Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Good Weekend

On Remembrance Day long weekend, I headed down south to Pincher Creek to visit J & A and hopefully grab another deer. I had just picked up a rifle the weekend before - a Tikka synthetic/stainless 270 - and I was super-pumped to take 'er out for a spin. I was a little confused to arrive at an empty house, but got a text a minute later from Andrea: they'd be there soon, once they finished dragging back the deer Jesse just shot. A good omen for the weekend! They were pretty far from the house, so we only had the quarters & backstraps to hang.
First deer of the weekend. Note the makeshift emergency blanket game bags. Nicely done, team!
Otis gets his first taste of wild game of the year.
We went inside to have quick victory shot of bourbon before getting suited up and heading back out to find a deer for myself. While we were inside, Otis decided that a bit of neck meat wasn't good enough for him, and he managed to push his way into the garage and proceeded to inhale about 5 pounds of meat that we'd just hung up. He slinked back inside, looking guilty, and then vomited everything back up. It will be an everlasting source of regret that I didn't take a picture of the steaming pile of undigested - unchewed, actually - venison. 

Jesse surveys the damage

The balaclava of shame
Banished outside

Well, with that mess out of the way, it was back out looking for more deer, in the same area as we had hunted last year. One spot in particular looked familiar... it was right where I missed a chance at a doe last year because I was too shaky to pull the trigger. Right on cue, I spotted a deer just as we arrived at that spot, but she was already on the run. Of course, there's no way to know if it was the same doe as last year, but it sure felt like she was toying with me. We covered a bit more ground that evening, but didn't see any other deer. Tons of sign though - fresh tracks and beds all over the place, so I was feeling pretty good about our prospects for the next day.

We headed out again in the morning, this time in a different area right on top of the river valley; it was all open areas and aspen stands. After wandering around for a bit, we decided to head back to the conifer forest we were in the afternoon before to get out of the strong wind. Just then I spotted what looked to be a deer's midsection in an aspen stand, maybe 150-200 yards away. I'd been imagining seeing things all morning, but this time I was pretty sure. Yep, it was a doe, wandering around and feeding in some pretty thick brush, and she hadn't spotted us yet. From where we were standing, there was a crosswind, but she was moving downwind of us so we had to move to get into shooting position.

There was a ~20-foot deep gully between us and the deer, so we went into full-on stealth mode and bee-lined for the gully and dropped into it. I slowly creeped up the other side, slowing down as I reached the top so I could poke my head and scope up to take a look. Didn't see her right away, so I kept creeping up and forward until I spotted a deer-coloured patch, which promptly jumped and took a few steps. Dang. I shouldered my rifle and watched. There were 2 does, but I didn't have a shot until one of them moved forward from behind a tree. The first one quickly skipped ahead into some thicker cover, as the second doe stepped right into my lane. 

We were fortunately really close to a road, so Andrea and Linnea (and Otis) came to pick us up, which saved us a lot of sweat from having to drag the deer through 50cm-deep snow. Phew! 

Don't even think about it, O.
Re-enacting my stealth approach from the gully bottom

Back to the house for more bourbon! We talked about heading out again in the afternoon, but needed a snack first. We just sat around inside for a bit, staring out the window and wondering if a deer would ever be so unfortunate as to walk by while we were in there. We ended up getting a bit lazy and decided to just kick back with a game of Puerto Rico instead. 2 deer in 2 days was a pretty successful weekend, right? Why get greedy? Our weekend was complete. We finished up our game and were cleaning up, right when we spotted a pair of deer... right. outside. the window. In the aspen stand, maybe 30 yds from the house. Wait, not a pair of deer - it was 3. Nope, 4.... 5.... 6 deer. Jesse's long dreamed-of chance was at hand.

Plotting diabolically
Jesse grabbed his rifle and ran out into the driveway as the rest of us sat inside, crouched down and peering over the window sill, watching and waiting for the shot. He took it, and one doe in the group crumpled.
Jesse's lucky underwear
Now our weekend was complete. We had to butcher Jesse's deer that day because they were heading out of town (plus the whole "9 grizzly bears on the neighbour's land last week" that made hanging deer in the shed an unwise proposition).

Still exiled

Next morning, I packed up my doe and we headed back to Edmonton. 2 years in a row in Pincher. Need to make this an annual tradition!

Good job, Versa!

Home sweet (3°) home
Last week was perfect hanging weather in Edmonton - never got below -8 or above +3. I set up a little space heater in the garage to keep the temp around 2-3 degrees at nights, and we butchered her on Sunday. Oh, and one last public service announcement: brand-new boning knives are absurdly sharp. The annual blood sacrifice thus given, and the hunting season was brought to a close.

Friday, 26 October 2012

New project?

