I was sitting in a ground blind placed along a row of bales. I was on the hunt for a doe that I had missed a 40 yard shot it with my bow a few weeks earlier. I was still working on my archery skills, I am good out to 60 or so yards on a target but I found when a deer comes into range I tended to get a bit of “buck fever” which is strange because I have shot some nice bucks in the past without so much as a tremor. For some reason, when a doe wanders with 50 yards I get my heart thumping so bad I don’t bother risking taking the shot sometimes, tracking an arrow wounded deer is a terrifying prospect that would cause me loss of sleep. This particular day I was trying two new ideas. First I was using a ground blind instead of just sitting motionless against the bales. I had found that deer would come to within about 20 yards of me but would naturally spook and flee as I tried to draw my bow to make a shot, a blind seemed a simple solution. The second tactic was that I had a decoy doe out in front of my blind. I did some quick research the night before and found that putting out a doe decoy early in the season will bring more does in and that is what I was after. The plan seemed rather fool proof since every time I sat in that area before I had a few deer within range but just nothing that would stay close enough and still enough while I drew my bow. Many hunters pride themselves on certain strengths; some are amazing shots, some have a never quit attitude, some can stalk silently, others can think like a deer. I think mine, were I to toot my own horn for a moment, would be my ability to learn. Cold hard research works for me, reading about tracking deer got me my largest deer to date and I am always on the prowl for more information. This set up I had concocted with the use of various internet resources was sure to be a hit, the decoy would lure them in and the blind would conceal my movement as I drew the bow. It was nothing revolutionary but it was two tactics I had never needed to use for rifle hunting.
As I sat waiting for the deer to start wandering out, I heard a truck come down the dead-end road that led to the corner of the field. The truck came to a stop and in the silence of the October afternoon I could vaguely hear their conversation. “Oh look! a big whitetail buck!” I immediately started looking out the windows of my blind, all I saw was my big doe decoy. Is it possible there is a big buck behind me? There was some more chatting and some shuffling in the truck before it occurred to me that they might be lining up a shot on my decoy! I was watching the truck through my binoculars but the cab itself was obstructed by some trees so I couldn’t quite see if they were leaning a rifle out the window. Suddenly I heard “wait wait, there is a ground blind by those bales!”. The truck immediately made a U-turn and vacated the premise, almost as though they were doing something they shouldn’t, somewhere they shouldn’t be. A few minutes later I heard the report of a rifle from the direction they had gone. It upset me that I wasn’t able to get a license plate number off of the truck. It got me thinking, doing things the right way is not that hard. In fact, to me it almost seems easier. All I have to do is sit in my field and wait. If they are doing what it looks like they are doing they have to drive around looking for deer, shoot one that is likely running away from the noise of their truck, then retrieve it and leave the area before the fish and game department come running to the sound of a rifle shot out of season. Then they still have to make it home without getting stopped. All at the risk of their hunting rights and ANYTHING deemed an accessory to their poaching, including the automobile in use.
Hundreds of years ago, when all big game animals were considered the property of royalty and the common men and women of the land were left to starve, poaching might have been considered noble. The story of Robin Hood has him as a poacher, technically. They had to outwit animals, and the royal guards, all at the risk of their own lives, the pay off being food for their families. In modern-day North America poachers are usually people trying to do things the easy way, and its shameful. Poaching gives us all a bad name, and believe me public opinion of hunters is not high right now, we do not need anyone making it worse. In my grumblings of people breaking the rules, I was reminded of a time when a close friend wanted me to break a law they didn’t see a use for. A friend of a friend had said she would pay $700 for a bear’s gallbladder because her grandmother wanted it for “medicine”. As coincidence would have it, I was bear hunting that spring. In Alberta, as well as in most places, it is illegal to sell any part of a hunted animal. At the time I flatly refused simply because I didn’t want to break the law, despite $700 being a considerable sum of money in my fast nearing empty bank account. My friend tried to talk me into it with the reasonable arguments of “you aren’t going to use it anyway, better to sell it instead of throw it out” I was tempted, lordy I was tempted, but I stood strong. The subject was dropped and never really came up again because I failed to fill my bear tag that year. I realize now that I made the right decision for more reasons than the law. Upon further review I think encouraging ancient traditional medicines that use parts of animals is a terrible thing for a hunter to do. Sure it was just a black bears gallbladder, but its the same ideology that is leading to poaching and extinction of rhinos. I am glad I chose not to be a part of that. Poachers, and those that encourage or enable poaching destroy what hunters try so hard to create, they also often get lumped into the same categories as hunters by people who don’t care to do any research on the subject. As hunters we need to do our best to separate ourselves from poachers, even if its something small like selling a gallbladder or shooting a deer a week before or after the rifle season, all of these little things add up and contribute to big things, big things we don’t want to be a part of.
I sat in my blind going over how I hoped those guys were just scouting and that rifle shot was someone else getting sighted in for the upcoming rifle season. Suddenly two does wandered into the edge of the field about 90 yards out, one was noticeably larger than the other. They slowly made their way toward my decoy, I was relieved to see that my plan was working, maybe… at the very least it wasn’t scaring the deer away, so I am counting it as a success. In my mind this was the doe I had missed a 40 yard shot on weeks before, lucky it was a clean miss and not a wounding shot. I was trying to range her as she approached my decoy, knew she was somewhere around 30 yards but my range finder was having trouble reading through the mesh windows on the blind. Finally it spat out a number, 25 yards. I decided my best bet was to put my 20 yard pin just high of center on the kill zone and any drop would still be where I want it to be. I slid forward onto the edge of me seat and came to a full draw, I checked the level on my sight, I was dead on and my heart was pounding. I took aim and released, the deer reacted to the sound of the bow and crouched down a few inches, the arrow flew clear over her shoulder. I had missed again, and to add insult to my injured pride, I had lost the arrow into the tangle mess of the fields stubble. The deer looked around, unsure of what happened and trotted to the edge of the field, I looked at her closely with my binoculars. Not a mark on her luckily, a clean miss is by far better than a bad hit. I think my problem is I need more practice shooting from a sitting position and I definitely get too excited when an animal walks into range. It’s nice to know the excitement of hunting hasn’t worn off on me, but it also gets a little infuriating, especially since I am actually a really good archer… when there aren’t deer around.
