Tuesday 31 July 2018

Resource Roads and Grizzly Bears in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada

I recently found another publication which discusses the issue of road density on grizzly bears.  As discussed previously, once road density exceeds around 500-600m of road per square kilometre, grizzlies and other animals tend to permanently retreat from those areas.  It seems that road density increases many factors which cause animals to abandon habitat.  From what I have read, non-hunting traffic such as outdoor recreation activities on ATVs or snowmobiles as well as people transiting the area by car or truck, along with the increased ease of which predators are able to travel the roads, and increased hunting pressure all contribute to animals retreating from an area. 

It sounds like these all contribute to a general state of alarm that make animals retreat to safer areas.  Now, with the ban on hunting grizzlies, we'll be able to put to bed the impact that hunters played on this issue.  I suspect that hunters only have a minimal direct role in animals departing from areas, both because of the minimal number of grizzlies hunted each year prior to the ban, but also because generally hunters tend to be slower moving and quieter than summer ATV riding or winter snowmobiling.  Also, as any hunter would know, the amount of predator sign, specifically wolf sign, that can be found on roads indicates that they use roads to improve their ability to travel. 

Anyways, the publication can be found here:

Here are the best graphics from the publication

I don't really like this graphic.  It appears as though the bear was killed by a hunter, but in reality it is probably meant to show a conservation office (CO) shooting a problem bear in a campsite where people were irresponsible about leaving out attractants.  Nevertheless, I can't help but feel like this graphic is intentionally alluding to hunters.   I think the top left side is is the most important.  Traffic and habitat loss are serious issues.

There are so many forestry service roads (FSRs) in BC.  We need to do a better job or revegetating them to improve habitat for all animals, including grizzlies and ungulates.

Friday 27 July 2018

Organizing for Conservation: Region 2 BHA Pint Night

A quick snapshot of the discussion after the screening "Last Stand: The Vanishing Caribou Rainforest"

BHA Region 2 Pint Night

Last night, over 40 people packed into the Burnaby Rugby Club and braved the summer heat to watch "Last Stand: The Vanishing Caribou Rainforest".  Rob Chipman of NSF&G and Jenny Ly of the Chasing Food club organized the screening in partnership with the Jesse Zeman of the BCWF, Mark Robichaud and Jeff Chan of the BC-BHA, Dylan Eyers of EatWild, Nick from Reliable Gun. They and others worked really hard and contibuted door prizes to make sure the event would be a huge success. 

After the event, we also managed to sign up 16 more people to the list of conservationists who are willing to contact and then meet with their MLAs to advocate for habitat, fish and wildlife. Over the next week, Jenny and I will be putting together and draft info-pack and guide for contacting MLAs and sending it out to the people who have signed up.

Meeting with Judy Darcy, MLA New Westminster

I heard yesterday that I would be scheduled for a meeting with my MLA, Judy Darcy, in mid to late August.  I sent an agenda, but it seemed like it might be too much to cover in the 30 minute meeting I was alotted.  I'll trim it down and send out an updated agenda for the meeting.

Dialogue with Registered Profession Biologist from the Ministry of FLNRORD

I also heard back again from the biologist in the ministry who had previously contacted me in response to a letter I had sent.  I intend to keep this dialogue open and productive to try to ensure we have the tools and information to advocate for their incredibly valuable work.  We need to show that we are on their side to ensure that they are setting policy so that science based management continues to be the only politically acceptable way to manage habitat, wildlife, and fish in BC.  It is critical that we are all committed to professionals without political agendas being given the tools and resources required to protect and restore the habitat and population numbers of fish and wildlife that we are advocating for.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

White-tailed Deer 2016

2016 was a big year for me.  I bought a house, did a gut-job renovation, got married, went to Japan and China for work, and went on a honeymoon to Holland and France. When hunting season arrived I could hardly find any time to get out of the city.

I only managed to get out twice in October for day trips.  On the first trip all I managed to see was a ton of cows grazing.  The first one scared the crap out of me.  As I came around a corner I saw this huge black thing in the bushes and thought that I had bumped a giant black bear. Turns out it was just the first of many cows.

