Wednesday 31 October 2018

2017 Moose and White Tailed Deer

In July 2017, in spite of our group’s diminished odds due to our draw successes in 2015, one of our friends managed to get a moose draw while putting in solo.  There was no hesitation in deciding to go with him to Vanderhoof so that we would be there to help in case he managed to clip his tag. 

On the way to our spot near Vanderhoof, we would have to pass through a number of areas which are open for what I have now termed “Complicated moose” as well as 6 point elk.  “Complicated moose” as I have now taken to calling it, means spike-fork, 10 point, or tri-palm moose.   This is the ministry’s way of letting you still get out moose hunting in spite of wanting to limit the number of moose taken from an area by creating a relatively low chance of success.  Anyways, I bought all the tags I could reasonably think I might punch and started prepping for the trip.

Just like in 2015, we headed up towards the area so that we would be there and ready for when our friend’s tag became valid on October 1st.  However, unlike 2015, there would only be the four of us headed up there this time, compared to the 10 who went on the trip in 2015. 

When we got to the campsite, it was just as I had remembered it.  There were already a few people camped there, so we took a spot a little further in than we had on the previous trip.  Once we finished leveling the trailer, there was still enough time to go out for an evening hunt.   I decided to join my friend who had the tag, so we hopped in his tracker and burned out of camp. We headed to the spot where my father in law and his friends had been successful on past trips, the same spot where I got my first moose in 2015.  It’s is clearly a hot area.

As we started approaching the turnoff to the hot area we slowed to a crawl.  The tracker was as nimble as an ATV, and had no trouble with the dips and climbs.  As we slowly approached the spot where I got my moose in 2015 our eyes scanned the hill sides and valleys for any sign of moose.

We continued on a few hundred meters and around the final bend to where the trail ended.  We slowly came to a stop and by buddy shut off the tracker. As we sat there in the fading light he rolled down his window and gave a moaning cow call.  “MOOSE!” I exclaimed as we both saw the unmistakable movement in the bushes.  My heart was pumping.  Were we really going to punch a tag on the first hunt of the first day?

Quickly we realized it was a cow, but we were off to a good start.  We stayed there for a while longer and continued to call every 15-20 minutes.  Eventually we decided to make our way back to camp.

When we pulled back to camp we were greeted by the others who were camped there.  One was a family with two small daughters, probably 5 and 8, and the other was a father and son and their friend.  As we chatted for a while I noticed the two little girls we each holding a grouse.  Their mom was showing them how to clean their grouse using the standing on the wings trick.  I watched with amusement as these two girls got right in there, gutting and cleaning their grouse.  They weren't squeamish at all.  Very cool.

The following day the father and son were successful and managed to get their moose.  As with everyone, they were cagey about saying where they got their moose, but it wasn’t hard to find the gut pile.  It was just up the road.  They mentioned that they had also been surrounded by wolves while they were field dressing the moose, so the son ended up shooting one of the wolves.  It was a huge wolf, a very impressive animal. 

That day my father in law and I decided to drive back to the hot area to see if anything was around.  As we hit the first deactivation, my father in law’s new winch dug into the far side of the ditch, causing the truck to come to an abrupt stop.  We chatted and decided that I would get out and direct him through so that the winch wouldn’t get hung up again.  As I got out of the truck and closed the door I heard what sounded like falling marbles.  That couldn’t be good.  My father in law heard it too and got out.  I watched as he bent down to pick up a shard of glass. That's when we noticed that the rear window of the truck had been broken.  So frustrating.  We patched it up with plastic and dock tape as best we could and continued on for the rest of the day, but saw no animals.

The next day we decided to all split up.  My father in law and I went up the road to see what we could, maybe get a deer or find the moose for our friend.

From that day forward, things pretty much blended together.  I hiked up and down hills and ridges, scouted new areas, and sat for hours hoping for animals to materialize from the treeline at dawn and dusk.  I could tell that the lack of success seeing moose sign, let alone a moose, was discouraging for everyone.  We broke up the days with a little grouse hunting, fishing, and had a fantastic grouse curry one of the evenings.

During those days we saw several whitetail does and fawns.  On one of the evenings out with my buddy we saw black bear in the distance, but in spite of having a tag, I decided it was not the time for me to clip that tag.  I didn’t want to risk the bear meat or the pelt while we waited for an opportunity for my buddy to get a moose.  It was pretty warm at that point and temperature was a factor, so I took a pass.