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I was sitting in my blind… The same blind I had been sitting in day after day for the past few months. It sat on the edge of a pile of bails in the corner of the field. I had started there sitting on pail with my bow across my lap, by now bow season had come and gone and I had along the way upgraded to a ground blind and a folding chair. I had also upgraded to an old Steyr-Mannlicher rifle chambered in .270 win that my aunt and uncle had given me. They had decided that they didn’t want their guns anymore and gave them all away. I was more than happy to accept it. When I first got it, it had a scope but I found it didn’t shoulder very well with it on because the scope sat too high. So I took it off and sighted it in at 100 yards with the iron sights, just as the factory intended. That old gun with those iron sights made me a little nostalgic for something I never had… I love to read, especially books about the old adventure hunters in the early and mid 20th century like Capstick, Corbett, Bell, and Selous. They all used open sights, mostly because optics technology was in its infancy, and partly because the reliability of sights. They were all also prone to fancy European rifles. Holding and shouldering this rifle, every time I blinked I could imagine standing in a humid jungle waiting for the Man-Eater of Kumoan to walk around a rock. Needless to say, I am fond of this rifle and am prone to waxing poetic about nearly any rifle. So lets move the story along.
There I was, sitting tired in my blind. I had faced crushing embarrassment and disappointment during bow season. I had missed four, yes 4 shots, at does with my bow up to that point. They were all clean misses and they were all my fault, for four different reasons. The first was a forty yard shot, that is a distance I can easily shoot in practice with field points, but I didn’t realize that broadheads fly drastically different at that range. I grouped my hunting arrows and found that beyond 30 yards the group just opened up too much to be reasonable. The second miss I was too excited and rushed, it was buck fever, plain and simple, well except for the fact it was a doe. This was really starting to drain on my confidence since I am usually a very talented marksman. The third and fourth happened back to back on the same deer. First I misjudged my distance and shot clear over her back. She snorted and circled around and stopped 20 yards from the blind, a perfect broadside shot was looking at me.. I drew my bow, took a deep breath, and steadied the top pin right perfect behind the shoulder. My release was perfect, there was a strange flump sound and the fletching grazed the bottom of her ribs. She looked at me funny, and trotted off unscathed. I sat flabbergasted staring at the hole in the side of my blind. I had been holding my bow too low causing me to shoot through the side of the blind, thus slowing my arrow and ruining its trajectory…
After these misses I started to think I should sell my gear and take up golf. I remember what an old co-worker of mine once told me. He was an older fellow and had certainly been around the block a time or two and was undoubtedly the best salesman I ever knew. He once told me, all he ever wanted to do was be a farmer he said “I tried and tried for years to be a farmer, my wife and I bought a place and we worked it right down to our last dime. We had rainy springs, drought in the summer, and falling grain prices. I tried and tried, and God simply wouldn’t let it happen.”. Now I am not a particularly religious man, but you’ve almost gotta believe in divine intervention to miss those kinds of shots. Maybe I just want meant to be a hunter.
My wife, of course, figured I was just being silly and gave me a pep talk.. Or maybe she saw how much a set of golf clubs is worth? Either way, she reminded me that that is the nature of hunting and if it were easy I probably would have a different hobby. I had the whole month of November off and she had no intention of letting me and my wounded pride sit on the couch. So I packed up and headed to my mom and step-dads farm, I had historically had good luck there and this year I was awarded a tag for a mule deer doe. I spend just over a week sitting in my moms house hoping the weather would drop. It was simply too hot to go hunting, anything I shot would spoil before we could butcher it and get it in the freezer… My options were to go north to my dads where it was colder, or go look at golf clubs, at least then I could enjoy the heat. I opted to go home for a day and then head north to my dads.
I packed my new to me .270 and headed north. I immediately changed into my hunting gear when I arrived and went to my same old blind that had caused me so much doe frustration during the bow season. I sat for a few hours with my rifle across my lap hoping something would walk by. Finally, just after sunset before last legal light, a doe wandered out to the edge of the field, about 100 yards out. I watched her with my binoculars, she wasn’t small, but she certainly wasn’t big. There were also two more deer behind her, I could barely see them in the trees. I was losing light fast and had to make a decision, I flipped the safety off on the gun, then she turned. I flipped the safety back on and waited.. This happened a few more times. Finally I decided that’s it, now or never. I flipped the safety off shouldered and aimed. I could barely make out the black steel bead on my rifle against her sides in the darkness. Finally she turned broadside and I squeezed off a round. It sounded like the blind was going to launch into orbit, my ears were ringing, the shoot-through-mesh in front of me shredded and the blind filled with smoke. I chambered another round and looked at my doe on the ground. She was thrashing a bit, as they sometimes do.. it hurts to see and I considered shooting again but it would be at the cost of meat which was my purpose for shooting her.. Then she stood up again, and I realized I hadn’t made a very good shot. I quickly shouldered and shot, she went down this time without a twitch. I set the timer on my watch. I like to give deer at least five minutes of peace and quiet after I shoot. I need that time to organize my thoughts, let what happened sink in, calm down, and make a plan. I also like to give that animal a few minutes of peace in their final moments. If they are still alive, I dont want to scare them or have them jump up and run. I never take my eyes of the deer during this time. I had a friend who told me he once shot a beautiful white tail buck, it dropped like a bag of hammers. So he got up and did a victory dance, complete with a spin or two and when he turned around, his deer was gone, never to be seen again, no blood trail, nothing. Don’t get cocky, and do not take your eyes off the prize.
I dug out my tag, texted my dad to come get me with the truck and then headed over to the doe. I walked up from behind and touched her eye with my barrel to ensure she was dead. This, I am told, is the best way. If the animal is at all conscious it will blink, so its an easy and clear test, approaching from their back also ensure that if they are alive and they get up and run, they wont do it over you or give you a quick kick. I looked at my shooting, The first shot was high and far back and the second shot was a little higher than I wanted. It had hit both lungs and the spine. It was the absolute highest I could have hit and still be considered “kill zone”. I also noticed that it wasn’t a she, it was a he. It turned out to be a very small buck, his antlers were only little buttons hidden under his fur, hence being called a button buck, so it still counted as an “antlerless” which is convenient for me.
