Ah, November – the days are short, the weather is cool and there is snow on the ground. It is also deer hunting season – a time when millions of Canadians and Americans head to the woods to get some venison for their freezers.
I too feel this urge to shoot a deer to supply meat for my family. It must have something to do with a deep primeval instinct in the males of our species. After all, it was only a few short generations ago that our ancestors relied on the fall hunt to help them get through the harsh prairie winters.
I started hunting and shooting early in life. Born and raised on a small farm in rural Saskatchewan, I was allowed to use the single shot .22 by the age of 7. I discovered its value when my mother would ask me to get a rooster for supper. I used to spend half an hour or so trying to catch a suitable fowl. I then discovered it was much easier to shoot the rooster in the head, cut the head off with the axe, and deliver the bird to mother for cleaning. Of course you had to be a good shot, as mother did not appreciate any bullets in the actual body of the rooster.
There were many things to shoot around the farm. Every spring there were hundreds of gophers whose populations had to be controlled. There were the perpetual coyotes and foxes in the chicken pen. Sometimes a sick dog and cat had to be disposed of in a quick and humane way. Occasionally the neighbors would ask me to come over and help butcher a hog or steer. My job was to shoot the animal so we could bleed and butcher it.
I also learned to love hunting and the outdoors. I spent much of my youth out in the fields and woods with my trusty .22 and my dog. I would usually shoot a rabbit or two to feed the farm dogs and cats. When I got older, I went deer hunting with the locals.
After I grew up, my love of the outdoors and hunting continued. Living here in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), we have one of the best areas for hunting. The Rocky Mountains and the foothills are just hours away. We have the great northern forests, wide-open prairies and farm land to hunt all around us – depending on our mood.
The first step was to get a hunting license and the proper tags. Off I go to my nearest sporting goods store (issuing of hunting licenses has been “privatized” and the whole system is now run by IBM). To get these you need your Firearms Permit, your birth certificate, your driver’s license, your passport, your library card and three major credit cards (well, okay, I’m exaggerating, but only slightly).
To hunt in Alberta, I had to get a Wildlife Identification Number (WIN) – $8.00, Wildlife Certificate – $22.85 and appropriate tags – whitetail, mule deer and moose – $31.75 each and black bear at $13.25. (You never know what you will run into during a hunt, so I better have the other tags). So let’s see, with tax that comes to $149.10! Yikes!
Along with the package came a “summary” of the regulations. You’ve got to be kidding! It would take a lawyer a whole day to read and understand these. I gave them a quick glance, and vowed to try and remember not to break the law – even if many of the rules are ridiculous and totally unenforceable.
Now I had to call my hunting buddy – Bill – to see when he could go. We’ve known each other a long time, and have hunted hundreds of hours together. I like hunting with Bill because he is the best shot I’ve ever seen. I personally have witnessed him nail a running coyote at 300 yards with his 300 Winchester Magnum, not once but three times. And yes, we paced out the distance. Bill also likes to field dress deer – saves me from getting my hands all bloody. Bill works for the provincial government health department. He probably really wanted to be a surgeon.
We finally agree on a couple of days that are convenient to both of us. Unfortunately, we could not get out for days of scouting prior to the season, nor spend time at a shooting range practicing our shooting like all those hunting magazines recommend. (I have stopped buying and reading those magazines.)
The big day arrives. We like to be at our shooting spots by daylight. So allowing for a two-hour drive, that means we have to leave at 4:00 am. Boy, do I hate getting up that early! I usually try and have everything by the door, ready to go the night before.
I pick up my hunting buddy – he’s up. We make sure all the guns, food and supporting equipment are thrown in the back of our covered 4×4 pickup truck. Then we drive – or rather I drive and Bill catches up on a couple of hours of sleep. We arrive there just as dawn is breaking.
We drive around our favorite spots, looking for deer. There are quite a few other hunters driving around as well. In my experience, most hunting that I have seen is road hunting. They drive around until they see a deer, open the window and bam! These are the same people that are opposed to hunting preserves because it isn’t fair chase! Well, neither is road hunting!
We don’t see anything. I swear, deer must have Internet service. The day before hunting season they are all over the place. When the season opens, they disappear.
