The Old Man & The Mountain
Well, when I glance up from writing and see the title staring back at me, I must admit a little pang of irritiation courses it way through my not so young body and this annoys me to no end. But reality finally sets in and I have to face the truth - I am not a young man anymore and that is fact. Just coming up on 69 years of age and still wanting to run the ridgelines like an eithteen year old is something, even though I am not ready to admit to, will never happen again while I am alive - sad, but true. I had mentioned in the last Newsletter that my hearing was failing fast (if you want to read that Newsletter, it is on the Blue Collar Adventures Website under the Heading -Newsletters at #6).
Enough of the "Poor Me's" and on to the writing of the article and thanks for allowing me the short rant!!
I live in a small community located at the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers in the beautiful Province of British Columbia. As each hunting season draws to a close, the question of "whether or not I will be here for the next one or will I be healthy enough to hunt" always is in the forefront of my thoughts. Like so many of you, hunting is my life and I sometimes have a hard time relating to my physical body's aging??
As summer passed and the Opening Day of the 2016 Hunting Season was drawing near, I was elated to find I was still in relatively good physical shape, only part which seemed to have deterrioriated over the past year was a furhter receding hairline and the hearing had become more impaired - not bad as compared to what could have happened. I usually dedicate my first couple of weeks of the Hunting Season to chasing Bighorn Sheep in the local mountains. This hunt would move some to view my residence as one of the few where one can actually hunt Bighorn Sheep out their back door. Although this sounds great, we are faced with one very real problem and that is the "government-imposed" horn restriction on shootable rams (there is a draw for two tags in the area for 3/4 curl or better), which has the legal Bighorn Rams requiring the status of Mature, which means one of the horns must break the bridge of the nose. Now, all you dedicated sheep hunters know most adult rams start brooming their lamb-tips as soon as vision starts to become impaired. Here that would mean, no matter how old or massive the ram may be, if he has broomed his lamb-tips, then it is extremely hard to be a legal ram here.
One of our "Perches"
Anyway, I use this season to start to get the body in better physical shape for the rest of the Hunting Season - our annual Moose Hunt in northern British Columbia and the annual trek to Alberta to chase trophy Whitetail Bucks and lastly climbing the inclines in the local area to finishe the Season off pursuing the big mature Mule Deer Bucks. So, Opening Day finally arrived and it found Bruce (my hunting buddy's 20 year old son) approaching the edge of the rocky face in search of a legal ram. It was a dull, overcast day, but fortunately no rain. We spent the morning glassing every nick & cranny of the area, but to no avail. By early afternoon we decided to call it a day as if we had not found sheep feeding by now, chances are, we would just waste the rest of the day. We had a short hike down the hills to where the ATV was parked. We were a bit worried at not seeing any sheep. We had been through this area many times over the past several years and always at least saw ewes?? well, if we though the first day was boring, Day #2 was much the same, except the eye strain was taking its toll - smile.
There was another approach to this rocky area and we decided to make the long hike in the next day. It was a nice hike as the sun had finally broken through, We came through the heavy forest and suddenly we were rewarded by the sight of our first sheep - two ewes & lambs. On well, not the trophy rams we were hoping to locate, but at least we were spotting sheep. We continued to move along the top of the rock face and soon Bruce spotted a nice ram bedded well below us. I must take a minute here to explain my fear of heights - well you might say, "Why the heck are you hunting sheep, if you are afraid of heights??" Well, Bruce doesn't mind going to the edges and looking over - smile. They have to come off the rocks to eat and then I am in my "safety zone!!" It was hard to tell if this guy met the "legal" qualifications as we (I mean Bruce) was looking straight down at him. We decided to climb down a chute which we hoped would place us even with the ram and then we would have a much better view of his horns. The climbing down is a bit hard on the knees, but the climb back up is hard on the rest of the body - smile. We just could not get into a position to do so and decided to resume our hunt along the rim.
One of the local Sheep feeding areas
Bruce had some appointments, so could not make the next couple of days, so I was on my own. Age (I will call it 'maturity') and time in the field have provided me with the importance of safety when solo hunting. I tend to slow down and plan my moves, especially amongst the rocks and never take what I would consider a 'chance.' On the second day solo, I was at a good viewing point and I was surveying some of the cliff-faces above me when I saw a weird shape which was not conducive to the area. I placed my Leicia binos up to my eyes and low & behold it was another hunter sitting out on a ledge. He waved at me and I waved back. He left his lofty perch and headed my way. I was a bit shocked to see a friend (one made through our wonderful sport) sauntering towards me. He was supposed to be in northern British Columbia hunting Stone Sheep?? I asked that question as soon as he was close and found out he had spent a lot of time climbing the mountains without seeing a good Stone ram, so he thought he would stop here for a couple of days to hunt the Bighorn Sheep, which inhabited our area. He had been in position all day (it was mid-afternoon now) and had located three different bands of rams, unfortunately none were legal. We chatted for a while and soon the sheep stood up to resume feeding until last light. He was absolutely correct, there were no legal rams in any of the groups.
