As a young hunter and angler I kept a watching brief on when and why people quit their outdoors pursuits, the reasons ranging from new spouses who didn’t approve, to “hunters” who were so outraged that finally got caught poaching that they quit hunting, “just to show them.”
In recent years, health reasons predominate, aging bodies are no longer up to it, knees, eyes, and hearts wear out. I am always interested in what those who quit for these reasons do to compensate. I have yet to find one outdoors pursuits retiree who is satisfied to sit in front of the tube watching fishing shows or hunting show snuff shots; both are forms of porn that do not satisfy still-strong desires to be out there, personally doing something . . . anything.
Many anglers will remember my old friend, Don Cahoon, back when he worked in Calgary’s Country Pleasures store, so secretive that every river or stream he spoke of had only one and the same name: “Frenchman’s.” I fished with Don only once, when he enlisted my aid in guiding him to something he had never done: taking goldeye on a fly. I took him to and he was successful at one of my “Frenchman’s,” the world’s second best goldeye hole on the Red Deer River, surpassed only by the one I have never been able to find again, downstream of the old Gregory Ferry.
During the festive season, I became one of the “undisclosed recipients” of Don’s illustrated email diary which is always signed The Old Curmudgeon, followed by Don’s take on Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”): “Cogito ergo piscor” (“I think, therefore I fish”).
But Don doesn’t, anymore, he tells me, fish that is, because of health problems, but he obviously still thinks a lot, at least about getting out. His emails and pictures are a chronicle of what he does twice a week or so to get out with anonymous friends (“the Haggis,” “Goober,” and “Geo,” for example) to see what is going on in the wild world south and west of Calgary.
A typical entry will start like this: “. . . with Goober into the darkness of early a.m. to wander about on the back roads is search of wild things.” The Old Curmudgeon keeps meticulous count of the amazing numbers of wild things out there at dawn and early morning in relatively close proximity to Alberta’s largest city.
Weather conditions, particularly bitter cold and/or high winds, can noticeably decrease critter sightings and cloud conditions can greatly affect the sunrise colours Don Cahoon so obviously loves to see and photograph and cause him concerns about the whereabouts of the loner bighorn ram he calls “Gimpy,” presumably because of a limp.
I have totalled the numbers of nine of Don’s trips between Jan. 8th and Feb. 12th, and, in this parody of a real winter, they are stunning for their volume and variety. White tailed deer lead with 751 sightings, followed by elk with 536. Only 21 mule deer sightings truly worry me, and seem to bear out the views of some experts that mule deer do not tolerate large numbers of white tails, and particularly elk.
Also in seemingly short supply are sharp-tail grouse with only 44 sightings, but winter raptors seem in good numbers: 14 eagles sighted and 88 wintering hawks. Coyotes seem sparse with 35 sighted and so do bighorns at 44. Very sparse: four moose sightings, one red fox, and one northern shrike.
One constant feature and absolute essential of these forays appears to be arriving at the Chuckwagon Café, the red barn place in downtown Turner Valley, in time for Don and friend(s) to get a table for breakfast. The Chuckwagon is an absolute gem, but I always arrive there around lunch time and have a hard time resisting their hamburgers made with their own farmed beef.
But breakfast is served from opening to closing, and next time by I will have a hard time choosing between their Huevos Rancheros and their Eggs Benedict. A picture of the Chuckwagon and their menu can be viewed on-line at chuckwagoncafe.com.
After breakfast, Cahoon and companion(s) continue looking for and counting wild things on back roads west and north of Turner Valley en route to Calgary and home. The whole concept (minus breakfast at the Chuckwagon) is similar to one I often follow in spring, summer and fall in other areas of the province. But doing this sort of thing in the winter is a new idea and inspiration to me, especially since you don’t have to get up so early to catch the critters out and about. It might even be an inspiration to other gents of a certain age, maybe even give an idea to our fish and wildlife people who just don’t seem to have the money and manpower any more to do much of their own wildlife counting.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.