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Spotting Bushbuck: there’s one inside the circle I’ve drawn on one of the photos. It’s a bit more visible in the blow-up photo. Kudu were everywhere. Note the sharp horns on the Bushbuck! Rocky was quite pleased with himself following the chase and fight.

I recently returned from another fabulous trip to Africa. Like last time, this was a two-legged journey – but this time, our first stop was in South Africa.

In South Africa, Drew, Brian and I stayed with Game4Africa (https://www.game4africa.co.za/), owned and operated by the Coetzee Brothers, Wikus and Colin. We were in the region known as the Eastern Cape, an area well-known for it abundance of game, particularly Kudu (the best chance of getting a Kudu anywhere in Africa, according to the Wik and Colin).

For Drew and I, the focus was Bushbuck.

The Cape Bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) or more commonly, the Bushbuck, is a smallish antelope with large males weighing slightly more than 50 kg. Females are smaller and don’t have horns.

Bushbuck, are one of the four African antelope with twisted horns, the others being the Kudu, Eland and Nyala. Although it’s the smallest antelope of the group, the Bushbuck has a well-deserved reputation for having a nasty temperament. They will turn on and fight predators – including human hunters – when wounded and cornered. The horns are very sharp.

On day one, Brian and I hunted with Colin close to the main lodge, while Drew went further afield with Wik. Colin, Brian and I scanned heavy cover in steep hill country, but had no luck in seeing our main quarry. Before the morning was over, though, we had word that Wik and Drew had been successful and Drew had shot a very nice Bushbuck.

For day two, the decision was to head back to the general area where Drew had been successful the first morning. The morning was cool and in the hills, there was a stiff breeze. Despite having donned a heavy shirt, a fleece-lined hoodie and warm gloves, it was hard to keep comfortable. Scanning the hillsides hundreds of meters distant through binoculars was tasking, as my eyes kept watering and smearing my glasses.

Finally, after what seemed like a couple of hours, someone, Wik or Drew, spotted and Bushbuck and Wik said we’d have to try and make our was down the hillside to get within range to try for a shot.

What a climb (down)! We wound our way down on game trails a couple of hundred meters; often we seemed to be going almost straight down and it took quite the effort to keep balance and not fall head-over-heels down the ravine. I was thankful for my good boots and their solid grip, and the thought that I’d have been snookered if I’d opted to bring the other pair of hunting boots I had contemplated bringing, kept popping up in my mind.

Finally, we found ourselves on a bit of an opening with the Bushbuck still way below us. Wik asked me if I could see it and through the binos, I could. I had difficulty locating it through the scope, though, and then couldn’t keep steady on the steep slope. Wik did some speedy adjustments and we found a way for me to sit down and just as the Bushbuck took a step and was about to disappear under the canopy, I squeezed off a shot. There was a solid ‘thwack’ and the Bushbuck was gone.

“Two hundred and 30 meters. Good Shot!” said Wik.

Wik radioed for his tracker and his dog Rocky, a solidly built Jack Russel Terrier. Apparently, Jack Russel’s are favoured by many African hunters in tracking down antelope and have a reputation as being the breed to deal with Bushbuck.

It took a while, but eventually Wik’s tracker, carrying Rocky, found us. Wik pointed out where we had last seen the Bushbuck and down the ravine the tracker went, still carrying compliant little Rocky under his arm.

At some point we started following. We saw the tracker get to the spot where the Bushbuck had been shot and he let Rocky go.

Almost immediately Rocky started barking and growling and we could heard barks and grunts from the Bushbuck as well. We couldn’t see either Rocky or the Bushbuck, but did catch glimpses of the tracker running about in circles, apparently trying to get to the Bushbuck and dispatch it, which, eventually, he did.

“It’s over!” said Wik.

We got down to the Bushbuck, the tracker and Rocky, who was splattered in blood and seemed to be very pleased with himself.

The Bushbuck was a magnificent animal with long, sharp, heavy horns. Apparently, it was a once-in-a-lifetime Bushbuck. Actually, it was quite similar to the one Drew had taken the day before, the main difference being mine was slightly wider.

