Sunday 13 May 2018

White-tailed Deer 2015

2015 had already been a very successful hunting season.  Earlier in the fall I had managed to get my first moose.  In spite of spending over two weeks in the bush near Vanderhoof, I finagled my way into getting another 10 days off work to go whitetail hunting.

Packing for hunting trips is always a challenge.  There are conflicting goals of trying to bring enough gear to be prepared while trying not to over-pack.   For a non-backpacking hunt, I try to keep it to two Rubbermaid totes, a duffel bag, sleeping bag, gun, and hunting pack.  I am lucky that my father in law has such a good rig and all the other gear needed to spend weeks in the bush.   

My 2015 White-tailed deer gear pile.  I tend to over-pack.

As usual, I spent a few weekends before the trip making and freezing meals for the trip.  Favourites always include dutch meatballs, moose Bourguignon, shepherd's pie, shrimp and scallop creole, and Irish stew.  These dishes all freeze well in either freezer bags or foil trays.  We usually chose what to eat based on what had thawed first.

The drive out to the Eastern Okanagan was, as always, an enjoyable road trip.  The time passed quickly while my father in law and I caught up on things. We chatted about everything from hunting to current events.  As usual, there was much discussion about where we might see deer and what new places to try based on having spent the weeks prior studying Google Earth. The last stop in civilization was an overnight in the usual motel with some final groceries, gas, and the obligatory stop at the liquor store.

Provisioning done.  Off to the motel.

The next day we woke up early and as usual there were deer in town, right outside the our motel room door, taunting us.   If it was legal to shoot deer in the A&W parking lot, it would be the easiest deer hunt on the planet.  

Deer are far easier to spot in town than at the deer camp.
Anyways... we headed out to the usual spot and met up with our friends from the island.  There were also a couple of my father in laws work buddies who I hadn't met before.  We set up the camp within a few hours and managed to get out for an evening hunt. 

There were eight of us in total at the whitetail camp.  A few of the other usual suspects couldn't swing a second major trip after the moose trip earlier in the fall.
The vestibule lit up at night

The typical morning at the deer camp always goes like this...

At around 5:00am the alarm goes off.  My father in law sits up on his bunk in the trailer where he can reach the propane stove and lights the burner.  By this time in the morning the fire in the wood stove in the vestibule is usually pretty low.  The warmth of my sleeping bag makes me detest every move towards getting ready to go.  By the time the coffee is percolating, we have both mostly managed to get dressed.  We chat over coffee about the plan for the day, who is going where, what strategies we think will work etc.  At a certain point we see the fire start up and a generator wrrrr to life.  My buddy from the island always has piles of energy and you can count on him to be the first up and out to get the fire going.  As the coffee kicks in we each do "The Walk" to the outhouse and then head out for a morning hunt.

I like to stand hunt for whitetail.  I usually make my way as quietly as possible to a spot where I have seen sign.  I try to go to the known places where whitetails cross.  I hide myself in some bushes with the wind in my face and wait for hours in silence.  As the cold begins to chill me to the bone I do everything I can to block out the discomfort.  When I feel like I can't take it anymore, I try to stay an hour longer.  At that point I am so frozen that have to do something.  Depending on the time, it's either still hunting or making my way back to camp.

On a typical day, by around noon most people have made it back to camp.  Everyone has their late breakfast/lunch and then we set about doing camp chores.  Usually after lunch we chop firewood and make a huge stack for the evening.  We usually go through one full truck bed full of rounds each day between the campfire and the stoves in everyone's tents.  

By around 1:30-2:00pm everyone heads back out for the evening hunt.  I like to find my spot and sit until the end of legal shooting light.  This invariably means I have to make my way back to camp in the dark.  I usually end up being the last back to camp in the evening. 

That week, each evening when I rolled back into camp, my answer to the usual "Did you see anything?" was sadly "Not a thing".  Even the amount of deer sign was less than the previous year.

As the week rolled on some people got pretty dejected.  One of our guys, the big Italian with an incredible sense of humour, managed to get a nice 3x3.  It really lifted everyone's spirits.  He always works hard and manages to have a lot of success still hunting for whitetails.  He had been right where I had spent several days, but he had climbed way up the hill where he knew deer bedded and managed to connect.

As the trip continued on, the hours spent silently trying to will a deer to appear made my mind start to play tricks on me.  By a certain point, everything started to seem like it might be a deer.  I started constantly feeling like I was seeing movement out of the corner of my eyes. 

Day after day the overall lack of sign and success really started to get to some people.  Some even said they weren't coming back.  As the trip drew to a close, most people were ready to call it and go home.  We said our goodbyes and watched as people packed up and left, but my father-in-law and I decided to stay one more day.  I decided to hunt a spot where traditionally one of our guys was always successful.  He and his boy are always the first up and out of camp so they always normally get to that spot first. This year though, they didn’t come to the Whitetail trip because they used up their vacation bagging a huge moose up near Vanderhoof. It was the last day so I decided to give their spot a try.

