Category Archives: wild game

Cubby Calls the Shot

Thursday’s weather was promising to be miserable.  Meteorologist-types were calling for a reasonably clear, but quite cold, morning that promised to quickly devolve into rain, then sleet, then snow, all which would be riding on the back of a wild, swirling, raw November wind. The previous night’s festivities ran somewhat long, as many hunters had, given the forecast, written-off any forays afield at all.

I resolved to make my morning sit a productive one.

While others shuffled past me back to camp for lunch, I stuck out another hour-and-a-half until I felt the first drops of rain.  Then I too made my way to warm confines of the cabin for hot soup, a thick sandwich, and a few rounds of euchre.  All the while the wind whistled and rain, sleet, and snow whipped about beyond the log walls of the camp. We remarked that it was good weather for deer movement, while concurrently acknowledging how unlikely it was that we would actually hit the woods in such an inclement environment.

I even slipped in a quick 45-minute nap.  But something in the back of my mind knew that it was good weather for making deer get up and move around, and that fair weather or foul, my camp cot had poor chances of being the spot the deer walked past.  So, I donned an extra layer, put on a balaclava, and headed out with my cousin Luke for our stands. As we left, my uncle Kevin was also getting geared up, and he said he’d be heading to his tree stand. None of the remaining five hunters in camp stirred, so our trio made our way out the door.

My uncle Kevin has a nickname.  People call him “Cubby”.  I’ve heard a handful of origin stories for this nickname, but they are ultimately unimportant.  Although I still call him Kevin, a lot of the time he answers to Cubby, and he does not really seem to mind it at all.

Lukas and I were hoofing it, but uncle Kevin was going to take the ATV part of the way back to his ladder stand; as he passed us he shouted his prophecy over the hum of the motor:

“ONE OF US IS GOING TO SHOOT A DEER TONIGHT!”

He said it matter-of-factly and nodded a certain nod that he knew his statement to be true.  Lukas and I said something like “Damn right we will…” or something similar and uncle Kevin continued down the trail, out of sight and soon out of earshot.

I arrived at my stand for just ahead of 3pm and there was already a fine dusting of snow on the ground; Lukas made his way onward to his treestand and we agreed to meet back up on his way past me after 5pm. We wished each other luck and I hunkered down under heavy layers of clothes, and inserted a heater pack in each glove. With uncle Kevin’s statement fresh in my mind, I settled in for the rest of the afternoon.

The weather had plans to make me quit early, and I was buffeted by wind, ice pellets, and snow. For a while I could not even look to my left side without my face and eyes being stung by blowing snow. My gun barrel was frosted with a layer of ice and sleet, and I flicked built up snow out of my scope. All around me was streaky white snow, and I pulled up my hood to keep it from working its way down my back. Deep inside my layers of windbreaker, hooded sweatshirts, and thermal underwear, my cellphone buzzed, and after extricating it, the simple message from my cousin was an expletive about the conditions.  I imagined his treestand swaying noticeably.

For a short time, just around 4:30pm, we caught a break in the squally weather.  The sky above me cleared temporarily and for a moment I thought we might get a brief view of the sunset; but winter had other ideas.  The wind picked up again, snow blew in all directions, and I longed to be drinking a hot whiskey by the woodstove. I was just about fed up when, at 4:55pm, one lone shot rang out from my uncle’s position. I marked it in my mind, and went back to scanning what little woods I could for deer movement. What I soon saw however was not a deer, but my cousin Luke’s blaze orange jacket cresting a hill into view.  He had called it an evening.

He got over and simply said “Kevin shot a buck.” That was that; he had prognosticated it on the way out and uncle Kevin had delivered.

We made the 15-minute walk to Kevin’s position and by the time we arrived, my uncle was just wrapping up the field dressing job in approaching darkness, while snow blew around the last resting place of the respectable 7-pointer. One of us reminded him that he had predicted this happening, and he took us through how the deer had shown up and milled around, providing him with an unrushed opportunity to make a quick, ethical kill. It was two deer in two seasons for uncle Kevin and he was grinning as we loaded the deer on the ATV and made our way back to camp.

We arrived an hour after legal shooting light had expired, and despite the near-blizzard outside as we rolled up the camp deck, everyone was out to inspect the kill, hear the story and help winch the deer into the ‘hanging tree’.

Later, as I grilled steaks, my cousin Dane and I stood in the snow by the barbecue, happy that we had a second buck down for the week, and ready to celebrate the evening success with the family and friends in camp. Repeatedly, we kept coming back to the prediction that had come true that evening.

