WHEN AM I TOO OLD TO HUNT

 

            I never thought the day would come when this statement would start becoming a reality.  I have always thought of myself, as relatively invincible (good physical condition), having spent 30+ years in the Infantry. I did notice others, younger than myself were not in the field hunting, as much as they used to in their younger days, but I chalked this up to wanting to spend more time with their grandchildren.

            Well, I am now just a short week or two from my 56th Opening Day. I have hunted and fished throughout my life and have enjoyed my time in the great outdoors, as it has provided me with amongst other things, a healthy lifestyle, food for the table, some great friendships (all over the world) and some very satisfying experiences. I have not gone without some medical problems, but those only added fuel to the fire, so to speak.  I am 71 years old, have endured quadruple bypass surgery, hernia surgery, minor stroke, suffer from Type 2 Diabetes and a couple of other times under the "knife."  Have had the odd cold and flu, as we all have suffered through other minor ailments.

70 years young in Namibia with my Blue Wildebeest

            I am not sure about you, as most will be many years my junior, while others will readily be able to relate, but I can actually sit in my home dreaming of the next hunt and can actually visualize the upcoming hunts, in which I will participate during the next Hunting Season. Barring not being ‘lucky’ enough to possess an LEH (Limited Entry Hunt) Tag – the upcoming year is one of those – smile. The Hunting Season follows a normal cycle. First it is into the mountains for Bighorn Sheep (within a couple of miles of home), then the long trip into northern British Columbia for our annual Moose Hunt. Upon returning home we finish the Bighorn Sheep season and then hunt for Mule Deer in the same mountains. The second week of November finds the truck packed and on the highway heading east into Alberta for the annual Whitetail Deer hunt. Usually arrive home around the 1st or 2nd of December and have about 8 days left to wade through the deep snow on the mountains in search of the Mule Deer bucks, of which legends are made.

Age 70 years young and suffered a minor stroke two days before this picture was taken

            Even as I read the paragraph above, my vision is of total freedom in Nature and enjoying the life I have come to love so much. But historical reality starts to seep in and some not too pleasant memories start becoming only oh-so true. I cannot really pinpoint when my actual physical powers, in the wild, actually started to diminish? I do not believe my mental parts have, as yet started to lessen, but then again you are listening to a biased person – smile.

            About 11 years ago while hunting in Alberta, I was fortunate enough to shoot a nice 4X4 Mule Deer buck. After field dressing the animal, I found it virtually impossible to drag the carcass to the nearest fence-line (about 30 yards and this was through the snow). I disciplined myself to never over-exert myself, while in the field hunting.  I primarily hunt alone, although people are made aware of the exact location I am hunting, just in case I happen to injure myself and am unable to get back to my vehicle. Once I hit the magic age of 60, I felt susceptible to heart-attack and stroke. So, I left plenty of human scent in the area, to dissuade predators and headed back to the Farm for help. I really noticed this lack of strength while hunting in Alberta as I was always on-foot and well away from the vehicle. Hunting deer near my residence was entirely another matter. I was usually able to maneuver my ATV close enough to the downed animal that with rope and the ATV`s winch system, I could recoverit.