Well, I took the next couple of days off to prepare for our annual Moose hunt in northern BC. I relayed that adventure in the previous Newsletter and for those of you who were not receiving them at the time of release, please go to the Blue Collar Adventures (Canada) website and it will be listed on the left after you enter the site under Newsletter #6. This Moose hunt is an annual event and the time away varies each year (depending upon success or not).
It took a couple of days to get unpacked and get the gear cleaned and put away for another day. We only had two days left before the Bighorn Sheep Season closed in our area, so we planned on hitting it hard for the next two days. Now one has to appreciate that this old body, just may have been able to fully recover in its earlier existance, but the "gas tank" was just hovering above "empty" and this was going to be a bit of a physical challenge to say the least and I just hoped I would survive it - smile.
With dawn just breaking, we were perched on the usual lookout and if nothing in sight we decided to climb a sheep trail to a higher vantage point to get a better view of the landscape. We attained the summit and I went to the far end to look into a small field where I had seen rams feeding in the past. Bruce was going to climb out on a ledge and look below us. I had set up and was on my second pass with the binos when a small pebble bounced near me. I was a bit startled and looked up to see Bruce standing above me signalling he had spotted some rams. I scrambled to my feet, donned my pack & rifle and then with the aid of my walking sticks, I joined him - thankfully it was a bit removed from the edge - smile.
We moved to the height of land on the elevated rock-face we were now on and set up the spotting scope for a better view of the sheep. It was easily determined they were rams, just had to ascertain whether there were any legal or close to legal rams in the bunch. We were approximately 2 kms from them and they were located in a large field, which was surrounded by forest. We decided a couple were worthy of a closer look, so off we went. This reminded me of a hunt several years ago in the same area, only it was a Black Bear feeding on a kill, which had garnered my undivided attention back then. We now were going to retrace the exact same journey I had. I killed that Black Bear back then and he had been feeding on a 3/4 curl ram which he had killed.
Soon we were in a much better position to evaluate these rams and two of them were ever-so-close to meeting the 'legal' size. we stripped our gear down and started the steep descent to a better vantage point, but we would still be well above them. We had just made our way to the last piece of available cover when Bruce pointed two other hunters making a stalk on the same band. We decided to let their stalk play out, as they were on the same level as these rams and were in a much better position to assess whether any were legal or not. We waited for a couple of hours and watched as the two hunters crawled ever closer to where the rams were feeding. I was intimate with the area they were trying to navigate and was sure they could not see the two larger rams.
I whispered to Bruce that I had been near where we were now located on my stalk for the Black Bear and that I thought it was necessary to climb back to the top of the mountain and take another trail I knew, which should take us right to where they were feeding. My lungs were burning by the time we reached the top - Bruce usually has a 10 - 20 minute wait on these climbs (oh, to be young again - smile) - so I took a much needed rest and once relatively rejuvenated, I took the lead and we worked our way back down the steep slope, ever aware not to become visible to the sheep below. I knew we were getting near the clearing where the sheep had been feeding and immediately went on high alert. Within minutes I could see the largest ram feeding, only 75 yards below us. I signalled Bruce and we both made our way to a bunch of blow-downs, from where we could easily see them, but were obsecured from their vision. I got my binos on the largest ram and said to Bruce, "Geez, he is legal." Bruce retorted, "Look again." My second glance showed his norns about 1/2" shy of breaking the nose. Now, I realize some of you have been in this exact same perdicament, so you will know what was running through my mind. We were still a little above him and he was feeding away from us and not really giving us a side-view of his horns. He soon fed out of sight and we headed back up the mountain, hence ending another great day on the mountain.
The picture of that ram kept playing over and over in my mind all evening. I called Bruce and told him I thought we should take another look at the ram. So early next morning found us once again perched on an outcropping where we could observe the field where we had left the sheep the previous evening. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the field and it remainde empty until around 10:00 am when a lone ram appeared. He ran out into the field and fed for about one hour and then he headed back to the cover where he had come from. Soon, we witnessed a procession of 13 rams making their way to the field to feed. So, we were off again and down the slope to have a better look at the rams. Now there were two rams sporting huge bases. We took most of the day to look these two over and finally decided it was too close a call to end it with a bullet. We decided to back off and there would always be "next year."
We started hunting Mule Deer in the same mountains and one day Bruce had another appointment and I was hunting alone. Outside of seeing a couple of does, not much was moving. I decided to come in early and while driving the road down off the mountain, I thought I saw a nice Whitetail buck crossing the far end of a long field. I put the binos up and low & behold it was a Moose. I got closer and it ducked into the woods. In this area I was only able to shoot an immature bull (Spike-Fork on one side), but this looked like a cow. I started to slowly drive towards it and got about 200 yards from where I last saw it and stopped the truck. I soon made it out in the bush and it was feeding. I thought I saw a long spike on its head, but soon realized it was a branch – smile – the eyes are not what they once were. I watched it for about 10 – 20 minutes and was able to determine, it was in fact an immature bull. My hunting partner came up the road and stopped to talk to me and we both went over the fence and soon we were field dressing some excellent table fare. It was a young (small) 2 X 2 bull.
So that makes the last two years a complete success, as the three (Jimmy, his son Bruce and I) of us have all tagged out both years (Moose).