Winning $100 at the start of my pheasant season was all the luck there was, insuring that this season was the second or third worst I have experienced in more than 60 years of chasing wild roosters.
What am I to make then, of another unprecedented experience to start the 2009 deer season? As I drove toward my gate to go in and check a trail camera for deer activity, I noticed the approach was blocked by a big SUV. Then, as I went by, I was hit in the eye by the pale white-tail “moon” of a four or five-year old being held up by his mom so he could do his best right where I’d have to stand to unlock the gate.
After a brief attitude session, the residoo was scooped and I proceeded in and down. This was about noon the Saturday before the season was to open the next day, and I wanted to get some idea of the deer traffic on the main trail into the hayfield.
The counter on the camera showed slow activity, but considerably better than after the friendly neighbourhood cougar went up that trail, took his own picture, then made a kill in the bedding area just before the season opened four or five years ago.
The problem this year seems to be that just when the second growth alfalfa really got going it was stopped dead by killing frosts and is not as lush and inviting for the deer as in most years.
No matter, deer season opening on a Sunday is a historic occasion in Alberta, not to be missed by a man who fought decades for the legalization of Sunday hunting.
Then we travelled around to check that trails had not been obstructed by trees felled by several high winds from early in August on. One oilfield style locking gate simply would not open. This gate has been sabotaged several times in the past on Halloween, thus preventing access on opening morning.
Perhaps some ghouls started early, but it is more likely someone ran his rig into the gate, twisting the locking bolt.
Next morning lashings of anti-corrosion gel and the energetic pulls of Robert Short and his son, Spencer, got the thing open.
I was in my Mobile Ground Blind in that hayfield and reading the weekend papers by 3 p.m. on Oct. 31, glancing up occasionally toward the favoured trail into the alfalfa.
At 5 p.m., after the sky grayed and wind-driven sleet started pelting down, a bunch of white-tails materialized as if by the usual magic, right where they should have been. Among the does and fawns were two “sausage” bucks and one pretty little eight-pointer.
At last light I got out of there and up to Robert Short’s cabin for the first “formal” dinner of the deer camp social season out there.
Back at my cabin I remembered to turn the alarm clock back an hour and wondered if and how the time change would affect deer movement in the morning.
Back down on the hayfield, not so bright, but very early the next morning, this time accompanied by my custom 7mm-08 rifle, the deer soon started appearing, but totally from the opposite to their usual direction, then strolling right up the field to where they usually first appear in the morning. Among several does and fawns were the same three bucks — so far as I could tell — as the evening before.
Then it was time for the tour to observe hunter activity and maybe even interview the odd one or two who might be out of their vehicles. Alas, hunters generally were doing their Sunday devotions in the sack, maybe even in church; there was one hunter’s rig I recognized, parked where he’d gone into thousands of acres of superb deer habitat, all on Public Land.
My major disappointment, as usual for the past decade, is that I saw only one small bunch of four mule deer, without a buck among them.
The mule deer population out here, once mostly mule deer country with white-tails an occasional interloper, appears to be getting steadily smaller and smaller, with the big bucks, my beloved “Horseshoes” of yore, only a fond memory.
After lunch, we had to leave for home, so I ceded the hayfield to Robert Short in the hopes that Spencer might take his first buck down there. Robert reports: “At last light a deer finally appeared southeast of us. It was a WT with one small forked antler on the right and nothing on the left. After scoping the animal for a few minutes, Spencer concluded he didn’t have a unicorn licence and put his gun away.” Well, that’s yet another new direction and a new buck to me.
Robert and Spencer got mooned on their way out toward that gate, but by half a dozen fleeing white-tail does and fawns.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.