Cows... Not the animals I was after.
The second trip out was more enjoyable, but still no animals.  Both day trips went the same way. I came home from work on Friday and organized and staged my gear on the floor by the door.  At 3:30am my alarm went off and I loaded everything into my truck.  Then, I hit up McDonald's for a coffee and begin the drive to some prime hunting ground.  After several hundred kilometers and watching for the first hint of light, I pull off and ditched the truck.  In a few of these places, I have a good idea of where I want to go, so I can navigate in the dark with a GPS to the spot I want to be for first light.  The days were spent stand hunting at dawn or dusk, down wind hidden in a bush, and still hunting during the daylight hours.  After the sun went down, I began my trip back, unsuccessful for a second time.  I got back home around 11:30pm.

I like to find a spot at dusk with the sun at my back where I can conceal myself behind some cover.  I use my range finder to determine my reach, as in the farthest I would be willing to shoot.  I have practiced at the range to 200m, so that is my maximum range.

Even by late October, it gets chilly as the sun goes down.

.30-06 Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker with a Fulted Barrel, Harris Bipod, Primos Gen 2 Shooting Stick, Vortex HST 6-24x 50mm, 180gr Barnes TTSX  hand loads 47gr IMR 4064

So after two unsuccessful day trips, it was time go all in for the annual whitetail trip.  I needed a few critical supplies to turn the tide and improve my odds.

Butt Pad
 When I whitetail hunt I like to sit by game trails or sign for hours without moving.  There is nothing quite as difficult as having a cold butt or cold feet.  Therefore, a new thicker butt pad would definitely help me stay absolutely still.  I may be a new hunter, but I know what works for me for white tailed deer hunting.  For me whitetail hunting is a mental challenge to deal with the cold, the boredom, the discomfort of sitting silently and motionlessly, typically under a tree or inside a bush behind some cover. I like to be in a spot by no later 6:30am, which is about 45 minutes before dawn and I stay there until around 10:30am.  In the afternoon I try to get back to a spot by 2:00pm and stay put until it is 30 minutes past sunset, typically around 4:30pm.  I have been very lucky doing this.

Without a doubt, the best shooting bullets in my rifle.

 I joined my, now legally and officially, father in law and we headed to the eastern Okanagan to the usual spot.  As always it wasn't hard to find deer...

4 deer behind the motel, in town... Why are the largest bucks in the A&W parking lot?
With the busy year I had had, my freezer still had enough moose and venison so my father in law and I decided we would set the bar higher for ourselves and only go for 3 points or more.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not in it for the antlers, but since I was not in a meat crisis I was ready to pass up less mature bucks and let them grow up another year. 

We set off on November 17th and got to camp on the 18th.  It rained, and rained, and rained some more.  For the first day I went to a spot where I had been successful in the past, but there was no sign at all.  The following day I headed up to a new spot, but it too was devoid of any sign.  There was a lot of logging in the area and I managed to convince myself that the human activity was the culprit.

That afternoon I hopped on the ATV and went exploring.  I went up and down the hills and mountains, popping up above the snow line and back down.  There were a few buck tracks up there, but lots of wolf and coyote sign.  It was a little disappointing.

There were nine of us on the trip that year and no one was seeing anything.  The camp next to us managed to get a 3x3 at 10:30 am while it was crossing the road up above the snow line where all the wolf tracks were, but apart from that, no one had seen anything.

On the third day, one of our guys managed to get a 3x3 while it was crossing the road, this time down low at around 1:15pm near the creek.  This was his first whitetail on this annual trip in spite of coming here for over 10 years.  He was rightly elated.

The next morning I decided to go for a morning road hunt with him since everyone was shooting something on the road (FSRs) it seemed.  As we were driving, I caught a glimpse of a white tail vanishing down over the bank.  I tell my friend to stop and I hop out, but the deer, probably a doe, was now long gone.  We continued along and as we rounded a bend I saw my first buck of the trip in the distance crossing the road right behind a doe.  I hopped out of the passenger side and my friend confirmed it was a spiker, or a two point.  I wasn’t really keen on it since I had set my own bar at 3 or better, but for the life of me I couldn’t chamber a round after I popped in the magazine.  By the time I realized that the bolt is locked when the safety is on, I only had time to raise the rifle just to see the deer vanish into the trees.  We unloaded, drove ahead and saw the two of them again.  We got out, loaded up, and this time I actually managed to chamber a round.  We couldn’t get a clear shot at the buck as he bounded away, but at least I had finally seen a buck.

