Somewhere Over the Rainbow…

Posted on December 10, 2013

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“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

                                                                                                                                  Winston Churchill

 

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There is supposed to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or so the Irish legend goes. If such treasure actually does exist, I did not find it. Not this season anyway. The plunder I was in search of comes in the form of buckskin and bone in the double XL variety. I was looking for what photographer Mike Biggs aptly describes as, “An animal that has the mystique to truly stir one’s imagination, to draw (me) in and hold (me) tight.” In so doing it must indeed be undertaken with no guarantees. Mike continues, “ For (me who studies) this animal behaviorally in addition to (photographing) and hunting him, the fascination in unraveling the complicated maze of facts, myths, corkscrewed assumptions, possibilities, and definite maybes remains unquenchable.”

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(This portraits the caliber of buck I was after)

Despite what I may know and regardless of the time and energy expended during my 28-day quest to capture this mysterious apparition, I did not. I never fired a round. Although I could offer any number of excuses that might help in soothing a bruised ego, I won’t because I know better. Instead, because I’m forever looking for answers to help me better understand the cumulative observations derived from my forays, there are some hard facts that may well have predetermined my fate well before I left my home in October.

Reality

First let me state that I saw lots of deer sign and a good number of deer in Canada; 65 animals to be exact. Seeing deer was not the problem. Getting a mature buck in front of my sights was the real issue. 1½ and 2½-year old bucks comprised more than a 1/3 of my sightings. Each area I hunted, which only a year ago contained bucks I’d shoot, was mysteriously absent of their spoor. Huge rubs and abundant scrapes associated with competing bucks were virtually non-existent. To where did these animals disappear? Were they just laying low until breeding kicked in? (This year’s rut was unusually late.) Had wolf predation escalated to where these canines were responsible for eating all of the big bucks? These were all good and reasonable questions that I could not fully answer until I began making inquiries to locals and other hunters.

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(Unfortunately for me, these were the only size specimens available.)

 

After 45-years at this game, I’ve learned not to make ‘corkscrewed assumptions’ but rather informed, factual findings in order to make sense of what I’m observing, or better yet, what I’m not seeing. Not a single hunter that I spoke to was seeing anything different than I in the spots they were hunting. Out of those that were shooting bucks, no one was hanging anything better than 2 ½ -year olds. None of this made complete sense to me until I learned that last winter Ontario experienced the most severe winter that they’ve had in 50 years. And as the coup de grâce to the mature buck population, over 4-feet of snow fell at the absolute worst possible time for wintering whitetails: during the month of April. Old man winter had done what no amount of hunter’s bullets or wolves teeth could ever accomplish. The deep April snow left the most vulnerable class of animal within the whitetail herd, mature bucks, dead, with their carcasses strewn across the landscape as fodder for scavengers. Moral of this story: you can’t shoot what isn’t there!

Frustration

To condense my deer season down to one word: frustrating. Incidentally, this would be the case even if I’d hung a booner on the pole. I had a series of issues that transpired that could not have been foreseen. On the way out to Ontario my truck’s transmission started slipping. This continued for several days. Finally, I brought the truck into the dealership next to where I was staying. Why didn’t my dealership, that prepared the truck for the trip, discover I had a problem when it was in their shop prior to my departure?

When you’re 1,600 miles from home and this is your only mode of transportation, this has a way of causing great stress. The Canadian Chevrolet dealer told me to drive it until the problem re-occurred. It didn’t take long. Two days later the shifting was so severe that I dared not drive it further, and of course this was a Friday,  meaning the dealer’s hours and access to parts was now restricted. To make a long story short, after an additional week of being at the garage, it was discovered that moisture had gotten into the EBCM and corroded the electrical system, which was systematically shorting out the signals to the transmission.

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If that were not enough to put a wet blanket on the party, when I turned on my GPS for the first day’s hunt I discovered that there were no topographical maps being displayed. How can this be? I checked the unit prior to leaving! Opening the battery compartment revealed the problem. On the trip out the batteries exploded, destroying the SD card reader. I was now without my accustomed means of scouting and ability to assess the terrain of new areas.

