A tale of two…technically three bullets – Part 3

The last day of hunting season was upon me before I knew it. The days that had passed since my last expedition had done so in a blur and I found myself wondering whether or not I would in fact get a deer this fall.

The night before the last day of the season, after Owen was in bed, I sat with Kelly on the couch drinking some Jim Beam and Schweppes Dark Ginger Ale thinking deeply. I recalled every step, missed opportunity, close call and twisted turn of fickle fate that had comprised my deer season so far.  I wasn’t feeling nearly as nervous as I had been the previous nights before a hunt, honestly I didn’t think that there was much of a chance I’d be bagging a deer. With that mindset I decided that if I wasn’t going to get a deer I might as well go full broke bespoke on this last outing especially since the weather was supposed to be a mild minus ten Celsius.

I went to bed after a relaxing evening of TV and slept quite well. When I woke I had a leisurely coffee and toast and got dressed in a nice pair of jeans and plaid longsleeve dress shirt which I wore over my classic waffle long johns. Over the shirt I put on the dark brown hand knit wool sweater Kelly had made for me and paired it all with my brown leather upper, rubber soled winter boots. For accessories I was wearing a vintage gerber folding knife my Grandpa had given me as a youngster and a leather cartridge holder on a well worn brown leather belt. It was a nice mix of fashion and practicality that I’d like to think any hunter from the fourties or fifties would have been proud of.

The drive up was, as always, unremarkable except that instead of having my rifle in the trunk it was riding beside me in the passenger seat.  I had given up on the Remington I had carried with me on the last two occasions as it was apparently bad luck rand brought my sporterized Greek 1903/14 Steyr-Mannlincher instead.

A quick note about the rifle. The Steyr is a true classic and if you can find one, spend the money on it, you won’t be disappointed. Despite being designed and built at the turn of the beginning of the last century, it is still one of the smoothest actions you will ever handle. Not only this but it is loaded with features that you just can’t find on modern massed produced rifles. The actions from these rifles were used to build the very high end Mannlicher-Schonauer rifles that can cost in excess of five-thousand dollars. I managed to get my rifle for a song and although it was chambered in 6.5×54 MS, a round that was expensive to buy, the look of the stock, shape of the barrel and how it handled was worth that small inconvenience. An added plus was the historical factor as the round and rifle were both favourites of Ernest Hemingway and WDM Bell, a prominent ivory hunter.

After parking the car in the same approach I had used on the last two trips and donning my blaze orange safety gear I set off into the woods on the north side of the highway where I had seen the does the previous weekend. After an hour or so of seeing plenty of tracks but no deer I decided to head back to the south side of the road where I had first seen my buck.

I walked casually, not overly concerned about my pace, the direction of the wind or the sound I was making. I was quite content just to be in the woods but I would stop every so often and listen or look at what appeared to be fresh sign and then continue. As I walked I heard the tell tale snort of a deer alerting to my presence and as I looked to my right I saw its flagging tail heading deeper into the woods.

With a renewed energy and purpose I decided I’d take a long wide loop around to the far side of the tree bluff in the direction the deer was headed. I thought it would be unlikely that it would want to risk running out onto open terrain at the end of the trees where I was headed and was more likely to stop in the deep cover of the trees and listen to see if I was following. I made my way along the route that I had been able to visualize in my head from having walked the area so often before and quickly found myself at the spot I wanted to start looking for the deer I had seen.

The crunch of the snow under my feet seemed to crash and echo around me. It was as if an elephant and not a man was walking as stealthily as possible through the narrow birch trees. My breath and every step was purposefully slowed yet I willed my eyes to dart as rapidly as possible to assess curious shapes, odd shawdows and the sudden movement that always seemed to be snow falling off branches. Somewhere out there in the tree grove I was stalking were deer, I had seen them and it made the tension palpable.

Leaning against a tree I stopped to listen to the sound of the woods. The creak and sound of branches swaying gently high up in the trees were just barely audible over the rhythmic “whoosh, whoosh,whoosh” of the blood pulsing in my ears. The silence was deafening, I thought it best to stay put to listen and watch for a while as I had a good line of sight in all directions. Being careful to move my head slowly to scan the terrain I noticed an odd shape, something about it didn’t fit with it’s surroundings. Staying focused on it I saw it move, just ever so slightly, but enough to be certain I was looking at an animal of some sort. I brought my rifle up to my shoulder and used the tree as support to steady my aim. Looking down the barrel over the sights I saw the head of a doe pop up chewing contentedly on some old grass.

At the realization it was a deer I could feel my heart rate quicken and attempted to will it slower by taking deep calming but quiet breaths through my nose. The deer was oblivious to my presence and continued to eat and move a few feet in no particular direction. I looked around trying to see if there was a buck in the area but it appeared there were only two other does in its company. I looked down the barrel and took aim at the deer, changing my point of aim as it shifted. I was content to wait and watch it in case a buck did show up but resolved to shoot if I got the sense it was going to run. As if it heard my thoughts the deer noticed something amiss in my direction, whether it was the steam from my breath, my scent, or a glare off my glasses it froze staring directly at me and everything seemed to slow in that moment. My peripheral vision shrunk so all I was focused on was the doe and I knew I only had a second or two before the deer bounded away. I took a small breath, slowly exhaled and squeezed the trigger.

BANG!

The rifle, bucked against my shoulder and sent its 6.5mm lead soft point bullet hurtling towards the deers vitals. The doe jumped and it’s friends ran from the rifle report but I couldn’t be entirely sure of whether I had hit it or not. The shot had been just less than 100 yards with only a few branches obscuring my line of sight. I felt good about he shot but I waited, not moving my rifle or doing anything to give my position away. As I stood in silence waiting to make sure my prey was dead I became more aware of my surroundings. The first thing I noticed was the pounding heart in my chest and the flush in my face from the excitement of finally having been able to take a shot at a deer and possibly fill my tag. As my excitement settled the tension I had been feeling was gone and the serenity of the woods on the cold morning with its softly falling snow left me awestruck at how lucky I was to be a hunter.

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Ten minutes passed and I could hear the other does, not to far off in the woods, snorting their warnings and looking for there missing comrade. As I stepped off I ejected my spent casing and put it in my pocket and chambered another round just in case I needed to finish the job I started. The other deer finally saw my movement and bounded off deeper into the woods while I approached the area where I thought my deer would be.

I had made sure to draw a mental map of where I thought the deer had gone down but as I walked the terrain looked different and I started to get nervous that I had missed it all together and I was going to be going home empty handed again. I kept walking and stopped to reassess thinking I may have gone to far. Turning around to look back at where I had come I spotted it. The doe was lying peacefully on its side just behind a fallen tree which had hid it on my initial approach. My heart and spirit soared, I had done it! The third time out had been the charm and all the near misses the fickle fate and preparations had finally paid off. I gave the deer an appreciative pat in thanks for the life it had lived and the sustenance it would provide.

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I field dressed it where it lay, which took me longer than I had planned because I was a little rusty, and then left the carcass spread open to cool while I walked to the car to get my butchering gear. Even though the doe wasn’t huge, bringing it home to hang in the garage wasn’t an option because I wasn’t going to be able to put it in the trunk of Kelly’s car.  I had never quartered an animal before let alone done it in the woods when it was minus 10 Celsius out so I was nervous but excited. To be honest it went relatively well for the first time and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to novices so long as some time is spent reading about it and watching a few videos online. I was able to harvest the majority of the meat save for the areas damaged by the path of the bullet which had entered just in front of the right shoulder, pierced both lungs and exited high behind the left shoulder below the spine.

I put the meat into game bags then onto my pack and walked back to the car leaving the hide and carcass for the wild to dispose of. The walk back was through some deep snow and with the extra weight made it significantly more challenging than I expected. I can understand now why people often hunt in pairs when going for moose or elk, the weight of those quarters would require multiple trips out of the bush.

At the car I transferred the meat into a large Tupperware storage container and then put bags of ice all around the meat to let it cool and rest. I drove home calling anyone who would answer the phone to tell them about my successful stalk through woods.

After getting home I left the container with the ice and meat in the garage for 24hrs before processing it further. When I did process the deer I was less than thrilled with my finish butchering abilities compared to my field skills from the day before. I’m confident I will get better with time and experience. It was surprising how much fat, tendons and gristle has to be pared away to get at the nice lean meat. When it was all said and done I had 35 pounds of very nice dark lean double wrapped venison packages for the freezer.

As I put the last package of meat in the freezer and closed the lid I couldn’t have been happier. Sure I didn’t get the big buck I wanted but I also wouldn’t have had the awesome experiences if I had. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Until then, all the best.

John

 

 

 

 

A tale of two…technically three bullets – Part 2

Nearly a full week had elapsed since opening day of the 2017 deer season. It was on that day that I messed up an opportunity to bag a nice buck, the result of fickle fate and being a little too unfamiliar with my firearm. Thinking of that buck bounding away hurts my heart as bad as the day it happened.

The only solace from the pain after it happened was the knowledge that I’d have at least one, maybe two more weekends to go out and get my deer. My spirits were further buoyed by the fact that I had  gone and bought an anterless deer tag which meant that I could also shoot a doe if I happened upon one. I wasn’t going home empty handed again if I could avoid it.

The next chance I had to go hunting was on the afternoon of 19 November, after Owen’s swimming lessons. The little guy was generally so tired from them he would sleep for a few hours, it presented the perfect opportunity for me to slip away for a late afternoon hunt.

This is part of two of three, I hope you enjoy.

The Halfway Hunt

After getting back from swimming lessons and helping Kelly get Owen ready for his nap, I ran downstairs and hastily gathered my gear that I had organized the night before. Knowing I had much less time to hunt that afternoon because of the shorter days, I decided to wear all my hunting clothes for the trip north. The idea behind this being I could walk straight into the woods after arriving.

As I left the city in Kelly’s little blue Pontiac, I kept the window down about halfway to keep from overheating. Right away it seemed like fate was being fickle again as I hit every red light on my way. Granted it wasn’t a total waste as I got a pretty good laugh at the odd looks from the people stopped next to me in the traffic. I can only imagine what someone dressed up in my combination of blaze orange and camo in a little blue coupe looked like to average joe city goer.

Once I got past the city streets and perimeter road I made great time on the highway. Perhaps it only seemed to take a lot less time than before due to the fact as I was thinking about my last hunt, but also maybe it was due to unconsciously putting extra pressure on the gas pedal. Of course, I couldn’t help but to ask God and the fates for another chance at a deer. I remember being very specific when I spoke my request out loud in the car.

“Ok God, I would like to shoot a deer this trip! Close to the car if possible and not because I hit it with my car…Mr Smarty Pants.”

About an hour later when I arrived I opened the trunk to pull out the same Remington Model 14 that had cost me my buck the last hunt. I thought I had better try it again in order to “blood it” and break any bad luck still lingering with it. However while I believed in second chances and breaking the bad luck I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice and right beside it in the trunk was my nice little iron sight single shot 30-30 made by Husqvarna, as back up just in case.

As I stepped away from the car I noted it was much colder of afternoon than it had been on opening day and the snow not nearly as fresh. Every footstep I took seemed to create an impossibly loud crunch which echoed around me and made listening for movement in the trees incredibly hard. The air, bitter and dry, stung the exposed skin of my face making it necessary to stop every so often and readjust my scarf.

I walked the same route I had taken the week previously, scrutinizing every tree branch to make sure it wasn’t the antler of the buck that had got away. As I travelled through the deserted trees there were far less fresh deer sign than there had been before. It was hard not to get pessimistic about my chances, it was cold, there were less tracks and the afternoon was not an optimal hunting time. But overall it was still hunting and I was enjoying myself despite being a bit cranky about my prospects.

As the hours went by and the light began to fade I decided to park myself on tree stump looking down a small well travelled creek that had frozen over. This spot, out of all the kilometres I had walked, had the best and most recent tracks and was likely my best chance for deer as the sun began set. I got myself comfortable, practised raising my rifle a few times to make sure everything seemed like it would work and then went motionless.

For those who haven’t actually sat motionless for a prolonged period, it is more work that it sounds like. Focusing to your front but listening intently all around to the sounds of the forest is incredibly taxing. The rhythmic slow sounds of your breathing make it difficult to tell if there’s a deer nearby or if it’s just the subtle creak and groan of a tree rocked by a breeze. Those muscles, sore from hours of walking and wanting to be stretched, have to be ignored as does the runny nose tickling your upper lip. On top of all this the fatigue of hunting, being so acutely aware of everything around you causes your vision to occasionally blur as you lose focus and slip, just for half of a second, towards dozing off. Torture and pleasurable at the same time for sure.

Unfortunately sitting patiently and motionless for 45 min proved to be fruitless, and as the time for the legal last shot was fast approaching I threw in the towel and walked back to the car. I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen a single deer, but I kept the hope alive as I walked back to the car keeping my eyes peeled and my gun loaded. Seeing nothing once I reached the car I was still somewhat upset but also quite cold so didn’t mind that the hunt was over and could now warm up. I was just glad to have had the chance again.

I backed the car out the approach and made my way down the grid road towards home. Turning right onto the highway off the grid and gathering speed, a car going the other way flashed their lights at me. I slowed down knowing it was either the police or deer and fished a few bullets out of my pocket just in case it was the latter. As I continued to drive I spotted the deer in the ditch a little ways ahead. With my heart starting to beat a little faster I checked the clock to see if I was still inside the legal window for hunting. Happily, I saw that there were still ten minutes left. I knew it was foolish but I wanted a deer so bad and I wasn’t sure if I would get another hunt so I pulled over about five-hundred metres away, got out the little single shot and started to run.

I crossed the highway and ran into a piece of crown land I hadn’t explored and found all sorts of deer tracks amongst the trees. Running carelessly towards where I’d seen the deer, I started slow as I was uncertain of the terrain and how far I had already gone. I think this may have been creditable to being a little colder than I thought and my brain wasn’t working very well. The problem it was trying to figure out was where I was in relation to the deer and how far I was from the highway in order to make a legal shot. In the end I stood there in the dark and quiet forest with the light and legal time slipping away and thankfully convinced myself it was all a fools errand. I marched back to the car, once again even more defeated and this time embarrassed at my frantic effort. I threw the unloaded gun beside me in the gloriously warm car and headed home.

On the drive back I decided I’d call my folks to tell them about the hunt. Mom and Dad were always happy to chat and it was therapeutic for me to tell them about the hunt and the things I had seen as well as to catch up withwhat they had been up to that day. As we talked and the kilometres rolled by I noticed some flashing hazard lights ahead. Getting closer it turned out to be a car and truck pulled off to the side of the road. I told my folks I’d call them back after I checked out if the people needed a hand.

When I pulled over it was easy to see that the car had struck a deer and that another gentleman had stopped to give them assistance. I parked on the same side and in front of their vehicles and added my flashers to the other blinking red lights piercing dark moonless night.

Walking over to offer my help I could see the wounded deer lying on the pavement caught in the beam of light from the one remaining headlight of the damaged car. It was pretty badly beat up with a broken back and broken rear legs. As I got closer I overheard the fellow in the truck talking with the RCMP and asking permission to stab the deer in order to put it out of its misery. He saw me dressed in my blaze orange and pantomimed a gun to ask whether I had one with me and could shoot the deer.  Nodding I went back to my car and grabbed the little 30-30 off the passenger seat. By the time I got back the other fellow was just confirming with the RCMP that I was authorized to put the deer down. I took my cue and quickly stepped close to the deer checked to make sure the shot was safe and then fired killing it instantly and ending its suffering.

After helping to get the deer out of the way and doing one last check to make sure that everyone was good, I got back in the car and resumed my drive. I couldn’t believe that after seeing nothing all day and after just having finished complaining to my folks about not getting a deer, I did, right next to my car exactly as I had requested.  I called my folks back to tell them what had transpired and they couldn’t believe it either. It made me think of a qoute I read once somewhere that I think about from time to time, “An awful lot of things had to go terribly wrong for me to end up in the right place.”

All the best,

John

A tale of two…technically three bullets – Part 1

After spending a good portion of this fall writing about past deer hunting adventures I was very excited to get the opportunity to go again this year. As it happened I was actually able to get out for three separate hunts. Each of them were amazing and I’m very excited to be able to share them with you here. As before I’ll break the story down into three parts for ease of writing and reading.

Opening Day

Opening day this year fell on Monday, 13 November. For most people it was a day off as Remembrance Day had been the Saturday before. Thankfully Kelly was among those who didn’t have to work and it left me the perfect opportunity to go deer hunting while she looked after Owen.

I spent the evening before the hunt as anxious as a five year old before Christmas wondering excitedly what might await me under a tree the next day. I checked and then rechecked my equipment while enjoying a delicious glass of bourbon and went to bed with images of eight point bucks dancing through my head.

When morning finally arrived I snuck out of bed and showered with some fancy scentless soap I had bought. I thought it was a bit gimmicky but I didn’t want to take any chances on messing up my hunt. I decided to only put on a light layer of clothes so I wouldn’t overheat on the one hour drive to my intended destination north of the city. Making one last quick mental check before leaving I quietly loaded up my trusty hunting buggy, Kelly’s blue two door Pontiac G5, and set off.