I burned over to the spot and parked the ATV at the fork in the road.  As I was unpacking, some other guys in a Tracker drove up and stopped next to me, we started chatting, and suddenly one of them shouted “Deer!” and I spun around to see its white tail as it popped over the bank and out of sight. I hustled over to where I could see up the rolling hills of the slash, but never saw it for more than a split second at a time as it worked its way up and out of range.  It was probably a spike, but it was hard to tell.
I walked back to the guys in the Tracker and we said our pleasantries and they turned around and went back the way they came.

I decided I would start walking up the treeline on the downwind side of the slash to get some elevation in case the spiker was still around.  I followed a deactivated logging trail that was badly grown over, up to a stand of trees and started to work my way back and in so that I would be able to peer in from the downwind treeline.  As I hiked up, the going started getting tough.  Fallen logs and rocks covered in snow was leading to a lot of falls.

I decided to go back the way I had come and attack this from a different path.  As I walked back I started to notice another Tracker, a different colour, in the distance parked next to the ATV.  As I walked back towards the ATV and the Tracker I notice another hunter in the slash walking around.  What the hell? Long story short, he didn’t seem to care that he was parked next to me and hunting the same spot as me.  Anyways, that’s in poor taste and somewhat dangerous if you ask me. I told him first come, first served and that he was being inconsiderate.  He didn’t seem to care.  Anyways, I was choked, so I fired up the ATV, revving as loudly as I could and burned off down the road back to camp.  As I was flying my way back to camp, I decided I would go up this road behind camp which, according to my GPS, seemed like it would come out above that slash that I wanted to hunt.  So I started the 30 minute ride around the back of the mountain which would lead me to the top of the slash which I had just been overhunted out of.
I was almost there and it was getting to that golden hour when everything starts to happen around 3:30 to 4:30 pm. As I rounded the final bend before the last straight stretch before the slash out bounded a little spiker.  He jumped up onto the bank at 20m and stood there quartering on with his left shoulder towards me just staring at me.  I slowly shut off the ATV, unstrapped my .30-06 from the pannier of the ATV, loaded it, racked it…he was still standing there staring at me.  I raised the rifle and got him in my sights.  I had a moment where I thought to myself that he was just a spiker, but then I thought of my empty freezer and BOOM! I let fly.

I saw the spiker raise his left front leg and run off into the bush.

Then came the adrenaline.  I was huffing and puffing as if I had just run 10km.  I started trying to calm myself down.  The frustration of being overhunted was suddenly a distant memory.  Being only the 4th animal I have ever taken, after my first whitetail, my first moose, and my first grouse, I was starting to get use to the routine.  I decided to give him a little time while I sorted myself out.  I set down my rifle on its bipod and got the ATV off to the side of the road.

I headed up to the spot where he had been standing expecting to see a big patch of blood against the white snow.  I thought it was going to be easy.

As I got up there I quickly became dismayed at the prospect that I may have missed him.  Had I been too close?  Had I flinched?  What happened?  I now started to doubt myself.  I decided to do what I had been taught and started walking in progressively larger circles out from where I last saw him.  After 20 minutes of circling outwards and restarting several times I had still not been able to pick up the trail.

I decide to walk back to where I had taken the shot to make a plan.  From the road I decided that he must have gone between two particular trees as he went beyond the treeline.  I headed back up to the spot where I had convinced myself he must have been, and once again found no trace. 

With no sign at all, I decided to head into the treeline in the direction I had seen him last go.

 As I went between the two trees and beyond the treeline into the forest I looked around, hoping to see something.  I could see that I was now standing on a game trail which went straight up the mountain.  I clambered up about six feet, trying not to fall and slide back down in the snow.  As I got to this first ledge I looked around again and there he was, lying in the trail, about 10 feet above me on the next ledge.  When I reached him, according to the GPS, he fell less than 20m away from where he had been standing when I took the shot. Before I set to work I noticed one nickel size drop of blood beside him.
My shot had been a bit high, hitting him ahead of his left shoulder and exiting out of his right side in his upper ribs.  All of the blood must of pooled inside.

As I field dressed him there was plenty of blood inside the chest cavity, but I was still surprised how little was on the ground.

When I had finished it was the easiest drag down and to the ATV I could have asked for.  It was a straight shot down a steep snowy bank and up onto the ATV.

I got back to camp and started skinning.  Just as I was finishing up, my father-in-law rolled into camp and we decided to end the 2015 hunting season with a celebratory scotch and then got to work breaking camp.

 When we got home from the trip we brought the deer to the usual butcher.  When we got the packages back we were not too happy with the wrapping and overall care in handling. That would be the last time we used that butcher.  Nevertheless we had meat the in the freezer and another year of delicious meals.

One of my favourites is Italian meatballs. I'll post the recipe soon.


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