I spent a week in the Bull River area east of Cranbrook at the end of October. I had tags for Mule, Whitetail, and also Elk to increase my chances but I only hoped to come home with one of those, and realistically expected to come home with nothing. During my first visit to Canada I was a WWOOFer on an organic free range cattle ranch and this year the rancher granted me permission to hunt her land. Within
When I first asked for permission I expected to be roaming the 400 acres of crown land leased to the ranch, staying vigilant for the large grizzly bear population in the area, but the rancher suggested I try a field instead.One had been left fallow this year and various browsers and grazers were periodically destroying the fence to get to the alfalfa. Previous hunters had some success in blinds around the field’s edge so that’s where I headed.
On my first trip out I headed to the field an hour before sunset and settled in to a group of large rocks with a little cover. After the sun went down I watched three Whitetails hop the fence 300 metres away. They were moving my way but very slowly. With the fading light and impending legal deadline I was content just observing their behaviour. I was in the Kootenays in Whitetail buck and antlerless season so my options were wide open.
The next morning I approached the field in the dark an hour before sunrise. In the pitch black I almost had a heart attack when a herd of what must have been Elk took off. I could feel the ground thundering as they headed for the trees but all I could see was ghostly silhouettes. After two hours sitting in the rain I watched the same three Whitetails enter the field. I was in a different spot due to a changed wind direction but again they headed towards me. There were closing 150 metres when a grader hammering down a nearby road spooked them and they took off. When they didn’t reappear after 15 minutes I decided attempting to follow them was better than sitting in the rain feeling cold. If only I had better remembered my Eat Wild training! I assumed the deer would be long gone and I didn’t consider stalking for the first minute. So when I looked up and saw a doe staring right at me from 30 metres I was not prepared. That the doe didn’t immediately take off, tail held high, was surprising but I chose to concentrate on taking a shot. I calmly brought my rifle to my shoulder, took one long look at the distinctive Whitetail markings, and put my eye to the scope. And everything was grey. My “no-fog” Nikon Prostaff was completely opaque thanks to a morning of wet weather. I couldn’t even make out the doe’s outline and my Tikka T3 carries no open sights. Unsurprisingly my dinner took off into the bush long before I could fix the problem.
Over the next couple of days I returned to the field, choosing different spots based on the wind and where I had last seen deer. One evening I watched six Elk enter the field at least 500 metres away. In the fading light I was half convinced it was some bizarre herd of bears. Although I had an Elk tag I’d just missed six-point season and I was more than a little concerned about the logistics of handling such a large animal.
On the fourth morning I got my deer, in a spot I never expected it to be. I picked a seat in the trees and settled in with my back against a big larch. I had a clear view for at least 300 metres from my 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock. The wind was coming from 11 o’clock so I confidently discounted the grassy area to my back and right. I’d finally figured out my layering so that I could comfortably doze in the freezing temperatures and not slowly cook as the sun came up. After a couple of hours remaining still I desperately needed to adjust and scanned the horizon to see if I might surprise anyone. On a whim I checked behind me and no more than 40 metres away was a young male Whitetail chewing on the grass. He qualified as antlerless, looked healthy, and somehow hadn’t picked up the scent that was blowing right to him, so I quickly got very excited. The problem was I had my back against a tree and he was at 5 o’clock so I started to rotate very slowly, rifle in hand. I got about half way when he looked at me. We stared at each other for a full 30 seconds – him rooted to the spot, tail down, sure there was a problem but not sure what it was, and me sore and twisted, holding a gun that was feeling heavier each second and desperately trying not to quiver. After a long stand-off he turned around, flicked his tail a few times, and started walking steadily to the trees behind me. Once his eyes were averted I finished my contortion and lined up my shot. I tracked him for two seconds before realising this was a bad idea, then rotated as much as I possibly could to put the crosshair in front of him. This gave me time to study the background and when he walked into the sight I squeezed the trigger.
There was an intense flash of yellow and the deer crumpled on the spot. I’d never seen muzzle flash from my rifle before but I had other things to think about. Within 15 seconds I was standing over a completely unresponsive Whitetail. My 150gr 30-06 had hit him in the neck, destroying the windpipe. His eye didn’t blink when I brushed it with the muzzle so I assumed it was death or at least unconsciousness from hydraulic shock. The arteries in the neck were gone so either way this was a very dead deer. Once I’d confirmed the kill I noticed the blood running into my eye… The yellow flash when I took the shot was actually the eyepiece of my scope slamming me in the eye and nose. I’d been well schooled in scope bite by the Eat Wild shooting session, and my dominant left eye had been well clear of the scope, but I’d been so twisted when I squeezed the trigger that the scope came across the top of my nose. I’ve never named a scar before but the deep one above my right eye will forever be known at “Whitetail’s Revenge”.
Staying on a cattle ranch had advantages for the subsequent processing. A garden barrow was perfect for wheeling the carcass back to the house and my rancher host was well experienced in dressing cows. She provided much appreciated pointers on cleanly dressing the animal. I felt confident from my training at Singing Lands but this was the first time I’d ever put my knife to work in this way and there’s no substitute for experience.
Eat Wild gave me my first ever experience of skinning an animal and skinning the deer was a breeze. By noon I was hanging my first harvest in a game bag. The un-skinned head remained with the carcass for identification and a plastic bag tied at the neck helped keep its hair from sticking to the meat. Once the excitement finally started to wear off I realized I hadn’t eaten for eight hours and that my swollen eyebrow and nose were going to be tender for a long time.
I’d agreed with the rancher that I would pay my way with work on the farm. Over the week I put in around 40 hours of wood splitting and when I finally headed home with my prize I was sore but happy. Two weeks later I filled a new freezer with roasts, steaks, ground, and a bag of bones thanks to Country Meadow Meats in Pitt Meadows. I’ve since had the pleasure of sharing the tastiest meat I’ve ever eaten with family and friends. Hunting on the ranch definitely improved my chances of a successful trip but left me feeling a little uneasy about the level of challenge. With this first experience in the bag I plan to spend next summer researching new territory and practising my still hunting techniques for a truly challenging trip in the 2016 season.
I got interested in hunting for ethical reasons and a desire to avoid the commercial meat industry. It was very important to me that the act of hunting and handling a wild animal was as respectful as possible. That was probably my favourite aspect of the Eat Wild workshop. It left me feeling confident that hunting could be done in this way and happy knowing there were hunters out there with a similar philosophy. I was planning this trip for a year but it was only once I left Singing Lands that I felt it was something I could really do. Had I not spent that weekend listening, observing, and participating I might never have answered the long list of questions I needed to address before feeling comfortable calling myself a hunter.