At that point I knew the teasing would be relentless.  I deserved it for not being able to chamber a round.  Normally I go to the range at least once a month, if not twice. I practice, practice, practice and so I am ready when the shot presents itself. No excuses. I had not practiced as much as I should have that year. That night plenty of good natured ribbing was sent my way for my fumble.  Anyways, before we got back to camp, we went up a winding little road to a slash and saw another doe.

This is how my trips have always seemed to go.  I don’t see anything, everyone else seems to have success, then I go driving and scouting, find deer or sign, and then make a plan.

That afternoon I decided to go back to the slash at the top of the winding road and see what there was to see.  When I got there and walked through the slash all I saw, everywhere was sign.  It was an absolute highway.  I saw several fresh rubs, prints, and droppings everywhere.  From what I could tell there were about 6 or so separate game trails.  I even saw elk sign too.

I hiked up to the top corner of the slash so the wind would be in my face and to look out over the whole area.  I waited and like magic, at 4:00pm a little two point walked out from behind me out to my right at only 10m distance.  He didn’t notice me in my camo, sitting between two bushes.  I watched him for 20 minutes as he scraped, nibbled, and walked down the slash only 20m in front of me.  I would have thought that he would have smelled me, but I guess he hadn’t or didn’t seem to care.  Anyways, I felt really good about this spot now.

View from the top corner

I went back to that same spot for the next 3 days, sitting silently for hours with the wind in my face around dawn and dusk.  I saw deer each time I went.  8:30 am in the morning, and exactly 4:00pm in the evening.  The trouble was they were either does or running inside the tree line.  On the plus side I managed to get a Ruffed Grouse with my Ruger 10/22, so lunch was a nice change.

At the end of every day, getting down from my perch in the top corner was quite the challenge.  The terrain is steeper than it looks and in the pitch black, with only my headlamp and GPS to  guide me, it was more than a little bit treacherous.  Since it was no longer shooting light, I strapped all my gear to my pack, including my rifle, in order to free of my hands for clambering down.  I also had my shooting stick to use as a walking stick, but nevertheless, a few stumbles were inevitable.  

As I made my way down after the 3rd evening of sitting in the top corner nothing seemed out of the ordinary.   When I got to the bottom and started to follow the trail down to the truck I was struck by the green reflection of two eyes staring at me from low in the grass at the side of the trail. Suddenly they surged towards me.  Scared that it was a cougar or a wolf, I shouted "Hey!" and kicked at the dirt, stomping my foot.  The eyes retreated a foot or two, still staring at me intensely.  Then in lunged towards me again a few feet and stopped, crouching in the grass.  By this time my heart was pounding.  It was a cougar, I was certain, and I need to get my gun off my pack.  While trying not to make myself any smaller, I struggled with all the straps and clips on my pack and wrestled with my rifle.  It pounced forward a few more feet.  I cried out "Hey cat! Hey!".  I jammed the loaded magazine that I keep in my pocket into my rifle, and with it still strapped to my pack, shouldered it, chambered the round, flipped the safety and took aim.  The light from my headlamp made it impossible to aim and still see the eyes. If it came to it, I would have to shoot from the hip. 

The standoff with the cougar lasted another 10, maybe 20 seconds until it suddenly ran across the road and turned into a white tailed doe...  That's right, it was a doe all along.  

It turns out that beside the trail was a ditch filled with tall grass and that is where the doe was lurking ready to pounce.  Because of the depth of the ditch its head was just slightly higher than the surface of the trail making it look like she was a cougar ready to lunge.  In the darkness all I could see were the eyes reflecting back at me.  My heart was pounding in my chest, and as I calmed down it struck me how my mind had built this whole rational around why it must be a cougar.  

