So, through a crippling work schedule, a two-year old son that won’t go to bed in the evening and general laziness on my part I have had plenty of time to mull over the early November period known around these parts as “deer season” and have come to the following conclusion: I can’t catch a break when it comes to hunting deer. But it is not all doom and gloom in the deer woods, and I thought I’d share with all of you some of the triumphs, comical failures, and general wackiness of what my deer season was in 2011.
Now I know I’ve used the word “digested” in the title so before anyone makes a poop joke and sends it to my inbox, I thought I’d just get it out of the way here. I’m aware that excretion follows digestion. So by definition this post may be considered crap. No apologies.
For the second time in five years, I very nearly hit a deer with my car while driving home after my last afternoon of deer hunting in the Parry Sound district. Apparently in my car I’m irresistible to deer in that area. Meanwhile, when I’m in the field in the same geography the deer go full-on incognito. Despite many, many hours of hunting up there 2011 marked the first time I’d ever even seen a deer in the woods there, much less raised my gun with deadly intent. This particular deer was a very nice looking buck that just happened to be standing broadside on the trail at 5pm. There was still just enough shooting light but the buck in question had two key factors playing his favour. The first was that I could not (and thus, did not) see him until I turned a corner in the trail and our eyes momentarily met. The second was that I had my gun in a cradle carry and by the time I brought the scope halfway to my eye he had made for another part of the province disguised as a flash of brownish-grey fur and impressive antlers. His track was as big as my fist, and his first jump (from a stand-still no less) was about 11 feet long. I never had a chance.
So instead I berated myself for not being ready, tipped my hat to the cagey old buck, and went back to camp so that I could eat some pork chops in mushroom sauce, have a beer, and listen to the camp elders sermonize to me about how to walk while holding a rifle so that if such an opportunity ever again presents itself I won’t be caught flat-footed again. All things that, coincidentally, happened just as I predicted them.
On the Bruce Peninsula where I spend my first week of my deer hunting, for the first time ever in this tragic odyssey that has comprised my deer hunting career I managed to rattle up a deer. I was sitting at the Four Ashes stand which is at the base (not surprisingly) of four ash trees that all grow out of the same stump…so I guess technically it is just one big mutant ash tree, but why mess with a cool name for a deer stand? Anyhow, I had my gun leaning against a convenient but sturdy sapling and was doing a pretty aggressive grunting and rattling routine, because frankly I was bored and my hands were cold. At the end of the sequence I took a drink of water from the Nalgene bottle I pack in, and was just reaching for my gun when I heard something coming at a dead run through the crisp leaves that blanketed the forest floor in a tapestry of orange, red, yellow, and brown. I turned slowly towards the sound and saw the unmistakable shape of a deer running towards me through a maze of thick gads and small trees. No shot presented itself but the deer was hard onto my setup, so I assumed the ready position instinctively. I heard the deer splash through a small swampy spot in a cedar thicket and with rifle shouldered, heart pounding and fingers poised on the safety, I was swaying ever so slightly looking for an opening. When I at last found the shape of the deer, I could very clearly see all of its hindquarters and none of its vitals. This I saw for approximately one steamboat. Did I mention that the sprinted approach of the deer brought it directly downwind of me at a distance inside of twenty-five yards? Well it did. The deer disliked my odour (as most things do) and with a haughty snort crashed through the thicket, all the while giving me occasional glimpses of its tail flagging, but not presenting even a hint of an ethical or achievable shot. I cursed that deer’s survival instinct as I listened to it bound away and then sat pensively under those four ashes for another few hours before the call of a hot bowl of soup and a stacked meat sandwich summoned me to abandon the stand.
During the entirety of the season we eat like overstuffed sixteenth-century French kings, but it is one night in particular during that languid week of hunting that holds a special place in my venatorial and culinary heart of hearts: Wednesday night on the Bruce Peninsula hunt. We get a pile of fresh Georgian Bay whitefish, some Nova Scotia sea scallops, some slaw, some potato salad, some crusty rolls and then deep fry all the fish, butter up the rolls, and chow down. Literally dozens of other hunters show up as well and bring with them more seafood and drink for the general gluttony. We tell stories, eat, laugh, play shuffleboard, laugh some more, eat again, and go to sleep happy and full of good food and good cheer. This year my cousin Lukas and I manned the fryer, which is a first in camp and a sign that the stranglehold of paternal control in our camp is slackening. I did the breading, Lukas did the turning. Not surprisingly he got all the kudos and credit…I ended up with raw fish and sticky batter on my hands. But I’m not complaining because we did all the quality control before anyone else got a dig at the food, which is the sad duty of any camp chef.
But it wasn’t all eating and failure this deer season. My cousin Lukas shot two deer a little over 24 hours apart, the first a nice basket-racked yearling buck and the second a brute of a nine-pointer that my Dad repeatedly referred to as a “bragging buck” that night. It was a dandy looking deer, in full rut as evidenced by the grossly swollen neck and the reek of buck urine that wafted from the carcass for the remainder of the week even after the tarsal glands had been removed and disposed of during field-dressing. His brother Dane shot one early on opening morning as well, just twenty minutes before Lukas shot his first buck. In fact, with the rest of the camp attending a funeral on the Monday morning, as a group we were (for a brief while anyhow) completely tagged out by noon on Monday morning. Nothing for those two brothers to do but have a cigar and feel all self-important for a couple of hours; neither really hunted that hard the rest of the week and frankly I can’t blame them. My dad shot a decent eight-pointer to boot in the snow on the Friday morning of the Spence Township hunt, which was about par for the course; he seems to shoot a nice buck every other year or so, some of which have been real bruisers. This one was an average 8-pointer which showed up not five minutes into the morning hunt, kicked up towards Dad by my uncle Kim. I was not far away overlooking a meadow that everyone affectionately refers to as “the swale” and had been sitting for less than fifteen minutes when Dad’s .280 started barking. In a bizarre twist of deer hunting luck, Dad shot a nice buck at the swale a few years back while I was sitting at the same spot where he shot his buck this year. Bucks just seem to follow Dad around, at their peril it would seem. Far away, in the wilds of southeastern British Columbia, my good friend Chris shot his first white-tail, a healthy spike buck, anointing him into the ranks of successful deer hunters. He shot it on my birthday no less, which is of course an absolute coincidence…or so it would seem. When we talked the following week I was pretty excited to hear the story; a first deer (or any other game animal, for that matter) is a memory to be cherished but also to be shared, and I was downright happy for Chris. He’s got me very nearly convinced to book a hunt out West in the foreseeable future as well; he’s just that good of a storyteller.
For my own part I did get some shooting in. During the Saturday morning stand up on the Bruce Peninsula, I missed two running shots at a coyote, and on the Friday morning up in Spence Township I managed to take a handsome ruffed grouse, which is always a treat because they are so darn delicious. But for another year the wily deer of Ontario eluded me. Not a huge problem for me though, because some of my buddies put in a lot more shifts during bow season, rifle season, and blackpowder and they didn’t get one either, which I’m sure is the lot of many other Ontario deer hunters. But my rifle, all the blaze orange, and the long underwear have been put away for now. I suppose next year holds more opportunities to scratch down a white-tail, and of course I’ll be looking forward to it. But for now I’ll turn my attention to working on some landowners for turkey season, maybe one last late season waterfowl hunt, and getting out after a few coyotes through the winter months.
Coincidentally if any landowners between London and Milton need some coyote control done, feel free to drop me an email, I’d be more than happy to help out.