I know that hunting trips are seldom without something going awry, but these events coming on the heels of a number of costly issues at home (well pump, water line, water heater – just to name a few) leading up to this trip  left me feeling like I might very well be cursed. But hey, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series!

Fun 

Deer hunting is supposed to be fun and I for one was not going to allow circumstances that I had absolutely no control over have a negative effect on me or the company I hunt with. I had the opportunity to hunt with my long-time friend, Randy Flannery, for many days without interruption. A week after our arrival, my hunting partner of 8-years, Big Daddy, arrived on schedule. Thankfully, he drove out providing us with transportation and me with a new GPS. We had lots of laughs, enjoyed each others company and Big Daddy shot… well, more on that in a moment. I even had the opportunity to hunt for a week with Pop this season, which had not happened in a few years. DSC_0186

Fruit 

Ian (a.k.a. Big Daddy) has been under my proverbial hunting wing since beginning his hunting career eight deer seasons ago. He has learned very quickly. After a variety of failed and passed-up opportunities, he shot his first buck two years ago as I watched with great pride. He has come a long way in a very short time, considering he didn’t start hunting until the age of 36.

As we prepared to embark on an area we’ve named “Narnia”, with a game plan in place, I suddenly stopped, turned and said, “Let’s change the plan. Ian you go in where Randy and I were going and he and I will head down the road and split up.” That decision proved to be monumental for my hunting partner.

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Less than two hours into the day, two shots rang out from Big Daddy’s direction. Immediately I turned my radio on and waited. It wasn’t long before he exclaimed that he had just fired at a buck. “Did you hit him?” I responded. Long pause, “Not sure. Marking my spot, then I’ll start checking,” was his reply.

At this point I came upon Randy, who also had his radio on. We both sat down on a log and waited for the next transmission. “I found a pile of hair,” radioed Big Daddy. Randy asked him, “Where were you aiming on the animal?” The report came back, “First shot on the neck, second shot bounding away from me.” Playing out in our minds the scene just described gave Randy and I pause to look at each other with skepticism as to how this was going to play out. Randy then asked, “Good Buck?” To which Ian came back with, “Thanks”, which gave us both quite a laugh.

I told Randy, “He’s going to do this himself, for his own good. The only way I’m going to move off this log to help is if he gets completely flustered.” Randy wholeheartedly agreed. After several minutes the radio blared with, “I found blood.” I returned with, “Great, keep following it.” Twenty minutes later a very relieved Big Daddy radioed, “I’ve got a deer.”

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As a teacher, the greatest benefit and reward is when the student applies what they have learned and then excels. At that moment I could not have been more pleased than if I had shot a buck. Sitting on that log without moving to go help took great restraint on my part, but in the end, knowing he had done it all on his own was my great reward…I am very proud of my hunting partner!!!

Conclusion

Words among friends are sometimes difficult when obvious disappointment is hanging like a thick, dark cloud, and thus I knew that Big Daddy had chosen this line very carefully when he exclaimed, “Hey, it’s not like you need another 200-pounder.” I thought for a moment, grinned and said, “Yeah, I know but I still want one.”

And now I’m left with not being really sure how to conclude this expose on a deer season fraught with so many unforeseen obstacles without leaving the impression of being a sniffling whiner. After all, this is not the first time I’ve failed to tag a buck. Therefore, I can find no better description or more fitting words for my sentiment to end this with than those written by Larry Koller,

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The serious deer hunter forever seeks an edge – however slight – that will put them in place for their next kill. Their searches will make them track down not only deer, but every new whiff of insight offered. Most of these hunts turn up only myth and corkscrewed assumption, but occasionally they’ll return the wiser, even if they can’t put their wisdom into words. Invariably, the next time they hunt they’ll drag out a buck when they had no right being near a deer. They’ll concede it to luck, and begin their next hunt grateful for another chance to learn.

All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

© 2013 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer