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