The drive up was unremarkable and with the help of my trusty GPS I found my starting spot with little trouble. I parked in an approach which bordered the crown land I was planning to hunt and got out to change into my hunting garb. The temperature that morning was about minus fifteen Celsius and I had to strip to my underwear in order to put on my base layer, outer layer and finally my blaze orange layer. It was refreshing to say the least and  by the time I stepped off from the car and into the trees I was certainly wide awake.

Not knowing how far I was going to walk and if I was going to get a deer and then have to pack it out, I decided to bring my  frame pack with me.  The pack is an old 64 pattern military rucksack just like I  used to carry in the military. I modified it slightly to cart all my hunting/butchering supplies and meat. Accompanying me and my pack was a Remington Model 14  pump action rifle chambered in 35 Remington which I had acquired earlier in the fall.

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The Remington was the perfect companion for the day. Truly bespoke, its pump action and unique spiral tube fed magazine allow for quick follow up shots, it’s also reasonably light and very fast pointing. It earned itself a cult following in Eastern Canada and the US in the 1950’s as a great whitetail bush gun but never really saw the same popularity in Western Canada given the open terrain and need for flatter shooting cartridges.

Having never hunted the area before I took my time stalking into the woods. I had previously scouted it online using Google Maps but in person in the early morning light it was a challenge to keep my bearings. The deer sign was plentiful with, scrapes, tracks, and, rubs everywhere I looked. Things were looking very good for me.

Now, I’m not what you would call a very religious man but I talk to God on occasion. Knowing I had a small window of time to bag a deer and with all the fresh tracks I knew that today was going my best chance at getting deer so I asked him, “God, if you don’t mind I’d like to see a deer sooner rather than later.”

It wasn’t more than 30 minutes later that I saw a pack of does spring from a little coulee and dash into the woods in front of me. My heart started to quicken as I raised my rifle waiting and hoping to see a buck follow them, but none came. Too bad I chuckled to myself, I should have been more specific with my request to the almighty. So I asked God again, “Ok, fair enough I asked to see some deer and I did, but now if it’s not to much to ask I’d like to see a buck.”

After another hour of walking I just happened to notice some movement out of the corner of my eye when I stopped to listen for movement in the woods. As I slowly looked to where I had seen the movement I saw a nice buck and doe about two hundred yards away and in some very heavy cover. Again I brought my rifle up and looked through the scope but what I saw was a risky shot I was unwilling to take. Lowering my rifle I was treated to the flagging tail of the buck bounding away into even heavier bush. I chastised myself for apparently once again not being specific enough in my request and laughed at the situation again, although a little less amused than before. Shouldering my rifle and setting off again I started to think, “Ok funny guy, well played.  I’d like to see a buck, ideally one I can shoot and if possible I’d like it to be close to my car so I don’t have to pack it very far. If you grant me this one last request I swear its the last one I’ll make today.” The request sent, I kept walking and started the two kilometer trek back towards the car being careful to take a different route than I had when I left.

It had warmed up considerably and the sun was now making the biting air much more pleasant. Even though I hadn’t got anything from my few hours of stalking it had been a wonderful morning. The terrain was gorgeous and in amongst the trees by myself with just the crunch of my footsteps I felt very much relaxed and in my element.

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As I continued to walk the effort of constantly scanning the ground and trees started to take its toll. It had been four hours since I had left the car and I was feeling acute pangs of hunger and decided it would be a good time to head to the car for lunch. I hadn’t seen any fresh tracks or deer sign for some time so I got back on the main trail I had first used and started to walk a normal pace versus the incredibly slow still hunting pace I had been using. As I got to within one-hundred metres of the car I started to unload my rifle, taking the bullets out of the tube was a bit of chore and required me to look down to do it as I walked.

When I got to within ten metres of the car and most of the bullets out of the gun I was somewhat surprised when I heard what sounded like a cough come from my left. I didn’t need to look to know the sound, it wasn’t another hunter, it was a deer and it was damn close. I jerked my head towards the sound and my eyes relayed the image of a beautiful, big, eight point buck less than twenty metres away at which point my brain basically shut down in a flurry of panicked commands to launch my limbs into action.

Through the fog of buck fever I managed to recall that I had a round left in the tube so I tried to pump the action in order to bring it into the chamber. However, because I did it gently in an attemp to be quiet so not to spook the buck, it didn’t feed properly and ratcheted up my anxiety another notch. Thinking quickly I decided instead I would drop a freshly unloaded bullet from within my hand into the open action. In theory this would have worked very well except that when I went to close the action the bullet that was still in the tube and didn’t load before now decided it wanted to go and I ended up with a double feed. Argghhh!

Every second that ticked by let my buck get further away and pick up more speed. By the time I cleared my action and chambered a round the buck had realized it was now in mortal danger and was now bounding at nearly full speed away from me. I brought the rifle to my shoulder and got the buck in my crosshairs and started to tighten my finger around the trigger but the pack I had on caused the rifle to slip and I lost my sight picture.

By this point the shot was going to be at a a running jumping target quartering away from me getting out to 100 yards, so I did the only thing I could do, I lowered my rifle and began berating myself thoroughly. It was while I was in this “emotional” state I took the bullet that wouldn’t feed and then caused the jam out of my gun and chucked it as hard as I could deep into the woods.

I was thoroughly defeated mentally at this point but at the same time pretty amused. I had recieved exactly what I had asked for from God on three seperate occasions, the last time being a buck I could shoot, and I could have so technically I got exactly what I asked for. I wasn’t going to tempt him by asking for anything else so I looked up at the sky, shook my head with a sardonic grin and loaded my gear into the car and set off for home.

I know there were other hunters in the woods on the opposite side of the highway  that day, I enviously heard them shooting their deer. Some, I’m sure, will have gone home and regaled their friends and family with the story of their kills but also of the very loud expletive they heard shouted in those cold snowy woods, where I left a perfectly good buck and a damn unlucky rifle round.

Oh well, what can you do.

All the best,

John

 

Deer, Dave and brother-in-law (Part 2)

While my last story about deer hunting with Dave and his Dad was memorable because of the excitement from my inexperience and lessons learned, this next one is just as unforgettable. Actually if truth be known, I think it may be number two of on my list of all time favourite hunts.

It was 2010 and work had brought me back to my home province of Saskatchewan and pretty close to Saskatoon where my sister and brother-in-law lived. My sister Angela and I had fought and tormented each other like ferrel cats invading one another’s turf when we were younger but had grown to be much closer after we moved away from the family farm. She married a wonderful man, Adam, who grew up not far from where we did and was in the same class as Angela. As much as I pretended to be the protective mean big brother I liked Adam from the start. He was smart, goofy and very good to Angela which was all I cared about.

Adam also happened to be into hunting as much as our family was. We spent lots of afternoons walking through pastures shooting gophers and went on several goose hunts together. Some of those goose hunts were the coldest and most fruitless expeditions I’d ever been on while others were some of the most incredibly funny. Actually, If you don’t mind a quick segue before getting back to my deer story I’d like to give you an idea how fun hunting with Adam can be.

On one of our migratory bird hunts we showed Adam how to quickly and efficiently wring the neck of wounded goose. Basically the technique is to hold the head, swing the body in circle quickly while keeping the head stationary which severs the spinal cord resulting in a quick death. Generally one or possibly two spins is all thats required. Adam felt confident after his instruction and decided on the next wounded bird he’d give it a try and It didn’t take long until he got his chance.We all watched in abject amusement as he chased the downed bird, grabbed it by its head and spun it once, twice…three times. We started giving each other funny looks as he kept spinning it when all of a sudden the body detached from just below where he was holding it and it went sailing through the air as if alive once again. Adam stood, as we all did, watching the goose arc into the sky and then slam unceremoniously into the ground several feet away. I’ll never forget watching Adam slowly turn towards us with a sheepish, bemused look on his face and then break out into his big smile while shrugging his shoulders impishly and trudging off to get the other half of his goose. We all died laughing at his first attempt and from then on any time one of us had to wring the neck of the bird we would remind each other not use what was forever immortalized that day as “The Hammerlindl Twist.”

Now, back to the story.

So that November, since I happened to be living nearby, Adam and I decided we would go out for deer together. Adam had never been deer hunting before and I was happy to have his company and help him in whatever way I could. I was excited because it had been a long time since I had bagged a deer and I was really looking forward to getting one. We met early at his place and headed south towards Dundurn, Sk where we would start our search.

It was an unseasonably cold day for mid November, even by Saskatchewan standards. The temperature was right around minus thirty-two Celsius with a wind chill factor bringing it closer to minus forty. At that temperature neither of us was really up for walking or being outside for any prolonged period despite being dressed for it so we mostly drove around hoping to catch a glimpse of deer or deer sign. When we did we would get out of the truck and still hunt an area if it looked promising.

Each time we got out the truck we would come back with bright red cheeks and eyebrows and scarves stiff and covered with frost, thankfully the truck had a good heater and unthawed quickly each time.

After several hours of exploring the area and making a few hasty retreats from areas where there were hunters that were more concerned about the number of shots they got off than where they aimed, we decided it was time for lunch. We had agreed before going out that we wouldn’t pack a lunch but instead would roll into whatever town we were nearby and find a place to eat. In this case the town was Hanley and we pulled up to the front of the Hanley Hotel.

For those not familiar with rural Saskatchewan (or any prairie town for that matter) you’re almost always guaranteed to find a great little mom and pop hotel/restaurant/bar/convenience store combo or a Chinese restaurant in every town. The latter of the two will also serve not just Chinese food but a huge variety of items , from pierogi’s to lemon chicken and everything in between. Trust me it will be delicious.

When we walked in the Hanley Hotel it was a real beauty and encompassed everything a small town bar/restaurant should be. Brown carpeted floors, old beer advertisements and bottles on the wall and above the bar, round wood veneer topped tables with pleather upholstered chairs tucked under them, a pool table off to one side, a mangy looking dart board and to top it off a well worn juke box. It was incredibly homey, inviting, warm, and, well staffed with prompt polite service which was exactly what Adam and I were hoping for. We pulled up a table and ordered two beers and two rye and gingers to go with our loaded burgers and fries with gravy on the side. It was delicious, restorative and a blast to just visit and strategize what we would do after lunch to get our deer. A few tables over was another hunting duo, they told us they had seen some deer to the east of Hanley and we decided to head out that way after we finished up.

Back in the truck after lunch we were heading East towards the area where the gentleman in the bar had given us the tip when we saw two whitetail does bound out of the ditch in front of us and cross into a pasture just to our right. I was driving and sped off down the road to see if I couldn’t get us in front of them somewhere on the next grid road and hopefully surprise them. Adam kept watch as I drove and told me that he had lost them in a grove of trees not to far into the pasture. Stopping well short of the trees I let Adam out and told him to head out towards the deer while I would go to the far side and head towards him hopefully pushing the deer out on one side or the other for us to get a chance.

Adam stepped off while I drove another kilometre down the road and pulled into the approach of the adjacent pasture. I got out and crossed the fence into the pasture and started making my way to the poplar stand. The snow in the pasture was surprisingly high and I had to really lift my legs every step I took. About two-hundred metres in and really working up a sweat I noticed some movement on my left. When I looked over I was surprised to see about 5 fully grown bulls come snorting and bellowing up out some dead ground that had been masked by the uniformity of the snow. Caring less about the deer now and more about my own hide I turned around and made my way back towards the fence with a renewed sense of energy.

