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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

"The West Coast's Premier Fleet Marine Force Training Base"

Local firefighter breaks base record for archery deer hunting

By Lance Cpl. Angela Wilcox | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | November 13, 2020


On Sept. 6, 2020, firefighter Daniel Rios broke a base record by harvesting the heaviest deer seen yet by the Camp Pendleton Game Warden’s Office.

Rios is a firefighter with the San Diego Federal Fire Department, an agency whose motto is “protect those who defend America.” He was also part of the firefighting effort on the Bonhomme Richard, the U.S. Navy warship that caught fire in San Diego this July.

The opening weekend for hunting season on Camp Pendleton was a hot one, but that didn’t stop Rios from heading out early with his archery equipment, determined to harvest a deer. Rios had only been practicing archery hunting for about three months when he harvested the 162 pound California Mule deer from 42 yards. The prior record was 156 pounds.

“I picked up my first bow three months prior to this hunt. Even hunting in general, a lot of people would say you need more time. But, I squeezed in a lot of shooting and training beforehand,” said Rios.

Rios says he often woke up at 4:00 AM in order to practice his craft. Conveniently, Camp Pendleton offers a free archery range that is available all the time, using a first-come-first-serve system.

Although Rios was new to archery, he does have experience with general hunting.

“I grew up not far from the Sierra Nevada. My parents were avid outdoors people. Fishing, camping, hiking and hunting with my father every single year was where I fell in love with nature and found an appreciation for the outdoors.”

Rios’ father served in the Marine Corps, playing a large part in his son’s interest in deer hunting aboard the installation. However, his father has never picked up an archery bow himself.

Speaking on Rios’ large accomplishment, Mike Tucker, Camp Pendleton’s chief game warden, says he does not think the record will be broken again this hunting season.

“To not spend day after day scouting out the situation… but just to be able to get out there and do it was pretty good. You can't be lucky in archery in my opinion. You can have opportunities. However, a lot of people have opportunities. But because they didn't go to the range or they didn't do some other things, they don't make good on those opportunities. So, I'm really proud of him.”

He elaborates on the difficulty of archery hunting, stating: “Just because you’re close to the deer doesn’t mean you have a good shot through the vegetation, or that the deer is angled right. The arrow has to go through a certain area on the deer to be successful. What he did being a first-time archery hunter is amazing.”

Tucker also notes that there are a couple of reasons why the deer was so big. Camp Pendleton has had two record rainfall years back to back, which the Game Warden’s Office has found to have a positive correlation with the size of the deer on base. Also, the deer tend to be bigger at the beginning of the season, and gradually lose weight throughout the fall due to their mating season.

Camp Pendleton has proven to be a prime location for Marines and patrons to hunt. The base contains the largest undeveloped portion of coastline in Southern California, which Tucker and Rios both agree plays a huge role in the success of the hunting program.

As Tucker states, “90% of the base is undeveloped, which gives the Mule Deer a lot of food and habitat to thrive in. Our hunting program focuses on spreading the hunting effort throughout the base, so we don't over hunt one area and under hunt another.”

The convenience offered by the wardens, as well as the topography, are reasons hunters like Rios choose Camp Pendleton for their hunting trip.

“It's local. You don't have to drive out of state. A lot of people think they have to go to the Midwest or really far away, and it's not the case. You can have a successful deer hunt right here in your backyard, minutes from the ocean.”

Tucker stresses the importance of individual hunter participation to keep the program running. Hunting on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is a crucial element in preserving the delicate balance of wildlife.

“In general, hunting is in a decline in the United States. Due to the urbanization of America, a lot of people aren’t connected to the outdoors, so they don’t have exposure to hunting or fishing.”

However, hunters can thrive on base due to the vast opportunities. Tucker urges other hunters to be encouraged by Rios’ success and use the tools offered by the game wardens.

“It’s great that a first-time hunter like Rios can come out and be successful.”

For more information regarding on-base hunting contact the Game Warden's Office at: (760)-725-3360, or visit: https://www.pendleton.marines.mil/Staff-Agencies/Environmental-Security/Game-Warden/