I was relieved to have some meat for the freezer. I was also reminded persistence pays off and that shooting iron sights is not as easy as it seems. Like many things, it is slowly becoming a lost art. I found that with that course sight the entire kill zone disappeared behind it, yet I have seen people shoot amazing groupings at much farther distances with similar sights. I guess more practice is warranted. I also decided to try butchering this deer myself, it went well, but it was obvious I need much more practice at it.
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I drove to Calgary in the morning to pick up Erin, her flight landed at 11 am. It was the first time I had seen my wife in just over six months, at that point, since our wedding we had spent more time apart than together. From the airport we went to Canmore and checked into our Air BnB. We didn’t do a whole lot the next few days, just a short hike down Grotto Canyon. It was a nice hike and it was neat to see that towards the end people had built hundreds of little inukshuks. From Canmore we headed to Banff and camped for two nights, we were informed that we were catching the tail end of the camping season since it was starting to get so cold out. We wandered around town a bit and cooked over and open fire. I also took this time to help Erin learn to drive a car with a manual transmission. She did much better than I did when I first tried to learn. While in Banff we also got a chance to see the northern lights during some sort of magnetic storm making them extra bright. From Banff we headed to Waterton for no particular reason other than a change of scenery. It began to rain quite heavily as we packed up camp in Banff, we hurriedly filled the car and sought refuge in a parkade to have breakfast and let our gear dry a bit. After two nights of camping in Waterton I decided I was far too cold to continue tenting, Erin on the other hand, wanted to do some back country camping. During the day the weather was nice and we came across a lot of mule deer that had no real fear of people. While hiking the Bears Hump hike we actually, accidentally, got between a doe and her two fawns, neither parties seemed concerned but didn’t want to run passed us on the trail. After a few tense minutes of having three wild animals withing a few meters the mother finally trotted into the trees above the trail and we were able to sneak passed.
After freezing in Waterton we got another Air Bnb, this time in radium. This was also our one year anniversary so we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner. From there we hit the hot springs and then went on to Revelstoke for two nights. The weather in Revelstoke was foggy and snowy but we still drove to the top of Mt Revelstoke and had a look around. Next we went to Kelowna, we stayed at a very nice hostel but we got dorms instead of a private room. The first night that didn’t matter much since we were the only ones in the room. Unfortunately on the second night 5 more guests had shown up, four of them were very friendly exchange students from India going to university in Vancouver. Erin and I went to bed and they went out partying, then several times through the night one would come in and pass out, his friends would try and wake him, then leave… then come back… then leave.. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, they all came in and went to bed, and one of them started snacking on some chips. Then they said something in their native tongue and all got up and got dressed again and left for a while. Only to make a whole bunch of noise coming back in. It was quite funny to me because they were genuinely trying to be quiet but were simply too inebriated to accomplish it, and they were very polite. While in Kelowna we met up with my aunt, uncle and cousin, we went to dinner at their house two nights in row. A home cooked meal was just what Erin wanted after a year of travelling. They also told us about a farmers market, so Erin and I went, she got peach salsa which was amazing and I got some candied salmon which is high on my list of favorite foods. The weather in Kelowna was pretty rainy so we didn’t get up to too much adventuring. Mostly we just spent time with family and walked around town a bit.
From Kelowna we headed to my cousin’s house in Surrey, he and his wife had a spare room he was kind enough to offer me. This was the first time I had been to their house and I was immediately amazed at all the trophies. My cousin does car audio competitions and is apparently quite good at it, as indicated by the many many trophy crammed into every corner of his home. As luck would have it his mother, my aunt, had come to visit him too so I got to catch up with even more family. Erin and I were given a key to come and go as we pleased while they were at work so we spent most of our time in Vancouver just exploring Stanley park. On one day though, we went to Grouse Mountain, we started by doing the Grouse Grind trail which is about an hour of walking straight up. From there Erin suggested we do Crown Mountain which we didn’t realize was up one mountain and down another then up to the top of Crown Mountain. It didn’t seem too bad until we reached the bottom of Crown Mountain, then it became clear that I was going to have to put my limited bouldering skills to use. At first it was just steep bits with lots of roots to grab onto, then it became a scramble on an exposed rock face with a lot of room below you… enough that if I fell I could contemplate how much the landing would hurt before I hit. I made it almost to the top, sadly the last 30 meters or so were just too hairy for my already shaky legs. Of course Erin, whom I’m convinced is part Ibex, made it to the top and got some pictures.
On the day we left his house we picked up our German friend whom we had met in Ecuador while working at the Donkey Den. She had just completed the Pacific Crest Trail which is a hike that runs from the Mexico border to the Canadian border. If memory serves, it took her about five months. She packed into our already crowded car and we headed for the ferry to the island. On the island we were able to stay with another relative of mine. My dad’s cousin and his wife live on the island and even though he was away for work his wife was kind enough to give us, and our companion, a great place to stay, she also gave us a tour of the island and their beautiful antique country home. Her cooking was also excellent, her moose stew was positively divine. Unfortunately for us, the weather was rather insistent on being rainy. So on one of the days we just sat and read books while looking out the window at the rain. The next day we took a road trip, in the rain, to Victoria to see the sights. The weather was so poor all we ended up doing was going to the Bug Zoo, it was pretty neat, we all got to hold a scorpion and a tarantula. I also learned that the most poisonous scorpions are small ones, with dull colors and small pincers…. Like the one I found in our room in Ecuador… which is kinda scary because at the time I was tempted to pick it up under the assumption that its too little to hurt anyone, glad I didn’t do that.
From the island we headed back to Surrey and spent another night at my cousins house, the next morning we dropped our German friend off at a hostel and we headed for home. We made it to Edmonton at 4 am, and thus ended our road trip.
