Of late I’ve had it in my mind to give the hunter gatherer lifestyle a go. I have no grandiose ideas of living off the land, but the idea of providing something for the table from time to time is appealing to me. Local mushrooms and berries somewhat scare me – I feel each could be my last. I’ve fished for many years and am more than comfortable catching fish for the kitchen, and the next logical step was hunting for meat.
To backtrack momentarily and by way of introduction, I am an Australian that has moved to Canada, specifically to Vancouver, BC. I have hunted before, but seldom, if ever, for consumption of meat and typically more in the vein of rural pest control. I was excited at the prospect of having wild game meals, so how could I make that happen?
There isn’t much that can’t be found with our friend Mr. Google, and a few minutes of online browsing was all that I needed to find the requirements to be able to hunt in BC, which incidentally led me to an introduction with the owner of EatWild whilst sitting my CORE exam. BC requires all hunters to be competent in hunting principles presented by the BC Wildlife Federation including outdoor education, firearm handling, and animal identification, before being legally licensed to hunt.
Fast-forward a little, I was licensed to hunt, and had acquired and practiced with a bow with sufficient success to enable me to hunt. I had not been familiar with archery until shown the basics by my brother in sin (“in-sin”), and discovered how easy this sport is with modern compound bows, which was to be my first conduit to wild game. The next step was where to hunt, and what. My girlfriend is adventurous enough to encourage my ideas, good or bad, and this one has proved no different. I was very fortunate to be allowed to hunt on her mother’s beautiful property in Alberta, and was excited to spend a few days wandering the hills in the fall looking for the usually present mule deer, and hunting with said brother in-sin.
My girlfriend’s eyes rolled at the sight of us dressed in cheap camo, but I’d like to think she understood the requirement, and with a photo or two for her own amusement, we were on our way to hunt. Now when I said I was fortunate to be allowed to hunt on said property, in a hunting sense this should read very, incredibly, amazingly fortunate. We had but to look out the window over morning coffee to see reasonably large herds of deer, no more than 50m from the house. The property doesn’t see hunters, so we also had the advantage of relatively unaffected deer. Never the less, a bow has a limited range, so approach becomes key.
A quick pep talk confirmed neither of us were terribly keen to sit still all day waiting for deer to potentially wander by, so spot and stalk it was to be. At about 1:30pm on day one, we set out on a section of the property we knew held deer. We were a well-suited hunting pair, both roughly as un-stealthy as the other, crunching sticks at just the wrong time, spooking deer we hadn’t seen bedded down while stalking others because we forgot the binoculars, and using an array of hand signals that weren’t rehearsed but looked cool and seemed to work.
My girlfriend had built an incredible glamping tent on the property that overlooked much of the ground we were hunting, and from her vantage point was able to embarrass us later, saying she mistook us for cows at one point, and mentioned on more than one occasion being able to drive right up to the deer on a quad! Apparently the deer have grown accustomed to hearing and seeing the quad, however weren’t quite so accustomed to two men stalking around looking somewhat sinister, carrying bows and holding funny glasses. Ironically enough, it was our failed hunting tactics in the end that provided the opportunity we needed…
After a first day of less than perfect hunting, we starting hunting around 2pm on day two, and as luck would have it we quickly spotted a rangale of deer (Wikipedia tells me that’s another collective noun for a group of deer) down in an open paddock that we stood atop of. They were in between us and a stand of trees that sat near one border of the property and we smugly used our binoculars, which we remembered to bring this time, and noted two nice bucks among the group. A check of the wind and the underlying geography confirmed we had some work to do to get into range, and would also require some educated luck based on what we had seen of their movements previously.
We walked a good distance to loop almost full circle around, keeping under the hills, behind trees, and downwind at all times, as to remain undetected. Finally flanking the stand of trees leading up to where we suspected the deer would move to, we noticed the deer feeding up to a water trough in the paddock. For the next 10 minutes or so we moved on our bellies up a slight hill and behind a low stand of scrub, before bringing up our seeing aids to check on the deer location. Busted! As if to mock us, one deer stood looking inquisitively and right at us, and I’m sure I could hear it offering the advice of just driving the quad instead.
We regrouped, giggled – in a manly way – at our efforts, and decided to head into the hills in a thickly treed area where we’d seen the deer move to. We would see if we could do any better there. I’d been given most of the opportunity to date, and suggested I push ahead and loop around to move the deer to in-sin’s general direction for him to have an undetected shot on distracted animals. Once again I was not sufficiently quiet, and the majority of the herd pushed higher up the steep hill and were gone. We met up again and were deciding on our next move when we noticed one of the bucks had remained and was about 50m away. It moved away slowly, but was not alarmed and didn’t seem to go far. Our plan again was similar, where I would loop around to move the deer up for my companion to have a shot. Walking on quiet ground, I inadvertently walked to within 50m once again of the deer, which had bedded down in thick cover. It’s antlers were the only thing visible, and using the trees in front of me to remove me from sight and stalking slowly, I was able to get within 30m. Slowly I raised my bow and waited to see if the animal would stand. It didn’t and did not present a shot in the thick cover, so I continued another 5m or so, at which point it finally stood up slowly. This was definitely not the plan, but you know what they say, never look a gift deer in the mouth… Steadying myself, I waited with drawn bow while the young buck continued to stand still, broadside to me. I slowly stepped out from behind the trees that broke up my silhouette, waited for the deer to move a pace, and took the shot. Rubbish. The arrow seemed to deflect off a small branch and I missed completely, sending the broadhead into a fallen piece of timber further up the hill. I remained motionless, aside from shaking my head at myself as the animal sauntered off through the thick trees and out of sight. To my surprise, the deer looped back around and stood around 35m away from me. It appeared to have not seen me and was trying to figure out what had happened. Sheer luck had presented me with another opportunity. It stood facing me, and I drew once again waiting for it to turn broadside. My arms were just about to give out when it finally turned and I put the arrow in the middle of the body just behind the front legs. Some tracking and a bit of dirty work later, saw us with a cleaned deer. I had read some literature and used every reliable Mr. YouTube as a reference, but was fortunate the brother in-sin was more competent than I in this respect and I mostly assisted while he figured out the tough parts.
That night was to be a dinner party with family friends, some of which were heavily involved in conservation in parts of Africa, and of course they had arrived before we were able to finish our tasks. One way to make an impression is greet someone after field dressing a deer whilst wearing camo, though they seemed very understanding.
There was still one more task to prepare the meat for the day, as a Chinook weather pattern had arrived, raising temperatures significantly. After hanging the deer, it was decided the deer be skinned to reduce the heat. Our skinning job resembled our field dressing job, and we were lucky to have another guest experienced in the task help us. With the job over, we cleaned up and enjoyed sundowners at the glamping tent followed by an incredible dinner with great company, with the promise of a meal of venison in the near future.