Another evening, while my father in law was out hiking, he ended up having a black bear come out of the woods at him.  As soon as it saw my father in law, it turned tail and vanished back over the bank.

The fishing at this spot is unbelievable and worth the trip just for that.  We caught a few and had them for lunch to add some variety.  We decided to catch our limits the day before heading home, so they would be as fresh as possible for the trip down to the coast.

After a few days the father and son left along with their friend.  Then rolled up "the colonel", as he became known.  A retired RCMP officer, who was nice enough, but just seemed to like putting us on the spot, sort of like he was flicking a switch and turning from chummy guy sharing a story to police interrogation.  Anyways, he was up there with his wife and she had the moose tag.  A few days later they ended up being successful too, but we never did end up figuring out if the gut pile we found belonged to their moose.  The location of the gut pile didn’t match their story… perhaps I would have made a good detective. Haha!

The next couple who rolled into camp was an elderly couple with a camper.  They came over and introduced themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses and we exchanged pleasantries.  They explained the husband had severe Parkinson's disease and had fallen a number of times recently. They also remarked that we had set up a shower behind a tree.  The front was hidden by a tarp, but the back and side facing their camp was open.  My buddy’s dad made a joke that we’d give them a good show the next day.  They said their goodbyes and retired for the night.  My buddy’s dad leaned in and said “Just you watch.  If they get a moose they’ll be the first one’s over here asking for help.”

The shower was a pretty fantastic addition to the camp that year.  We heated water with the wood stoves and our friends had brought a little portable shower pump that ran on D cell batteries.  We each used it a few times and it really made us feel fresh.

On one of the next days I returned to camp and saw my father in law working on his generator on the upturned hull of the car-topper boat.  The generator wasn’t working and my father in law was tearing down the carburetor.  At a certain point a few screws ended up falling into the grass and we managed to find all but one.  That generator was deemed to be out of commission and we shared our friends’ Honda 2000i for the rest of the trip.

For the next few days we drove, walked, hiked, and glassed.  I saw nothing.  If it wasn’t so much fun just to be out there it would have been very discouraging. 

A few days later we were returning to camp in the evening and saw our friend’s truck heading out of camp.  We pulled up to them hoping to hear that they got a moose.  There was a moose down alright, but it was the old couple who had gotten it, right in the middle of the road, and surprise surprise, they needed a hand loading it into the truck

My father in law and I decided to go along and help as well.  As we dropped off some stuff back at camp, we discussed not taking the blocks and gear since they had assured us they had everything they needed to pull out the moose.  We decided to bring the gear anyways. 

We arrived expecting the moose to be field dressed and just ready for some extra muscle to get into the back of a pickup.  We were wrong.  The moose was there, 30m up into the treeline, uphill thank goodness, and my buddy was getting ready to start gutting it.  Right away there were too many chefs in the kitchen so my father in law decided to supervise and make sure no one got hurt.  My biggest fear was that one of us would get hurt, ending our hunt, from helping someone who really had no business being out in the bush anymore.  It became clear within moments that the old man and his wife could never have hauled this moose out without our help.  They had no gear, but what’s more, they were so physically unable that they could not have done it themselves even if they had the proper equipment.

Once the beast was gutted we rigged up a block to haul it out of the trees down into the bed of my buddy’s truck.  In the haste, people were more eager to hurry than do it right, resulting in the rope breaking a few times.  At that point the wife of the old couple remarked to my father in law that the rope must not be that strong.  It was in fact rated to over 2000 lbs and it was the fact that the block was not free to sit correctly that the rope was being pulled against the edge of the block, which in turn, cut the rope like a knife.  I could see the frustration in my father in law’s eyes or it might have just been the reflection of my own frustration. 

After re-rigging we slowly dragged the moose down and into my buddy’s truck bed.  As he started pulling out it was clear his bumper was caught on a rock and the mud was not affording him much traction.  The last thing we needed now was a ruined truck because of doing a good deed.  We managed to free the bumper and we all headed back to camp. 

When we got back my friend’s dad made it clear that we wouldn’t be skinning it tonight, we had hunting to do the next morning and would give the elderly man an hand skinning and hanging it the next day around noon.