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Erin’s flight was scheduled to land in Las Vegas on the 25th, my plan was to drive down and meet her. I started my trip about a week before her flight was due to arrive so I could spend the weekend in Calgary with a friend of mine that you might remember from my Buller Pass story. I arrived late Saturday night and he gave me a tour of downtown. It was exciting to see the nightlife, we also got some tasty pub food. I had no idea Calgary was such lively city.
The next day he took me for a real tour. We went to Glenmore park and did a bit of a walk around, we then headed to the Calgary tower and walked on the glass floor… a nerve wracking experience if there ever was one. The day ended with some awesome delicious sushi, it turns out its one of the few restaurant foods allowed in my strict diet.
Bright and early the next morning I hit the road south. I planned on crossing the border and spending the night in glacier national park. I stopped only a few times; once to fuel up, and once to stretch my legs and let my family know I was about to cross the border so they would not be able to reach me on my phone.
As soon as I hit the border, things went south. I explained my plans and told them about how I had quit my job to spend a month or so travelling around the USA…. and they told me they didn’t believe I intended to come back to Canada! They told me to drive back to the nearest town and print off something that would prove my intentions to return, like proof of employment or a mortgage. I told them to call my mother and hear what she would do if I didn’t come back… they didn’t go for it. I stood there for about a half of an hour suggesting things I could show them as proof, such as phone bills or cable contracts. Everything I could possibly show them they kind of shrugged off as not good enough. I could tell they just did not like ME, and had no intention of letting me in. When the border security agent said he believes my wife and I are going to throw away our lives, and her accounting career, so we could wait tables in Vegas for less than minimum wage while living in a Toyota echo, I knew I was done. America is great, but its not THAT great that I would throw away affordable healthcare, careers, family, and my outdoor adventures to wait tables… So, with a lot of cursing under my breath I walked out of the office, I was instructed to turn my car around and he would hand me my passport on the way by, so I don’t “make a run for it”. Once I got my passport back and was on the road, the cursing became much much more audible… I drove all the way home that day, and went to bed. The next morning I called all the places in the US that I had made reservations with and cancelled, Erin booked a connecting flight out of Vegas to Calgary. The plan was to pick her up in Calgary in a few days and then head west instead of south.
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Hunting photos, trophy pictures, grip-n-grins, field photos… its all the same thing. If you have been on the internet there is a chance you have seen a hunting photo or two. Usually with a caption about the people in it being monsters or murderers. If you’ve posted a hunting picture on the internet, you’ve probably been called a murderer or a monster. It would appear that is the price a modern sportsman pays… one of many payments it would seem.
The question comes up again and again by the masses of the internet: “why would you take a picture of yourself with a dead animal?”. For this question, there are many answers, and from many different people. One common reason, is that its a way to remember the event and the accomplishment. People want photos of themselves at the tops of mountains, the ends of races, and holding trophies after the big game. Hunting is no different, you just spent hours, days, weeks wandering through the woods or mountains trying to find an elusive wild animal. All of that was after months of preparation, planning, and hopefully, practice at the gun or archery range. After putting all this time, effort, and money in, people want a photo to remember that moment of success.
Another reason is so that the photos can be shared with friends, family, and other hunting enthusiasts. This is where the problems start, many people, myself included, love to share hunting photos on the internet. Sharing online is a great way to make digital friends who live a similar analog life. The problem is that those photos inevitably end up in front 0f someone who doesn’t understand why it exists, and often feels the need to say something about it. If you post hunting photos online, you are going to get hatemail, at this point its just a fact of life. I learned this quickly via twitter and instagram. That said, some photos attract more vitriol than others. The photos that create the most hate all seem to have something in common, poor choices in photographic technique.
Ever notice that photo of a girl with her boot on a dead lion and a great big grin makes people angrier than a picture of a professional hunter, with an expression of content, crouched beside an equally dead lion? Its deceptively simple, respect for the animal goes a long way. Even amongst hunters, this comes up and gets debated, but the majority of sportsmen appear to agree. When taking a hunting photo, respect for the animal should be top concern. This animal just died to feed you and your family, it deserves your respect. Keeping this in mind while taking photos can go a long way in improving your final product. Do little things to make the animal look dignified, try to clean blood off of the animals nose and face and tuck its tongue back in. Make sure you don’t stand or sit on the animal. Many people don’t even feel comfortable stepping over the animal.
I have also seen people try to use items for scale, this can be tricky because you do want to show how big your animal is but putting a beer can in a dead lions mouth to show its teeth (yes, I’ve seen this done) might send the wrong message on the respect front. Use yourself for scale, people know how big the average person is and can make sense of it from there. This brings me to my next point, forced perspective. I’ve seen many photos, often of elk hunters it seems, sitting a couple yards behind the animal in hopes of making the antlers look bigger by comparison, its obvious and a little cheesy. If you feel you need to misrepresent the size of the animal, you might be hunting for the wrong reasons.
The most commonly debated part about hunting photos is the smile. How much smile is too much? For this there is no real right answer. You just accomplished an amazing thing that you worked hard for, of course you are going to want to smile. But if the smile gets too big it can look a little crazy and send the wrong message. It effectively turns into a tight rope walk. My thoughts are: don’t force a smile. You’re likely in a pretty good mood when you’re taking a hunting photo so just relax and let your natural facial expression be what shines through. If you happen to be a big smile type, try taking a photo of you stifling it and see, it might look a little better. The key to the smile, much like all of life, is to just be yourself.
The quality of the photo is another thing that is important to remember. You put a lot of effort into getting here so you might as well get a good photo. Some simple things can be done to make the picture better: clear the foreground of twigs, branches and tall grass, and try to get a clear or solid background so the antlers don’t fade into brush or trees behind you. Low angles are also your friend, get the photographer to crouch to be at the same level as you and the animal, this will make the animal the focal point of the photo. It will also help you get the sky as the background which will again draw focus to you and the animal. Keep in mind that this is a photo you will likely be showing a lot of people, so you might want to make sure you take a moment and clean yourself up a little. You’re not modelling so don’t get too worried but make sure your hair isn’t a mess from wearing a hat and your hands aren’t covered in blood from field dressing. Having your firearm or bow in the photo is a great idea, just make sure it is pointed in a safe direction. No matter the situation, keep firearm safety in mind. Maybe out of respect, try not to rest the butt of the rifle on the animal.
