Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mule Deer Hunting - Princeton, BC - Thanksgiving

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are hunting in northern Manitoba with my father and my older brother, Ron.  Grandad was a rancher and all the uncles and cousins hunted. It was just natural and Canadian to be resourceful supplementing the stock foods of the farms with the bounty of the wilderness.  There was never a lot of effete sentimentalism in Canada.  Rural folk couldn’t afford to be slaves to corporate food chains and government promises.
Mom had a huge garden and raised our winter vegetables through the loving work of her hands.  By fall the basement storeroom was full of canning.  My mother was highly skilled.  While she loved her typewriter she was a master on her sewing machine and quilted, crocheted, and knitted when she wasn’t mending clothes,  cooking or baking.  We loved most her rhubarb pies.
In later years Dad and Mom rented plots of land so that they could raise all their vegetables.  They said the food from the grocery stores didn’t taste real.  It was true that the food we ate at home was natural succulent and fresh.  It did seem too that our rural family friends were all healthy and strong whereas increasingly our city friends were more and more sickly.
I remember Dad and Mom butchering a quarter of a cow on the kitchen table.  Dad would drive out to the country and return with fresh meat he’d acquired direct from a rancher or farmer.  He was always coming back with fresh killed poultry, Canadian bacon, honey hams, eggs and jams.
Our summer weekends were always camping and fishing trips with lots of pickerel and northern pike meals to remember. While pickerel was relatively boneless, jack was noted for it’sfish  bones. The Canadian joke was that kids learned to eat wisely on fish feeling with their tongues for bones so they would be prepared for fall when they ate ducks and geese gingerly making sure they didn’t chomp hard down on a shotgun pellets and break a tooth.
Every fall as long as I can remember after the V’s of geese filled the prairie skies we’d be headed out to a marsh, like Netley, or some farmers stubble fields to wait for ducks to land in the early morning. I’d be half asleep in a blind beside my father and brother startled awake by their pump actions shot guns blasting away at dawn. Our springer spaniel dog would then leap into the water or race cross the field to proudly prance back with a fat mallard in his mouth.  Later in the day we’d hunt for prairie chicken that amazingly delicious game hen that depended on it’s camouflage to hide it.  The dog would flush them and there’d be the characteristic exhilarating pounding of wings before the shotgun swung up tracked the bird and brought it down mid air. The dog on command would race off to retrieve the downed birds.
My father shot moose and deer.  I never hunted big game with him. My brother was old enough and he had the privilege of rank. Mom had strict rules about how old her babies had to be before they could bird hunt first then big game hunt next.  I missed hunting deer with my Dad though after medical school I’d get back to hunting birds with him.   The two of us would borrow  my brother’s red setter dog, Tartan.  My brother Ron had babies by then and Tartan was more than thankful to join us for a weekend reprieve.
I only shot my first deer on Vancouver Island.  That was thanks to my friend Bill Mewhort a mill foreman from Gold River I met one early morning north of Campbell River.  He’d had a minor heart attack hauling down  the deer he'd shot. I was a doctor and my service that day was dragging my older friend’s deer in for him while insisting he rest on the side of road.  He refused to go to hospital till the animals he’d shot were safely in the truck.
After that meeting we hunted off and on together for the next thirty years, sometimes with his young son Allan.  Bill had begun hunting as a child in Quebec and after losing his father, during the years of poverty in Quebec he kept his mother and young sister in wild meat. Later I’d meet his beautiful sister and she’d speak with such love and eloquence of her brother, the family provider. “Without Bill, I don’t know how we would have survived.” she told me,”  People were starving all over in Quebec."
Bill would go on to work as a fishing and hunting guide and support a half dozen children of his own with his knowledge of Canadian wilderness, hunting and fishing.   Having benefited from the years of education in wilderness lore I gained from my father, grandfather, brother and uncles I felt like I’d entered a university for hunting each time I headed out with Bill.  Sometimes when his son Alan and I were following Bill silently through the woods sneaking up on game so close we could reach out and touch them I thought of Bill as Yoda or some Canadian wilderness zen master.  Thanks to him I’ve slipped up so close to a deer I whispered ‘boo’ in it’s ear and watched the startled animal jump a dozen feet into the air before bounding off into the woods.  I’ve watched Bill call in deer and elk. We never came home empty handed when I hunted with Bill.
