Showing posts with label Story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Story. Show all posts

Saturday 22 December 2018

2018 Elk



Ever since my first hunting trip in 2014 I have been dreaming of going on an elk hunt. My father in law seeded that dream with how highly he speaks of elk meat.

For the last two years, an "over the counter" elk trip has been the backup plan if our group didn’t manage to get a tag in either the limited entry moose or elk lottery draw. In BC there are two areas where elk are so plentiful that no lottery is required, so you can just get a tag "over the counter".  Those areas are the Peace River district and the Kootenays.

Primos Hoochie Mama Cow Elk Call
Two years ago I bought a set of Primos elk calls, and taught myself how to call using YouTube and the DVD that came with the calls.  My wife immediately disliked the sound of me practicing chirps and bugles, so it quickly became a task reserved for commuting to and from work.  Yes, I was that guy who was sitting in traffic at red lights practicing with a mouth reed.  I kept the calls in my truck so that I could get in some practice whenever I was alone. 


When the draw results were released in early summer, I was secretly quite excited when none of our group were successful in getting a moose or elk tag.  This would be the year! I would finally get to go elk hunting.

Throughout the summer I continued to practice calling while we started to formulate a plan for the trip.  Both the Peace and the Kootenays have their own pros and cons, and for both my father in law and me either area would be completely new.  We both turned to the internet and google maps to research both areas and help us decide.  For the Peace, it's really far away, there is tons of oil and gas plant activity, and it seemed like unless you are on private land, there are few open spaces down low and not much access to the mountainous area.  We read a lot of horror stories of the muskeg and bugs, but on the other hand, some of the published data shows a marginally better chance of success in the Peace than the Kootenays.  For the Kootenays on the other hand, while they may be closer, from what we read online they sound like they are crawling with hunters during the elk open season and it seemed like there was too much road access and too few places where you could get away from road hunters.

As it turned out, none of the rest of our group decided to come with us, so this trip would just be the two of us. We eventually settled on the Peace and after a call to a conservation officer who used to be responsible for the area, we got some suggestions about where to find animals, but not specifically elk.

The details of the plan took a while to take shape because we didn't know what to expect in the Peace.  We discussed glassing, being mobile, taking a motorbike, ATV, car-top boat, inflatable boat, the trailer, tents, and so on.  We had a strong feeling that we may need to set up and break down camp a few times while trying to find elk sign.  The trail bike was appealing for the ease deploying from the truck and quickly scouting trails and roads, but my lack of experience on motorbikes and the fact that we may have needed to haul something out of the woods a ways made the ATV win out.  We carefully weighed all the gear and equipment options.

Whether it is a truck and trailer, or your backpack, it is always a balance between being well prepared and bringing too much gear.  I hate the feeling of wishing I had something which got left at home to save on weight and space, but it is also equally frustrating to carry a bunch of gear you never end up using.  I think the prospect of having to set up camp multiple times may have dissuaded some of the people from our group from joining us on the trip, but never the less, we didn’t want to commit to an area until we knew there was sign. 

In some of the management units around where we were headed sheep, goats, caribou and complicated moose were open as well.  I ended up getting all of those tags just in case we stumbled across one of them.  However, from everything that I have read and heard, it is important not to get distracted from your target species.  We discussed that until we had either a elk or moose hanging, we wouldn’t go for one of the side hunt species.  This was primarily an elk trip with the secondary goal of a moose.  With the trip being the last two weeks of September, we were concerned that the daytime temperatures could risk meat spoilage and we didn’t want to have to cut an elk trip short because we were worried about losing the meat from one of the non-target species.


As the summer went by, I collected my gear and checked it all out.  It was in good condition, but there were a few pressing tasks.  The first task was getting my rifle ready.  I always follow the same routine before hunting season.  It works well for me.  During the summer I try to go to the range and practice as much as possible.  This summer I managed only two trips to the range for practice, but I made those count.  Each trip I sent around 100 rounds down range over the course of a day, allowing my rifle time to cool between groups.