I don’t know that I have ever taken a “perfect” hunting photo, nor do I think anyone has. The best we as hunters can do is try, just remember to respect the animal and try to make it a quality photo. As long as we are trying, I think the effort and intention will shine through to people we show them to. Lastly, make sure you take a lot of pictures. With digital cameras you can take multiple pictures from slightly different angles and see which looks better once you see it full sized. Some of my most memorable hunts I have made the mistake of taking only a single blurred cell phone picture simply because I was excited and didn’t think to take more than one snapshot. Which reminds me, don’t forget to bring your camera.
Posted in How-To, Huntingwith 1 comment.
Despite all the time I’ve spent outside, I, for some damn fool reason, have never gotten around to actually going it alone. A few weeks ago I went to Jasper by myself and stayed in the huge public camp ground. This weekend, I decided to up it a bit and try a solo back country hike.
Early in the week I called the booking office and asked what they had available for the weekend, I was told that all they had left was a campsite at “Little Shovel” it is one of the first stops for people doing the famous Skyline trail. As I only had one night, my plan was to simply hike into the campsite, then in the morning hike to the pass, take in the views, and hike out the way I came in.
Saturday morning I drove to Jasper, and was thoroughly annoyed when I hit a heavy traffic jam at the entry gates to Jasper. It is understandable that there would be a line, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that I was trying to escape the city, and its traffic, only to be stuck in traffic at the park. Finally I got into the park and checked in at the park office and headed to the trail head. It was a lengthy, but scenic, drive passed Maligne lake. I parked my car, loaded my gear on my back and hit the trail. This would be my first run with my new backpack, a Tenzing TZ 6000, which I have purchased with the crazy idea of someday doing a back country hunt…….. someday… someday.
I immediately noticed that I am too tall and too thin for it.. I did some tinkering and found that if I maxed out the waist belt it finally snugged up enough to be useful, after a few hundred yards of walking I found that the pack settled into a more comfortable position. That said, it still wasn’t as comfortable as my regular pack, and old kelty that has more miles than most cars… so maybe its not a fair comparison, at this point my body may have broken into the pack and not the other way around.
Anyway, lets continue. I noticed on the drive in that some of the landscape was recovering from a fire a few years ago. Much to my delight, so was the trail. It was neat to see all the old burnt trees standing stoically while the green grasses and shrubs displayed their vibrant green around them. All along the trail I noticed there was nearly an infestation level of squirrels, they were cute, but it also made me think about hunting some. I have always wondered what they taste like, they are popular table fare in the USA so they cant be that bad right? The trial was initially well packed, wide, and on a gentle grade. As the miles went on the trail steepened and turned to switchbacks. It was still clearly marked and well worn, the Skyline trail is one of Jasper’s most popular so that’s not surprising. All along the trail I munched on energy bites and dried apples and bananas. I prefer to walk and snack instead of stop for lunch, I find it easier on my stomach to eat small amounts over a long period instead of gorging myself, which I can easily do as I have extremely limited self control.
Along the way I passed a few small lakes and ponds, most showing a beautiful turquoise colour and filled with dead fall. They looked exactly what you imagine a pristine alpine lake looks like. I was the second of 8 parties to reach the campsite so I certainly had my pick of where to set up camp. I looked at the remaining sites and chose the high ground, for no particular reason beyond it was level and I remember being told, in my childhood, that high ground was an advantage for some reason. I set up my tent and then went to the eating area and had a boiled egg and some orange bell pepper that I had chopped the night before. I then went and laid in my tent for a few hours.
I was half asleep when like a thundering herd, a family with a small army of children came roaring into the campground. As best I could tell, the three young boys were having a yelling competition, if so, they had all certainly brought their “A” game. No doubt they were professionals. I decided I best go use the “bathroom” before I lost the daylight. For those of you unfamiliar, a back country bathroom is essentially a toiled seat on a large drum with some wood that goes about half way up your back for privacy. It is nice to be out in the open and take in nature while doing what nature compels you to do, however, there is always mosquitoes to… hurry the affair along. At any rate, I needed to use the facilities. I grabbed my toilet paper and wandered toward the toilet. Along the way I stopped and chatted with the parents of the amateur choir. Unfortunately, while I was chatting, one of the kids ran up to the table and grabbed their toilet paper and ran off. Knowing that privacy was limited, I decided to wait around at the eating area for the kids to come back before heading to the facilities. To my understanding, based on what I had heard, the kids decided that the mosquito infested toiled was better used as a drum set/ sound stage. I got so tired of waiting I decided to go back to my tent and wait for the noise to get closer before attempting to use the washroom. After about an hour of spirited yelling and kicking of the facilities, they finally decided they were hungry and I climbed out of my tent and finally got my chance.
I went to bed and began to read my book, again, hampered by the noise outside. Eventually the parent intervened, I guess eleven pm is the curfew for yelling in a campsite these days. I am glad that parents are trying to get their kids into hiking and the outdoors, dont get me wrong, but people hike 10 km into the wilderness to get away from people and noise, or maybe that’s just me. At any rate, that all seemed like nice people despite being a little rambunctious for my mood. As dark descended, sleep did not come easy, even in the quiet of night. I tossed and turned most of the night, in the early hours of the morning there was some gusts of wind and a bit of rain, but nothing exciting.
The next morning I had another boiled egg, this time it was called breakfast. I then hit the trail to see Little Shovel pass, long before anyone else in the campsite got out of bed. I stuffed some more dried fruit in my pocket along with my bear spray and a bottle of water. It took just over an hour to reach the beautiful alpine meadow and another half hour to reach the end of it, and the sign declaring it the pass I was looking for. I then spun on my heels and headed back to the camp ground. I quickly broke my camp and headed back toward the trail head.