This weekend was Thanksgiving. Laura and I have enjoyed the Thanksgiving weekend hunts several years past. Our most memorable one was the Nakusp weekend I shot the bear and the turkey as well as enjoying the glorious Nakusp hot springs.  Laura is happy to stay in the hotel or motel I book while Gilbert and I head out into the woods.
I’d hoped to stay at the incredible Princeton Castle Resort or Teepee Cabins both out of town but when I phoned early in the weekend they were all booked. Thankfully the Ponderosa Motel in the centre of Princeton, where I’ve happily stayed several times before, had a really great room with a kitchen left.
After work, Laura, Gilbert and I headed out  in my Ford F350 Diesel Truck with my relatively new Honda 500 Side by Side Pioneer ATV in the back.  My hunting buddy Tom and I fondly named the Honda “Charles’ after it gave us so much joy earlier this fall.   No 3 road follows the rushing river pass through Manning Park.  We had the most spectacular views of autumn coloured leaves against the mountain back drops as we drove to historic Princeton.
We arrived early enough to register and unload our gear before heading across the road to our favourite restaurant, the Little Greek Grill. A gifted folk blues guitarist was playing and a couple of handsomely dressed RCMP officers were dining in a corner. It was a cozy atmosphere with young and old and that interesting mix of country charm and metro chic. If the food didn’t taste so home made and the waitress didn’t share that she and her brother had been quadding that weekend one might just think they were at a swank Yaletown Grill in Vancouver.  With the internet and globalization the country once isolated now has all the benefits of the city without the smog and bad attitudes. I had lamb and Laura had prime rib.  “This prime rib is huge!” Laura said. Personally I was mesmerized by the pumpkin pie.  Both of us however had taken bits of meat from our dishes to take back to Gilbert hard at work guarding the room and gear. When we arrived back he was ecstatic, bounding around in circles, yapping merrily like a nurse relieved from a 12 hour  shift
5:30 am the alarm on my iPhone woke me.  I geared up then carried guns and ammo out to the truck seeing that a couple of neighbours were groggily doing the same thing.  One had a couple of sleepy young boys all dressed in cammo with him while I had Gilbert. The famous Princeton A&W opened at 6 am.  Already it was half filled with early rising country folk when I arrived at 6:15 to pick up my sausage and egger and hash brown, grab a coffee and have my thermos filled with more.
It took me an hour to drive and then some to unload Charles the Honda Pioneer before I was actually hunting.  Skies were grey and rain was steadily pouring down and would all day. My old friend Bill would have complained I was doddling. He liked to be in ambush before the sun came up, sneaking through the woods in the dark of night.  I am terrified unloading my ATV from the back of the truck. I  think I’m going to die every time I reverse off the back and commit to trusting my life to two tiny ramp toothpicks. I haven’t done this in the dark so far and besides I’m not as focussed as Bill. Hunting for me is an escape from the frontlines of my work.  I am mentally exhausted after all week dealing with the  arrogance and unaccountable callousness of   swollen beaurocracies so that the principle purpose of my wilderness weekend is R&R.
Charles, the Honda 500 side by side Pioneer ATV has a roof and windshield. The hot engine is under the seat. After years of walking and years of riding off road motor bikes and quads the Pioneer is luxury.  Gilbert sits on the seat beside me and I drive about logging roads and trails feeling like motorcar riding in the 30’s must have been, before the speed and congestion.  My normal speed in 15 to 20 km hour, a little faster than walking but great for sightseeing and sure enough I saw deer.  They didn’t stay long enough for me to get acquainted and they were were doe.  The hunting regulations are usually convoluted  enough to require a lawyer consultant. This little  area I was hunting in was open for bucks for this month whereas last month it was only 4 points on the antler bucks.  Grouse were open which pleased Gilbert no end. He’s mostly a grouse dog. When I’ve shot big game I’ve told everyone I was really just out hunting for partridge and the big animal happened along.