Normally, I would have had bear spray with me, but at that time of year, late November, we have never see bear sign and I assumed they were all hibernating.  In the absence of having a canister of bear spray on my hip, I would never again strap my rifle to my pack and make it so hard to get to in an emergency.  Also, I am really glad that I didn't unintentionally shoot a doe and have to claim it was in self defence.

Waiting for dusk to come.

On the last day of the trip, between the 9 of us, we only had that 3x3 hanging.  I had seen two 2 pointers, fumbled one and passed on the other.  My father in law had passed on a spiker.  To make matters worse, on the previous day, I was driving behind the guy who got the 3x3 on the way to my little slash before first light when a doe and a monster buck jumped out in front of his truck just before first light.  He missed the doe with his truck and through his passenger window he could see the monster buck skidding to a halt as it stared at him through the passenger window just before wheeling around and bounding back into the inky blackness of the treeline.  That same day an absolute monster buck probably 165 inches or more, was taken by a another camp just down the road, and wouldn’t you know it, it was crossing the road at dusk.

Some of our guys were feeling pretty bummed having not even had a chance at a spiker.  The rain was miserable and normally we expect to be in snow.  My father in law and I decided to spend an extra day hunting and so while the group packed up and went home, by father in law and I decided to hunt for one more day.

That morning I decided to try something new.  I went to an slash which one of the other guys usually has lots of success with.  When I got there I noticed two sets of fresh truck tracks in the snow.  I agonized if I should turn around to avoid over hunting someone, but I thought it looked like a set of tracks in and and another set of tracks out out so I decided to go ahead.  When I got up to a Y in the road I saw a big doe bounding away.  I hopped off the ATV and followed on foot for a while, but no luck.  So I got back on the ATV and continued.  As I came around the corner I saw a pickup truck with dual back wheels…dammit.  As quietly as I could I turned around and left.  I felt bad that I may have ruined that guy’s hunt, but I think he was in the back area so it was probably okay.  I would have expected him to park at the Y where there was a natural pullout.

That afternoon I took the ATV back up to where I had seen the buck tracks and wolf tracks way up high for my final afternoon hunt.  I found a good spot just off the road to sit with a great view down and across the steep ravine.  The wind was in the wrong direction so I figured I would just enjoy the last few hours and a nice sunset.  I glassed that hill and ridge line across the ravine for 2 hours straight, seeing nothing at all.  As 4pm approached I begin to think about packing up and going home the next day.  As my mind wandered I saw a brown dot appear in the middle of the hillside across from me.  How did it get there? I expected that I would have seen it come up from the creek or over the ridge.

I lifted up my binoculars and saw it was a doe.  I was happy to see a doe during my afternoon hunt on the last evening of my 2016 season. I watched the doe for a while and decided that I should probably look around the doe in case there was a buck nearby.  To my surprise, there was clearly something standing near her, inside of a nearby bush.  As the doe wandered from bush to bush nibbling at the tips of the branches I watched that bush, trying to see what it obscured.

Suddenly an animal stepped out from behind one bush and then in behind the next one.  It was a buck.  How big was hard to tell, but I could see it indeed had antlers.  I chambered a round and  picked him up again with my scope.  I watched intently for the next 20 minutes as the doe worker her way across the side of the hill.  The buck never left her side and I never got a good look at him.  I only occasionally saw a flicker of the tail or a brown blur which may have been a log.  I was somewhat disappointed, but happy none the less that I had seen deer on my last afternoon of hunting for the season.

The light had faded by this time and there was only 11 minutes left of legal shooting light.  I watched as the buck and doe left my field of sight into the treeline some 250m away across the ravine.  Out of nowhere, something clearly startled the pair and the buck bounded out and away from the treeline into the middle of my field of view, right on the ridgeline.  At this point I could only see a broadside view of his head and saw he had a lot going on up top.  He then turned his head in my direction and I saw the width of his rack and knew he was fairly decent size.  He took a few steps forward and gave me the classic perfect broadside shot.  I paused, steadying my sight picture.  Click goes the safety. I let my breath fall to a natural pause while I pondered how far away he was and the steepness of the terrain between me and my quarry.  BOOM! This is what adventures are made of.