New project? Maybe a collaborative effort with the ladies of our sister site?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Nothing much to report other than I live in Sweden.

Attached are some photos from my Iphone of the city and surroundings. It is very stimulating academically - once Kim gets here I will explore more of Europe, but at this point I have done nothing but work. That said, I am doing some really cool bear stuff which I will make a post on in the near future *apologies to my instagram friends

The town

The mushrooms

The countryside

The beer

The swedish dog I want - I'll buy a beer for you if you can tell me the breed

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Another science/fishing blog

Just came across this fly fishing blog by an ABMI entomologist:

Might have been more useful when everyone was still living in Alberta, but still pretty cool.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Two items of note

a) Just in time for Aaron's departure, President's Choice has begun marketing bacon marmalade.

b) I shot a mallard on Saturday.

Oddly, it hadn't occurred to me to combine a) and b) until just now.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Product review(s)

When it rains, it pours on SS&S. I have been meaning to do this post for a while, so thanks to OB, DR and MW for the inspiration.

1) Tippet

You can never have enough tippet. I primarily use Rio, but I opted to try out S.A. tippet as it was half the price. I hit up the LivingStone and Upper Oldman rivers one last time. I used the 5X and was really anal about my clinch knots. In one day, I snapped off 5 foam hoppers on fish - some of which were quite small. Maybe I got a bad batch, but this tippet was an epic fail.

2) Gun safe

I don't have much to say about this other than it makes me feel bad ass. 

3) Skinny jeans and an IPhone

Thanks to Joe and Jesse for advice on which pants to buy.

In the second step of my European transformation, I have purchased a pair of skinny jeans and an unlocked IPhone. Keep in mind, this is all in the name of science. In contrast to item 2, this makes me feel the opposite of bad ass. 

My next post will be from Sweden. Hejda.

High and wild

So, I went sheep hunting.

Joining me is my friend Nathan. He's my former supervisor in Fisheries, and just getting into hunting. Really, though, when it comes to sheep, we're both learning. I'd initially been planning this hunt with Todd (of 2011 moose hunt fame), but he had to back out at the last minute. Delay a week, replace Todd with Nathan, and we're heading west on a Saturday morning with a canoe on my car, heading downriver and then uphill.

West on the Alaska Highway, under a canoe

We pack up and launch on the Takhini River, headed down a ways, and then striking off into the hills on the far shore.

Takhini River, and a last gear check

It's a short paddle, and we park the canoe at the mouth of a mostly-dry gully. We're at 660m, under remarkably heavy packs, and heading for a base camp at an alpine lake at 1700m.

The elevation gain comes later

Here, for instance

Over the next several hours, it becomes increasingly clear that, despite ruthless pre-trip winnowing, I'm still carrying too much - I can see why hardcore sheep hunters cut the bottom half of their toothbrushes off. Most painful of all is the section just above treeline - we're bushwhacking uphill through head-height dwarf birch, accompanied by swarms of relentless blackflies. I get very sweaty, bloody and cross.

Background - Takhini River : foreground - silent fury

Finally, though, we're out of the dwarf birch, and into happier terrain. There's still a lot of height to gain, but it's relatively smooth sailing over prostrate shrub, lichen and boulder fields. The breeze picks up, the blackflies bugger off, and we spot the first caribou, and then another, on the lower hills.

Starting to feel like mountains

Camp is in a bowl, beside an alpine lake. There is, thankfully, one tent-sized flat spot in the whole valley. Bagged, we set up and plough through supper (dehydrated corn/crab chowder - it's pretty good, I'll give you the recipe). After supper, mug of hot chocolate in tow, I head up to a nearby ridge to glass. We've been checking out white, sheep-sized rocks on hillsides all day. The evening brings nothing different.

Base camp for the next three days

Morning, and we're finally hunting. Not having seen any sheep on the way in, we head higher and further south. This brings us up over a pass, and into terrain we didn't see (and mostly south-facing slopes). We're moderately hopeful, and spend the morning popping carefully up over ridges and hilltops, glassing continuously. It's beautiful country, and sunny with a little breeze. There are no sheep to be seen (though plenty of white rocks), and we stop for lunch and a bit of a nap at 2000m.

Peering over the edge

Definitive caribou sign


Always glassing

Post-nap, we head back along a tall ridge we'd traveled the top of, moving along it a bit lower down, so as to peer over the shoulder into the valley below, moving into the wind. Nathan's walking slightly below and in front of me, and with a sudden clatter, a ram jumps out just behind him, maybe 30m away. It's about 3/4 curl (legal is full curl), so I don't immediately scrabble for my rifle, but Nathan hasn't seen it yet. I 'psst!' up to him a few times before catching his attention, and point him toward the ram behind him, which promptly takes off down the sheer face of the hill below us, and with no apparent effort, runs ~4km across the valley and into the hills opposite. I check where it had come from for other rams (nothing), and then we hunker down to watch the ram from afar, and go over what we've learned. First, this ram had been sitting in steep, south-facing boulder terrain, presumably resting in the sun. Second, we get our eye in for what a sheep looks like at a(n increasing) distance - not much like a white rock at all. Third, we have it reinforced that we have to spot a sheep before it spots us, otherwise it's long gone.