When I got to the fence the bulls had closed the gap considerably and were only a football field length away from me by the time I climbed it. As I sat puffing out big clouds of steam from my heavy breathing I heard a not so distant gun shot in the direction I had left Adam. “Good for him!” I said out loud and then cocked my head like a curious dog when I heard another rifle report. Must have wounded it and needed to finish it off I remember thinking. Either way it was time to go and see what had happened so I drove back and into the pasture I had let him off at.

I saw Adam standing by his deer and I stopped the truck a little ways from him and got out to congratulate him. “Nice deer Adam, well done!” I said. Adam looked at me and replied straight faced, “Thanks but we’ve got a problem!”

I felt a big pit open up in my stomach. Oh god, I thought, he ran into a bull as well and had to shoot it. I started looking around to see if I could spot it. “What’s the problem?” I asked.

Adam grinned that sheepish grin and said, “I shot your deer too!”

I didn’t know what to say. I think I stood there for a minute confused by his comment then started to laugh, it was such a perfect tongue in cheek comment I couldn’t be upset. It was also somehow so perfectly like Adam.

As it turned out Adam saw one of the two does near the trees and took his shot dropping it. What he didn’t know was that the second one was lying down where the first dropped and when it stood up Adam thought it was the deer he shot and fired again to put it down. So the guy who had never been deer hunting dropped two on his first hunt.

The does were a very nice pair, probably two or three years old. I field dressed them in the poplar grove taking time to show Adam how to do it but not spending much time on it because it was so damn cold my hands felt like they were being stabbed by a thousand needles. When I finished we loaded up the truck and headed into town to drop them off at Boryski’s Butcher Block which is on Millar Ave in Saskatoon. They did an excellent job processing our deer and made us some of the best venison jerky I’ve ever had.

*I checked online today and they still offer processing of wild game. If you’re looking for quality I highly recommend them.

I think, on the drive back to Adam’s place, I promised him that if we ever went deer hunting together again I was going to try my damnedest to drop his deer as well as mine. Unfortunately that opportunity hasn’t presented itself as I ended up moving away for work the following year and haven’t been home for a deer hunt since. I’m sure someday I’ll get my revenge but for now I’ll have to settle for the fact it was a great bonding experience and a terrific hunt that filled both our freezers and has made for a great story and many cherished memories.

All the best,

John

Deer, Dave and a brother-in-law (Part 1)

I had hoped that I was going to be able to get out for one last migratory bird hunt this fall but it seems like Mother Nature had other plans.

This past weekend we had our first pretty substantial snow in the southern part of the province. Along with the snow, temperatures also dipped well below seasonal averages and as a result the majority of the water in the area froze up. Most, if not all of the birds, pushed further south towards their winter nesting grounds. While this was disappointing in one sense it made me very excited in another.

The first big snow of the year along with the colder temperatures, gets me very excited for the opening of deer season. Now, I’ll admit that I have way more experience and passion for bird hunting than deer, but my outings for have always been very memorable and fulfilling in different ways. I’m not entirely sure I can put my finger why; I suppose part of it is because it’s a mammal, it’s a significantly larger game animal and last and most importantly I’m generally hunting with someone else. Out of the seven or eight years I’ve managed to schedule time to go hunting for deer I can think of only two instances where I was by myself and both those times something was missing from my enjoyment of it.

Two hunts in particular stand out in my mind when it gets to be this time of year and the weather turns. It makes me nostalgic for home and I relish being able relive them in my mind. I’d like to take the time to share them with you but I’m going to do it in two parts so the stories aren’t as long and I can give each one the time and detail they deserve.

The first was my very first time out deer hunting and it was with one of my best friends, Dave. I’ll never forget it because never since that hunt have I ever learned so many lessons and had so much fun by doing things the wrong way.

Dave and I grew up together but we lived about thirty minutes apart, which in our area of West Central Saskatchewan was practically next door. Our friendship started as toddlers but our hunting partnership began much later, finding and shooting mice with pellet guns and graduating as we aged to gophers, pigeons, partridge, sharp tail grouse and eventually coyotes and deer.

One year Dave and his dad asked if I wanted to go with them for white-tail down by the South Saskatchewan river to which I heartily agreed. We drove down to a piece of crown land somewhere between the towns of Fox Valley and Leader and started looking for deer. I vividly remember Dave’s dad, Bill, pulling up just short of a big stand of trees and getting us out of the truck to explain the plan of attack. He would walk down the middle while Dave walked the North side and I walked the South. With any luck he would scare a few deer out one side of the trees or the other and we could take the shot. This sounded like a great idea to me so I loaded the magazine into my old Long Branch Lee Enfield Mk 4, chambered a round and set off as instructed.

It was a cold but sunny day and the walk was distracting because the bare birch and poplar trees were a stunning feature against the backdrop of the rolling yellow grass covered hills around us. I remember thinking how unfortunate it was that I had to look into the sun when all of a sudden the woods erupted in front of me with scads of deer. They were everywhere and bounding incredibly close, easily within one-hundred yards. I brought the big rifle to my shoulder and hoped that one of the deer would stop running and thankfully one did, a doe and broadside no less, but it was here’s where my hard earned lessons began.

There is no doubt I had buck fever (even though it was a doe) and I aimed quickly and jerked the trigger sending the bullet not to my intended target of just behind the front left shoulder but just slightly behind it’s last rib and into it’s guts. The deer dropped, got up and then ran off , stupidly I took off after it instead of letting it go a ways and bleed out but in those days I was dumb and could run like the wind and maintain it so I wasn’t going to let the deer get away.

