking boots are perfectly acceptable. Consider a high boot, however, especially in the warmer months when you’ll be dealing with foxtails and other spiky plants. Rattlesnakes are also plentiful, and high boots offer a little more protection.
Tejon lends itself best to spot and stalk hunting. My favorite tactic is to find a high spot and glass like hell. This is ideal at first and last light, but even in the mid-day hours it’s not unusual to catch a hog or two moving from bed to bed, or heading down for water. It’s always easiest to move down on your prey, but keep the wind currents in mind. In the morning, the currents are likely to be dipping down ahead of you, so never approach from dead over the animals. Move away so you can approach from the side or below.
Another tactic, and one that’s used by several of the guides at Tejon, is run and gun. The idea is to drive from area to area, looking for pigs as you go and stopping occasionally to glass. You’ll cover a lot of the ranch this way, but it seems to work well for the pros. They do, however, have the added advantage of knowing the ranch really well so they can locate roads to get close to the animals.
One last approach is to hunt the beds during the day. Most hunters tend to end up back in camp within a few hours of sunrise. It’s hard to kill a hog laying around your campsite. Instead, get out on foot and get into the bedding areas. Most of the denser canyons and draws hold pigs during the day, and it can be downright exciting to get up close and personal with them in their bedrooms. This is an especially excellent method for archers, muzzleloaders, and handgun hunters.
I’m sure there’s more I could get into here, but honestly, this is a lot more than I’d set out to write in the first place. Have you hunted Tejon? Have some ideas, tips, or recommendations? Or do you have specific questions about the ranch? Feel free to pile on in!