Most weekends we get at least one grouse where as most hunters hunt many days and weeks before they’re fortunate enough to bag a big one. City folk who thanklessly get their meat cellophane wrapped for them at the supermarket mostly have  no idea about how it magically appears there each day. They are even more ignorant of hunting and sportsmen who account for more than 90% of the costs of conservation efforts in the country.  They are so urban propaganda conditioned that they actually believe the  activist industry does more good than harm, buying into their loud and attention seeking profit driven self important  claims about their relevance.  The low brow mainstream media maintains this idiocy whereas anyone with smarts can simply look to the sportsman magazines or rural magazines to find the truth about non urban reality.
After hours of driving alone in the glorious beauty of our pristine wilderness watching hawks and eagles soar, loving all the little birds, I generally rid myself of all the utterly offensive nonsense I’ve listened to on the news the weeks before.  No story was more poorly followed than that of the amazing javelin throwing champion who actually speared a black bear in Alberta only to be villified by the incompetent urban corporate slave class outraged by a man who demonstrated a skill that had for 60, 000 years kept our species alive.  As a bow hunter who has shot deer for food I thoroughly admired this incredibly courageous  hunter who brought down a big black bear up close and personal with only a spear. I was really thankful he filmed the event giving us personal insight into what made the Zulu great and the early hunter gatherers survive.  I’ve never had the courage to shoot a bear with my bow like a friend does. We both love bear ham but I’ve been especially thankful that my rifle is more than a single shot.   Once when I shot a bear with my high powered 30:06 rifle, the shot going through both lungs and heart,  it only  aggravated the bear  to charge me.   I was more than thankful to be able to fire off all my remaining shells to finally stop him.
Now the Leftist urban government minister in Alberta, a once great province, declares they are going to outlaw spears because they are ‘inhumane’.  This sentamentalist ignorant fool has no idea about humanity or hunting but as a modern politician vote whore he plays to the ignorant masses while making himself a laughing stock among those who have actually left their air conditioned office and driven beyond the concrete parking lot.
I pray a lot when I’m out in the woods.  At first there is the cacophony of thoughts like these and then the spirituality of nature slowly soothes my weary soul.  After a week of being positive and hopeful, herding the cats of optimism, I get covered in a fair amount of negativity especially when I hear everyone is apparently happy as cabbages that our new boyish prime minister is giving away millions to overseas tyrants and raising the tax blaming Canadians for breathing and heating their homes.  As a psychiatrist my ex wife used to quip that her husband ‘didn’t tolerate fools well unless they were his patients.’ The media, especially CBC news, these days,  make my worst dangerously insane heroin and crystal meth addicted psychotics sound safe and sane.
I parked the ATV somewhere off in the woods and then hiked slowly down willow overgrown paths with Gilbert at close heel. It’s then I spooked some doe.  I saw what looked like a ferret.  Lots of dicky birds.  Just a whole lot of peace. With the rain I didn’t sit for long like I usually do, meditating in the woods, communing with God and nature.  I was thankful to get back  to Charles and pour a fresh coffee from the thermos and watch the hillside.  It was sleeting and I was up in the snow, glad to have worn an extra layer but miffed that I’d forgotten my gloves.  Gilbert with his curly fur coat was in heaven.  I carry a towel to wipe him and the windshield off.
Sometime in the afternoon I loaded up the ATV and drove back into the Princeton linking up with Laura who had enjoyed walking about shopping in the little friendly town.  I stopped at the great Princeton Outdoor Supply. I bought my cammo gear from them some 15 years ago and it’s still the best. The Vortex binoculars I got here a year or two past have worked out extremely well.  I’ve always loved the advise I’ve received and have one of the most memorable rainbow fishing trips thanks to being told here of a fresh stocked lake when I was in buying fishing lures one summer.  This time all I needed was an elk tag for hunting as 6 point elk were open. The last thing I wanted was to come across a 6 point elk and be unable to shoot it because I didn’t have the tag.