Bushbuck can be quite common, but are often found where cover is thick and the terrain steep (like where we were), which can make for tough hunting. Wik and Colin thought we did well in part because of the weather (cold nights, sunny mornings) and the lack of a moon during the night. This resulted in the animals being more apt to be in openings than the norm.

Drew attributed our success to us being great hunters (sarc!).

Two great Bushbucks in two days. Thanks Wik!

And thanks especially to Rocky!

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Today the upland game bird season opened near my home, here in Ontario. I enjoy upland game bird hunting and in addition to hunting close to home, I have, for many years, tried to do a hunt out in the prairies as well. But this year, I won’t be doing a western bird hunt. Time to reminisce, I guess.
Below is a story I wrote a few years back that I wasn’t able to sell. There’s not many publications that will take this sort of story and given the sorry state of the magazine industry, it didn’t really surprise me I didn’t sell it.
The good news is, it’s now free for your reading pleasure.  Hope some of you enjoy the read.The bad news is Brill has left us, as has Daffy. We miss them greatly.

Dawn breaks cool and misty. We’re anxiously waiting, wanting to give the birds a chance to fly off their roosts to their morning quest for food. We haven’t seen or heard any other hunters rumble down the gravel road past our camp, an ATCO trailer furnished sparsely but lacking little, towards the river. The rolling mist brings the road into view sporadically and while the lack of traffic is comforting, it’s still early. We know there will be competition and we’ll just have to deal with it. Space is one of the best attributes the west has to offer and thank goodness there is usually more than enough for all those that may show up. An easterner, but having experienced the open range for years, it’s easy for me to understand why westerners often express feelings of claustrophobia when transplanted to forested landscapes.

Brian, who had a career as a short order cook during and immediately after his university years, asks us what we’d like to eat. During our many hunts together, he’s assumed the mantle of camp chef. It’s not something we ever discuss; it’s just the way it is and I assume that as long as we are hunting together, it will always be. But despite some mild hunger pangs, we elect to go with Glenn’s suggestion to ‘do a short hunt and come back to camp for a really big breakfast’. And maybe by then, Peter will have arrived.

Having decided to forego our morning meal, we instead attend to other duties, like cleaning up. Some of us have our best friends along on this trip who require our attention, so there are dog walks, watering and feeding tasks to do.

The dogs stay in the trailer with us, and not surprisingly, seem to know there is real hunting soon to be done. They are scuffling about, whacking their wagging tails on table and chair legs, us and anything else that’s close by. I appreciate that the dogs are reasonably well-trained and it’s unlikely their agitated behaviour will result in much breakage or upsets, as we learned long ago not to leave anything fragile within wagging distance.  Excited dogs remind me of nervous people; the commonality is that both seem to have to pee a lot.

I take my girl Brill, outside. After she takes care of her business, we eye each other and I can’t help but smile. Immediately, Brill begins to yap and run round around in circles. She loves to hunt upland birds and I muse she is recalling memories of past years when she’s joined us on our western hunts. I watch her as she continues on her vocal and circular routine and wonder what, exactly, is she thinking about? Birds, I suspect.

Our trailer squats on a flat spot where upland and bottomland collide. It’s ranch country, so up on top, of course, it’s wide and open and dry. There are some decadent stands of big cottonwoods in the river valley, along with thick shrubbery that extends up into the attendant coulees. We suspect the primary reason the grand trees don’t seem to be regenerating is from thrashing and grazing pressure, but we’re careful to keep our thoughts to ourselves, lest we alienate ourselves with our ranch hosts. Substantial acreages of the bottom land have been converted to irrigation farming, producing grains and other crops, but even here livestock is often run. In addition to cattle, a few sections hold horses, which these days seem to be kept mostly for traditional reasons and nostalgia. Across the road from the trailer, there’s the bull pasture, and to the east and west, interspersed by tree and other cover, a number of various sized fields irrigated with circular pivots.

Gazing at the vastness of the scene in front of me, it’s easy to understand why the west is often referred to as ‘Big Sky Country’. The term might have been coined in Montana, but southern Alberta has similar scenery. Plus, I can’t think of a better way to describe the unfettered view of miles and miles of rolling grassland with the occasional dot of a clump of poplars and a never-ending skyline. Even though it’s early in the morning and light levels are still low, there’s an obvious hint of green to the viewscape that greets my eyes.