The split second later as I inhaled the cold snowy air, I felt like I had seem him take the hit.  I slowly lifted my head and saw him bound down the ravine towards me, towards the creek, and then lost him in the brush.

It was getting dark quickly now.  The sun had set twenty minutes ago.  On my GPS I saw a small logging road which forked off from the main road a kilometer or so back which should bring me nice and close to the bottom of the ravine. I hopped on the ATV and burned around to find this path that would bring me closer.  As I got to the fork it became apparent that this old road had long since been deactivated.  Trees six inches wide and fallen logs rendered it impassable.  I had to act quickly or else it would get very difficult to recover the deer.

I burned back to where I had taken the shot and marked on my GPS where I was and where I thought the deer had been standing.  I frantically prepared to hike down and across the ravine to look for sign that I had hit this deer.  I knew this would be a heavy chore so I stripped down to my base layer on top and decided quickly that rather than leave any gear at the ATV, I needed my parka and equipment with me in case I became stranded or injured and had to spend the night on the mountain.  A moment crossed my mind where, all within the space of a second to two, I convinced myself that I must have missed the shot, I regretted taking the shot, maybe I wounded him, there was no need to go looking for the deer, he’s fine, what am I talking about, these are crazy, thoughts, obviously I need to go looking, this is going to be hell, I am going to slip and fall, snap out of it, you love this, this is what it is all about, you got this.  The mind is a funny thing.

As I organized myself to set out I radioed my father in law.

My father in law was back at camp, getting ready to enjoy a last drink before putting some dinner on the stove and starting to break camp.  He had been unsuccessful that day, but when he heard the shot from atop the mountain above camp he must have rolled his eyes as he turned on his radio. He tells me he heard me say that I had taken a shot and where I was, but it was pretty garbled.  So he got in his Tacoma and started making his way up to me.

As I descended the steep side of the ravine in the ever growing darkness I was so thankful for my headlamp.  I can’t imagine the days before headlamps.

I picked my way down the side of the ravine to a creek about six feet wide.  I found a narrow spot and leapt across.  In the last moments of light I saw the ridge line on which I thought my deer must have been standing.  As the inkiness of a cloudy night set in I started up the the ridge towards its apex.

With each step I half expected to come across blood, but as I reached the crest of the ridge line I had not see a drop.  By this time snow had started falling, but the hike left me pleasantly warm in my merino shirt.  I felt as though my world was only as large as the area illuminated by my headlamp.  It was almost claustrophobic.  

As I walked around the top of the ridge I found a large patch of blood…  The adrenaline began to flood back in as I grab my radio and blurt out incoherently that “I made contact with the deer. I mean my bullet.  I hit it.  Found blood.”  I hear a reply for the first time.  I assume it must be my father in law.  I can’t make out anything he is saying.  One word gets through “...help…”  more static and garbled noises.  Through whatever sounds and noises are making it through the static I infer he is asking if I need help.  “Yes.  Please come help. Yes.  Please come help.  I’m up the <name of FSR removed :P >.  Up at the top.  Right at the end.  You’ll see the ATV. Yes.  I’ll need help getting it out.”

I marked on the GPS where I was and conveniently found that my Garmin etrex has a blood drops symbol.  I then saw that the shot was 225m in distance.  I start following the blood, marking it as I went.  40 m back down the ravine towards the creek, in an odd pattern of zigging and zagging, eventually it hooked back up the hill and there he was.

Both his ears were split.  He was clearly a fighter with half his tines broken off and scars all over his face.
I poked him and it was clear he was well and truly gone.  I cracked a couple glow sticks and bent down two nearby saplings so I could hang them as high as possible.  I took a few photos and then set to work.  Just as I got to the goriest part my radio crackled to life.  At this point I could clearly hear my father in law.  “Yep, past the bridge, stay to the right.  Just keep going until you find the ATV parked on the side of the road.  Look out there and you’ll see me. Look for the glow sticks.”

The dark spot is the bullet exit point.
I realize how dumb this looks, but it was the only angle I could get with me and the deer.  You can clearly see all the broken tines.
I saw the light of the truck and heard it coming up the road.  My father in law pulled up and parked beside the ATV. I wiped my hands off in the snow and we started chatting on the radio about how this next part was going to go.  My father in law asked me if I wanted him to come over and I replied “No, no.  I’ll come to you at the road and we’ll make a plan.  It’s too damn dangerous to climb down here in the dark.”

