THE START OF THE 2015 HUNTING SEASON
Well, the hunting season was upon us and although age had taken its toll on me a bit more during the time lapse since the last season, I was still anxiously looking forward to getting into the bush and enjoying Mother Nature’s home. I had a couple of extra tags graciously attained through both the British Columbia and Alberta Limited Entry Hunts (LEH in BC). It looked as though it was going to be a busy season, as I had a Mountain Goat tag across the river from where I reside. It is extremely rugged country with only a couple of trails\roads providing access. I had this draw several years ago and after climbing a mountain for 12 hours, I never saw a goat. The other tag I was fortunate to attain was for a bull elk in Alberta in the same area where I have hunted Whitetail and Mule Deer (Mule deer on a draw basis) for the last 35 years. I sort of ‘mapped’ out the upcoming season with goat starting on 01 September and then Bighorn Sheep season opened on 10 September and I love chasing them around the mountains. Next we would be heading north for our annual Moose Camp for three weeks. Once home there would be a couple of days still left for sheep and the rest of October for goat (if not successful for the first week?). That would leave a week for hunting local deer and then we would pack up for our three week hunt over in Alberta until the end of November. We would return home and have ten days left in our Mule Deer season. This is the time of deep snow and large bucks coming down to the lower elevations to seek female companionship. Did I forget to mention I am retired??
The season opened on 01 September and I had a hunter join me for a couple of days, as it is always nice to have company when in sheer rock. Opening morning we spotted a lone goat (probably a Billie) way up on top of a set of cliffs. There was no way to get up to him and unless he fed down, he was safe – for the moment anyways. I decided to head up an old logging road to an area where I knew there were good cliffs and hopefully a goat or two would call it home. We had an extremely aggressive forest fire in this area during the dry summer months and I hardly recognized the landscape as it was charred and devoid of undergrowth. There were a couple of spots where the ATV had to be winched up the steep creek-sides. After much manual work we arrived at the creek crossing and to my surprise the bridge had been taken out. There was no way to access the cliffs on the other side of the creek now. We descended down the mountain and returned to the area where we had seen the goat earlier that day. He has come down a bit in elevation and we were able to map out a route which should take us within rifle range of his position. The climb was typical for goat hunting – through choked willows and over rockslides and always steep climbing. We climbed for several hours, but could not relocate the goat. The climb down is always harder (at least on my knees) than the climb up – smile. When we reached the valley floor, we looked up and there the goat was feeding about a hundred yards from where we had originally observed it. Oh well, that is hunting.
I selected another place, one to which I had never been to before, but locals said there were goats in the cliffs surrounding the valley. We parked my truck in a friend’s yard and got directions to get to the valley. We were able to get to the base of the climb with the aid of my ATV. Then the climb started and it was hellish, believe me. I am over 67 years of age and consider myself in fairly good physical condition for my age, but the long hike which was continually uphill (on a trail) did take its toll on this old body. It was one ‘switch-back’ after another. Soon I fell behind and Joe finally made it to the top, only to be faced with a raging torrent of water with a log as the only bridge across the water. If one slipped, one would immediately be going over a 100+’ waterfall to one’s certain death. We made the right decision and started back down the mountain arriving back at the truck at dark. This ended the goat hunting for a short while as I now wanted (after a bit of a much needed rest – smile) to chase sheep around the mountain for a couple of weeks before my civic duty called me away for a conference and upon return I would be heading north for the annual moose hunt.