I chased the damn things for kilometres, over hill and dale leaving Bill and Dave well behind with only my close minded doggedness to run this animal down as company. Every time it would stop I would shoot hoping to hit it and end the chase, but the distances were too great and my adrenaline had me shaking so bad I couldn’t have hit a barn if I was standing inside it.

Eventually I ran the deer down but it was a long drawn out affair which left me sweaty, tired but victorious all the same. I remember standing beside it on the side of a small knoll and feeling the fog of obsession and focus lift from my eyes to reveal a barren and unfamiliar landscape. It dawned on me that I had no clue where I had ran, where Bill, Dave, and the truck were and that sunset was only about an hour away. Not knowing what else to do I set to cleaning my deer.

Having never field dressed a deer before I was going off the knowledge I’d gleaned from books and remembered from my hunter safety course. Of course all the examples in the books showed someone hanging the deer from a tree or a hoist but I had none of those so I turned the deer so at least I had a bit of help from gravity with the slope of the hill.

I started to open up the deer like I had been told, taking great care not wanting to puncture the guts and contaminate the carcass with the bowel contents. What I didn’t comprehend was that because of my shot placement what awaited me inside was a horrible mess that no special care knife handling was going to prevent. The smell was horrible, I gagged a little and in doing so lost control of the body which then tipped towards me. Unfortunately I was positioned on the downhill side so the entire contents of the deer spilled out onto me. Now that the deer was field dressed I was tired, cold from sweat and stunk to high heaven. With nothing left to do I sat down and looked for the truck lights I hoped would come soon.

It wasn’t a long wait, maybe thirty minutes, before I saw the truck trundling over the hills towards me. Dave and Bill greeted me, relieved to have found me and helped me load the paltry little doe into the back of the truck. It turned out that no one else had got a deer and with the light failing we headed for home I felt pretty sheepish that mine was such a hassle. It wasn’t long before I felt even more sheepish as the stench from my coveralls and pants was to much to handle in the tight confines of the hut truck cab and I had to strip to my underwear and put everything in the back along with the deer.

When we got back to their farm Dave and Bill helped me move the deer, which was now a stiff from all the lactic acid buildup and sub zero temperatures, into the back of my truck to take home. When I got back Mom and Dad came outside to see the great hunter and his kill and congratulate me but what remember most was thinking to myself incredulously how something so small ended up being so much work.

Reading it all now it sounds like quite the unpleasant ordeal, but really it was a tonne of fun and a great adventure that I remember most fondly. I was so glad to have been able to share it with Dave and Bill it wouldn’t have been the same experience without them. Not surprisingly, Bill never went deer hunting with us again but Dave and I did have a few more adventures deer hunting together before we went our separate ways after high school. None of the following hunts matched the lessons or sheer excitement of that first one, but that’s probably a good thing.

Maybe our boys will get the same opportunities we did, I hope so.

Us – 1982

Our boys – 2017

This land is your land

Last Friday Owen and I went out for a really nice morning drive to see what there was for geese in the area. The days leading up to our trip had been getting colder and colder and I had begun to notice that there were far fewer birds passing over the house. Having really only gone out for geese once so far this year I was hoping I hadn’t missed all the action and could get one more hunt in.

We started off by checking a few areas that had been previously rich with geese but were disappointed to find that most of those fields had been cultivated and there were no birds on them at all. After striking out from there, we headed a little more northeast where we found a massive flock of geese. 

We pulled into an approach and sat watching the birds come in for while, or at least I did, Owen was more engrossed in chewing on a sock that he managed to get off his foot. As flock after flock kept landing I pulled out the RM map and looked to see who the landowner was and where there house was located. Often the landowner is several kilometres away from the field that you’re looking to get permission and requires significant time scanning the map to locate the yard. Fortunately this time the owners house backed onto the field I wanted to hunt. The geese were swarming in the field and sky above it and I knew that other hunters would be out spotting and I needed to get to the owner first. 

Owen and I drove pretty quickly to the yard. It was a really pretty place with a well maintained hiproof barn, two storey house and few out buildings that gave the place a real rustic appeal. I left Owen in the car as he was still enthralled by his sock and went to knock on the door.  After ringing the door bell and knocking without any sign of occupation I decided to leave a note for the owners to call me when they got home. I got back into the car and set off again in search of more birds but ended up having to take Owen home for a snack since the sock appetizer only peaked his appetite.

Throughout the day I waited, hoping to get the call that would allow me to go on what would surely be an epic hunt. I could visualize it from the time I laid eyes on the field; freshly cultivated with a skiff of snow, colder weather, low clouds, small frequent flocks and birds so hungry they’d be less picky about the decoy spread. But despite my impatient waiting the call never came and eventually I decided I’d load Owen back into the car and go see if they were home after work around 5 pm. 

When I pulled up to the house my note was still where I left it and there was still no sign of life in the house. I decided I’d go home and get supper ready then after supper come back one last time. If they weren’t there then I’d have to right the hunt off. After supper I did just as I planned, I went back to the cute farm and was crestfallen as pulled up and saw there were still no lights on in the house. I drove out of the yard disappointed but glad that I had made the extra effort to try and get permission. I pulled over on the side of the road about two-hundred meters from the approach and checked my map to see if I could find the owner of a neighbouring field and maybe draw a few really dumb birds close enough to take a shot at. Again I faced defeat as the map showed that all the surrounding land was part of a large agricultural conglomerate whose owners I’d never be able to track down. 

Having written off the hunt I drove home making plans in my head to take a few rifles to the range and get them zeroed for the deer season that was rapidly approaching. My thoughts were interrupted by my cell phone going off and my heart leaping with hope that it was the call I’d been waiting for so I pulled over as fast and safely as possible so I could answer the phone. The caller was in fact the landowner and he informed me that he didn’t allow hunters on his property. He then also questioned whether I was the vehicle driving on and off his property all day and demanded to know my vehicle license, make and model. Knowing I did nothing wrong I gave it to him and apologized for any inconvenience I may have caused him and managed to get half my goodbye out before he hung up.