Along the way I passed a few muddy patches with what looked like either moose or elk tracks. I could tell they were fresh because there where still wet track on the dry parts of the trail. When I came to a nice wide bend with a lake below I was sure I had lost the tracks I had been lazily following, I stopped to dig a granola bar out of my pack. Below me in the lake I heard water splashing. I thought at first it might be a person, this left me in a strange dilemma. If it was a person, it would be creepy to sneak down silently and watch them, if it was wildlife, announcing my presence might scare it off. Luckily my question was answered when I heard a deep grunt, at this point I was sure it was a moose. I stayed quiet and leaned left and right trying to get a good view through the trees when I suddenly heard more splashing. Slowly a swimming cow moose, making her way across the small lake, came into view. I was watching intently when two hikers rounded to bend ahead of me. I waved, made a shushing motion and pointed at my eyes and then to the moose. They were as enthralled as I was. After a few short minutes the moose was across and the hikers and I crossed paths we exchanged a polite “good morning” and a “good eye” and we were on our respective ways. Unfortunately it was simply too far away to get a good picture, sorry. Someday Ill invest in a good camera.
I made it to the parking lot, loaded my now heavy backpack into my little car, changed into clean clothes and began the long drive back home. I had set out to do what I wanted, do a solo hike. I just hope that next time its a little more solo. I also hope that that family keeps hiking, and never gets dissuaded by grumps like me.
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“It is not, he muttered, the hasty ascent up the thorn tree when you are being chased by a rhino that hurts so much. It is that long trip down.” – Robert Ruark on hunting rhinos
I woke up on Sunday morning and just felt like going camping. I have been knocking around the idea of doing more solo back country camping, and ideally some back country hunting too. The problem, is that I have never really camped alone, so I decided the best way was to ease myself into it. The plan was simply to go camping, at a campsite, and see how it goes. I loaded up some food, grabbed my gear, and hit the road. It rained intermittently but quite torrentially the entire drive there. I was undoubtedly considering turning back, but I had already committed to this idea and figured I had best follow through, even if it meant camping in the rain. As I paid my entrance fee to the park, the sky began to clear. The weather was beautiful the remainder of the evening. I checking into a small camp site, waved at my neighbour and set up my tent and sleeping mat. I then loaded some wood into my car and hauled it to the site and set to making a fire. It was not pretty. Surprisingly, I am terrible at making fire. Typically when I go camping, I get Erin to make the fire for us. After I expended about a half box of matches I had a nice fire roaring. I reheated some chicken breasts over the fire and enjoyed them with some iced tea and a bell pepper. I then spent the remainder of the evening relaxing and reading a book. It was everything I wanted it to be.
Sitting by that fire and slowly turning the pages, daydreaming about the days of old time adventure, I had an interesting realization. I have always wanted to be an adventurer and a hunter, but my dreams were crushed when I got so sick I had to come home. While reading my book “The African Adventurers” By Peter Hathaway Capstick, I noticed that many great adventurers had horrible bouts of illness. Frederic Courteney Selous was once so sick he had to trade his gear to locals to get them to carry him to a mission… I sympathize. They all also fought danger, including being ambushed by tribes of cannibals, more than one of them was held at gunpoint… been there. They almost all left with money and came home nearly bankrupt… currently there. They all also did their best to write about their adventures after the fact… please tell your friends about my website. The point I am trying to make,is that the overly romanticized lifestyle I want never has been, and never will be, easy. With today’s technology and globalization, the only thing that has gotten easier is giving up and going home. Which in hind sight is something that I can add to a seemingly growing list of regrets.
After the light was gone, I put the book away, let the fire burn down and sat alone with my thoughts, then went to bed. The night passed without any excitement. I had trouble sleeping, attributed mostly to me not quite being able to get comfortable in my sleeping bag. The next morning the sky was threatening to rain. I had some apples and peanut butter for breakfast before packing up my camp. I had to laugh, in my haste I did not think to bring any plates so I used the small tourism pamphlet that I was given at the gate. It reminded me of an old bachelor my dad told me about. Apparently he had a sears catalog nailed down to his dining table and would use it as a plate so when he was done eating he could just rip the page off and throw it in the garbage instead of having dishes to wash. It was smart, in a way, and only worked with the sears catalog because they had the glossy pages that wouldn’t get soggy from food sitting on them.
After I tore down my camp I hit the road and headed to the Miette Hot Springs. On the way from jasper to the hot springs I made a few roadside stops that I had been meaning to make for years. Just those little pull outs that you always say “ah next time, I’m in a rush today” it was neat to see some of the roadside monuments to brave individuals traversing the wilderness in pursuit of gold. I also got to see some beautiful views a short walk off the highway, hidden behind a hill.
Once I got to the hot springs, I loaded up my day pack and began hiking the Sulphur Skyline trail. It was listed as 4 or 5 hour round trip hike, and quite strenuous as it is a steep climb. The trail started as a wide asphalt walkway, which then turned into a rocky trail and eventually just a walking path through the trees.
I wandered through the switchbacks keeping my pace up as best I could and found I was overtaking a lot of fellow hikers. I made a point of saying hello to everyone. There was a hard push to the summit just passed the treeline. It was a bit of a scramble on the bald mountain but I made it to the top, took a few pictures and enjoyed two boiled eggs and some iced tea for lunch. I then turned back and headed back down the trail.
Along the way I started picking up speed to the point where I was outright running at times. I stopped a few times and said hello to some of the hikers I had passed on the way up. I would like to think I was just being friendly but I worry I was kind of rubbing it in their faces how fast I was. When I reached the trailhead, I checked my watch and saw that I had done the entire hike in about an hour and forty five minutes. I guess my almost daily exercise is paying off, but I was definitely tired. I learned that treadmills have got nothing on mountain trails. After the hike, I grabbed my shorts and soaked in the hot springs for a few minutes and then started the long drive home.
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I had originally wanted to go to jasper and try a solo back country hike, but I couldn’t find any information online about available hikes. I called the tourism center and explained that I couldn’t find anything online, I was then berated by a man with a french accent for daring to talk down about the jasper website. I checked the site and it was essentially useless, except for the advertisements for Banff, which reminded me I have a friend in nearby Calgary that would likely appreciate a good hike. I texted Adrian, and sure enough, he was on board for a day hike on Sunday, we decided Canmore would be more fun, and closer.