The one nice thing about sheep hunting (at least around my neck of the woods) is the land is not quite as sheer as that inhabited by the goats. That is not to say the local sheep country was devoid of the sheer cliffs, but they would come off them to feed , at least. Opening day saw me making my way to an area I loved to hunt and I was fortunate enough to be the only one there. It was a beautiful day and just makes me thankful I still have my health and facilities. Didn’t see much at first light so headed to another area. I decided to return to my original area around noon and then to climb to a different part of the valley I was overlooking. It was a leisurely climb (I do take my time when hunting by myself) and as I neared the high vantage point, I noticed animals feeding in a large clear-cut. I have climbed this mountain on numerous occasions over the years and never saw any animals in that area? I stopped climbing and took cover behind some deadfalls. I thought I was looking at sheep and as soon as I had my Leica Geovid 10 x 42 HD Binos to my eyes confirming my first guess. I still had a couple of hundred feet to climb before I was to the vantage point I wanted to be at. I used the cover of the blow-downs to protect me from their excellent eyes. I was just about to the place where I wanted to set up and low & behold there in front of me were five rams feeding in a small grassy patch. Surrounded by sheep – wow!!. I dropped down and crawled to a position which afforded me both cover from view and an excellent vantage point of the surrounding area. I had neglected to bring my spotting scope with me that day and was in the process of “kicking myself in the butt”, but thought the movement might alert the sheep – smile. The area where I live has an open season on Bighorn Sheep, but does have a size restriction on legal rams. The horn must break the nose and this is an extremely difficult animal to find, as most will broom off the lamb-tips when they impair their vision. I was able to look these five rams over well and there was one who might make full curl, but he definitely was not a legal ram. There were also a bunch of rams feeding above the ewes and lambs feeding in the clear-cut, but they seemed young and only ¾ curl. I lay there for some time and watched the five reams as they moved from their feeding area up on some jagged rock outcroppings. I truly love watching animals in their habitant and sheep and goats hang around for long periods of time, so present a great time to really observe them. For some reason I moved my binos below and to the right of this band and to my surprise saw a really dark ram standing in the shadows. He had super mass and from the angle he was at, I was unable to determine whether his horns broke the nose or not. Soon several younger rams appeared with him and they slowly made their way towards the other rams. I was in somewhat of a quandary as depending on how he held his head, at times he seemed legal and at others he did not. I watched him for about 20 minutes and decided he was not legal and at that time I heard a human being cough just over the small rise to my right. I crawled over to where the sound came from and there were two hunters also watching that ram. We decided he was not legal and then made our way down off the mountain as the sun was starting to set and one does not want to be caught on top of these mountains in the dark. I had counted 26 rams that day, but none legal. I bumped into another sheep hunter a week or so later and he had the opportunity to view that dark chocolate ram at 20 yards and said he was a super ram, but unfortunately did not make the legal horn restriction.
Soon I was off to fulfill my civic duty as an elected official of the Community for a week-long Conference and once that was complete I was in my truck hauling a flat-deck trailer loaded with our hunting gear north into the wilds of our beautiful Province for our annual moose hunt (three weeks in the wilds of northern BC). My hunting buddy and his son were in his truck hauling freezers and his travel trailer (after years in a tent, it was nice to live in style – smile). The weather was really warm both during the daytime, while hunting and overnight. This is the first year I can remember not being able to call in a bull?? The local fellow (he traps that area and is a good friend) had been hunting since 18 September and by the time we departed, he still had not seen a moose (bull or cow)??? We arrived up there on 28 September and set up “camp-city” – smile.
Got the afternoon hunt in and checked several areas out on Wednesday. Next day we were checking the area called the "Hole” and spotted a large bull with a cow & calf. They were easily picked out by my Leica Geovid 10 x 42 HD Binos. He was being hampered by a much smaller bull and kept chasing him off – smile – remember our younger days?? Jimmy had heard another bull in the area also and thought he was located at the far side of the huge clearing below us. Next thing was Bruce saying there is a bull right below us and he is legal (had ten on one side and three on the brow). Jimmy dropped him with one shot and took one more to finish him. We were still trying to get the large bull to respond to the calling, but to no avail. He remained preoccupied at a distance of 900 yards from our location???
It took 11 ½ hours to get that bull out and back to camp. He died on the side of the mountain in dense willows. After an hour and a half ATV ride (during which Jimmy toppled his ATV over – no one hurt fortunately) we arrived at the spot I had marked from our vantage point above. Bruce (God Bless youth – smile) climbed the mountain and found the bull. We cleared a trail to it, then started the difficult task of getting him to a suitable location to field dress. Fortunately, I had a couple of hundred feet of rope in my ‘dry’ box and we strung it to the animal. The first couple of attempts with the ATV winch only resulted in the animal moving several yards, with the rope breaking. Once we were past the ‘bad’, (cheap rope), I was able to wrap it around the back legs and then he came tumbling down the mountain.
Next the job of breaking him down for the trip out. We got him finished at dark in the rain (not my idea of fun, as I have lived that scenario though-out a military career – smile). The terrain was extremely hazardous and we dumped the wagon (I have one for my ATV)and had the task of re-packing the quarters – not much fun when we were soaked to the skin. About a three hour trip back to the camp and what a relief to find the local fellow & his Mother sitting in the tent with a raging fire going – could have kissed him. I had peeled down my wet clothes and put on dry ones along with rain gear upon arrival at the area where the rest of the ATV’s were parked, but was still chilled-to-the-bone by the time we arrived back at Camp. Left the meat in the wagon, got the wet clothes hung to dry and headed to bed for a well-earned rest. Next morning saw us cleaning and hanging the meat to cool.
Jimmy's bull taken half way up the mountain
Two days later we located another large bull in the same clearing and he also would not be brought any closer with the calls?? Sunday Bruce and Jimmy were in the same area and Bruce spotted another bull (ah, only to have the eyes of a 19 year old again – smile). He and Jimmy moved to a new location, which was closer and Jimmy was able to call this bull over half way up the mountainside. For some reason he was not happy and returned to the valley floor where Bruce dispatched him with two shots, where he stood surveying the mountain top and probably wondering how the other bull had climbed up there.
This one was in a much better location and we also had Steve Irwin and his boy, Chance to assist. They had just arrived in Camp the evening before and were soon put to work, work they certainly didn’t mind. We were able to get fairly close to this one and only had to build a couple of bridges (fill the creeks with timber) and cut a trail for the last hundred feet or so. This time Chance dumped his ATV in a mud-hole. Got him away from the ATV and fortunately between all of us, we had enough dry clothes to outfit him. Much more bearable task this time and we had him on the meat-pole by late afternoon.
I was certainly glad I had my camera with me continually, as one night when returning from an area I like to hunt (about 30 kms from Camp) I noticed something strange on the road. Being the curious little devil that I am, I speeded up to close the gap and low & behold what was ambling down the road in the middle of moose country, but a Mountain Goat – yes, a Mountain Goat.
I got close enough to get a couple of pics, as I was sure everyone would think I had really lost my marbles (most quietly just assume that – smile). Tracks can usually tell a story, if one pays close attention. I had to deduce that the fresh Grizzly sow and cub tracks on this same road two days previous and heading in the opposite direction, had some influence on this young goat being
Bruce's well-earned Bull
so far from its home range. There are several rock faces within a couple of miles of the road and one could imagine the sow Grizzly and her cubs getting up on the rocks and hunting the goats. For some reason this young goat either got separated from its mother or its mother had succumbed to the Grizzlies? Sad, but that is life in the wild, one is either the hunter or the hunted and there are no “old-age homes” out there.
I was heading out the next afternoon (hunted another area in the morning) and saw yet something else out of place on the road quite a ways in front of me. A quick look through my binos identified the culprit as a fox and he was completely enthralled with staring at what only one could imagine as a mouse moving in the grass growing along the side of the road. I started taking pics rather quickly and even had time to change my lenses. I was able to motor to a position quite close to him and when I wanted a good pose, I just “blew him kisses” – same noise as a mouse. He was kind enough to look my way for a couple of more pics.