I guess we will just have to do it the hard way – stalking and pushing. But first, we had better get permission from the farmers on whose land we wish to trespass. We stop at the first house, knock on the door and ask politely if we may hunt on the farmer’s land. No, he says, he prefers to leave those beautiful animals in peace. Fine. As we walk back to the truck, we noticed the dog chewing a deer leg, and a deer carcass is hanging in the barn.
The next farmer is much more co-operative. Sure, he says, there have been so many deer lately that they are messing up his hay piles. Oh, by the way, watch out for the cows, and especially his bull. This bull doesn’t seem to like strangers. Oh great! So, as we quietly walked over the fields, I kept looking over my shoulder for that bull. I’m not sure what I was supposed to do if he came after me.
We continued to work the fields, meadows and brush but did not see anything. Lots of tracks, but no deer. We took a break, went back to our truck and had a snack and a nap. This is more exercise that I get all year.
Dark comes early in this part of the world. We usually like to find a good hiding spot next to a field where the deer come to feed. You need to be in your spot by 4:00 in the afternoon. I found a good place in some brushes by a fence overlooking several fields. It was cold. I had to sit very quietly, which made it much colder! I used my binoculars to scan the fields.
Suddenly, I heard a fence squeak behind me. I turned around quickly to see a doe and her fawn just yards away. The fawn had the most quizzical look on his face – like “who are you?” I stood motionless for about 5 minutes. The doe then walked away with her fawn. I hope she isn’t a blabbermouth and tells all the other deer that we are there!
It was getting dark. Then a buck came running out, chasing a doe. He stopped a couple of hundred yards from my spot. Off goes the safety, lean the rifle on a tree, aim for the shoulder and gently squeeze the trigger (don’t jerk!). The shot shatters the night. The buck jumps and takes off into the woods. I knew I hit him.
It is getting too dark to continue hunting. Bill shows up and asks what I was shooting at. We get the flashlights and begin to track the buck. There is plenty of blood. We find him stone dead about 400 yards from where he was shot.
Bill gets out his surgeon’s gloves and, under the light of the flashlight, proceeds to field dress the buck. “Be careful of CWD,” I remind him – not really knowing what he could do to avoid it.
I walk about half a mile in the freezing cold and the dark carrying the rifles to get the truck. I drive it as close to the deer as I can. However, we still have to drag the carcass about 400 yards through the trees in the dark. Are we having fun yet?
Finally, the deer is in the back of the truck, and we proceed the long trip home. We get home late in the evening, totally exhausted.
Next morning, I get on the phone to my local butcher to take the buck in for processing. Sorry, due to CWD, he is no longer taking deer, elk or moose. Well, does he know of anyone who is? He gives me several names and phone numbers. I finally find a butcher who is willing to take the buck.
I next had to make half a dozen calls to find out where I can get the deer tested for CWD. I take the deer in to the butcher, remove the head and deliver to an office where it will be tested. It will take about two weeks before I get the results. The butcher informs me that due to CWD concerns I have to take the waste materials to the city dump myself, and will have to pay $25 dollars. Oh, and I also will have to pay storage fees in addition to the butchering costs of $150.
The CWD test results finally arrive – negative (what else did I expect?). I pick up my meat, looking forward to a great feast. However, the venison from this buck was gamey (he was in rut) and tough. I tried soaking it for 48 hours in vinegar. Still didn’t help much. This buck was nowhere near the quality of farmed venison I had tasted. I ended up giving most of the meat to my friends – probably not a good idea if we want people to appreciate and enjoy venison.
So, let’s see: I paid $150 for fees, $80 for gas, $200 to the butcher, and $25 to the city dump for about 120 lbs of meat that I really couldn’t eat. That comes out to $455 or $3.79 per pound. In some places, they are also charging up to $100 for a CWD test.
Next year, I think I will just call up Alberta’s Best Whitetail Deer Group and order my venison from them. It will be already cut up, CWD-tested and much more tender and tasty than my buck from the wild.
But what about my primeval urge to provide food for my family? Well, I suppose I could offer to do the shopping more often … on second thought, nah.
There are probably millions of us in North America who are getting too old and too tired of the hassles of shooting a deer for venison. We represent a great new emerging market for farmed venison.