After the elderly couple retired to bed, we made more than a few jokes about packing up in the night, clipping my buddy’s tag, and heading home.  … only half jokingly.  Anyways, we got back to hunting the next day, no one was injured and no gear was damaged by the good deed, and the old couple even ended up giving my buddy a hind quarter for all his work.  It was well deserved, but still a ridiculous situation none the less.

Later in the week a few of familiar faces showed up, the same two gents who we met for the first time there in 2015, Jim and Doug.  Two good old boys with the right attitude and some good stories.  They are the two who had the Suzuki samurai which we think bumped the grizzly in 2015 and set it on the path towards my father in law.

The next morning my father in law decided we would head back down the road to the area where he had been charged by the grizzly bear.  We had seen a few does and fawns down there earlier in the week and we had tags to punch.  We left camp around 7:00am. We got to the end of the road out of the rec site and turned right.  As we started to speed up my father in law joked that maybe we should try road hunting as fast as my buddy drives his tracker, and wouldn’t you know it, a moment later, less than 100 meters from the turnoff to camp, my father in law looked at me and said he just saw a buck in the clearing that we had just flew past.  He gradually slowed down the truck and we both got out, loaded our rifles, and I started walking back down the road.  On hindsight I feel badly to this day that I didn’t think to insist that my father in law go after this buck.  As I started to walk up a little side road around the clearing I looked at my father in law and he signaled, pointed and whispered to me to stay on the main road. I followed his instructions and continued down the main road as my father in law stood by the side road. 

As I approached the clearing I started to be able to make out the shape of a deer through the brush.  I continued to creep forward, one step after another, trying not to spook the deer.  He was looking right at me and I could see his rack.  I found a little opening and tried to steady myself.  This would have to be an offhand shot.  I hate those, I never practice them, I really should.  The buck was at no more than 20 metres from me, looking straight at me.  I chose my spot, found the pause in my breath, and slowly increased pressure until the trigger broke.  BOOM!

I expected to see something as I lowered my rifle, but I could not.  There was no movement and no deer visible from the road. Doubt began to creep into my mind and I thought that I must have missed. How could I have missed at 20 metres?  I began to walk around the brush to the entrance of the clearing and there he was, a nice little whitetail buck.

After the obligatory photos, we set to work field dressing.  We set him on the back of the tail gate of the truck and headed back to camp.  As we pulled in we were greeted by curiosity.  No one had heard the shot in spite of the proximity to camp.  We hung the buck and by 8:30am we were all finished up with him and having another cup of coffee around the fire.

For the rest of the trip we continued to try to find a moose for my buddy.  I spent a few long evenings up on a ridge which looks out over the valley, trying to glass up some activity so we could make a plan.  It seemed as though everyone else had been lucky and gotten their moose, basically on a road, but all we had seen the whole trip was the cow on the first day.

Not my photo.  Thank you Encyclopedia Britannica
On one of the last days we decided once again to head down the road to what has since become known as grizzly flats. On the way there, just before the first of the two turnoffs that leads to grizzly flats, we rounded a corning and saw what looked like a black bear cub.  My father in law and I both lifted out binos at the same time, and almost in unison exclaimed “A wolverine!”. We felt truly lucky to have seen such an elusive animal.  We watched him for a while until he trundled over the bank.

On one of the evenings towards the end of the trip, after having hiked up the ridge and glassed for the whole afternoon unsuccessfully, I was walking back down the road towards where I had parked the ATV when one of the guys from a neighbouring camp rolled up.   We chatted for a bit, but neither of us had seen anything.  I couldn’t help but notice his bubba mug from which he was continuously sipping and a truck bed full of dozens of empty 2 litre bottles of Captain Morgan’s.  Was he drinking?  I couldn’t be sure.  Was he sober?  He sure seemed to be.  Not a hint of inebriation.   Impressively high functioning or just keeping his recycling close at hand.  I’ll never know, but I do have my suspicions. Haha.  Just one of the many random and funny encounters in the bush.  We said our goodbyes and I headed back to camp.

At the end of the trip, as the elderly couple were packing up, they thanked us again for our help and mentioned that they would preach to us next time if they ran into us again.  No, thank you.  We spent the last couple days hunting and fishing to catch our limit.  We didn’t end up getting my buddy his moose, but he went home with a hind quarter and we got a white tail and tons of troubt.  It had been another great trip.