In the fall, for the most part, the scenery out here is usually a simple mixture of yellows and browns, plus whatever colour the sky happens to be. When snow blankets the ground, it can be hard to separate heaven from earth.

It is a very dry place we hunt, although this year, on the drive in, we had commented on the height of the grass and how things didn’t seem near as brown as they have in the past. There were also vibrant splashes of reds and orange in the coulees. We conclude it must have been a good growing season, and hope this translates into a bumper crop of birds.

We had also talked how things actually appeared to be somewhat lush, although as we rolled along it struck me that ‘lush’ is probably not the best word to use in a country where the ground is largely carpeted with cactus. I glance down and see I’ve narrowly missed walking into small clump of prickly pears.

Brill has finally stopped her antics and leads me back inside the trailer. The ‘boys’ have just about got things cleaned up, and it looks like we are ready to go. My gun is already in the truck, so all I have to do is don my vest, make sure there are enough shells in my pack and pick up Brill’s water dish. Glenn has jugs of water for both us and the dogs. Rob pours himself a thermal cup of coffee and then ruins it by pouring in a dollop from a can of Carnation evaporated milk. Brian has made himself a thermos of hot tea, which he, as with Rob’s coffee, never has to share.

I suspect our plan to ‘have a quick hunt before anyone else arrives then come back to camp and have a big breakfast’ is doomed to fail, which I mention to Brian. He laughs and doesn’t need to remind me that it’s a plan we’ve made before and one which has never worked out. If we’re lucky, we may get to eat by early afternoon.

All of us engage in some non-serious banter then decide, like we always do, to head east past the ranch house and hunt on the edge of Reg’s largest pivot.

With dogs and hunters loaded into two trucks, the ‘Trailer Park Boys’, a name taken from the TV show and whom we are referred to by the locals, and only somewhat because of our accommodations and habits, finally pull out. It’s Day 1 of a new season.

It’s also opening day of the pheasant season so that’s going to be the focus of the morning hunt. The seasons for sharp-tails and gray partridge – we still call them Hungarians – have been open for a couple of weeks, but there is very little hunting pressure on them in the area, except by us, of course. However we don’t think we put much of a dent into the populations, even during those years when we do well. As such, they’re never far from mind and we don’t turn our nose up at them. All three species are, on occasion, on or near the pivot, although we’re far and away more likely to encounter ringnecks there. And the ringnecks here are all wild birds, as the closest areas stocked with pen-raised birds are more than 30 miles distant. We like this.

The fog has lifted, leaving behind a bit of a chill and dampness. The winds are light – there’s always a wind – and the skies remain overcast. It almost feels like rain, which would be unusual. In all the years we’ve hunted here, it’s seldom rained, and then never hard enough to keep us from being afield.

As we are getting out of the trucks we hear two cock birds crowing near the banks of the river, in a place where the willows are so thick that often the only way through them, even for the dogs, is to follow the cattle and deer trails. Glenn goes to block where the river, the willows and the edge of the irrigated field meet, while Brian and his Lab Daffy, Rob, Brill and I head into a strip of cover to try to flush some of the birds we know are there, because they always are.

Brill is a Wachtelhund, a German breed I have as a result of my friendship with Gerhard (Gary) Gehrmann. Gary is originally from Germany, having settled in Northwestern Ontario, where he owns a hunting lodge catering mainly to European hunters. Like many of the versatile German hunting dog breeds, the Wachtelhund can be used to help with hunting almost any game species, no matter the size. While only about 60 pounds, they can be fearless, and aren’t afraid to hold wounded wild boars, black bears or even timber wolves at bay.

I haven’t used Brill much on big game. My first Wachtel, Heidi, loved moose hunting, but these days there are few moose where I live, and as such, Brill hasn’t had many moose hunting opportunities. Based on her demeanor, I doubt she would show much interest. She is a great waterfowl retriever, but it’s upland birds that bring out the best in her.