Because Cubby had called his shot, and in a way, no one was surprised about it in the least.

A Week on the Bruce!

Reflecting on a week spent up in the Bruce full of friends/family, food, the great outdoors, tales of glory (or lack there of) and the occasional deer of course.


 

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Ready to hit the road, one day we’ll trade that ol’ Coleman in for a Yeti!
Loaded down for a long morning sit
Loaded down for a long morning sit
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A familiar sight, glad to back in the bush!
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Feels like home in the stand after a year away.
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A view from one of my favourite sits all week. This ridge was a great look out and we had some surprise visitors as well.
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Well hello there!
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Lest We Forget!
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Breakfast of champions.
Reflecting with a slight breeze blowing towards me, luck is on our side today.
Reflecting with a slight breeze blowing towards me, luck is on our side today.
Another Day, Another Stand.
Another Day, Another Stand.
Trekking out of the bush listening to the stories of yesteryear.
Trekking out of the bush listening to the stories of yesteryear.
Blaze Orange 'Get Out & Go Hunting' toque, a must for the serious deer hunter! ;)
Blaze Orange ‘Get Out & Go Hunting’ toque, a must for the serious deer hunter! 😉
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Camera is always packed, 99% of photos posted are from iPhone. Hmm…
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#meateaters
Bear country, they sure love their Beach trees.
Bear country; they sure love their Beech trees.
The view is worth it, every time.
The view is worth it, every time.
Fortunate enough to get some meat in the freezer this past fall.
Fortunate enough to get some meat in the freezer this past fall.
Last time up in the the stand until next season.
Last time up in the the stand until next season.
Packing out!
Packing out!
Mr Clean...
Mr Clean…
Cleaning, packing up and then we're off.
Cleaning, packing up and then we’re off.
Another deer season on the Bruce in the books.
Another deer season on the Bruce in the books.

Old Gun, New Gun.

I’ve expressed my fondness for various styles of guns in this forum on more than one occasion, and I’m usually for older, more proven models than new, fancy, cutting-edge models, but that’s not what this is about.

This is about a foible of human nature.  This is about an affinity for ‘things’ and the very human practice of ascribing them emotional value that sometimes exceeds their worthiness. About infusing metal and wood and polymers and glass with memories, hopes, and aspirations.  For some people the object is a talisman or a token, some bauble that becomes a representation of deeper meaning in their lives.  Photos, trinkets, keepsakes, and antiques, they all fall under this umbrella.

For me this is perfectly distilled in two deer guns.  One with a pedigree forged in years and primacy of place in a young boy’s hunting initiation, the other with no outwardly special graces but still imbued with deeply personal significance.

My father bought the old gun from a work acquaintance, back when those kinds of transactions between hunters were less meticulously controlled.  I do not know (mostly because I never asked) if it was Dad’s intention that this gun was intended to be for one of his sons, but I can suspect that he had it at least in the back of his mind.  It is a beautifully-crafted Remington Model 14, and it is at least 80 years old by now, and possibly even closer to a century has passed since it left Ilion, New York.  Chambered in .30 Remington (a shell that isn’t even manufactured anymore) it is smooth to the shoulder, extremely ‘pointable’, and about as nice a brush gun as you could hope to have.  I remember being put through my paces with it one Thanksgiving at the farm, just weeks before I would take up arms in my first deer hunt.  I was taken through the proper loading, unloading, safety and aiming rituals of the gun. Convinced I was safe, Dad then took me into the hardwoods and had me shoot at a knot on a split piece of hardwood at fifty paces; I missed the knot, but I was in the neighbourhood and Dad said it was close enough to kill a deer if I was lucky enough to have the bead on a deer’s front shoulder.  I just recall that the bullet split the wood as smoothly as any maul would have.

Next we stood perpendicular to the big hill behind the farm and dad affixed a cardboard target inside an old tire.  He kicked the tire down the hill and I tried to hit the bouncing, wobbling target.  This time I was more steady and poured a couple of shots into the kill zone.  With that I was deemed ‘ready’.  A few weeks later I swung the bead onto the form of a running deer and through the rear peep sight I calmly squeezed the trigger, knocking down a fawn.  I don’t even recall feeling the gun’s recoil in that moment, but the sounds and smells and feelings of that morning are seared into my mind.