Saturday evening I drove straight from work and got to Adrian’s house, in Calgary, quite late. It was the first time I had seen him since my wedding and the first time we have really hung out in a few years. He gave me the tour of his house and we played some video games, it turns out I am still terrible at them. We then packed it in for the night as we knew an early morning was on the way. Adrian’s two cats, Asher and Bowser, seemed insistent on making sure I didn’t sleep.
The next morning we headed for Canmore. The night before we had looked into a few trails and that morning we went to the tourism center to find out about conditions and recommendations. The people at this center were far more helpful than the ones manning the phones at Jasper. We decided on Buller Pass it was the right length and difficulty, the drive there was scenic too.
We arrived at the trail head, parked and crossed the road to begin. The trail started as dense forest, a few bridges, and a slight incline.
As we came toward the end of the dense forest and into the thinner alpine forests we stopped by a creek so I could take a picture for a young family. Just thought I should throw in how nice of a guy I am. We then came across one of the trails offerings, a small but scenic waterfall. The constant water flowing had carved a small pool in the bottom, not big enough to swim in, nor would we want to in the only 10°c weather.
After the falls, the trails switchbacks grew steeper and the views grew better. The trail seemed to hover right at the tree line for a long time until it broke into a small meadow with a few meandering streams crisscrossing it. From there it was bare rock and snow all the way to the top.
As we approached the summit, the wind started to pick up, the temp dropped, the hills got steeper, and the skies started to get dark. When we got to the top the wind was cold and strong but the view was amazing. We took a bunch of photos as well as did our fare share of hooping and hollering.
We then turned back down the trail. Heading out is always faster but we knew we had to hurry, the weather could turn on us any second. It wasn’t long before we were stung hard by hail and a strong headwind. On one of the snow patches, I started laughing at Adrian for slipping and falling on his rear, karma got the best of me and I was immediately given a seat as well, it seemed a reasonable time to take another picture of our adventure.
Eventually we reached the treeline which helped to shelter from the wind, the weather was starting to improve too. We decided to stop at the little creek and have some lunch. It turns out in our falls we had crushed our lunches, Adrian’s cup-of-noodles was crushed rendering it and his heavy thermos of hot water useless. Nothing hurts more than packing a heavy item you cant use. He at his raw noodles and I was still able to enjoy my crushed up boiled egg, they’re pretty hard to destroy beyond edibility.
We eventually reached the trailhead and rejoiced at the sight of Adrian’s truck. On the ride home we discussed how he will likely now spend all of his money on hiking gear and that we are for sure doing this sort of thing more often. It was Adrian’s first “real hike” and we both learned a few things. He learned the value of light weight gear, and that Styrofoam cups aren’t a good idea. I learned that… um… what did I learn?? Oh, I got it! I learned the most important lesson of all: Hikes are better with friends.
This was my first major attempt at anything remotely adventurous since I’ve been home. I’m confident saying I can still hike like a madman. Its comforting to know I can still do some things.
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In my university days I spent the majority of my free time working the gun counter at a hunting store, this was primarily to have extra money to spend on frivolous things like food and rent. It was a good job, and much like hunting, I began to spot patterns. In this case it was in customers and their approach to purchasing. A common question from customers was “What do you have in a 308?” my response, depending on the customer and how much I had been able to sleep the night before, was often either to simply turn around and face the large wall covered with rifles and sarcastically say “these”. Usually, I would explain that we carry a wide variety of rifles in a variety of calibers and then proceed to ask about other sought after features to narrow the search field. The problem is simple, most people know, more or less, what they are after it just doesn’t seem that way because they go about it almost backwards. Its an easy mistake to make but one that low paid employees working early weekend mornings during the busy season lose patience for. Gun shops typically sort their inventory by type of firearm, then brand, then model, then calibre. So I have decided to try and lend a hand to help everyone get what they want faster.
It is important to first know what you want the gun to be used for: is it for hunting, defense, target practice, long range shooting? From there break it down farther: what kind of hunting? What distances? From there it’s a good idea to have features in mind such as wood or synthetic stock? Blued or stainless barrel? Next suggest brands that you like or would like to avoid. Within this previous criteria be clear on which features you are or are not flexible on, there might be the exact gun you want except it will be blued and not stainless would that be ok? From there if you have a price or price range in mind say so. Many retail stores have a strict policy where employees are not allowed to ask this because it’s a bit too personal of a question. But knowing this can really help the salesman get you something reasonable and spare you the awkwardness of them digging out a top of the line HS Precision, when you are more in the market for a Mossberg (Both fine rifles in their own way). After all that, suggest a few calibers that you would be interested in, keep in mind with a hunting rifle most calibers are pretty similar performance-wise within 300 yards which is a pretty far shot for most hunting situations. If you do have a specific calibre in mind, that’s not a bad thing, but it will be helpful to explain why, otherwise the salesman might suggest other calibres that are equally suitable but more available at that time ex: “I’ve had a lot of luck with it”, “I already have most of the reloading equipment for that calibre”, “me and my hunting friends decided to all get the same calibre so we can share ammo in a pinch”, “Me, my son, wife, or daughter have shot this calibre before and found the recoil to be manageable.” These are all reasons I have heard and respected.
From there it’s just a matter keeping a few small tips in mind. First always try to be polite, the quality of service you receive in ANY business is really proportional to how nice or rude you are to the staff. Its also not uncommon for salesmen to give slight discounts to polite customers, I know I’ve done this more than once. Also keep in mind that not every gun in every calibre will be available especially in smaller shops. If there’s something specific you want you may have to order it, even if it’s common (common usually means a lot of people are buying them).
Don’t be afraid to ask other customers their opinions of guns and calibres, they are there because they are into guns. Make sure to ask the employees their opinions of guns and calibres because these are the people that hear about the success and failures of equipment from customers coming back, they also process any warranty issues and can tell you which companies are having a bad run of guns. Keep in mind, from both customers and employees, you often hear opinions which are easily, and often, bias. I once worked with a man who felt Weatherby brand rifles were the only ones worth owning.