The Wachtelhund’s, like Daff the Labrador, are flushing dogs, but with one very unique, and lovely trait. They bay – actually, it’s more of a bark – when on hot bird and small game like hare, scent (they don’t bark for waterfowl, which I find really amazing). The hotter the scent, the louder and more frequent the barking. In thick upland bird cover, this is a Godsend, as you don’t need to interpret body language as to whether the dog is acting ‘birdy’. You don’t even have to see the dog.

So, here we are on the first drive of the first day of our week-long hunt. Within a minute or so of release, Brill disappears into the cover of dense grasses, berry-laden buffaloberries and thorny shrubs like hawthorns and currants that border the edge of the pivot field and lead to a stand of mature poplars. It’s not long before I hear her bark, and then spot her – mostly just her tail, beating briar bushes – about 80 feet from me.

About 10 seconds after her first bark, she lets out another, then another. She’s now into ‘Shrill Brill’ mode, and within moments, Daff, Robbie and I are bounding over to join in the hunt. A few years earlier, on Brill’s first hunt with us, both humans and dogs quickly caught on that a barking Brill means action, and if you want to participate, you’d best get over to Brill ASAP.  It’s obvious those lessons haven’t been forgotten as I watch and participate in the pile-on that takes place on the small plot of cover Brill is working.

Facing a stampede of two and four legged hunters, two cock birds simultaneously hurtle from shelter and frantically claw skyward and toward the safety of the river. I get the 12 gauge Ruger Red Label OU up and start my swing, but before I can get a bead on a bird I hear Robbie touch off a shot. He’s always first off the mark. Always. Unfortunately, it’s a clean miss, as is my shot. There are two more shots with the same result.

Brill continues to run around barking her face off  – this usually lasts a minute or so after birds have flushed – while Daff ambles over and gives all of us that “What? You missed?” look he excels at. I call Brill off by repeating ‘Gone Away!’ several times. Finally, she gives up and comes to me, panting heavily, eager to check out the next piece of cover.

We make our way down to the willows that grow on the sandy shoreline of the river, when Brill starts barking again. Then all heck breaks loose. I hear at least a couple of birds flush, someone yells “Hen!”, then there’s shooting, more barking, more beating of wings, some indecipherable yelling and another couple of shots. Stuck in a miserable patch of ‘slaplings’, all I’ve seen through my vegetative curtain is a flash of brown. At last I break out into the open, just in time to see a bird sail into the muddy brown waters of the river, a few feathers still aloft, floating along on the soft breeze. Daff jumps into the strong, swirling current of the river off a steep bank edge and does an admiral job catching up to the floating pheasant. When he brings the now soggy rooster back to Brian, I see both have huge grins on their faces. It’s the only bird we have in hand.

It seems we flushed three roosters and two hens. At least we are on the scoreboard.

For the next couple of hours, we work our way around the perimeter of the pivot with similar results. That is, we flush quite a few pheasants, touch off a fair number of shots, and occasionally connect. Just as the sun begins to break through the clouds, we find ourselves where the pivot and coulees converge. Maybe there will be a flock of Huns there, or some sharp-tails. Maybe both. One can only hope.

Brill goes over to inspect a towering thatch of grass beside a patch of stunted poplar trees only marginally taller. I can’t see her, but hear her bark. I’m some distance away so I pick up the pace in concert with Brill’s escalating vocalizations.

A brown bird bursts from the edge of the poplars clucking, and I immediately recognize it as a sharp-tail. I manage to squeeze off a round before the sharpie has gone10 feet and am rewarded with a crumpled bird. Another sharpie does the same thing with identical results. A double? Close enough, and I’m elated. Brill retrieves both of the plump prairie birds and I stuff them into my vest alongside my one pheasant. The extra weight feels good.

For the past 30 years I’ve lived in the southwestern border of the boreal forest, which is less than two hours from the pancake flat eastern prairie fringe and a long days drive from where I am today. It’s lake country with excellent angling for the likes of walleye, lake trout and muskellunge, and there is good hunting for whitetails and moose (sometimes!), as well as ruffed grouse, spruce grouse and, in large cutovers and burns, even sharp-tails. It’s a wonderful place to live, with a further redeeming feature being its closeness to the wide open west. I love both.

