The work always begins after the shot and I was thanking my lucky stars that today I wasn’t far from my truck. The day had started with me drinking coffee on the tailgate in the pre-dawn darkness, a habit developed so I wouldn’t be making noise around the house and waking my wife. It was the only moment of the day that it wasn’t raining until after the shot. With the rut coming on I wasn’t about to waste any time, I’d been on the tail of a buck just as he’d been on the tail of doe when I first had him in my crosshairs three days before.
For four days it rained, every day there were fresh tracks to greet me and new rubs as what was clearly the big dawg of the area hounded a doe who probably wasn’t hot yet. I was confident that if I did my best to keep the wind in my face and put my time in eventually we would cross paths. Each morning while observing the coffee ritual I would be texting my father back in Ontario about what was happening. He kept telling me to stick with the spot, because that’s what Gramps had said to do. There’s a saying in surfing that you don’t leave surf to find surf and this is pretty much the same premise I was going with; don’t leave a buck to go find a buck.
My buddy Ryan Thorley glassing on one of the few hunts I shared with someone last fall.
Last fall was my first season hunting blacktail deer and it was a tough one, my hunting years in Ontario had me surrounded by guys with decades of experience who helped steer the direction of our hunts, but here in B.C. I was alone. A big part of my hunts in years past centred around the lively comradeship of a hunting camp and outside of a couple days with a buddy my season had been decidedly solo. I enjoy hunting by myself and when it comes to big game, one person makes a hell of a lot less noise than two, but it’s also nice to have a partner to share the excitement of fresh sign or a solid shot with.
In the four days after seeing my buck I only saw one other hunter, we were parked in the same spot and were gabbing like we were best friends, we discussed what we saw and our game plans so we could hopefully work together instead of competing. After a long lunch spent in my truck out of the rain and getting warm again I climbed atop a large rock outcrop. Joseph had indicated he was going to still hunt through a patch of woods and I figured I’d be in a prime spot to watch several escape routes if something darted out. For almost two hours I was plastered against a moss covered rock, wet as wet can be, a doe in my scope and just waiting for Mr. Buck to come out, he never did and she eventually skirted away. The doe leaving was almost a relief, I could feeling water trickling down my neck and pants stuck to my legs because they were sopping wet I finally called it a day.
While I refer to it as four days of hunting, the day I shot my buck marked over thirty days in the field. I’d made the most of a long season, as it was winding down I was starting to accept I might not put venison in the freezer. Like every day before it that week the rain came in at shooting light and stayed all day. I had hunted hard and finally after being out for over nine hours I was shivering, the Gore-Tex® had given up and so had I. Slowly still hunting the trail back to my truck I came up over a rise and there was my buck walking towards me. The moment was almost anti-climatic as I pulled up, centred the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. I remember taking my time, waiting until he turned broadside and walked myself through the shot; take a deep breath, exhale a bit and hold, gently squeeze the trigger and like that I cut my first blacktail tag.
The buck had lurched and fallen out of sight, walking up doubts had started to take hold; did I miss, did I wound him, was I in for a trailing job in the pouring rain. As I got closer I saw him laying on his side and was flooded with a sense of relief that it had been a quick kill, it was also when I saw the antlers and realized I had taken the deer I had been chasing all week. That morning while texting with Dad he’d messaged me saying he thought I would get shooting that day, after spending a few moments with the buck I called him and spent ten minutes excitedly talking about the day and the deer. I could feel his excitement through the phone and wished he’d been there with me to shared in the experience like he had been when I took my first whitetail instead of five thousand kilometres away.
The rain stopped after the shot and the realization that I was soaked and tired having spent almost ten hours afield at that point. While I was only about three or four hundred yards from the truck this was a solid deer, the rain had melted away all of the snow from the start of the week which was going to make for a tough solo drag. Still buzzing with excitement I called a good friend and Ryan made the offer to come help. While I was appreciative of the help I was more appreciative to have the companionship, to share the moment with a close friend. I love the challenge of hunting solo but I really enjoy having someone to share those moments and experiences with.
See you on the water or the mountains.