Note the varying colour of this fellow
A few days later, I was a long way from Camp (up well before first light – I prefer that time of the day for hunting) and as daylight started breaking, I decided to make my way down a trail, one which I had never been on before (the other fellows had hunted it many times before). It was full light, as I came around a corner in the trail and I saw what looked like a spruce blow-down laying in the trail about 400 yards in front of me. Since Mrs. Hay had an ‘ugly’ boy and not a ‘stupid’ one (some may beg to differ – smile), I quickly took in there were no evergreen trees in the area?? I brought my binos to my eyes and still could not discern what the form was in front of me. I thought it looked like a bull moose, but the outline was not related to that of a moose?? Soon my curiosity was rewarded, as from this form, two moose appeared. They were fighting and one had its rear towards me and the other was facing me. I was able to take one pic of them, but it seems I neglected to focus the lenses, hence a blurry pic – smile. I have hunted moose for a lot of years and this is the very first time I have ever witnessed this event. I was able to get the spotting scope (my Vortex Viper HD 20-60x80) on them and determined one was a 7 X 5 and the other was a much younger bull (4 X 3). I knew they were not legal animals (the area we hunt has a trophy size limit, which is either three points on the brow palm or ten points on at least one side or immature – with two or less points on one side), so thought I would try to have them answer my calls. I have a fairly deep bull grunt and when I used this, they bolted off the road – smile. I slowly made my way to their former location and saw them both standing in the willows a short distance away (about 20 yards). The smaller one was looking at me and he sure looked like an immature bull (I knew he wasn’t from my view with the spotting scope). The larger one soon tired of my presence and decided it would be best for his health if he was somewhere else – smile. A lot of hunters want the best shooting rifle their budget can afford, whereas I am a tried & true optics boy. I believe in owning the best optics and have never been let down, as yet in the identifying of legal animals.
I also saw two lynx in the field, but they were two fast for my camera and the season was not open on them. I have never seen one of them in the wild before? I also ran into a porcupine (first one I had ever seen in this area). I was extremely happy being able to observe all the animals I was seeing and also taking their pics. A couple of days later I was a short ways from Camp andspotted this Red Fox mousing along the edge of the timber. He definitely was a bit shyer than the other fellow and didn’t seem to be interested in posing for the camera – smile.
On Day #16 I heard movement in our Camp and heard an ATV start up and take off. I figured it was the fellow we know up in that area, as he usually parks his truck in our Camp when hunting nearby. I was a bit lazy that morning and it was just starting to get daylight when I arose and got ready to leave Camp. I was in no hurry, as I was planning on going to look into the Hole that morning and it is relatively close to Camp. As I got my ATV ready for the day, I noticed Steve’s ATV was gone and I didn’t see the other fellow’s truck. I was not sure where Steve had gone that early in the morning. I departed for the short drive to the Lookout, which provided a commanding view of the Hole. To my surprise, I saw fresh ATV tracks entering the trail to the Lookout? I gathered Steve was in there calling, so decided to drive another five kms to a short road, which followed a creek (I had travelled it on numerous occasions without ever seeing a moose), but it did have an excellent location to call from, with a good view of the creek and the willows on both sides. I was just ‘truddling’ along when I came upon a small field and to my utmost astonishment, there stood a cow moose. Again, Mrs. Hay may have had an ‘ugly’ boy, but not a ‘stupid’ one (again, there are those who would differ – smile) and I knew a cow would not be by herself at this time of the year (it seemed the rut was in full swing, even if the bulls were not answering the call?). I shut the ATV off and as soon as I did I saw movement. I saw the bull attain a good vantage point to scrutinize whatever was making the noise. I quickly threw my binos up and was able to determine he had three points on the brow. It must have been either my after shave, under-arm deodorant or lack thereof, but he decided he was scheduled to be elsewhere and not in that particular field. I was able to get my rifle loaded (Browning X-Bolt in .338 Win Mag with a 4X – 10X Leupold scope), as he ambled (best way to describe a moose’s gait) across the field. I was able to get a round (250 grain Nosler Partitions pushed by 73.6 grains of Reloader 22) into his lungs and he stopped running. I was able to place the next one through his shoulders and then he started for the woods. I was not wanting to have a long tracking job, so angled one in by his hind quarters and he made it to a small hillock and toppled over backwards.
My bull – easy place to work - smile
I do not work on an animal by myself, as the area is full of grizzly bears and I do not want to end up being a snack – smile. I headed back to Camp to wake up Jimmy and Bruce and bumped into Steve on the way back. My moose was lying about 30 yards off the road in a nice open field – we were able to drive right to him and it only took a couple of hours to field dress him and get the quarters hanging.
