In the eye of the storm

All opening days are different, and some are more interesting than others, but I still enjoy them all, and have a hard time missing any of them.

All opening days are different, and some are more interesting than others, but I still enjoy them all, and have a hard time missing any of them.

Last year, on the Nov. 1 deer opener, thick ice fog made even city driving a puzzling challenge.

I was all loaded up to head west immediately my early morning eye appointment was over.

When it was, I checked the road reports and learned that travel west was not recommended, and that conditions got worse the closer you got to my deer country, generally between Rocky Mountain House and Caroline.

I’ve never done well hunting in the fog, anyway, so I went home and dined there on my hunting lunch.

This year, Friday, Nov. 1, featuring bluebird weather, bright sunshine and blue skies, was the most eerily quiet opening day I have ever experienced in more than 60 seasons, if you count bird hunting openers.

First, I saw not one live wild critter in six hours of looking for them, in many of my best places, not even a squirrel.

There was one fresh road killed deer being feasted on by a mixture of murders of crows and magpies and unkindnesses of ravens.

A perfect but too-early tracking snow had fallen on Tuesday, but now, three days later, there were astonishingly few deer tracks printed on the blank snowy white pages.

Over the years, I have noticed that the first snow seems to make deer nervous.

The theory is that they know they are easier to see against the white background and stop their usual movements, even at night, until they get used to the sudden change.

At every stopping and watching spot, I listened carefully and did not hear one shot fired, again a first for me on any opening day out here. In my travels I saw few other vehicles, and not one that seemed to be occupied by hunters.

So, for lunch, I parked on a high spot with good draws to the left and right of me on the most reliable hunting road I know of anywhere.

Surely I might get a picture of a deer or moose from there, or at least a shot or two of the usual passing parade of road hunters.

But no, in an hour no big game animal crossed, and not one vehicle travelled the road, not oil workers, neighbours, and certainly not hunters.

While munching my sandwich and sipping a hot mix of bouillon and VGo juice, I heard dire warnings on the radio that a big snowstorm was coming in.

That news took me back 40 years to when the deer season out here opened on a sensible and civilized Sept. 20, and I took my first deer, a 3×2 mule deer buck that was up and feeding well ahead of the equinoctial storm my radio was then predicting.

Deer bed down in the swamps out here while storms rage, and then, hungry, get up and feed heavily again after it is over.

During my hunting years, I took many of my deer by hunting feeding areas just as a storm is coming in, or immediately the storm has ended.

Storm front fishing can also be fantastic.

On June 9, years ago, angling artist Jack Cowin of Regina, the late Lloyd Graff and I had the fastest fishing on Prairie Creek I can ever recall anywhere, during miserable, cold, constantly worsening rain storms.

Every cast of a streamer fly anywhere brought savage hits from the big browns that were then common in the creek. The next morning we were snowed in.

If I still hunted deer with a rifle, I would have stayed out Friday evening, but hunting them with a camera in failing late day light produces bad or no pictures.

On the way home I detoured to the east by some of the biggest alfalfa fields out here, all bordered by good riparian and thick forest and swamp cover.

Usually, even on a bluebird day, deer are out there feeding on the frozen, second growth alfalfa, but today nothing was out there but fresh air and sunshine, probably for the first time I can remember.

But during the late afternoon-evening watch to last legal shooting light, deer of both species entered those fields and commenced stuffing themselves with alfalfa to tide them over the storm they knew was on its way.

That was when two young friends of this column took a magnificent, even, typical 12-point wall hanger of a white tailed buck.

A non-hunting friend who is a year-round fly fishing fanatic was having a tough day on the North Raven River until, toward last light, big brown trout suddenly started rising and feeding voraciously and saved his day.

A quiet opening day it was, but hunting and fishing suddenly improved as the first big storm of winter moved in, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some stories of great success from after it moved on.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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