Laura and I then stopped at the well stocked and helpful Home Hardware where I got a bolt for the ATV ramp. After risking my life loading Charles I saw that one of the ramp bolts had been lost so was more than thankful to have a replacement.
At Round the Corner cafe we had the best service and loved the unique atmosphere, one of those places with unusual antiques like a 50’s Betty Boop statue.  The home made fries were to die for, while Laura enjoyed her burger and I the cod.
I didn’t make it out for the evening hunt.  Laura and I cuddled up in bed with Gilbert and enjoyed listening to the storm outside eating pizza we’d picked up and  watching an old movie.  Gilbert insists on jumping in between us if we kiss.  So every non and then we’re smothered in sloppy dog kisses and laughingly shoving the squirming ball of fur away.
Next morning I was up at 530 am and headed out with Gilbert after stopping at the A&W for breakfast and a thermos of coffee.  When the darkness lifted there was actually patches of blue sky.  I was thankful for Charles because the roads were greasy and I’d literally slid my truck to a place where I was glad to unload.  The joy of Princeton is that while it’s three hours from Vancouver there are several distinctly different hunting terrains an hours distance from the town.  This day the views of rolling hills and open slash were exceptional. Again I just rode slowly about coming across a few other hunters in pick ups and quads. I maybe met a dozen others through the day remembering when I first came here 30 years ago I’d not see another soul for days.  I didn’t mind.  I’m old and am mostly a road hunter now because frankly I can’t see myself hauling a deer or elk any more than one or two hundred yards to a road.  When I was younger I carried a deer a mile on my shoulders and quartered moose and carried the quarters miles back to camp. I appreciated the old guys I saw on quads and in trucks but there were a number of young guys speeding about on their quads like they were at a raceway and really appearing to have missed that whole hiking and hunting part of the life. I felt sorry for them.  While I really love Charles I love it best when I shut off the engine and slink through the woods enjoying the quiet and seeing far more of nature than I can from any machine. The tiny sounds are orchestral too.
I saw a partridge that was smarter than me and Gilbert both, flying far away after Gilbert flushed it.  The stupid birds fly up to sit on the branch of a tree where I can then shoot the head off with my Ruger 22.   I have the new Ruger break down stainless steel model and love it.  I stopped on a hill to eat jerky ad chocolate bars and drink coffee and shoot targets with the 22.  I’d shot the Ruger stainless steel 30:06 the first day and hit the “C” in coca cola on a can at 50 yards so hadn’t wasted more ammo.  With the 22 I enjoyed shooting off a couple of boxes of shells till  my shots at 30 yards were all in a grouping the size of my thumb.  Gilbert finds this all very exciting but can’t figure out why there are no birds to retrieve.
Later it was fun to stand on the side of the road talking to a couple of elk hunters from Chilliwack who have a cabin in the region.  They come up each year and love the cabin life and actually have shot a bull elk or two over the last 20 years.  For all of us it’s mostly the wilderness, getting away from the city, self reliance in the out back, the occasional success, and camaraderie when there’s more on the hunt.  It’s so abusive and offensive to have leftist liberal urban media screaming that we must not identify muslim terrorists because Islam is a religion of peace yet the same ignorant pc folk smear all us hunters as ‘trophy hunters’ and malign us because we’re not vegetarians and don’t eat cosmetic designer foods from silly boutique grocers.  Trophy hunters kill old animals that will die the next winter.  No body leaves meat in the woods.  The first bear I shot I only wanted the prime meat and didn’t eat the organ meats but my Indian chief friend was more than thankful to have a green garbage bag full of wild game telling me he knew how to prepare it so it was safe from the parasite that infects bear.  Apparently it’s safe after you freeze and then cook it through and through. He did that then smoked it. I’ve enjoyed keeping the bear meat for myself after learning that trick of preparation.