70 years old during a successful Whitetail hunt in Alberta

            Also, as of late, I find my actual physical strength has somewhat lessened and the first recollected example was 7 years ago while hunting Moose in Northern British Columbia. We have a look-out from where we can observe a huge valley and are usually successful in calling bulls in to the base of the steep walls. Once down, the work really begins, as we usually have to cut (with chain-saws) a trail in to the animal, field dress it, quarter it and then load it either into a pull-type cart or straight on to the ATV`s. I found my stamina was just not there for the gruelling 7 hour job, maybe the word “limited” would describe it better. Then 5 years ago, I had called a good bull in from about 2 miles away, right to the base of the steep wall and had dispatched him there. I was by myself, but had made arrangements for my two hunting partners to meet me at the look-out at 2:00 PM. I decided to make my way down to the fallen bull, as it was only about 450 yards – what a horrendous mistake. It took me over an hour to make my way to where the bull lay. I decided not to start the field dressing, as there were lots of Grizzly Bears in the area and I certainly did not want to be part of their diet. I made myself comfortable and waited for my buddies to arrive above me.  Well, 2:00 PM came and went and still nobody. When 3:00 PM arrived I decided to climb back up the steep wall and then go looking for my buddies. I left my pack and a red jacket (to mark the area where the bull lay) and headed back up the hill. I had 2 bottles of water with me and at first the climb wasn’t too bad. But as I got farther up the hill the more tired I became. Upon reaching what I determined to be the half-way mark, I decided to take a good rest break and finish the water. I sat there and enjoyed the surroundings as well as the beautiful view. After approximately a 15 minute rest, I was or so I thought, ready to finish the climb. Upon regaining my feet, I noticed something which I had never before felt – it was as though I had never rested, I felt like I had “no gas in the tank” and the scary thing was, I had a

Cape Buffalo taken in Zimbabwe when I was a mere 65 years old.

Long, hard climb still ahead of me. I am sure I would have made it to the top, but it certainly would have taken me a long time and I may not have made it before dark and that would present a whole new set of problems. Soon, I heard my hunting buddies yelling from far above me. I was able to communicate with them and told them I did not think I could easily make it up to their position and would climb back down to where the bull was and wait for them. It was a very hard climb back down and when I reached the area of the bull, I flopped on the ground for a well-deserved rest. They cut a trail in and I found I was not much use in the field dressing of the animal, as I still had not recovered my strength. The animal was finally loaded and we started the long haul back to Camp.

Alaskan Brown Bear taken when I was 63

            Last year was much the same, except I didn’t have the climb – smile. The first bull down took 11 ½ hours of strenuous work before we were back to Camp. I had to rest most of the next day and then the following day set out on my own. When I got back to Camp, I soon learned we had another bull down, but the guys thought it was a bit easier to reach and we were fortunate enough to have another couple of our Group arrive in Camp. This one was a bit easier, as the trail was partially cut and it only took 6 hours to retrieve it. It is always nice to end the “whining” on a good note – smile. About ten days later I shot a bull and it was in a small field right next to a logging road – 2 hours of work and we were back in Camp. My point here is to try to present the fact that at my age, it was still no problem to hunt and shoot animals, but I was not able to keep up my end of the work recovering the animal and I will not participate in a hunt where I cannot pull my share of the load.

I was 69 years old when I took this 192 6/8” B&C (green score) Mule Deer Buck in Alberta

            So, where does this leave us? Well, I believe common sense and one being brutally honest with and about themselves plays a very important role in the amount and type of hunting one can still do, but more importantly, to enjoy the time afield. I had to sit down and assess my position with the approach of each new Hunting Season. Things I took for granted many years ago and just did out of instinct were now obstacles, some minor and some major. All of my life I have hunted solo and plan on doing so most of the time still left to me, although as stated before  -  common sense needs to play a vital part in my decisions now. I had to carefully review my health issues, which I had faced in the past and new ones which may compound the old ones. When I was 54 years old, I underwent open heart surgery and had a quadruple bypass. I recovered from it and had received the “green light” from my cardiologist to return to my normal life. I was medically released from the Military, not because of my physical condition, but because the Military could not guarantee there would be a heart specialist where ever I was stationed. I was at the end of my service time anyway. I did lots of walking and kept in good shape. The next major thing which was cause for concern was the fact that I suffered a minor stroke when hunting in northern British Columbia last Fall. It affected my optic nerve a bit, but I never missed a step in my love for hunting. I was also diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, for which I had to take oral medication to keep in control and also a diet change (something I should have done years before  -  smile). So, although these medical factors did not hinder my time in the bush, they did deserve a place in my mind and I am fully aware of what I should and shouldn‘t do while in the bush alone. Again, common sense.