Outside of the lack of response to my calling it was a successful hunt. I enjoy watching the bulls respond to the call and it keeps the adrenaline pumping as they come closer to the call location. One just does not know the size of what will show up? Calling from above the Hole does allow us to see the size of the bull though. It is very interesting to see the reaction of different bulls to the call, while perched high above them, something one just cannot witness when on ground level with them. I never really know how many bulls have actually started to come in, but silently have moved away, while on their level. Most hunters think the bulls come in extremely vocal, unfortunately this is not always the case, as I have looked up and seen a bull just standing there in the open staring at me. They will always try to work their way down-wind and that is why it is so important to select a good calling position. If possible, one should select a spot where the call will be able to be heard for a considerable distance, then move to a position on the downwind side where the bull will have to pass up-wind of the hunter, as he moves in to check out the calling. It was a bit disheartening this year to see sign of moose moving, but not visible during the day. Usually, the younger bulls are on the move during the day, looking for receptive cows, but this year with the warm weather they were sticking to the heavy cover to avoid the swarms of flying insects, which we had to contend with when on stand.
The long drive home was uneventful and we dropped the moose off at a Butcher’s we use. It was late when we arrived home and a hot shower and flannel sheets sure felt good – well I wasn’t really awake long enough to physically enjoy – smile. Next couple of days were spent sorting and cleaning the gear. We like to get everything stored for the next year’s trek north.
Results of three weeks of hard work.
I still had my Mountain Goat LEH (Limited Entry Hunt) tag and the season was coming to a close rather quickly. Went out on the last Thursday morning of October, as I had Council commitments since I got back from moose hunting, to the huge rock-face, where we went opening morning and as soon as I started glassing I picked one up in the binos, bedded on a ledge behind some evergreen trees. It was relatively low down on the sheer wall to the left of where we saw that Billie previously. I watched it for a while and then decided to try to climb up to a better vantage point. Sometimes I wonder what that is between my ears - certainly not brains - smile. As the climb took me under it and closer to the face of the cliff, I lost sight of it. Climbed back down (I am petrified of heights – smile), as I couldn't get anywhere up there from where to shoot. Got back to the ATV and returned to the place from where I had spotted it first (a hydro tower with a great view of the cliffs). Well, to my absolute amazement, it was still laying there. I had been able to get closer to it by going in a trail where I went to start the climb. Parked my ATV and because it was well above me, I built a "bench-rest" on the back of the ATV using my 'dry' box, fanny pack and coat. I watched it laying there all by itself and was sure it was a Billie. After a while it arose to its feet and I was able to see through my binos (broke my spotting scope tripod in moose camp) that it had nice horns. My first shot was above it and it trotted a short ways and stopped. Next round was on target and it faltered. I was hoping it would kick loose and come down the sheer cliff, but no such luck. It staggered down (slipping and teetering) to the next clump of evergreens growing on a ledge and that was the last I saw of it. I watched the area for quite a while hoping it would try to leave that place and fall into a crevice, which I knew I could climb. Luck was definitely not on my side this time - smile. There was no way I was going to climb up to get it, especially by my self - too many horror stories about acts of foolishness made me to decide to return home and go back in the next day with someone I knew did not mind the heights. Next day I returned with Bruce, Jimmy’s son andafter about five hours we (I should say `he`) was able to get to it and throw it off the cliff to the bottom (I was able to climb up the mountain with him, but no way could I venture to the ledge it was on). Shot was ranged at 464 yards (not bad for an old guy – smile). It ended up being a Nannie – dry and by herself. I just couldn’t get a good look at the distance between the horns, as she lay among the evergreens and when she got up she was going to be out of sight in a couple of steps. My Limited Entry Hunt Tag was for a Goat of either Sex and any Age.
Now, we are getting ready to drive to the eastern side of Alberta for three weeks to hunt whitetail and I have the bull elk draw for that area (took 8 years of applying). So hopefully will have another hunting tale to share and also the Mule Deer rut will be in full swing when we get back and we will still have ten days hunting left.
Part II will be coming as soon as the Hunting Season Here ends (December 10)