Lastly make sure you hold every gun you are considering buying to make sure that the fit, finish, and feel is there. Every gun feels a bit different to every person and you want to be sure before you buy because most shops won’t take a gun back based on not liking the look or the feel, especially if it has been fired.
Below is a checklist I have made that might be helpful. Also, here is a downloadable version (gun buying checklist), you can print it, fill it out, and take it in with you next time. Hopefully its helpful. Make sure to comment below and let me know what you think, what I should add, and what I should change?
Posted in How-To, Hunting, Marksmanshipwith no comments yet.
The cold morning air wrapped around me like an unwelcome blanket, just the slightest of breezes slashed across my exposed neck. I know it was my my fatigue that made me feel so cold, but that knowledge didn’t provide an overwhelming amount of comfort. The wind in Patagonia is well known, and for good reason. The wind in the middle of a city rivals only that of the wind on a Canadian mountain summit. The difference being the wind in Canada feels like it belongs there, in Patagonia it feels like an entity with bad intentions. My stomach felt like something was trying to escape and I barely had the physical or mental strength to stand. The taxi pulled up two houses away, Erin waved and he pulled up to us. I hugged Erin and she gave me a kiss. It was dark, but I knew she was crying; my tears not far behind either. She quickly let go said an abrupt goodbye, spun on her heels and quickly walked back to the small guest house we had been renting. She spared me a long goodbye, and deep in my heart I thanked her for it. I climbed into the taxi and headed for my five a.m. flight. My South American Adventure was over, all that was left was a forty hour nightmare of airplanes and lay overs. I pitied and envied Erin, she had a lot of adventure left ahead of her but she had the misfortune of having to do it alone.
Erin and I flew into the town of Ushuaia, Argentina on Saturday morning. I was a bit taken aback by the airport. It was a small single runway affair, with large timber beams that made it resemble a cozy mountain lodge. Our hostel was only a few kilometers away from the airport so we decided to walk. The decision was influenced by the fact that the walk was along the seaside, which offered us a beautiful view of both the sea and the surrounding mountains.
We got to the hostel, got settled into our dorms, and walked into town to get some groceries. The next day we did a hike up to a glacier. It was at the far north end of town and the first portion of the path was along a (closed for the season) ski hill. I still can’t help but day dream about catching a flight to Patagonia in the middle of august to go snowboarding.
Our trail quickly went passed the top of the chair lift and went from a wide gravel road to a narrow packed pathway. It took us through some amazing mountain scenery, over a few bridges, and eventually to a glacier… The first snow I had seen in a very long time. We stopped, had eggs, bananas, and croissants for lunch and then found our way back down to the trail head. All said and done it was only about a two or three hour hike, but it offered views usually associated with an all day hike.
The next day we really felt like challenging ourselves. We went to the nearby Tierra Del Fuego National Park to do the hardest trail listed: Cerro Guanaco. I am told the name translates to “Alpaca Hill”. A shuttle picked us up at our hostel, drove down every street in town to pick up other hikers, then headed to the park. The bus stopped at the gate so we could pay our entry fee then the driver was kind enough to drop us all off at which ever trailhead we asked for. We were told that our chosen hike was four or more hours each way and warned not to begin it any later than noon as the last shuttle back to town was at 7pm. We started our hike a little after 11am so we decided we best hustle a little, lest we have to spend the night in the Patagonian wilderness unprepared. It would make for a good story but it only gets to about 12 degrees Celsius during the day and I have a hard time imagining night time being anything other than cold.
The first part of the hike was steep uphill through a densely wooded forest filled with thick trunked trees. I also noticed that a lot of the trees had large burls on them, which I found very interesting. I later learned that burls are the result of stress, damage, or illness in trees. So its possible that some sort of disease went through the forest at some time. The dense trees started to thin out and then we found ourselves at the edge of the strangest patch of trees I have ever come across. Our path led through a patch of the most twisted and tangled tree I had ever seen. I couldn’t understand it the trees grew in any direction and, apparently, often changed their minds about what that direction should be. I spotted one that had grown in an almost perfect four foot loop. It looked like a haunted forest in a Disney movie.
After the haunted forest was a mud hole. We cautiously walked along the edge, trying not to lose a shoe until we reached a gravel creek bed to walk along. Our trail then led us across a seemingly open field. The field, however, was soft wet ground and required care and caution to navigate, for fear of the soft ground sinking into the water. I accidentally learned that the water was about the depth of an ankle.
Across the field was the final portion of our hike. A very steep trail etched into the crumbly shale on the mountain side. This would lead us to the summit of the mountain and reward us with beautiful views of the park, the town, and the ocean. Going up the final section Erin and I passed a group of people playing in a patch of snow on the mountainside, on the way back we would overhear that they had never seen snow before.
Surprisingly, we managed to reach the summit in just over two hours. It turns out we had hustled needlessly. We took a bunch of pictures and made our way back down, enjoying the scenery just as much the second time through. All said and done our hike took us just over four hours total.
On our third and final full day at Ushuaia it was far too windy and rainy to do anything of note. We just relaxed and planned our trip to Chile. The next morning, bright and early, we jumped on a bus at traveled eleven hours to Punta Arenas, Chile. It was nice to see the Patagonian country side through those big windows. We spent a few days in Punta Arenas and then I caught a plane home, and Erin took a bus to her next adventure, a nine day hike around Torres Del Paine. Hopefully I can get her to write it up for us all to enjoy.
By this time, many of you are likely wondering why I came home early, and why Erin didn’t. Well, the truth is, I am sick. I have had IBS for many years now. While travelling it got worse. A lot worse. I was stressed and not eating much; in fact I lost about 50 lbs in five months. I often found myself staying in the hostel, sick, while Erin would go do activities alone, or waste the day in the hostel. I was essentially paying big money to hang out in cheap bunk beds with a stomach ache. So we talked about it and decided it would be best if I came home and got control of my diet and stress and tried some new treatments. Erin wasn’t sure if she should keep traveling without me or come home with me, so I put my foot down. I told her to stay and travel. She is a more experienced traveler that me and she is no stranger to solo travel. Furthermore if she did come home with me there isn’t much she can do to help me recover, and it would mean ending the trip of a lifetime very early.
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