Despite having done nothing wrong I initially found it irksome that he denied me permission and asked me for my vehicle info. I found myself thinking that I had every right to try and get in touch with him to get permission to hunt. That thought was quickly followed up by my next which was, he had every right to say no and inquire of me and what I was doing since I was on his property. I know if it was me I’d have done the same thing and the frustration and annoyance disappeared.

I know it doesn’t really seem like much of a hunting story but I think it’s a good one to relate as getting permission to hunt on private property is an integral part of hunting and something a broke bespoke hunter should always do, even if it costs you a hunt. 

Often all it takes for a landowner to be soured towards hunters is one bad experience. If they let someone hunt on their property who left a gate down letting livestock out or wrecked a crop driving on it, from then on outit’s just easier to say no. One inconsiderate hunter has ruined it for everyone else for a long time, possibly forever. 

In my case not getting permission for the hunt that morning enabled me to get out and test fire and zero three rifles that I plan to review during deer season. One of them it turned out needed some gunsmithing and if I had gone on the hunt I never would have known.

I’d like to finish by thanking my brother Alex and give him credit for the excellent picture he took of a home made no-hunting sign he came across. The signs may come in all make, manner and age but ultimately the responsibility for ensuring they’re not trespassing or hunting where it’s not allowed is on the hunter.  

Always be aware of where you are and ensure you have permission if required before you go off in pursuit of game.

Until next time, all the best.

John

Two barrels and some Burberry

Another Sunday on the books and another broke bespoke hunting trip that was successfully accomplished.

The outfit I chose to go out in this week was one-hundred percent chosen by yours truly. I was feeling a fair amount of pressure to step up my choice in clothes as I had recieved a few comments from friends and family that my last outfit bordered on being hipster just as much as it did broke bespoke. So I pulled out all the stops and I think the end result landed pretty solidly in the broke bespoke camp this time.


The outfit is composed of:

Vintage fedora style hat – previously owned ($20 value village)

Vintage Burberry jacket – previously owned ($40 antique shop)

Olive green flannel shirt – new to me ($10 Goodwill)

Grey pants – previously owned (Winners $30)

Combat boots – previously owned ($40 ish from an army surplus store)

Dress belt – previously owned (Winners $25)

So the grand total for me to put this outfit together outfit was a ten dollar shirt from the Goodwill store. If you were looking to put it all together from scratch you’d be in the $165 dollar range. Not to shabby to not look shabby.

The Burberry jacket was picked up in a Vintage/Antique store in Victoria, BC a few years back and never saw the light of day other than maybe one dinner party. A quick search of the internet will show you a new Burberry blazer/sport coat is going to set you back $1000-$1700 and used or online around $150. Needless to say I consider this to be the broke bespoke bargain of all time, at least for now.

Out in the field the combination performed very well. It was a blustery day with winds in the 15km/hr range gusting to 30km/hr and around 12 degrees. The wool blazer and flannel shirt provided plenty of warmth while allowing for breathability as I walked and started to get warm from the activity.  The hat did a great job of keeping the sun out of my eyes although the band inside would stick to my forehead when I took it off from time to time. 

I’ve had trouble finding a brown pair of dress boots at the thrift shops that will fit and are good candidates to be re-soled so the black combat boots got to go out again. The leather is always stiff when I go to put them on but as they warm up and I’ve walked a few meters they become supple and incredibly comfortable.


The shotgun that I decided to take out for the hunt was very nice German side by side 12 gauge. It was made in the city of Suhl in Thuringia Germany based on the markings on the bottom of the receiver. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to narrow down the exact maker. But despite not being able to identify the maker the guns made in Suhl have an amazing reputation for quality build, high grade steel and reliability. It’s definitely a nice counterpoint to the 20 gauge I took out last weekend as I think it’s a more subdued style of bespoke. For those wondering what it cost me I actually took this gun on partial trade for a rifle that I had decided to sell. But a shotgun of this make, condition and vintage I figure the purchase value is approximately $500. This would be comparable to others I’ve seen online recently.

This gun has 28 inch barrels with full and modified chokes and shell extractors only. There are double triggers and a tang mounted safety. The hardwood stock has a half pistol grip and a narrow tapering forearm both with nicely figured checkering. The gun shoulders and points nicely unfortunately it has a very unpleasant recoil. I wish I could tell you that I got to fire it at some birds but the winds and my luck for finding game birds didn’t improve since last weekend. I was forced to throw a few dirt clumps in the air as substitute targets. Now I’ve owned and shot several over unders and side by sides but this one seemed very sharp and abrupt. It didn’t hurt my shoulder or cheek and I hit both dirt clumps that I threw in the air but the sensation was off putting and I probably won’t hunt with it again but man it looks nice.


The best part of the afternoon was definitely when I stopped in at a yard to get the land owners permission to hunt a creek that ran across his property. As it turned out I was a mile further north than I thought and it was some random house whose owners had recently moved in and didn’t own any property. The young man and women that came out to meet me were about my age and after I explained who I was and what I wanted and they told me they couldn’t help. As I thanked them and went to get back in the car the man stopped me and asked me if I was actually going hunting. When I replied that I was, he shook his head and said, “Holy f*ck man, you look awesome!” I laughed and thanked him for the compliment then went off in search of the right farm. It was really encouraging.

Next weekend I think I’ll try and get out for a field goose hunt and take some time to hit the thrift shops for a good pair of brown boots. I’ve been starting to think about what I’m going to wear for a broke bespoke deer hunt so if you have any suggestions or ideas I’d love to hear them.

Until next time,

All the best.

John