Seen later, from below - the ram was in this stuff

We hunker down for a bit, to watch the ram and plot our next move. He gets harder and harder to spot, as he moves across the valley, and it gets trickier to pick him up with the scope. Suddenly, though, he's one of a group of four, rather than on his own. We'd glassed the valley pretty thoroughly, but he must have joined up with some resting rams we hadn't seen. They're too distant to tell if any of them are legal, but they're rams, and that's what we're looking for. They mill around a bit, then move down behind a low ridge.

Running ram intercepts three more (red circle), which then move down and behind the low ridge

With the rams behind the ridge, we strike out for the ridge, hoping to sneak over it within shooting distance. It's a long haul down the mountain and across the valley, but we're excited, and make it remarkably quickly. Just before sneaking up and over the ridge, we stop to put on white Tyvek suits; popular wisdom is that you can sneak pretty close to a sheep if it thinks you're a sheep, too. Feeling more than vaguely silly, we pop up and over the ridge, belly-crawling for the final bit.

Approaching the crest, dressed as a sheep

As I'm just cresting the hill, Nathan gets my attention. The four rams we'd seen are scaling the impossibly steep wall of a bowl across the valley, and are up and over in a matter of minutes. At this stage, it's getting toward evening - we make the long hike back to camp.

This one's for the SS&S crew

Morning again, and we're out of the tent, oatmealed, and heading uphill. He head up and over the pass again, but along a different series of ridges, to hunt some terrain we hadn't seen the day before. Our plan is to quickly reach a high peak south of camp, use it as a glassing site, then follow an interconnecting series of ridges between several peaks, hopefully ending up above sheep (having seen them before they see us). After a bit of a slog, we reach our first glassing spot, just below a summit, looking into a steep-sided bowl and across to the faces and mountainsides below.

Lesson learned from the first day - get up fast and stay there

Another lesson - keep glassing

We spot sheep, four rams, on a far hillside, but they're not only incredibly distant, but in an adjacent zone that's permit-only. Still, first glimpse of the day, and it's only 8:30am. Next we spot some closer sheep, perhaps 2km away, on the same ridge system we're on. They're a small nursery group (three ewes, one lamb), but we're encouraged. They spot us pretty much right away, though, and dash to within easy reach of cliff escape terrain. Still, it's damn sheepy up here.

While we're glassing, I vaguely hear an unusual noise, something like an intermittent throaty hum, from what sounds like the steep boulderfield below us. It's an area we're perched above, but can't see well. Not having an explanation for it, I kind of decide to ignore the noise. A few minutes later, and I hear it again. Deciding to believe it, I run through options in my head, my thought process going something like 'grizzly - wolverine - snoring sheep - SNORING SHEEP!'. Having decided this, that we're above a sleeping ram that's sure to be a full-curl monster, I send Nathan down below to shoot it, while I wait behind. Nathan's skeptical, and after a reconnoitre, returns having seen nothing. My excitement subsides, and I realize it was perhaps a bit silly to decide we'd happened upon a snoozing sheep. As we're discussing this (and laughing a bit), Nathan's gaze wanders into the distance beyond my shoulder, and he says 'there's a wolverine'.

I don't see it at first. Nathan's describing individual rocks in a sea of rocks, and I'm getting rather desperate to spot it before it's gone. Then, there it is. It's smaller than I'd expected, and I'm all ready to break it to Nathan that he's actually spotted a marmot, when it starts moving, and I can see immediately its hunching, urgent gait, its blond saddle and wide tail, that distinctive lighter brow and dark mask. It's nosing in amongst the rocks, hunting pikas, and it's ~100m away, along the ridge.

Right there


And then it starts going nuts. It begins by sprinting for a patch of ice in the snowpatch, then sliding along on its belly like an otter. It rolls upside down and throws its feet in the air, like a dog rolling in a bad smell. It grabs its tail in its mouth and spins. It pounces and somersaults, playing with bits of snow it's dislodged. Nathan and I just watch, me through the spotting scope. I swear I can see it smiling (or is it just a crazed grimace?). After what feels like ten minutes of play, it shakes off and moves back into the boulderfield, poking in and out of crevices, moving away from us and along the slope. We watch it go, until it's no longer visible.


Still smiling, we head south along a ridge, and summit a broad peak, our highest yet (2030m). We have lunch in the sun, talk over what we've seen and our afternoon plans, and I grab a quick nap.