A couple of other deer have fallen to that gun in the intervening years, and I’ve done some missing with it too, but every time I took it to the range it told me that operator error, and not some malfunction in the weapon, was the real culprit in my poor shooting.  It was always the first thing I reached for in November and the action has become so well worn that it almost falls open when released.  The recoil does a large part of the work in pumping the gun after it is shot and the patina it has from my hands is unmistakable.  It glows after a dose of oil and the stock and fore-end have a warm chestnut brown sheen that reminds me of bread toasted over a mid-day bonfire and a chill November breeze across my face.

That gun and I…we have history together.

But there’s another gun, and it lacks the heritage and character of the Model 14.  It is non-descript and in many ways indistinguishable from the thousands of other cookie-cutter rifles on the market.  It’s existence in my gun cabinet comes from a casual observation I made in 2012.  My younger brother and I were discussing rifles, and platforms, and calibers when I mentioned that I was thinking about buying a .308WIN in a bolt action with a drop-out clip.  It was not a burning desire, not an immediate need, and certainly nothing more than a passing thought at the time.  I owned (in fact had won) a perfectly serviceable .243WIN in a raffle, but it had two strikes against it.  First I was considering starting to moose hunt, and I thought .243 would be a bit light in caliber, and secondly, it was a top-load, top-eject model and it was fairly annoying to load and unload.  So like I said, I mused about buying a .308.

The local gun shop was offering good prices on the Savage Axis in that caliber with a standard scope package and I was tempted on several occasions to splurge on it, but we had just bought a new home and there just wasn’t room in the budget for a rifle/scope combo.  So in my mind it was just an idle daydream.

At the same time, my mother was dying.  She had cancer that everyone was certain was going to be terminal at some time in the not-so-distant future, and we had all more or less made peace with that sobering and not particularly pleasant fact.

In early 2013, Mom’s health continued to decline to lower ebbs and repeated treatments were really only staving off what was clearly an inevitability.  It was a stressful and truly shitty situation, most of all for Mom who had lost a lot of her energy and vibrancy in putting up the good fight for many years against the disease. She still made all the appearances and efforts she could, and one evening in early March, I arrived home to find Mom, Dad, and my younger brother over visiting my wife and (then) very young sons…the youngest wasn’t even a year old yet.

After some pleasantries, my brother disappeared out the front door for few minutes and came back in carrying a large box that on sight, I knew held a gun.  He had been on a bit of a gun-buying spree at the time so I presumed that he was showing me his latest purchase, which was a Savage Axis with a scope in .308WIN.  I was about to jibe him for buying ‘my gun’ when I was left speechless and a bit stunned when Mom just smiled at me and said two words.

“It’s yours.”

I probably stood there with a goofy grin, and with nothing to say for a few seconds before I started laughing and saying “thank you” a dozen times. There weren’t any tears that I could recall, and it all unfolded that my brother had mentioned that I was thinking of a new gun, and that she had leapt at the opportunity to get it for me.  I also distinctly remember mom saying something about probably not having many more opportunities to get me something to hunt with.  It stung me to hear her open admission of her own mortality, but it also was just like her.

She adored that ‘her boys’ (by which she always meant my Dad, my brother, and I) hunted together and shared a passion for the outdoors, and whenever she could she tried to stress the importance of having us get together and go out into the fields and woods. That gift was just one more of those gestures. I thanked her and my brother and my dad some more and then we eventually just settled in for a nice visit.

She was gone from cancer not even 90 days after that gun took up residence in my house, and she never had the chance to see a picture of me standing next to a deer, cradling her gift. In fact, to date no one has because I haven’t harvested a deer in the three deer seasons since she gifted me that rifle.  But now, in a way to honour her gift, and also as a way to get off the ‘zero’ that the .308WIN is carrying, I reach for it first on almost every hunt.  It is light, with a synthetic stock of Mossy Oak camo. The Bushnell scope, and the new caps I put on it last year are primed and ready. The clip slides smoothly and snugly into place, and the trigger is crisp.  It is nice-looking, nice shooting unit, and some day it is going to do its job and put venison in the freezer.

So even though it is the ‘new gun’ it’s just as saturated with emotion and expectation as the Model 14, which is the crafty, aged veteran of the deer woods, not only in my hands but from whatever hunts and experiences the previous owner(s) had taken it on.

It’s so hard to pick a favourite in this circumstance, so I guess I’ll do what I do every year.

I’m packing up both.

Two Guns

Stop Telling Me Why You Hunt, or, What’s Your Real Motivation?

