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On the lookout

Spotting elusive deer in local areas is a combination of location, skill and timing.

October 25, 2005|Gary Polakovic | Times Staff Writer

FINDING deer in our local mountains can be a tricky proposition -- even if you aren't hunting them in D-11 -- and spotting them from afar is an enticing reminder that a certain wildness coexists beside a sprawling metropolis.

Mule deer -- so named because of their big floppy ears -- use local mountains for forage but don't move in large numbers -- due mostly to compromised habitat -- and they are elusive by nature. "You can drive around a lot of country and not see any at all," says Steve Loe, biologist for the San Bernardino National Forest.

Some of the best viewing spots are the meadows in the San Bernardino Mountains around Onyx Peak and off Highway 38.

Deer also roam in the parks of Orange County, such as Whiting Ranch and Ronald W. Caspers wilderness parks or O'Neill Regional Park. "There's been lots of mountain lion sightings there, and the lions are there for the deer," Loe says.

Also look for deer throughout the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Because there's no hunting there, deer are far less skittish.

In the summer, deer concentrate in high elevations in the mountains, where there's more forage and water for fawns.

During the winter, snow drives deer to lower elevations, so look for animals just below the snowline. Also, slopes two or three years after a fire attract deer to newly sprouted vegetation. Watch creeks and non-burned brush lines; these "edges" often act as deer freeways in fire country.

The best time to see deer is at first light and one hour before sunset (during the day, they bed down in thick vegetation). Get atop high ground, keep the wind in your face, and be still, preferably near a spring or meadow, and animals may appear.

Use binoculars or a spotting scope, and train your eye to look for conspicuous parts of the deer -- a white rump, twitching ear, shoulders or legs -- because deer are masters of concealment and seldom stand in the open.

Earth Skills, an outdoors training school in Frazier Park, offers an all-day class on how to spot and track wildlife. It meets at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 19 at Malibu Creek State Park and costs $65. Details can be found at

The California Department of Fish and Game also offers a training course -- mandatory for hunters seeking a license -- which includes instruction in wildlife identification.

For information, call (760) 947-8859 for details, or for a schedule of classes, go to

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