Every year my two brothers and our Dad head up to a hunting camp a little bit north of Valleyview Alberta in an effort to fill our freezers with delicious wild game meat. This year we called in support from Janet’s parents so that I could head up north for a week without feeling too guilty about leaving Janet alone with seven month old twins.
As this is a post about hunting, expect to see some graphic images, if that’s not for you, you may not want to proceed. You may not want to eat meat either if you can’t handle where it comes from, but that’s another subject. 😉
Perhaps I should provide a little background/context; Dad used to be a part owner of a hunting property north of Valleyview Alberta consisting of 360 acres of land (approximately 1/3 of which is agricultural field and 2/3rd brush) and a rudimentary 20×20 shack with no power, water, gas, or cell service. Over the years we all spent a lot of time, money and effort improving the shack, building decks and a new metal roof/super-structure, an elevated hunting blind in the trees, insulating a make shift meat locker, and cutting/clearing trails and cut-lines from which to hunt. Eventually Dad accepted an offer to be bought out so long as we could continue to hunt there. After being bought out, the sole remaining owner proceeded to ramp up development and brought in power and a large water tank and an atco sleeping trailer etc. which more or less brings us to today. While these improvements certainly make life at the hunting camp a lot easier, it has definitely lost a little bit of the romance it once had. Gone are the days of candle lit dinners and stoking the wood burning stove in the middle of the night. On the up side, showers are pretty awesome.
Click on images for a larger version.
Dad and Loren had arrived the day before Davis and I and as such they were able to get a head start on some hunting, and what a head start it turned out to be! Dad and Loren participated in a coordinated effort to push some bush on the hunting property as well as the neighbouring crown land with a total of 14 hunters. As it turns out, Loren was in the right place at the right time, overlooking a slough on the edge of the property when a big bull elk got pushed towards him. Loren searched for shooting lanes through the trees, saw his opportunity, took the shot and the bull went down! We were off to a roaring start before Davis and I had even arrived.
Unfortunately for us, that was the most action any of us would see for days. Over the next few days we travelled the surrounding countryside in our trucks and walked through many kilometres of brush but we weren’t seeing many animals, and the shooting opportunities were even more limited.
What we were seeing a lot of, was wolves and wolf sign, much more so than any previous year.
It seemed our competition would be fierce this year.
On day two we saw a cow moose with the smallest calf we had ever seen but they were on a field we didn’t have permission to shoot on, and on the wrong side of the highway for Davis to use his calf moose tag (we are right on the border between two wildlife management units). We also saw a bull elk with a bad limp that slipped into some thick brush before we could get a shot off. We later found out from some locals that he was injured by a vehicle on the highway last year and has been hanging out in that patch of brush ever since. Dad and Loren saw a couple of deer but no shooting opportunities and Loren shot a grouse.
That afternoon, much to our surprise we saw a big black bear crossing the field next door to the hunting property. None of us have ever seen a bear this late in the season, and certainly not when it is so cold and snowy out. It snowed hard off and on all day while the temperature dropped and it started to really dump snow around sunset
Day three started off before sunrise with a big coordinated bush push around the hunting property with a total of 8 hunters. I tracked a couple of moose for kilometres zig-zagging through thick brush until I finally caught up with them only to discover it was a couple of cows with no calves in sight and we only had calf moose tags. I also put up a whitetail doe but she bounded away before I could get my scope on her.
Day four consisted of even fewer animal sightings and even more snow.
With so little action, Loren set off into the brush to set some snares for snow shoe hares.
For our evening hunt we set dad up overlooking a creek valley while Loren Davis and I attempted to push any animals that might have been in the valley to his vantage point.
While walking the fringe of a field above the valley a whitetail doe materialized out of the falling snow, seemingly oblivious to my presence and walking right towards me! Finally I would get a shooting opportunity. I sat down, got her in my sights, waited for her to give me a good shot, squeezed the trigger… and completely missed. I also managed to scope myself for the first time in my life. I watched her bound away through the snow while blood dripped down my face from the wound left where my scope had connected with my forehead. I have to assume that I was holding the gun awkwardly which resulted both in me getting scoped and also missing my shot. I went to look for any sign that I might have injured her but as I suspected, it looked like a clean miss. Things were starting to look a little desperate, four days of hunting with nothing to show for it?! As I pushed my way through thick brush in the valley in the failing light I came across a bird’s nest with snow piled on top, I knocked the snow aside to discover that the nest had been roofed with very carefully placed leaves. Naturally I had to know why so I removed the leaves one by one to discover a selection of seeds and corn. It looks like this hunter won’t be going home completely empty handed tonight!