I think about how lucky and blessed I am as I watch and listen to Brill, who’s ran back into the cover that coughed up the brace of birds now in my vest. Her occasional bark has none of the almost panicky nature it has when the scent is hot, so I assume she’s sniffing memories of what I’m now in possession of.

I can see that the Trailer Park boys and Daffy are making their way towards me. I’m wondering if Glenn or Robbie will suggest that maybe we should check one more patch of cover – there are now other hunters nearby and we’re still hoping to put up a covey of Huns – before heading back to the trailer for that ‘really big breakfast’. If they don’t, I know Brian will bring it up.

The skies have cleared and the temperature is climbing rapidly. Good friends, good dogs, wide open spaces and Alberta birds.

It’s going to be a good week.

The hunting season, for white-tailed deer and grouse, in my area ended ½ hr after sunset yesterday (correction:grouse season is still open; it now closes at the end of December. But I have never hunted past Dec 15, which is when the season used to close.)

It was a rather uneventful day. I didn’t go hunting and hadn’t been for several days. For the second straight year I didn’t harvest a deer. I did have opportunities; more than last year. I saw at least 4 different bucks. Yearling bucks were the youngest and smallest; the other bucks were at least 2 ½ years old and the largest one might have been 3 ½.

I took a number of ruffed grouse and a few spruce grouse this autumn (plus some pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in Alberta). I hunted with my dog Neva here and in Alberta, and a bit with Lil and our other dog, Dory (near home). Dory’s front legs have never worked properly so she’s had that handicap all her life. But Neva seems to have brought her joy and Dory now enjoys being able to hunt with us, even if it’s only for a very short time during an outing.

The moose hunt also ended, but my moose hunting this year was restricted to the week I flew into the wilds of Manitoba; zippo on that hunt. I did have a tag for moose hunting in Ontario, but I wasn’t interested in hunting a calf because I don’t believe in calf hunting (not like it’s being done in Ontario); and, I didn’t have an adult tag on my moose license – nor did any of my normal hunting buddies.

The highlight of my hunting season was in early September. Saw a magnificent bull elk on a misty morning. There is no licenced hunt for elk in Northwestern Ontario, but someday there might be. Elk were re-introduced in this area in 2000 and although there have been some setbacks, there are a few herds around that seem to be doing OK. There’s been some encouraging reports of late, so ‘fingers crossed’.

The last few days of the hunting season have been cold and windy; into the minus twenties in Celsius – ‘silly arses’ – degrees. Too cold for me to want to go hunting.

There were not a lot of deer around anyway; most days when I went hunting I didn’t see a single deer. But tracks and dropping and rubs and scrapes showed there were deer scattered about and twice we saw deer along the highway driving to our hunt spot, or coming home after the hunt was done.

I saw almost as much wolf sign as deer sign. Everywhere I went there were fresh wolf tracks. On a few occasions we could hear them howling, sometimes quite close by. On a hill my buddy Deryk and I have hunted for years, there was very little deer sign (none on the hill itself) but we counted at least a dozen piles of wolf crap. More than once we saw wolves.

When it gets cold and snow covers the ground, the ruffed grouse just seem to disappear. I hadn’t been shooting any lately, not just because it’s been cold, but more important, many places now convenient to hunt might be areas where trappers are working; some trap sets could easily be tripped by an inquisitive dog and that would be the end of that. We had been letting Neva hunt grouse on many of our almost daily walks on our property; I just hadn’t been trying to shoot them. I like seeing the grouse and if they stick around, we can continue to ‘hunt’ them all winter, or at least on some nice days when there a few birds out and about.

Now that deer and bird hunting is over, I think it might be time to hunt wolves and get ready to do some ice fishing.

Maybe combine the two.

And maybe dream of an elk hunt.

rooster-1

I just returned from my almost annual bird hunt in Alberta. I say almost because some years I don’t do a bird hunt there if I’ve been drawn for a big game hunt (mule deer, antelope or elk). No big game tags this year, but that’s OK, as I really enjoy the bird hunt.

