Another miracle? There were 20 minutes of legal shooting light left and my cellphone was vibrating down in the low hayfield I was watching, where there is simply no cellphone signal, either in or out.
The last time the miracle happened was more than a year ago, on the penultimate Sunday of the ’09 season, when my old friend Neil Waugh buzzed from a morning stand a mile away, from and to which there is also no cell signal, to tell me that, after a long run of bad luck, he had finally got his season’s sausage buck.
This time the call came from my even older friend, Don Hayden, as excited as I have ever heard him, announcing that he had just taken a big buck.
Don had been sitting the evening stand watching the same small field and trail Neil had been watching from the morning stand not 100 meters away.
When I got down there, Don had already loaded the buck on one of the custom sleds he favours, made from a food-grade poly barrel, and towed it up to higher ground nearer the road. I took a picture or two of Don with the big-bodied buck on the sled.
The rack is 10 points, heavy, and even, with the main beams curving sharply inward.
Field dressing was almost finished when a rig drove in from the road and down to us. Another old friend, Reg Wickens, had been heading home to Rocky Mountain House after his hunting day when he noticed our lights and came in offering his help.
Reg was of assistance, but three septuagenarians were insufficient to lift the huge-bodied buck into the back of Don’s rig.
What we needed was one strong octogenarian, Reg’s hunting friend, Reg Morley, who, at 84, strong, hale, hearty and hunting still, was otherwise occupied on this day.
So we moved up to the gate, where Don drove his rig down into the ditch and backed up to where, from the approach, we slid sled and buck into the back slick as Don and I did with the nice buck he took two years ago.
Back at the Stump Ranch, as Don quickly cleaned up for our dinner invitation up the creek for venison stew and dumplings, for which we were running late, he told us that this was his personal best white tail buck. After he got home, Don checked his sporting diary and emailed me that he took his first buck when he was 25, exactly 50 years ago.
Don also reported that we started our annual hunts together in 2001, missing only last year, and he has taken a white tail buck every trip, except for about five years ago when I took the best white tail of my life.
The next deer I take, will be what I call “Horseshoes,” a huge mule deer buck, or nothing, a rare creature out here for most of the last decade.
So far this season I have seen a couple of mule deer bucks that almost qualify, and Reg Wickens has seen two good ones, but so far only one mule deer, a doe, has ventured onto land where my Antlered Mule Deer Special Licence is valid.
When Don Hayden takes a big game animal and has lots of daylight left, he generally, despite his two hip replacements, dresses and skins it on the ground, quarters and game-bags the carcass clean as a whistle, skills he learned years ago from experts, some native, in Northern Alberta.
This one got hung the next morning from the world’s greatest meat pole up the creek and skinned with the assistance of a couple of merely 50-plus “kids.”
Don Hayden, as befits a past president of both the Alberta Fish and Game Association and the Canadian Wildlife Federation, is as principled an outdoorsman as I have ever known.
On a recent goose hunting trip in Northern Alberta, he and companions, with less than half their limit taken, rationed themselves to one shot each at other flocks coming in to their decoys. Thrilled as Don is at having taken his biggest white tail buck at 75, he seems prouder at being told at the butchers in Glenwood to which he delivered the quarters of his buck that “damn few hunters take care of their game like you do.”
Without a tag left, Don stayed with me a day and a half until the breaking of camp about noon Saturday.
He even maintained tradition by getting up and out at first legal light to sit unarmed on his favourite stand, upstream and across the creek, from which he has taken several last morning bucks over the years.
He could have this time, too, Don reported later, as two sausage bucks passed close to where he was sitting.
Don Hayden, at 75, is not only a superb hunter, he’s also lucky.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.