There are the rare idiots out hunting but given that it takes a lot of regulations to own a gun in Canada, lots of training and  examinations to be able to get a hunting license and it’s really very expensive to maintain equipment for the rough conditions very few hunters one meets are anything as ignorant or sincerely twisted nutbars as the drug addicted drunken,  mothers basement living, googleresearcher set  that dominate the silly mainstream media, like tabloid CBC and chick lit Huffington Post.
It was late afternoon when Gilbert and I rejoined Laura.  She was beautiful as usual having enjoyed the morning lying in, reading and recuperating from the weeks stress of her demanding work as a medical office assistant to one of Canada’s foremost arthritis specialists, one of my most admired colleagues who has done so much for so many thousands of patients with this chronic debilitating illness.
It was Thanksgiving and Laura in her town walk that day had found out that just around the corner the Funky Monkey Cafe was serving a full coarse traditional turkey dinner. It was Laura’s treat and boy did I enjoy it reflecting back on all the great thanksgiving turkey meals that my mother, aunt and grandmother had had in our home when I was growing up.  I love Thanksgiving turkey. The meal  was delicious and service was terrific. It was also great because the place was full of old folk who were enjoying tradition as much as we were.
Back in the Ponderosa Motel I had thought to watch the second Trump - Clinton presidential debate that evening but after a short nap i decided to take Gilbert for an evening drive in the truck along a main forest service road in the back country. It was an hours drive on the highway but there was the really well maintained road that wouldn’t stress my truck and negated my need to unload Charles. .  I thought it better to be out hunting than watching a crazy name calling political debate.  Gilbert as comfort conscious as my friend Tom who loves hunting from the luxury of the truck loved sitting up straight watching for the grouse that often land on the road in the evening  fo eat gravel that helps their digestion.  I passed a couple of RV’s in the back woods with campfires going despite it still being really light out.
And there it was.  About a hundred yards from the woods in a field just on the edge of the forest a great mule deer buck stood grazing only looking up when I stopped the truck, shut off the engine and  opened the  door. I was buck fever all over. I was  thankful to have the trigger lock off and get a couple of shells into the rifle’s magazine without the deer spooking.  Raising the rifle to my shoulder and without doing that breathing bit Bill taught me but using the door as a rest I aimed with the scope crosshairs entering on the chest.  It was a tough head on shot and I fired just as the deer was bending down to graze more. Instead of hitting the chest the shot enterred the neck and the deer jumped straight up.
It came down and was standing wobbling and would have fallen over dead except it suddenly saw it’s kiler barrelling towards it.. Gilbert the cockapoo was hell bent to get the biggest grouse he had ever seen and the deer mustered what strength it had to take off before the terrifying cockapoo pounced upon it.  It’s a rule of hunting that you keep shooting till the game stops so I shot the running buck again hitting just behind the heart, getting the lungs diaphragm and top of the stomach.  The deer went down heavily. I shouted at Gilbert to stopped worried the silly dog would get kicked in the head before I put killing shot in the head of the deer.  Gilbert was obviously pleased with himself, certain that without him, we’d not have got this kill.  I was still shaking and trembling from the excitement and thanking God for his Bounty.
That’s when the work began.  I got rope, hatchet, saw and extra knives from the truck.  Field dressing takes time and while it was light I wanted to get the job done as darkness makes every task that much more difficult.  Gilbert was glad to supervise licking blood from the carcass whenever my back was turned.  He was one happy dog.