Best ever group at 300m

Between each range trip I thoroughly clean my rifle using bench-rest copper solvent and Hoppe’s No. 9.  After each cleaning, the next 4 shots have a radically different point of impact.  Therefore, I go to the range one final time before the season starts to put a few fouling shots down range and then check my zeros and DOPEs (military term for Data On Previous Engagements).  Once I know exactly where my bullet will land at 100m and how much to dial up for 200m and 300m then I am set for the season.  After that I don’t clean my rifle or fire it again unless it is aimed at my quarry, the only exception being using a bore snake if I suspect debris has ended up in my barrel.

Prepping venison "Shepherd's Pie" to freeze for the trip

I spent the remainder of the summer and the early part of September packing, preparing meals, waxing my boots, and deciding what was going to make the cut to come with me on the trip.  It is so easy to have gear inflation.  I have decided to limit myself to one rubbermaid tote of gear, one of clothing and the pack that I am going to be wearing, my sleeping bag and a duffel bag of other clothes.  It still feels like too much gear, and it probably is, but there is enough space in the trailer to accommodate it.  I also decided to bring my meat packing backpack in case we had to quarter and hike out an animal as well as the new addition to my kit this year, a spotting scope.  I ended up getting the Vortex Viper 15-45 because of both its affordable price tag and compact size and weight (more on that in a separate post).

All packed and ready to go.

The Trip 

Bright and early, just about to depart.
At 5:30am on the 16th of September after loading the last of our gear we began the drive North.  We talked hunting strategy and made plans on the way up.  We made it to Chetwynd that night and stopped at the Chinese restaurant for dinner.  After dinner, we started looking for a motel with parking for the truck and trailer.  That proved to be much more difficult than expected since so many oil and gas workers were in town.  We ended up finding vacancy at the third hotel we tried.

The next day we got up early and headed to Fort St. John to get groceries, booze, water, and fuel.  Once those chores were out of the way we headed north to the first of a few options we hoped might be a good spot to camp.

Once we arrived at the first spot, there were a couple of other camps set up in the area, but after a quick discussion we decided to give this place a whirl. We set up camp quickly and decided to go out for an evening hunt. 

As a new hunter, it is usually my first time in any area that I am hunting.  My plan is always the same when I go somewhere that I have never been before.  I usually spend at least the first few days scouting, just trying to find good areas, sign, crossings, whatever.  Depending on the extent of the area, I might finish up scouting after a day, or it could be 3 days.  I try to cover as much ground as possible, either on foot, vehicle, or by glassing.  Once I have a good feeling for the area then I make a plan and choose what I think is the best spot and hit it hard until I am either successful or give up after several unsuccessful days.

The calf moose on the left.  The mother is just in the trees.
On that first evening hunt, I mostly just burned around on the ATV, looking for crossings and sign, trying to get a feel for the area.  That evening I managed to see a cow and calf moose, which was pretty cool.  It was good to know that they were in the area.  I managed to get a few shots of the calf through my binos. For the rest of the evening I just tried to see what there was to see.  There were lots of grouse and there was tons of bear shit.  Eventually I had to give up because it was getting too dark, so headed back to camp.

Sunrise on the first full day.
Over the next two days I covered an incredible distance and walked up and down many trails trying to find elk sign.  There was plenty of moose sign and lots of bear sign, but apart from some old dried tracks, the elk remained elusive.  At one point I was hiking down a trail which followed the bottom of a logging slash and saw some movement further up the hill.  Through my binos I noticed it was my father in law, so I turned and started to creep my way out.  As I walked back towards the trail head, I stepped into what I thought was a little puddle, only to sink in up to my thighs in deep, ugly clay mud which came to be known as gumbo.  With a little effort I managed to crawl out.  The gumbo was so sticky that even after walking in and out of another trail I felt as though my legs were encased in concrete.  Back at camp I stripped down next to the water and spent a few hours washing my gear and boots in the lake.

The oven in the trailer stopped working so we cooked over the fire that night.  Overall, we were well prepared as always and when the water lines froze and the pump died, my father in law had a spare, typically well prepared! There were also some electrical problems and one of our batteries had leaked on the trip up, but nothing that was serious. 
We came to learn that all the roads become “gumbo” after it rains in this part of BC.  That stuff packs into truck tire treads and makes travel nearly impossible until it dries out or freezes. 