As is often the case, social media has been a wellspring of inspiration for content on this site, and in this case I was moved to start thinking about motivation. More specifically, I started thinking about what really motivates hunters.  You see, for the last few days I have been seeing all sorts of pictures, and memes, and slogans, and catchphrases from dozens of people about “Why I Hunt”, and two things are baffling about this to me.

First, all of them seem to, at least in part, ascribe the sole motivation of going hunting to items that in my mind are simply component parts of the whole.

Second, since when was an explanation necessary?

To the second point first.  You see it isn’t that I don’t care why you hunt, it’s more that I don’t consider it to be any of my business.  So long as you are doing it within the confines of the law and your outward representation of the hunting tradition isn’t negatively influencing non-hunters and/or baiting anti-hunters, then my stance is that you have no call to justify yourself to me. In fact, unless you are trying to simply get attention for the generally commonplace fact that you went hunting or you are trying to soft-serve the anti-hunting community with more palatable explanations for why hunting is important, I can see no real reason why you need to crow about it.

I appreciate now if anyone wants to point out the irony of my blog/social media presence as being hypocritical to what I just wrote, but read on and you’ll see what I’m driving at.

I, of course, have my own thoughts and standards about what some might call ‘acceptable practices’ or ‘ethical hunting’ and I may not even personally like how, where, or what you use to do it.  But what I think about you doesn’t matter, and I frankly don’t really have to justify my actions or impress anyone else.  Because despite the mass-social-media, let-me-take-a-selfie, bigger-is-better, and gosh-I-hope-the guys-at-Realtree/Mossy Oak/Remington/Under Armor-see-my-feed-and-offer-me-a-sponsorship mentality that seems to be at the corporate root of all things in the modern hunting world, how I choose to commune with nature and find my happy place does not concern you at all, and so long as you’re okay and your actions don’t jeopardize my ability to independently pursue game in the outdoors, then I have no real right or desire to lecture you about what you are doing. I truly could not care less, in the best, most benignly friendly sense of that statement.

Let’s discuss it over a beer some time.

But to the first, and to my mind more troubling point, is my confusion with the willingly or ignorantly delusional stuff I see used to justify or purify the hunting experience.  I see things like (and I’m paraphrasing) “Frosty fall sunrises are why I hunt” or “Seeing game in its natural environment is why I hunt” or “Spring sunsets are why I hunt”, or “Supporting conservation is why I hunt” or my personal favourite “Being outside in nature is why I hunt” and, frankly, you can do all of those things without actually hunting.  In fact, if they are the prime motivator to what you deem to be the hunting tradition, then you can be a hiker, or a birdwatcher, or a nature photographer and (provided that the memes that you have been posting are true) I can assure you that you will get precisely the same level of fulfillment from any of the above activities, and you won’t get any blood on your hands at all, I swear.

Now, all of those experiential and conservation-themed items above are vastly important and I love all of them probably a little too much myself, but they are not the primary reason that I’m out there.  They are a happy benefit to being out there and they are to be cherished and shared in my mind, but if you are hunting…truly hunting… then you are out there to find and to kill game.

Let that sink in.  Not because I’ve just turned you on to a fact you did not already know and have been perhaps in denial about, but rather let it sink in because if you are saying that sunsets, and sunrises, and pretty birds, and peaceful reflection, or money in the conservationists coffers are the things that get you out to hunt, then you can either leave the rifle at home next time and have a less burdensome walk, or you can start to speak in actual truthful terms and not clichés.  When someone says “I hunt for the meat” or “I hunt to challenge myself against wildlife” then they have my undivided attention.  Even people who say “I hunt for a trophy” or “I hunt to make myself feel important” get a bit of my time because although I can’t say I share their motivation, I can be relatively certain that they are telling the truth and to do those things in the above paragraph you actually have to, you know, hunt.

If you’re proud of being a hunter and want to tell the world about it, knock yourself out; I do it all the time and very much to the displeasure of my friends, coworkers, and loved ones.  But paint the whole picture.

Tell that story about the time you sat for eleven hours in a treestand during a snow storm and saw screw-all.  Tell that story about the time you got lost and tasted those first sickening pangs of fear and confusion.  Tell the story about the time you made a snap shot and then had to track a gut-shot deer for hours before giving up and losing sleep fretting that it probably died in agony because you made a mistake. Explain the inner workings of what it takes to gut a moose or skin a squirrel.  Be not profane, but tell the tales about the shitty side of things and make it real, because it is never always a steady stream of magenta sunsets, meditation to a birdsong soundtrack, and one-shot kills.

And if you think it is or that it will be, I’m sorry, but I’ve got news for you.