It was a really lazy Saturday… or at least it was.
Jeff was out hunting. I worked for a few hours and then was lazy on the couch watching TV. I’m heading out on a work trip to Denver for the week, so I spent the day procrastinating doing my laundry and packing.
At 4:30pm the phone rang and it was Jeff calling from the woods. He needed my help as fast as possible. He had shot a doe with his muzzleloader, but despite finding her blood and some hair, he was unable to find her and it was soon dark.
He said, grab all the flashlights you can, a blaze orange vest, your helmet, your boots, and get out here.
Suddenly I was in full speed. Get dressed. Find headlamps. Find flashlights. Grab bag. Start filling it. Grab lantern. Put on boots. Find orange vest. Feed dog. Feed cats. Find helmet. Debate goggles. Leave goggles. Get in car. Speed like a crazy person around the lake and back in the woods. Try to keep car on road in soft muddy clay covered back road. Find husband. Impress him for being there so quickly.
We found a place to leave the car, and then we went several kilometres into the woods to where Jeff stashed the 4 wheeler. He got on it, and I followed in the truck until the road was too small and rough for the truck. Then I parked the truck and jumped on the back of the quad and held on tight. A couple kilometres later we were in the deep woods, at the end of an old trail.
We walked around, but it was getting dark, and raining. It was hard to find any blood due to the rain. Jeff saw the direction she went in, but a muzzleloader makes a lot of smoke. She shouldn’t have gone far before dropping.
I followed one path but quickly realized we didn’t have to be too far apart before we couldn’t hear each other calling. The last thing we needed was to get separated and lost.
After about 20 minutes, we found a marijuana grow up in the woods. That or someone was growing a garden in the middle of nowhere. The plants were recently harvested, but the chicken wire fence around it remained.
A few minutes more, and Jeff found his deer.
I’ve been pretty good about keeping my love of animals and my support and understanding of a hunt separate in my head. There are no clear cut stances here. I was raised on a farm. I’ve seen plenty of dead animals. I just don’t know if I could ever do the killing. Animals are cute and cuddly, but they also feed us. It is totally possible to compartmentalize your mind and live in the moment.
And in this next moment, I was standing at dusk, in the woods, with a dead deer, while Jeff went to bring the 4wheeler closer. And there were times I was so sure she was still breathing, even though she was obviously gone.
Getting the 4wheeler closer to the deer was no easy task. Once he was about 50 feet away, the 4wheeler got horribly hung up on a stump and dead tree and couldn’t budge. The back wheels were up in the air and spinning. With the winch at home in the shed, and not on the 4wheeler, how were we going to get the deer out?
I left a blinking flashlight on the deer and went to help Jeff. This was one of many points were we knew if we didn’t persevere and conquerer the task, things were going to get a whole lot more miserable.
We tried Jeff on the quad, me on it, both of us pushing it, lifting it, pulling it. Nothing. It was stuck going down a hill on top of trees and a stump. I broke off a dead tree and jammed it behind the front tire to make a little more contact with the spinning wheels. Down the hill was really wet and swampy so we decided it was best to go backwards.
Jeff got on it, put it in reverse, and I pushed. It worked! But now he had to go backwards over a few clumps of balsam fir trees that he just pushed over. At one point he was way up in the air on trees and so easily could have rolled it over in any direction. I was really scared. But he hammered on and got off the trees. Yes!
With the 4wheeler back on sturdy ground, we knew the only way to get the deer out was going to be to physically drag her to the 4wheeler. In the heat of the prep time, we didn’t think of bringing the rope from the truck. All Jeff had was 3 bungie cords. And they just didn’t work out to pull her.
So we took her back legs. Most of the time Jeff pulled by himself. By this time it was dark and raining. I moved the rotten trees and shone a flashlight on the mossy path we needed to take to get to the 4wheeler, which was unfortunately uphill.
What a big doe. And a heavy one.
Finally my hero of a husband got her pulled all the way to the front of the quad. Now we knew there was no other option. Between the two of us, we need to get her up on the front rack of that 4wheeler.
We tried me at the front of her, then the rear, and thought we’d lift her half at a time. It just wasn’t working. We knew we had to actually lift her up. And knew we had about one chance at it. Jeff took her front legs, and I took her back ones. Somehow we lifted her and got her on the ATV! WOW!
(There is no way I’m going to be able to move tomorrow.)
We secured her to the front rack with the 3 bungie cords. Luckily they worked because I was about to sacrifice clothing items to help tie her down. Now we had to get to the where that trail ended/started so we could get back out to the road. But we were in the woods, it was dark and wet, and if you’ve ever been in the woods in the dark, you know it looks completely foreign. And you can’t drive through the woods in a straight line. There are hills and stumps and clumps of trees and big rocks.
The deer was blocking the front light on the 4wheeler. I had a headlamp on top of my blaze orange toque, but it was practically worthless. And the steam off my sweaty head was fogging up my glasses making it even harder to see. I had one flashlight that was working, so I went ahead a bit with it. But because of all the leaves on the ground and the moss (not to mention the darkness) I couldn’t find Jeff’s path in at all. No tire tracks.
THANK GOODNESS Jeff had his GPS on him and marked a coordinate of where the trail started, and where we left my bag with the lantern and my helmet.
But that didn’t make it THAT much easier, it just meant we didn’t have to sleep in woods.
It felt like 3 hours to get the 128 metres (according to the GPS, if we could drive straight there). I walked ahead, then Jeff walked ahead, all the way trying to find a path for the 4wheeler between all the trees and stumps. Somewhere along the way Jeff accidentally ran over his helmet and coat, but it was none the worse for wear, although the visor is missing from his helmet now.
Finally Jeff walked ahead with the GPS and he found the trail and got me to follow and stand there with the flashlight while he went back for the 4wheeler.
Then we thirstily downed the partial bottle of water we had left there and both of us jumped back on to the quad. The ride back to the truck wasn’t too bad. Only had to dodge one pokey porcupine. I knew the hard part was behind us. With the deer on the 4wheeler, Jeff should be able to leave it there and drive up his portable ramps right into the back of his pick-up truck.
It worked without a hitch. Jeff loaded the truck and then we drove back the maze of backroads until we found where we left the car.
I got into my car and started it up and Jeff pulled ahead a bit to wait for me to get turned around.
Suddenly flashing lights.
It felt like an episode of COPS. Jeff jumped out of his truck with his hands up. 2 officers jumped out of their truck towards him. In the light of the headlights Jeff shouts out that he’s a fishery officer. One of the officers says, “Jeff? Is that you?”
It was the provincial Conservation Officers. They checked out the deer and Jeff’s license and chatted for a bit. It was oddly mild, about 12C, and they said there were lots of folks out. I asked if everyone was behaving and he said everyone’s been good.
Soon we were on our way home, with nothing left to do but a lot of lifting, hanging, and butchering. I helped with the hanging and then Jeff asked me to get lost while he did the work. I jumped in the shower
Now we’ll have some meat for the winter. Chemical free, free range venison.
And now I know that under stress Jeff and I actually do make a good team
But maybe next time, hunting birds would be a little easier to carry home.
(I have no idea how he and the guys handle the moose when they go moose hunting!)