On two occasions I decided to follow a trail into the bush on the ATV.  Everything seemed fine at first as I was going along the trails, but then suddenly the front wheels would fall out from under ATV, sinking into the muskeg nearly to the top of the tires.  Stepping off the ATV was no better. Both times it happened I sank up to my knees in the muskeg as I tried to find a way to free the ATV.  There were no sturdy trees to winch to and going in reverse just dug the wheels in deeper.  I trudged my way out of the musket and gathered some sticks and small logs.  I pressed them into the wheel wells and while playing the throttle reversed the ATV slightly, sucking the logs under the wheels.  After repeating this a few times, I could feel the ATV gain traction as I tried to reverse it out.  I could hear my buddy's voice in my head "Pin it to win it!" and so I kept hard on the throttle as the ATV tore its way backwards.  Once I got it back on hard ground, I vowed never to let that happen again.  Well, it did happen again, one more time, but after the second time I really started to figure out the common denominator.  If it is grassy and there are no trees, that is a very bad sign.  It is probably muskeg.  If there are shrubs and bushes, then it is probably firm enough to walk or drive the ATV.

As I continued to explore the area I came upon a sad sight.  Along a trail above the clearing where I had seen the moose cow and calf, I came upon the partially eaten carcass of a moose calf.  I had the sinking feeling that it must have been that calf from the previous evening, but there was no way to tell.  I walked around it a few times and saw wolf tracks. They had already made short work of the soft innards.

A sad sight.  A moose calf eaten by wolves.

A squirrel through my scope on low magnification.

Much harder to free hand my phone camera on higher magnification.

I continued to scout the area the following day and got so far afield that I crossed into the next management unit where the antler restriction increased to 6 points or more.  I found a great spot to glass and spent the morning picking apart a mountain side.  Unfortunately, I didn't find any wildlife, but I definitely found out that I am happy with my new spotting scope, a Vortex Viper 15-45x by 65mm. It was the right compromise for me between size, cost, magnification, and quality at around $1000.

A few hours later I concluded my glassing and continued on, covering ground, exploring trails, and looking for sign.  After a long morning of scouting on the ATV I noticed by fuel was getting low and made my way back to camp.  That afternoon I decided to explore an area just beyond where I had to turn around on the first evening because it was getting too dark.  As I drove past a gas well, I started to notice some huge wolf tracks and wolverine tracks dried into the muddy shoulder of the road.  I rounded a corner which had two trailheads leading off of the road and continued on for another few hundred metres past a pond to where the road dead ended at a decommissioned well head. There was another trail head there which headed down hill.  There in the mud was some dried tracks.  It was larger than deer, but smaller than moose.  I decided that it had to be elk sign.

I drove back to the corner and picked the trailhead which headed east.  I set out on foot and started a routine of calling while slowly still hunting my way down the trail.  Every fifteen to twenty minutes I let out a few cow chirps or a bugle.  Generally, I erred on the side of cow chirps, mostly because of my experience in the Squamish river valley listening to a herd calling to lost cows.  After a solid three hours the light was fading, so I made my way back to camp.

That night I told my father in law about the day and the sign that I had seen.  He had seen a monster bull moose down by the lake, but it was several kilometres away across the valley, quite out of reach.  We discussed the plan for the next day and we decided that I would head back to the same spot where I had seen the elk sign and set up my trail cameras and see if there was anything hanging around there and he would go back after that moose by the lake.

The next day I grabbed my trail cams and headed back to the decommissioned well head.  I took the truck and decided to set one of the trail cameras up near the pond.  I parked on the side of the road and started to walk around the pond to see if there were any game trails.  To my surprise I found lots of fresh elk tracks as soon as I got off the road, right by the edge of the pond.  There were several game trails leading off the pond, so I set up one of my cameras at a point where a few of the trails converged. 

