Hunting was a little slower this year, and my two-year buck streak has come to an end. A few of the regular guys in my group weren’t able to make it out and the weather was less than ideal. When using the technique of “pushing (or dogging) bushes”, (which simply put is using half of the group to walk through the bush in order to “push” the deer towards the other half waiting in ambush) you have to eliminate the distance between the “pushers” or the deer easily find their way between them back to safety. And believe me they are very good at sliding between pushers very quietly. In addition to this numbers problem the temperature actually increased as the week went on and by the final day we were in T-shirts and working up a sweat. Ideal conditions are as cold as possible yet we were looking at 17-20 degrees Celsius by mid-day for the better part of the week. Not only is this non-conducive to enticing deer movement because it pushes the rut back a few weeks, but it’s very uncomfortable for the type of hunting we do which involves walking through many Kilometres of thick bush. I was told by some of the local, more experienced hunters in the area that deer were moving almost exclusively come night-fall, and when it comes to deer hunting, at least the hunting I’m accustomed to, the animal needs to come to you. I can tell you that I noticed much fewer tracks, scrapes and other fresh signs than I’m used to seeing. What the reason is seems to be a combination of us being to few hunters in the group, bad weather conditions during the hunting week and a considerable winter kill of deer during the particularly difficult winter conditions of 07-08. There were fewer tags available this year which leads one to speculate that the ice cover and heavy snowfall last year took their toll on the deer populations of Southern Ontario. Keep in mind that I am merely relating what I’ve been hearing locally. I am by no means a deer expert. Factual reasons for the lower harvest of deer in WMU 65 this year may be entirely different. Despite all of this, as does every hunt, this one had its fair share of memorable moments and time well spent.
Take for example day 3 of the week. It started off promisingly enough with Pat and I seeing a monster buck standing in an empty field about 100 yards from us as we turned a corner. As luck would have it both of us weren’t quite ready and never got in a position to shoot before he took off. It sure had us pumped though. However after only two pushes and a few very small deer pushed most of the guys had to leave for the day and morale was getting low. The two of us who had the rest of the day to ourselves decided to stick around and find spots to sit in for the afternoon hoping deer would move in close enough for a shot. I chose a fence-line location between the open field in which I had seen the buck earlier that day and a thick bush composed of a mixture of hardwood and cedar in the higher grounds and a lower swampy area. My buddy Ray decided to head uphill into the open hardwood where he could see well into the bush. As I sat there peacefully juggling thoughts I started to hear ruffling leaves inside the edge of the bush but I couldn’t see what was there. If any of you reading this have hunted before you know this puts you on your toes in a hurry. I slowly grabbed my shotgun and stared towards where the sound emanated from ready to fire. But much to my surprise a wild turkey hen came out into the meadow followed by about 5 or 6 more birds. I sat there without moving wishing I had my camera on me for the next 30 minutes or so. The birds had no idea I was there. One of them kept creeping in closer and closer to where I was sitting until I could clearly see the purple glow in its neck feathers. They really are beautiful birds. I had never seen one that close up and have only seen them on a few sparse occasions in my lifetime. I felt truly privileged to be able to savour a rare moment with such an elusive bird. As I mentioned, I unfortunately didn’t have my camera on me that day, (and I probably would have scared it off trying to get a picture anyway) but I took this shot of the turkeys crossing the field the next morning. The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the MNR have truly done some great work in the restoration of Southern Ontario populations of this once almost eradicated native bird. If you are interested in reading more about the ongoing history of this success story this link would be a good place to start; Wild Turkey Management Plan for Ontario
I sat there mesmorized by the sight of a wild turkey roughly 20 feet from me when I was brought back to reality by a group of hunters who started pushing the bush two lots down from where we were towards the west. They barked and yelped and whistled as they made there way south through the dense growth of small Birch. The turkeys took off in a hurry back to the safety of their cedary home and I turned 180 degrees to face the direction of the commotion hoping that deer would get pushed to my location. I waited about two minutes and heard a single gun shot up the hill where Ray was. He then let me know on the radio that he had a deer down. I found out later that Ray had fallen fast asleep sitting against the base of a large tree and that three small bucks running by had awakened him. He had no idea about the other hunters, the noise, the whistling until I mentionned it well after his deer was down because he was, well, passed out. We got a pretty good chuckle out of it. The small buck was far from a monster but after three empty handed days we were both happy to at least have one deer down.
A few days later I managed to get this decent doe (see picture at the top) as she ran away from pushers on a different property. There were more deer in there at the time but they turned back on the pushers and evaded capture as they often do when there are to few hunters in the group.
That was about the best the week had to offer deer-wise this year and that’s just fine by me. Although a big buck would have been nice I certainlly fully appreciated the time off work, scenery, fresh air and time to think. Sometimes it’s nice to realize that fishing and hunting is really all about spending time in the outdoors and getting to know yourself and those around you in a different light. For me spending time outside offers us a sort of primal return to our origins and the opportunity to discover our local environment up close. It’s also tons of fun and always an adventure. As I’ve said upon returning home from many an empty handed fishing day, it sure beats staying in and watching fishing shows. I’ll leave you with a view from a treestand I had on the last sunset of the week.
Until next time, stay outside. Jigger.