Bird numbers were up from previous years. Not as good as the best years I recall, but still pretty good. We didn’t have trouble finding pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse or Hungarian (gray) partridge and we managed to bag a number of each. It had been an excellent growing year  for crops and so, it seemed, for wildlife. If this winter isn’t too harsh and next spring and summer are again favourable, birds could be phenomenal. But that’s a big if; a lot can happen in a year, especially in the Palliser Triangle, Canada’s version of a desert (which is where the area we hunt is located).

Things started out well as I managed a double on roosters the first afternoon, hunting with my dog Neva. Neva is only 2 years old, so is still learning, but I was very, very happy with her performance this year. She (mostly) listens well to commands and absolutely loves to hunt, and goes all-out all the time. She’s a real joy to watch.

Michael’s two black labs (Colby and Niska) were also excellent performers. Dogs really make a difference and add a whole other (positive!) dimension to the hunt.

But that was as good as it got. The rest of the week I managed a bird here and a bird there; no more doubles, although the opportunities did present themselves. Obviously, I need to do more shooting . . .  I did get my limit of pheasants again on the last day (2 per day; roosters only).

One of the best things for me is the fact all the birds in the area we hunt are wild birds. No ‘put and take’, or daily stocking, which is done in many places, even in Alberta. In Ontario, my home province, there are virtually no wild pheasants anymore, although such birds were plentiful just a couple of decades ago. Pheasants in Ontario are another example and tale of incompetent wildlife management, as well as runaway industrial farming and urbanization.

Where we hunt in Alberta, the pheasants are closely associated with river bottoms. Get up on the high, dry, short grass prairie and they’re just not there. I think that’s a good thing, though, as it minimizes the competition with sharpies, which, unlike the pheasants and the huns, are native birds.

The sharpies are really doing well in ‘our’ hunt area. The mixture of grain fields, short grass prairie, coulees filled with shrubs and the occasional abandoned homestead seems to be providing them with ideal habitat conditions. It isn’t unusual to see flocks with several dozens birds; usually they flush well out of shotgun range, so it’s a real treat to be able to down a few.

Huns are generally better eating than sharptails, which can be quite strong; pheasants are always good-tasting. I find huns even harder to hit than sharptails, as they usually flush simultaneously, often just on the edge of shotgun range and it can be hard to get a bead on a single bird. There’s always a tendency to flock shoot and that’s never a good idea.

We had been hoping to get in some waterfowling, but the geese we saw weren’t stopping to feed on the local fields. The corn fields had been harvested so cleanly I had a hard time finding left-behind cobs. Geese go where the food is; same goes for ducks.

One thing I’ve noticed both here in Ontario and on the prairies, is that the number of swans (both trumpeters and whistlers) seem to be steadily on the increase. Thirty years ago, I seldom saw a swan; now they are a common sight. I suspect that over the next few years there will be more and more opportunities to hunt swans.

For me, now that I’ve unpacked, it’s time to get serious about whitetails. Unfortunately, there are not a lot around. Big bucks are really scarce.

But, you never know. Just need to stay optimistic, which isn’t always easy for me.

 

 

 

pondwolf-1

Seeing as the wolves were continuing to visit our house almost daily, making it impossible to let the dogs out for even a minute without close supervision, we decided it was time to do something to ease the tension.

It was time to do a wolf hunt.

So we went out on the pond in front of the house and froze some bait into the ice, including a moose foot, a deer hide and some marten carcasses.

The next morning, the moose foot was gone as were several of the marten carcasses. The night had been mild, and the moose foot and a few of the marten didn’t have a chance to freeze solidly into the ice before the wolves scarfed them up. But the deer hide was still there, as were some of the marten.

I decided to keep a close eye out and by late afternoon that same day I had made sure not to venture outside for a couple of hours, had kept the noise level in the house low and hadn’t turned on any lights. Around 4:30 pm, I got up off the couch, and looked out on the pond.

Two wolves, tugging at the deer hide.