While we saw lots of sign in that valley, nobody else laid eyes on any ungulates.
Day five started off a little bit more promising, it was cold, -17°C and the snow had finally stopped, and each truck saw a handful of deer, but still no shooting opportunities. After our morning hunt, we met at a clearing with huge sand piles where we setup a target and took a few shots at 100 and 200 yards to make sure our scopes were accurately sighted in. After missing my shot last night I had some doubts. It turns out that my gun was shooting a bit low which may have contributed to my miss the night before.
After lunch, Loren went out to check his snares and came back to camp with two hares.
With renewed confidence that our guns were shooting straight we set out for an evening hunt. Davis got a fleeting chance at a whitetail doe but she bounded away into the brush just as legal light came to an end. As we drove back to camp we saw a friend’s truck overlooking a field. We stopped to see what he was up to and he informed us that the field contained a herd of cow elk as well as a whitetail doe and buck. Unfortunately for us it was past legal light and we would have to be content with just seeing them. As we admired the view, Dad and Loren pulled up and announced that Dad had shot a whitetail doe and that they were heading back to camp to process it!
Processing game in frigid temperatures in the dark is not exactly ideal but we were all eager to get at it! Our dry spell was broken!
The morning of day six Davis and I got up extra early and headed out to the field where we had seen the elk and whitetails the night before and sure enough we came across two whitetail bucks across the road from the field in question. Unfortunately we didn’t have permission on this field. The deer were already well aware of our presence and ran off towards some brush but kind of parallel to the road. We kept our eyes on them and sure enough we watched as one of them appeared to deliberate about crossing the road (and therefore into the field where we had permission). Davis hopped out of the truck and got into position off the road just as the whitetail crossed into the field right in front of him, Davis took the shot just as the clock ticked over to legal light and missed and the buck took off running, Davis lined up another shot on the running animal, squeezed the trigger and the buck went down! An impressive shot at approximately 250 yards on a running animal. As we walked up to retrieve the animal and get him gutted it became clear that this was a buck with some character. He had multiple broken tines on his antlers, with one antler much thicker than the other, he also had a tine off to the side and a funny depression/abscess in the thick antler. A very interesting rack indeed and a nice big bodied buck for the freezer.
After getting him gutted Davis and I loaded the buck into the back of the truck and drove him back to the hunting camp for skinning after finishing our morning hunt. Skinning in the daylight is certainly nicer than at night.
Finally, the meat locker was starting to fill up.
After lunch Loren and I went back out to check his snares and came back with another three hares! Five hares out of 5 snares over the course of two days, not bad at all.
That night we saw another wolf, and a cow moose but nobody had any more shooting opportunities
On day seven we didn’t see a single animal during the morning hunt. We did however see a lot of hunters which was no surprise as it was a Saturday. We also saw a lot of tracks as had been the case all week. It seems there are plenty of animals around but they are apparently more nocturnal than normal, and more skittish, probably a result of all the hunting/wolf pressure. Seeing so many fresh tracks and so few animals was a constant frustration.
We even saw lots of fresh snowshoe hare and weasel tracks right on our deck.
We spent much of the day cleaning the shack/trailer and preparing for our departure the next day. We always make sure to leave the property in a better state than when we arrived.
For our last evening hunt Davis and I decided to split up in order to maximize our chances, he would take my truck to go look for animals while I would walk down to the bottom of the property to a spot overlooking the creek.
As I watched and waited I could hear gun shots off in the distance all around me – an impressive 16 shots over 1.5 hours. As each shot rang out I hoped first of all that it was my dad or brothers shooting an animal, and secondly that an animal would get pushed in my direction but in the end I didn’t see anything, and neither did Davis, or Loren and Dad.
The next morning we went out for one last quick hunt in a last ditch effort to bring home more meat but came up empty handed again.
This was the first year I’ve been skunked in a while but lucky for me my brothers and Dad all had success and made sure that I would be going home with enough meat to feed my family for the year. I’m already looking forward to the opportunity to return the favour next hunting season.
Now to start cutting up this meat!