With the deer now field dressed, I packed my gear up and started heading back.  Down and across the creek and up the other side I went. By the time I got to the road and to my father in law I was breathing pretty hard.  It is now snowing heavily, but steam was still rising from my back and head.  My father in law handed me some water as I sat on the tailgate and unburdened myself of my pack.  He asked me about the buck.  I told him that he was a good one, bigger than my first whitetail, a 5x5, but with all the tines broken on one side, so actually a 5x2.

My father in law has about 600m of this rope that is high strength, stretchy, and very low friction.  He suggested that I should take the end and walk it to my deer as he pays it out from the reel, tie it onto my deer and he would slowly pull the deer up and out with the trailer hitch.  It sounded a lot easier than the two of us dragging it out.

As I got my breathing under control and finished a second bottle of water my father in law told me how nice it was that I hadn’t asked him to come down to help me across the ravine.  I told him that I needed him to not get hurt so that he could rescue me when I break by leg during this next part.

With my father in law there now, I decided it was safe to leave my pack back at the truck and take only by rifle and the end of the rope.  I started making my way back down the ravine until I noticed that in the infinite blackness of the night that I had gone wrong way.  As I was forced to double back, and gather the rope as I went, I saw the two glow sticks high on the opposite hill and I set out in the right direction.  As I crossed the creek for the third time pulling the rope behind me, past each tree and over every log, the resistance on the line had noticeably increased since I first set out.  I started to make my way up the far bank to my field dressed buck, but the resistance was so high that I was forced to pull off some slack, walk a few feet, and so on for the rest of the way.

I reached my buck and looped the rope around his nose and tied it to his antlers.  After a little discussion about the radio commands I was ready to set off.  I radioed “Coming up easy,” and my father in law slowly started to drive forward on the road.  I could see small trees bending and the rope loading up.  Suddenly I could tell my deer is about to move.  I grabbed ahold of his antlers and started guiding him down the slope.  With a surge and a lurch the rope was pulling him down the hill as I steered the antlers around each tree.  “All stop,” I radioed as the bucks body got caught between two trees.  I repositioned the deer and my father in law took another bite on the rope.  It went on like this for quite a while, me calling out to go up easy, or all stop, as I wrangled this deer down the hill.

At the bottom of the ravine there was still the matter of the creek.  I needed to cross it for the fourth and final time.  As I radioed “Coming up easy” and my father in law started to pull ahead, I was trying to wrestle the deer over a log, but just as his body got up onto the log in the middle of the creek he started sliding towards me.  I didn't have time to move.  The deer was on top of me in the creek, on my leg. This was bad.

Gore-Tex is a marvellous thing.  As I pushed the deer off of myself and radioed frantically to “All stop” only a little water got into one of my socks in the boot that was fully submerged.  Otherwise, my legs were well protected by my pants.  I gathered myself up and gave the signal to continue.  In the chaos I hadn’t noticed that I was minus a glove and also that the snow had turned to rain. 

As we made our way up the last slope to the road I was surprisingly feeling pretty good.  I thought I would have been far more exhausted.  Once at the road, we shook hands on a job well done and admired the deer.  We loaded the deer and respooled the rope and I apologized jokingly about doing this on the last minutes of the last day of the last hunt of the seasons.  My father in law said “We come here for the adventure.”

At that point he looked at me and said that he would take the ATV and that I looked cold and wet and should drive the truck.  I refused a few times, but didn’t put up much of a fight.  When I turned the key and saw the time it was just about 8:30pm.  It had taken over 4 hours to get to this point from the time I had pulled the trigger.

We made our way back to camp as the rainy snow came down.  When all was said and done, the deer was hung and skinned at camp, and we could barely keep our eyes open long enough to eat dinner.
I love hunting.  What an adventure.  What a day.  What a great memory to enjoy every time I cook a meal or eat a delicious dish.


One of the many meals thanks to this wonderful buck.