It took a couple of minutes to get everything organized and to sneak out on the deck. I took aim at the largest wolf and shot. I could tell I hit it, but didn’t wait around to see if it would fall over. Instead I quickly racked in another round and shot again. With the second shot, the wolf went down instantly, for good. The other one ran off to the right – it was safe, as I had only one wolf tag.

The one I shot was a big male timber wolf, over 7 feet long from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail, and my brother-in-law, to whom I gave it (he’s a trapper), estimated it to be over 100 pounds. It had a bit of mange under the armpits and some wear between it’s shoulders, but  otherwise the fur was reasonably good. We didn’t see any ticks, or any evidence of injuries. The colour was typical gray.

There were wolf tracks on the pond and in the field in the days that followed, but nothing now for a couple of days. Perhaps the other was trying to figure out what happened to it’s mate, or partner. I’m hoping this event has made it and the other wolves in the neighborhood more wary of our house, as in it’s not a safe place to hang out.

Eight deer did show up the other morning, more than I’d seen all year. I’m sure it was my imagination, but they seemed relaxed and happy.

As I have said before, I  like wolves, but I don’t like it when they start to be too brazen. And I love my dogs. A few people I know have been out walking their dogs and had a wolf attack their pet. Several more simply ‘lost’ their dog during the night. I do not want to have that happen to us.

I will buy another wolf tag for 2016. For the rest of 2015, the wolves are safe – at least from me.

yardbuck-1

Now that the freezer is full of moose, there’s little to no pressure on me to harvest a deer. So I haven’t, and likely won’t. But I enjoy the hunt, so have been out quite a bit.

I haven’t been seeing a lot. The last few years have been hard on the regional deer population; hard winters, lots of wolves and lots of hunting pressure. Plus there’s little logging going on anymore, so the quality and quantity of deer habitat is rapidly declining. When all those factors are combined, I would estimate they’ve resulted in ‘our’ deer herd being reduced at least 80% from what it was 7-8 years ago. That’s a big reduction.

And it shows in terms of what I’ve been seeing. Back in the glory years, I’d see on average 5-10 deer every day I spent in the field. This year, most days I haven’t seen any deer at all. I have seen some, but only one buck, the one in the photo. A nice buck for sure, but certainly not a monster. I suspect it’s a 3 1/2 year old. I let him walk, as I have with the does and fawns I’ve seen.

It’s been a strange rut, based on my personal observations as well as what my hunting friends and acquaintances are telling me. Except in the city, where deer are still relatively numerous, there’s little sign of bucks chasing does. Maybe it has something to do with the weather, as it’s been unusually mild. Years ago, most of the ponds and smaller lakes were frozen by the middle of November, and there was almost always at least a few inches of snow on the ground.  Nothing is frozen as yet, and it’s raining today – although snow is predicted later this week.

My friend Deryk thinks deer numbers are just so low that the usual frenzy of the deer rut just isn’t apparent. There are deer rubs and scrapes, but in many areas nothing that would get a big buck hunter too excited.

Then there are the wolves. I had cut the antlers off the moose head, leaving the head in the driveway to be hauled away later. Well, that night, when Lil let the dogs out, all hell broke loose. Dory started going apoplectic and ran down the hill barking her head off (Neva was also barking her face off, but she was tied up. Dory is crippled, and seldom strays more than a few meters from the deck, so usually she doesn’t get tied up). Lil managed to catch up to Dory, grabbing her by the tail before she disappeared into the darkness down the road.

The next day, it was apparent it was wolves that caused the dogs to go off. There was the moose head, dragged down the driveway, but abandoned no more than 8 meters from the basement door, which is where they must have been when Lil opened the main door on the back deck to let the dogs out.

Later that night the wolves were back, howling away around our house, with one of them no more than a couple of hundred meters distant. They howled off and on for hours, still at it by noon the following day.

I wonder if the white wolf we saw earlier was one of the howlers and part of the pack that tried to run off with the moose head. Probably.

Needless to say, the deer made themselves scarce, and vanished from our property to parts unknown. They have yet to return.

At the end of the day, I think the rut has yet to get into full swing. The next full moon is near the end of the month, and coupled with cooler weather, will, I think, change deer behaviour and trigger the rutting frenzy usually associated with our local white-tails.