Mt. Logan in the background - no big deal

Cheese, sausage, smoked salmon, Mora, rye

From there, we head down a long ridge, with a steep, rocky drop down to extensive meadows 300m below. We're seeing more sheep sign here than anywhere else so far, to the extent that I'm occasionally able to catch the barnyard scent of them. We traverse the ridge just below the top, then drop down to see over the shoulder of it, splitting up to cover more ground. I move back the way we came, but lower, peering down to the meadows and lower slopes. 

Peering over the slope, with meadows below

All of a sudden, a cluster of light spots coalesces into a group of sheep on the lower slope, amongst some large boulders. Binoculars up, and I spot horns - they're rams. I scuttle back upslope, out of their view, and move as quickly and quietly as I can to Nathan. We move back to where I'd seen them, and sure enough, they're there again, though I'm surprised at how far they seem to have moved in such a short time. They're at the edge of the meadow, and moving into it. We get out the scope, and it's clear they're a group of ewes and lambs. 

Ewes and lambs, moving into the meadow

I'm confused - I doubt I'd mistaken them for rams, but these patently aren't. Nathan starts telling me about how good the area he's been scouting looks, and suggests we head back that way. Looking for redemption, I crawl along the shoulder of the slope, looking for the rams I thought I'd seen. Nathan follows.

Despite feeling like I'm looking in all directions at all times as I cover terrain, I'm well within view by the time I spot the ram band again. I drop to the ground, lying flat among the boulders, and Nathan does the same. Slowly peering up, I count six rams, which despite everything, appear not to have seen us. We crawl away and up, over a lip, and get out the scope. This is what we're looking for - there are rams, we're above them, they haven't seen us. It's even possible there are legal sheep in the group - one certainly looks full-curl, and another marginally so.

Rams are just below the edge of the ridge

Sheep in scope

Four of the six rams - two on the right are contenders for full curl

The problem, though, is that there are six pairs of eyes, and the spot they're sitting in is entirely unapproachable without being spotted. It's 3:30pm at this point, with plenty of day left, so we wait, hoping they're resting for the day, and will get up and move as it gets later.

Uphill winds are in our favour, but also remarkably cold when you're sitting still


We alternate, hunkered down out of sight among the rocks, and carefully moving forward to glass and check for movement, for three hours. The rams show no sign of moving, and their behaviour (pawing and eating the soil) suggests they may be on a minor mineral lick. As it gets later, we mull our options. After discussion, we agree that I'll move around and downslope, and try to creep as close as possible to the rams. Nathan will stay uphill, set up along what we best imagine might be their uphill escape route. I'll either sneak within range (unlikely), or spook the rams (likely), whereupon we expect they'll move uphill and within range of Nathan. I dress like a sheep again, and start moving.

Tyvek time

I am sheep
Me (left) approaching rams (right)

Rams depart, moving sidehill along the slope
Distant, and still running

It doesn't work. The slope down to the rams in loose boulder, so steep that it's continually sliding as I move downhill. I can't move without huge rocks shifting and groaning, and when I come around the hill to where I think the rams are, I'm still much higher than them. I see them as they stand up and start moving away along the hillside. It's a ~350m shot, which I'm more than comfortable with at the range, but at this distance I can't see which rams are which, and I don't even bring up my gun. They clatter through the talus, moving swiftly away from me along the slope. If I'd come up from below them, they may well have moved uphill toward Nathan's ambush point, but now they're moving along the slope, below and away from him. I watch them go, then clamber up through the loose boulders (terrifying, by the way) to Nathan. We briefly scout along the slope, but they're long gone. It's late, and we head back to camp. Along the way, we spot a group of about thirty ewes and lambs, grazing on a gently sloping meadow below us. I pick up an old, algae-patinaed ram skull on the hike back to camp - a four year old half-curl, tucked in amongst huge boulders on a slope covered in other bones (lamb, moose, caribou), old and new.

Ewes and lambs in alpine pasture


Back in camp, we eat dehydrated moose chili, share scotch, and watch loose groups of caribou cows and calves slowly moving along the ridge above camp. The sunset paints the whole east face of the mountain incredible orange, and I reflect that I've had a remarkable day on which to turn thirty.


The next morning's an early start for a long hike out. We choose the other side of the gully, a south-facing slope, and trade dwarf birch for 45° sidehilling, staying high for as long as possible, then plunging down and through the thick shrub layer until we reach forest and easy walking. It's worth it, and once we reach forest we follow animal trails along the top of the gully banks almost all the way back to the river. A brief, icy swim in the Takhini, an hour of paddling over gin-clear water (with a few boulder gardens to navigate), and we're back at the car and heading back home.

Packed up, and headed down and home