I continued on a little way and parked the truck near the decommissioned well head.  As I got out of the truck, I looked over at a mud puddle in the ditch that I noticed the previous day.  I had noticed it because the last thing I wanted was to get the truck stuck the same way I had gotten the ATV stuck a few times.  This time, however, I noticed some fresh elk tracks in the mud.  I walked over to take a look and my heart started to beat faster.  Could this be a wallow?

Bull elk like to roll in mud to perfume themselves with urine during mating season, known as the rut.  As I got closer, I started noticing the mud looked like someone had pressed a paint brush into was the impression made by elk fur.  The mud started to tell a story.  I could see where the elk had rolled, where his antlers had dug into the mud, where he had dug up some of the mud.  I was in complete shock.  I had stumbled upon an elk wallow in the ditch next to a decommissioned gas well.  Elk were in the area.  I couldn't contain myself.  I had found an area with elk.  I was ecstatic.

The wallow with the fur impressions visible.
I set up my second camera looking out over the wallow and decided to hike away from the area, down hill, towards the river gully.  I spent the next 3 hours hiking and calling my way down to towards the river gully where I suspected the elk may have been hanging out.  I got no responses to my chips and bugles, but I wasn't deterred.  I knew they were in the area and now it would just come down to locating them and getting a lucky break.

After a lengthy hike towards the river I decided I had to turn back because I was planning to meet my father in law back at camp for lunch.  The hike back to the road could be done much more quickly if I de-layered myself of warm clothing and picked up the pace.  I tossed my pack down and started taking layers off for the hike uphill back to the truck.  Just at that moment, five grouse decided to waddle across the road.  It was like I was watching this weird little grouse migration.

After the grouse left, I started the hike back up to the truck.  A couple hours later I was back at camp telling my father in law about the wallow and the good feeling I had about that area.  We had lunch and I decided I would head back to the area, park further away from the wallow, hike in a short way and set up my little bind at a crossroads of trails and see if I could call in an elk that evening.  The temperature was dropping, so I decided to put on my winter gear and boots.

After lunch I headed back out.  On the drive to the wallow I started to doubt my plan to set up a blind and sit all evening.  By the time I was getting close to where I wanted to park, I had completely changed my mind and decided I was going to do another hike. 

I decided to park the truck a few kilometers away from the wallow and stalk my way to it while calling.  I pulled over about 800m before the corner with the two trail heads where there was a little pullout.  I set about changing from my warm winter boots and winter parka to my lighter hiking boots and jacket.  I started tossing gear out of my pack that I wouldn't need for the hike, such as my blind, butt pad, and tripod.  My gear was all over the place, but I didn't want to carry any unnecessary weight in my pack.  Just as I got my hiking boots on, I happened to glance down one of the two trails which radiated out from the pullout where I was parked and my heart stopped.  There was a brown dot.  THERE WAS A BROWN DOT!!! 

I scrambled to find my binos.  My shit was everywhere! Where were they!? This was not supposed to happen like this. On the seat of the truck! I grabbed my binos and was confronted with the sight of a cow elk grazing peacefully about 800m away from me, straight down a trail.  FUCK! I was a complete disaster, mid-gear change, mid-repack, it was a complete yard sale, shit was strewn all over the place!  I started grabbing gear.  I needed this.  This, I didn't need.

I needed to be light and quiet to stalk in. I was tossing things everywhere, scrambling to get myself organized.  I shut the truck doors quietly, and locked them, but then realized I still had excess stuff.  I chucked my butt pad and tripod into the brush. No! I might need the tripod to shoot off of! I scrambled into the brush on my hands and knees to get it and strapped it to my pack.

Shit! Had I scared off the cow in all this commotion!?  I quieted myself as best I could and slowly peaked my head out of the brush to see if she was still there.  Yes, she was, the brown dot was still there.  Crap! Were cow elk really open in this region!? No mistakes! I unzipped my pocket and doubled checked the regulations on my phone, and yes indeed.  Cow elk and 3 point bull elk or better are open in this area.  Okay...  now I need to make my play.