Local Mule Deer buck taken when I was 67.

            As I write this, I feel I should provide some examples of what I can do and what I try to avoid. I believe the first one is common to all of us, as we get older and that is that our balance is not what it used to be and that just comes with aging. But the important point to grasp here is the fact that our “recovery” time is most definitely not what it used to be and with that part of our life behind us, we must pay close attention to where we walk in the bush and the speed at which we cover the ground. I really slow down now when walking and pay close attention to all the obstacles in my path. Sometimes I will walk around a blow-down instead of jumping\climbing over it. One area where I have really changed my mode of operation is with my ATV. Before, I used to place one foot on the rear tire of my truck and vault up in to the bed of the truck. I would use the edge of the bed to start my upward move and then once launched, I would reach for the rack on the ATV to finish getting up. Reflexes are not always there and I decided why take the chance of slipping, missing my hold and ending up on the ground with “God only knows what injury”. Now I carry a small step ladder (two steps only) in the bed of my truck and use it to step up on to the tail-gate. Very easy and prevents an accident, hopefully.

A young 64 when I took this large Black Bear.

            I have also come to face the fact that I cannot ascend the vertical reaches of some of the hunting areas I frequent, especially where I hunt sheep and goats. That is not to say I still do not hunt them, just that my ability is somewhat limited and I will hunt them in the presence of a much younger hunting partner, one who fully understands my limitations. I have also purchased a long-range hunting rifle, so I can endeavour to harvest these animals without having to get as close as I used to feel I had to do in order to take them with a conventional firearm. Whitetail and Mule Deer along with Black Bear are my main animals hunted and now I just have to evaluate where they are before I decide whether or not to shoot them. I now carry a chainsaw on my ATV, in order to clear a trail for it into where an animal lays, after being taken. During my hunts, elsewhere in Canada and around the world, I depend completely on the Outfitter knowing exactly what my limitations are and if he thinks I am physically capable of completing a hunt with him. In this category, the Outfitter usually can tailor the hunt around the physical capabilities of a hunter and we all should listen to him, as he has been through the country and knows what it takes to be successful. Besides, why would one want to spend a huge amount of hard-earned cash, just to be miserable and not enjoy their time afield?

Spain with my Beceites Ibex when I was 69.

            So, as I sit writing this article, I just finished hunting locally for Black Bears in the surrounding mountains. I have seen quite a few bears, but not one in the location where I feel comfortable in taking him and being 100% sure of retrieving him. In just under one month, I am heading over to Namibia for a Sable Hunt and also other Plains Game. I know the Outfitter well and he is fully aware of my physical limitations and I will have a choice to walk or sit in a blind overlooking a waterhole. I will probably do a bit of both, but when walking, I know I have nothing to prove to anyone, so if get tired, I will just stop and rest and after a bit of a rest, will decide if I want to continue or have the vehicle pick us up. I also have Moose Camp in late September\early October and this year, I will not be out hunting solo. Nothing wrong with letting my hunting partners know I do not feel comfortable being on my own any more in isolation and far from medical assistance. Over to Alberta in November to hunt deer and will also stay with one of the other hunters while in the field, although I might like to go off by myself and if so, I will let them know where I will be hunting and what time they should expect me to return to the vehicle.

My Chamois on the same trip to Spain as when my Beceites Ibex was taken at 69.

            So, just because we are advancing in age does not mean we have to give up hunting  -  just take some time to seriously evaluate our current physical condition. It is nothing to be ashamed of to have physical limitations when age progresses. I know, I for one do not want to sit in a room awaiting the Grim Reaper  -  smile. I plan to and hopefully will be able to enjoy several more years afield with my friends doing what we love the most.

            I am heading back to Namibia in August for a Sable and potentially either a Waterbuck or a Klipspringer and next March am scheduled to hunt Gredos Ibex once again in the historic Country of Spain. So, you too can get out and get these dreams fulfilled, just be honest in your evaluation of your physical limitations, at whatever your age is currently.