It was in the field dressing with tying one hind  leg to a log to open up the belly that I found where my bullets had gone tracing trajectory from  the tiny entrance wound  to  the large exit wounds.  I cleaned out the guts   as best I could. I got the bladder out without breaking it, a real delicate feat but central to fresh tasting meat. I  would later use water I kept in a blue container on the truck to rinse the cavity. .  I put the heart and large liver in separate bags before beginning the difficult task of hauling the hundreds of pounds of venison across the log strewn field. Downhill was easy enough but when I got to the valley and had to begin the slight incline to the road my desk job began to tell. Back at the truck I tried to get the winch working but the handle didn’t seem to fit so with night coming on I went back and used brute force to haul the deer to the side of the road. My back was not happy but beside the truck I could use the winch I’d had installed on Charles the Honda to haul the deer, now wrapped in a tarp  into the truck box.  I swung the other half in without too much effort then tied it in just as darkness fell.  I used a flashlight to check around ensuring I’d not left anything.  Then in the truck I got stuck in the ditch trying to turn. This came from gross stupidity and I was lucky and thankful to four wheel drive to get myself out of the ditch.
Driving back down the road I passed two other groups of hunters in trucks both of them having got flats.  I was so physically exhausted and mentally hooped so very thankful to have an uneventful drive back out of the wilderness to the highway and finally back to town. I was really thankful to park in front of the motel room.
“Would you come outside and see something, “ I said to Laura after Gilbert got over jumping up and down around his favourite friend.  ‘“You got one, “ she said with real shared pleasure.  A hoofed foot stuck out from the tarp, a rope from it to Charles holding the deer safely fixed inside the truck box.
“We did,” I said, Gilbert swaggering happily, accepting praise and treats from Laura.  I think I told the poor girl the story of us seeing and shooting the deer a number of times and she was excited each time I recounted the tale acting like she was hearing it the first time.  I could hardly sleep that night getting up to check the deer several times while Gilbert was pretty much dead to world after all the exercise he’d had. His little feet were twitching in his sleep as he no doubt relived the great chase.
Ideally a deer is hung but mostly it’s critical that it’s cooled as fast as possible. I couldn’t hang the deer but it was cold.
I phoned around to the several wild game meat cutters I’d used over the years.  All were full and told me the earliest they could take another animal was in a day or two. I laughed at how only a couple of days before I’d been talking to an unsuccessful hunter from the city and we’d both been bemoaning how little game we’d seen. Now I learned the real story with the game cutters telling me that this Thanksgiving weekend had produced more game than they’d all seen in years.  I phoned another half dozen butchers I hadn’t used but were recommended only  to not hear back from them as every one’s freezers were full.
Driving back I stopped short of Hope and in the back woods off a logging trail attended to the next phase of wild game preparation. I skinned the deer, beheaded it and sawed off the legs fitting the whole carcass into cheesecloth.  We hoped that when we got to the lower mainland into cell coverage we’d have a call back but none came. In Chilliwack I went round to the butchers I knew but no one was able to take the deer.
I’d butchered deer, bear and moose before myself but really do appreciate the professionals work, especially the ground beef and sausage they make which I don’t do any more.  There was no choice though as the deer had to be butcherd as I had no freezer I could hang it in.  It was a young two point and though hanging deer a few days to drain the blood better makes for more tenderized meat I’d butchered young deer fresh and appreciated them just as much as I mostly marinade and barbecue or make stews with venison.
Back home I was really thankful to get the deer off the truck and with Laura’s help lifted the dead weight onto the table.  2 or 3 hours later with Gilbert supervising and Laura labelling the double zip locked bags of meat I was thoroughly exhausted but the venison was all in the fridge and freezer. It was going to be another winter of great meals.
Ironically we ordered in a pizza from Me and Ed’s because it was already night and neither of us wanted to cook. Gilbert got some pieces which a butcher would have put in sausage but I put in a separate dog bag. I simply microwaved them and Gilbert , the great cockapoo hunter wolfed them down and wanted more.  He didn’t get any more because too much wild game, being so lean, can give one the runs.  Gilbert wouldn’t have cared but I would.
Laura took a bag of meat to her home and I’d take a bag to my other storage freezer, spreading the liability in case of power outages  or freezer break downs.
It would be the next night that I barbecued the strap muscle medallions and tasted heaven. Thank you Lord for sharing your bounty. Another year and another successful harvest.  Thank you Jesus.

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