With a hurriedly repacked backpack and whichever gear I had somehow managed to grab from the truck it was time to make a play for this cow elk.  In the chaos I had not forgotten my calls.  Thank goodness.  I crept a little further ahead in the brush and poked my head out again, just high enough to see the cow.  I pulled out my Primos Hoochie Mama call.  It was now or never.

I gave the call a squeeze and a loud "EEEEE-awwwww" pierced the air.  Through the binos I watched as the cow elk jerked here head up.  Her ears and eyes were fixed on where the sound had come from. I had the sinking feeling that she would bolt.

To my huge relief she started trotting towards me.  CRAP! I had not thought this through!  I had nothing to shoot off of! She was 800m away and starting to come in.  I wouldn't be able to make that shot until she was so close that I could shoot off hand.  Big mistake.

I crouched down in the brush, out of sight, and had to think fast.  I saw some trees ahead of me jutting into the middle of the trail.  If I could make it to those trees, maybe, just maybe, I could crawl out into the middle of the trail and shoot prone off my bipod.  Okay... that's the plan.  I poked my head up and there she was still looking my way, but still too far off for a shot, probably 750m. She lowered her head and started grazing again.  I squeezed the call again, "EEEEE-Awwww" and her head lifted. Once again, she resumed her trot towards me.

This is taken standing from the first place I tried to lay prone. On the left, those are the first trees which were jutting out into the trail.  I took the eventual shot from 10m ahead of this point laying prone at the base of the tree in the middle of this photo just to the right of that small bush at its base.
I crouched back down and crawled to my left into the treeline.  In the trees I crept ahead about 10m to the where I thought I could make the prone shot.  I belly crawled out and popped down the legs of my bipod.  As I lay prone it became clear that I was too far across the trail to get a good shot.  I was past the middle and the angle was all wrong.  There was still one more set of trees another 10m ahead where I might be able to get a shot from.

I started crawling back to the tree line and saw the cow elk, now much closer, probably 600m.  She was stopped, just staring at where I was.  I squeezed the call again and she resumed her walk towards me.  This was happening, but I still had nowhere to shoot from.

I made it back to the treeline and advanced to the next set of trees and bushes which stuck out into the trail.  Ahead of that point there were no other bushes or trees jutting out into the trail that I could hide behind.  The trail was as straight as an arrow and this was the last place that I could set up to take a shot.  It would have to be there.  I belly crawled behind the trees and bushes out from the treeline at the edge of the trail until just my rifle and head poked out into the middle of the trail, keeping my body concealed behind some bushes.  It was perfect. I was looking right down the middle of this trail with no obstructions, resting on my bipod, as stable as it gets.

Through the scope I started to watch the cow elk.  By now she was around 500m away, still too far for me to shoot.  I checked my turrets and dialed up for 200m.  That's when I realized, I had left my range finder in my parka, back in the truck.  Shit.  I would have to estimate the range.

As I lay prone looking at the cow elk through my scope, I gave another call, and like each previous time, she resumed her progress towards me.  Whoa! There was another elk with her! It was a bull!

Within seconds I was counting tines.  1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, definitely a 4x4, maybe more, definitely legal, 1-2-3-4, yep, for sure.  Change of plans, I decided to go for the bull.

Each time they slowed or seemed to lose interest, a squeeze of the Hoochie Mama got them both trotting towards me.  Seconds felt like hours as they came towards me, the bull always a few paces behind the cow.

The bull carried himself quite differently than the cow, his presence was regal and dominant.  Both majestic animals, but the bull's presence was quite impressive.

They closed the distance until their images filled my scope.  They seemed close, very close.  I guessed it was 100m and waited for my opportunity.  They were both walking towards me head-on.  And then my moment came.  The cow went left and the bull stopped.  He turned, right, quartering on.  I put the cross-hairs just behind his shoulder and squeezed.  BOOM!

As I regained my sight picture I couldn't see the elk.  I had just taken a shot at my first elk.  I sent a message to my father in law saying that I had just taken a shot at a bull elk.  I got up, chambered another round and put the safety back on.  I walked back to the truck to give the elk some time.  I dropped off any unnecessary gear and made sure I had all my essentials for field dressing. It was just after 5:00pm.

