What is called the Cow Mountain area is roughly from Scotts Valley in Lake County to the mountains east of the Ukiah Valley and from Blue lakes on the north to the Hopland-Lakeport highway on the south. It is, or was, a vast land of high rolling ridges and canyons mostly covered with a heavy growth of chamise and plenty of red-thorn and scrub oaks. To anyone not well acquainted, it might look pretty dry, but actually it was very well watered as far as game was concerned.
The main canyons, Panther Creek and Willow Creek and some others, had good running water and there were seep springs in all the sizable gulches. Eight Mile Valley is about in the middle of the area and the creek there runs down through the Devil's Kitchen and into Scotts Creek. It has very little water in mid-summer. There are all kinds of names used by deer hunters in the area. Lyons Valley, Black Rock, Scheuter Ridge, High Valley, Tick Valley, the Four-Mile Glades and dozens of others.
Many of these places were homesteaded years ago and most have been used as hunting camps since having been abandoned. Years ago about the only hunters were Lake and Mendocino County people and their friends. There was a sort of gentlemen's agreement not to encroach on other people's territory. These men were all serious hunters. Some had good dogs and all of them were willing to go into the brush; heat and thirst were minor problems for them.
It was very rough brush. My cousin John always started the season with a new pair of overalls and a new “Old Hickory” shirt. But they wouldn't last anymore than one season. This was before the season started to be trifled with by state game officials. It ran from August 1 to September 15 which was about right for that country. It was okay as well for further north, except there would be velvet horns in the Hull and Baldy mountain country.
The meat from animals killed in that season would be at its best as well, which is something the game managers don't seem to bother much about. In the 1890s hide hunters had pretty well cleaned the deer out and likely there was deer meat for sale in those first years.
The first time I was out in that country was in 1919. John and his family and his father, Dick Tindall had been hunting there for a long time. Of course there were many others such as the Garavemmta boys, the Figones, and the Hildreths. John Banta had a claim there also so of course he didn't count extra. If John Banta were alive now he would count as Bigfoot because he wore an outsize shoe, much more than a size 12, I am sure.
At the start (after the hide hunters) deer were very scarce and a hunter usually shot the first deer he saw because it would likely be the only one he would encounter. The men liked to hunt, of course, but they want that venison meat too. It would offset having to eat too much bacon and ham. Later the men got the idea of not shooting does and at once the bucks began to be more plentiful. By the time I went out there on a trip with John, the deer were coming back in pretty good shape. There had been a “burn” or two and we saw quite a few signs of the deer population coming back.
My friend Ed Cox had the Eight Mile Ranch then but I didn't know it at the time. John's first camp was in Lyons Valley. It was a pretty little place forestd with black oak timber and was owned by Mr. Rowley. It was just over the top of the mountain from Mr. Purdy's “terraces” and we used to see him when he went by. The road then wasn't very good. It was steep for those old cars and the turns were very sharp. We hunted out by Black Rock and on to the foot of Cow mountain itself. Scheuter Ridge and Grapevine Canyon were fine places for bucks and they were increasing rapidly in numbers in spite of a determined effort by hardy hunters to kill them. To shoot a doe at that time had become unthinkable. One man who did deliberately shoot one later on was asked not to come back to hunt again. The Garaventa boys and others also hunted those ridges but usually farther out.
Later John moved his camp over to an area south of Eight Mile on Panther Creek. He dug a road into it that I guess was the toughest in the world. But it was a fine camp there in a grove of alders and a little creek right alongside. Cold water for a refrigerator and a piece of smokestack flattened on top for a stove. John had a pair of springs that he left there year-round but mostly the hunters slept on the ground. It was a little rocky, but nothing to bother a tired hunter.
From then until about 1952 there were actually hundreds of bucks taken in that camp. John had many friends from other parts of the country and they would all show up at least once a season. Each year the kill became bigger and I personally got several that were 140 pounds or better.
One more word: In all those years there was never an accident. About the worst thing that happened was the time my dog Mike was bitten by a snake. That is a story for another day. There are many of them.