Your birthday should not be the saddest day of the year, but it can be if it always falls within a day of the end of your hunting season. It is especially sad when the only good snow falls on the last day of the season, so thick and slick that you really can’t get back out there.
This November’s deer season has been one of the strangest I have experienced in 40 years of them. Suffice it was too warm, dry, and on some days, too windy. Weather “events” in August and October greatly reduced the browse and fodder available to the deer.
Once again, a landowners’ licence for antlered mule deer confined me to the daunting challenge, basically, of hunting mule deer on a single quarter section. Over the season I saw 14 white tailed bucks and six mule deer bucks, down in total from the 20 white tails and five mules last season. The slight increase in mule deer sighted this season delights me, as does the fact that they were all bigger bodied bucks with better racks than in recent seasons.
All that said, the many hunters I know who need to take a deer or two seemed to have no trouble doing just that and more. One took three white tails in fifteen minutes, the second two for “compassionate reasons,” which I believe and understand, and, as soon as I can figure out how to tell the tale, I shall.
As was related recently here, my guest and hunting companion Don Hayden took his biggest white-tailed buck in 50 years of hunting them. For the readers who have asked, Don will have the antlers scored as soon as the scorer finishes a job in Saskatchewan. Two other hunters I know of took smaller white-tailed bucks nearby.
I pay particular attention when I am out there on my birthday, because great hunting things have happened to me over the years on that day. Until about five years ago, my best white tailed buck was taken on my birthday many years ago from a tree stand along the Red Deer River near Buffalo. I took my best-to-date mule deer buck the morning of my birthday 23 years ago by tracking him through corn snow near the junction of the Panther and Dormer Rivers.
But “my” best birthday buck and my long-time hunting and fishing friend Iain Johnston’s first buck was taken back when he was 16, when my scent flushed the buck past where Iain was sitting, watching a cut line on Crown land.
Iain’s dad had to get that trophy mounted. It turned out that the great beast was a white-tail-mule deer hybrid, a precursor of what experts now say accounts for the decline and will cause the eventual extinction of the mule deer. Just the second season after that, Iain sat down on another cut line back there and took a huge-racked mule deer buck — close to being one of those mulies I call “Horseshoes” — that cost his dad more taxidermy fees.
This season Iain and Mac came out to the Stump Ranch for an overnighter and Iain wasted no time. First morning he got his dad to drop him off back in that public land paradise, sat down and listened to a buck fight, then eventually saw and shot one of the combatants, a 4 X 3 white-tailed buck, then dragged it out to the road.
Throughout this season I heard encouraging words of the sightings of huge-racked mule deer bucks. Robert Short, I think, has grown skeptical over the years of my tales of Horseshoes. No more: after 25 years hunting out there, he finally saw one this season. I know he saw the real beast when he uttered the clichés I have heard from myself: “first I thought it was an elk; it took my breath away.”
For old time’s sake, and just to try my luck, I went on my birthday to watch a grey dawn light the clearing where I saw my first Horseshoes 34 years ago. That time I was sitting an aboriginal game stand on the top of the cliff across the creek. It seems I jinxed myself forever by not taking the shot, mainly on the grounds that there was no known way to get over there to retrieve the deer.
Now you can’t see down into the clearing from the cliff top because of the growth of intervening spruce trees. But on this morning I am on the other side of the creek via an ugly old logging trail.
When nothing had appeared by full light, I toured the edges and confirmed nothing but coyotes had been in that clearing since a fresh snow 36 hours earlier.
So, home for the Grey Cup and birthday party, with hopes of drawing an antlered mule deer tag for the whole Wildlife Management Unit next season and thus widen my hunt for Horseshoes.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.