I guess we’ll see.

BTW, I took this photo when it was almost dark, shooting with the ISO cranked up to 16,000! In RAW format and a Bit depth of 14. Modern photography equipment is awesome.

moose-2

Moose season, when firearms can be used, opened on Saturday, October 10. Lil and I had set up camp the day before and proceeded to hunt daily from Saturday through to the following Friday. October 10 is on the late side of when the season opens (for years now the season has opened on the Saturday closest to October 8, meaning it can open as early as Oct. 5, or as late as Oct. 11. The earlier it opens, the better the chance of getting in on the tail end on the rut, which means it’s possible to call a bull in.

That is how moose managers planned it – let hunters occasionally have the opportunity to hunt moose during the tail-end of the rut, when they’re susceptible to being lured in by a call. Even so, most of the cows will have been bred, and the moose that do respond to the call near the end of the rut are young bulls, who often don’t get a chance to breed because they can’t compete against more mature bulls. To further help in the management of the moose herd, the number of adult validation tags for adult moose are limited.

Starting next year, the season opener is going to be delayed by a week, so for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be next to impossible for gun hunters to call in amorous bulls. Archers are still going to be able to hunt the rut. I don’t like the rule changes, but it is what it is (see my previous posts on changes to the way moose are going to be managed in Ontario).

So this was the last chance to get in on at least having a chance to call in a bull, and we gave it a good go.

Nothing.

A lot of sign from a week or two earlier , when the rut was on, but it was obvious the rut had ended at least a few days before the season opened. And as often happens immediately following the rut, the moose were laying low. It didn’t help that it was hot and humid with a big hatch of black-flies and mosquitoes. We hunted hard, but I didn’t see or hear a thing. Lil actually saw one late one evening; it ran across the road close to our RV but it was late and she didn’t get a good look at it. Seeing it go into heavy conifer cover, there was little we could do to roust it out.

Following the week of moose hunting, I went bird hunting in Alberta. Managed to bag a few pheasants and sharptails, and young Neva performed admirably. But on the last day of the hunt, she got tangled up with a porcupine. That wasn’t much fun for anyone. Luckily I was hunting with Michael, who was a great help in the field in the pulling out of a couple of hundred quills from Neva’s face, nose, lips, mouth, tongue and throat. Ten days later, quills are still poking out on various parts of her face.

Back in Ontario, Lil and I decided to give the moose another go (the season stays open until December 15, but deep snow and cold can make late season hunting totally miserable).

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, we hunted half the day in a light rain.

Nothing. Very little fresh sign.

Friday, Oct. 30, we tried again. Conditions were good; damp, but no rain, a light breeze, temperature just above freezing.

Almost immediately we came across fresh sign. Lil and I split up and the further from the road I went, the more moose sign there was. Mostly fresh browsing on willow and red-osier dogwood. The area was logged more than 10 years ago, and has regenerated into ideal moose pasture. That’s both good and ‘bad’. Good because there is lots for moose to feed on; bad because there is so much feed the moose can be anywhere, and it’s also so thick that one can only hunt by walking trails, or calling, when calls work . . . .

At one point I heard our dogs Neva and Dory (which we left in the truck) barking furiously, and I thought they must have seen a moose, or maybe the Canada lynx we had seen there on an earlier hunt. Turned out it was a moose they saw.

Seeing there was nothing I could do about the dogs – who eventually stopped their barking – I stayed on the hunt. About a mile in I heard a noise to my left and knew immediately it was a moose feeding. It was hard to see much, as the bush in this area is a thick, twiggy nightmare. But I spotted movement, and there it was, a young bull less than 40 m distant.

So I got a moose. Lil had also seen one, but it was further back in the thick slaplings and she couldn’t make it out well enough to ID if it was a bull (our tag was for a bull), although she did hear what sounded like twigs on antlers. Shortly after she lost sight of the moose, the dogs started to bark.

It was many days of hard hunting but in the end great success, with a young and hopefully very tasty moose to fill the freezer. We are especially grateful as the tag we had was one of only 6 bull tags issued this year for the management unit in which we were hunting.

Now all I have to do is find myself a deer.