I took my time.  It felt like an hour, but I couldn't handle waiting any more.  It was 5:20pm.  I started to walk up to where the elk had been and there, I saw him.  He had fallen a few feet from where he stood when I took the shot.  As I approached, the cow bolted out from the trees into the middle of the trail, just past where the bull was lying.  She looked back at me for a split second before starting to run off.  I tried to call her to keep her in the area for my father in law, who also had a tag, but she never stopped.  A few minutes later my father in law arrived.  If this ever happens again, I will wait until he gets there so we can stalk up together.  I never expected the cow to stick around.  My eagerness meant we missed the chance to punch my father in law's elk tag.  Anyways, we were still elated.

Before we set to work, I pulled from my backpack a couple of mini-bar size bottles of Glenmorangie Quita Ruban scotch that had been rattling around my pack since my first hunting trip.  I had them to celebrate my first deer with my father in law, but in all the excitement I had forgotten.  4 years later it was time to celebrate another first.  We took photos and toasted our success.  Then the work began.

When we got finished field dressing, I noticed that there was no bullet exit hole.  It would be a neat memento if I could find the bullet.  It was starting to get dark at this point and grizzlies were in the area.  I gave up on finding the bullet in the gut pile and we began the short haul out to the road.  Luckily it was a straight shot to the road.  As it turned out, he was 250m from the road according to the GPS.  My shot was 225m.  This just reinforces my opinion that most people, me included, can't estimate range and range finders are essential for any shot beyond about 250m, not to mention, most people shouldn't be taking shots further, me included. With the help of the ATV and some blocks, we managed to load the elk into the bed of the truck.

We got back to camp and set to work skinning, quartering, and hanging the elk on the game poles.  By 2 am we were finished, exhausted, and in need of sleep.  We stumbled into the trailer, too tired to have dinner and just collapsed.

The next morning, I finished cleaning off the last bits of hair and we wrapped the quarters in game bags. 

Over the next few days we took a more leisurely approach to the hunt.  We went out looking for moose and elk, or any other species that we had tags for.  I even went back to the gut pile in hopes of finding the bullet when I went to get my cameras back.  There was nothing left but some wet ground where the gut pile had been and there were only photos of me on the game cameras unfortunately. We went after grouse a few times and made a great grouse curry.

Grouse Curry

While we had been there, a bunch of good 'ol boys rolled up and set up what they called "Hobo Junction" next to us.  It was an impressive mobile village of trailers and tents. They were a bunch of guys in their 60s to 80s who go to this spot each year as an annual tradition.  We went over a few times and shared stories and drinks.  They were great.

After a few days our worries about warming weather started to come true.  We watched the forecast and daily temperatures climb and decided that we needed to cut the trip short to ensure there was no risk of the meat spoiling.


We spent one day scouting around and went to some of the other places we had considered camping if this place had not worked out.  We saw twenty plus stone sheep, a black bear, and white tailed deer that day.

The next morning was really warm as we packed up.  We loaded the elk and headed south.  We stopped in Fort St. John and got dry ice which we put near the meat.  It helped keep the temperature in the trailer low during the day for the drive home.  We decided to one-shot it and drove non-stop through the night, arriving at Sumas Meats just after they opened the following morning. 

A few weeks later I got the call to pick up the meat.  It was just after Thanksgiving. As I was loading the nicely packaged meat into my truck, I found a little scrunched up piece of butcher paper.  They had found the bullet.

I kept the case and was lucky that the butcher found the bullet

The first meal I made with my elk was steak.  I wanted to taste it with as little seasoning as possible to really understand the flavour.  It was everything my father in law had said it was.  It is the best meat there is.  Slightly better than moose, I think.  It was a trip of a life time and now I am hooked on filling the freezer with elk.

Something I learned is that elk have ivory, upper teeth which are vestigial tusks.
I removed and saved the ivory so that one day I can make some earrings for my wife from them.
Every time I look at these antlers I will remember this trip as the amazing adventure which filled my freezer with the best meat there is.

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 “…”  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.