Creating a Hunter

We ran out of tree cover and belly-crawled into the alfalfa field where two deer fed across a ridge. The terrain allowed us to use the geography to stay out of sight long enough to get into muzzleloader range of two adult white-tailed deer does that fed unaware of our presence. Normally, I’d sit and wait to see if a buck showed up to court the ladies, but my son Cameron desperately wanted me to harvest a deer while he was with me in the field. He had been on many adventures, watched lots of deer, and knew a good buck when he saw one.

Cameron was no more than five years old on that hunt, and when dad leveled the crosshair on the biggest doe, he started to shake with excitement. When grey smoke belched from my Traditions muzzleloader, Cam was more excited than he was on Christmas morning.

The youthful exuberance was refreshing. Cam honestly felt like he was part of the harvest and helped with every aspect of field dressing and dragging the deer back to the truck. He grunted and groaned trying to pull the deer into the truck box, and slipped as his boots tried to find traction on the slippery metal. He didn’t give up, and when we headed home, he was all smiles as he recanted the adventure step-by-step.

I’ve always taken Cam on hunting trips since he was old enough to walk. He was the best duck and goose retriever I ever shared a blind with and could beat a well-trained lab to a downed honker. I can remember him dragging a big Canada goose back to the blind that was nearly as big as he was. Cam hung onto the goose’s head with both hands and dragged the bird back to the blind over his shoulder. The smile on his face edged from ear to ear.

When Cam was old enough to hunt, he had enough draw priority to obtain a pocket full of licences. One of the most memorable trips we ever made was on a Thanksgiving weekend. My young hunter had drawn mule doe and buck tags, bull moose, and also had a whitetail and elk tag. My only oversight for the weekend was not bringing a trailer.

Cameron used grandpa’s 20-gauge double-barrelled shotgun to take a possession limit of ruffed grouse and one spruce grouse. He shot two big healthy mule does in the same field. A memorable stalk and shot were made on a beautiful, mature mule deer buck. Traveling to one of our favourite moose areas, we spotted a great bull with just an hour of shooting light left. It didn’t take long to get into position, and the rookie hunter anchored the bull in its tracks. The truck was filling fast, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get everything home in one trip. To top things off, Cam had an opportunity on two different elk but didn’t connect. It was one of the most productive hunting weekends I’ve ever been a part of and what I remember most are the continual skinning, field dressing, and meat care. It never ended, and when we finally headed home, the suspension on my truck was making noises.

We didn’t get 20 kilometres from our hunting area when we came to a Fish & Wildlife check site. The officer’s eyes bulged when he looked into the truck and saw the mountain of carcasses and antlers. He stood for a minute trying to figure out where to start. Opening game bags, checking tags, and licences, everything was processed perfectly, and we were given the green light to head home. The officer congratulated Cameron on his accomplishments before we pulled away. The smile on the young hunter’s face was unforgettable.

We hunted lots of birds, and it didn’t take Cam long to become an accomplished wing shooter. I can remember one waterfowl hunt when every bird I picked to shoot fell from the sky before I pulled the trigger. I remember chuckling and asking him to leave a couple for the old man. Mixed bags of snows, specklebellies, cacklers, honkers, and mallards were common, giving Cam lots of shotgun time. Cleaning our bounty was always part of the event. If you want to hunt, you need to know how to take care of the meat.

The first time we hunted pheasants, Cam knocked down a big rooster on the first flush of the hunt. It wouldn’t have mattered if the shotgun-wielding kid shot another bird that day, as he fulfilled one of his bucket list dreams.

As the years progressed, we shared more hunts. I remember the first time Cam sat on his own for deer. We were hunting the County of Strathcona muzzleloader season, and Cam stuffed powder and bullet down the barrel before heading to his hideout for the evening. I wasn’t far away and could see Cam from where I sat for the hunt. I was startled when I heard the shot and knew by the sound of the impact of the bullet that it had found its mark. I made my way over to Cameron, and he was babbling with excitement. The deer he shot was lying just 75 metres away but after he had pulled the trigger, he took the time to reload his rifle. When he looked up, a huge buck with drop tines was standing on the hill in front of him. He knew he had cancelled his buck tag and simply watched the trophy buck until it walked away. It was a proud moment for dad and a good indication Cam was ready for more adventures.

We hunted a late-season cow elk together and had trouble finding a herd. On our final day, we finally got fresh snow. It took about half an hour to find fresh tracks from nine elk. We tracked the elk through the forest, across cut lines, and into thick alder. We jumped the herd at about 30 metres and as elk blew out of their bed’s tree limbs exploded around us. I quickly chirped on a cow elk call, and within seconds the herd cow was walking right to us. Cam made a perfect shot at 35 metres, dropping the huge, old elk in her tracks. We had to field dress and bone out the elk to get it back to the truck, but it didn’t take us long.

Time goes by quickly, and when my favourite hunting buddy moved away from home, out on his own, we didn’t get out nearly as much. Cam hunted more on his own, and if he struggled to fill a tag we would get together and we always seemed to get it done. There were many times we hunted the last day of the season to fill a deer tag. I was just happy to spend some time in the field with Cam.

I often worried I made hunting look too easy for Cameron. When you start your big game hunting career with a truckload of animals, it is hard to top the event. Dad made it easy, finding game without always explaining the tracks, sign, habitat, or reasons why we were at a specific spot. Cam now enjoys getting out with his wife Jen, who is an accomplished deer hunter with her share of mounts in the family house.

Last fall I got a phone call that made me feel good. Cameron had been hunting a big buck for a couple of years and put in lots of time sitting, watching and hoping to get a shot. All of his hard work finally came together on a great Alberta whitetail buck. The deer sported wide, heavy antlers, and a drop tine, and was the proof in the pudding that Cam has the game figured out. Paying attention to the small details had changed the way he approached the buck. Taking his time when the opportunity finally knocked allowed him to make the perfect shot.

There were lots of memorable days in the field in the making of Cameron the Hunter. I’m looking forward to the day when he takes the old man out to show me a few tips and tricks of his own. Make time to hunt with family and friends.

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Born Hunting