By Jack Powers
It’s a question many individuals ask when they retire: What will I do to keep busy? Dreams of hunting, fishing and travel ran rampant through my mind. I had been a deer hunter for 40 years, early in New Jersey then moving on to Maryland and Pennsylvania. Big bucks weren’t common, and seeing them was a rare occurrence.
Immediately upon retiring, I started to focus on hunting in Alberta and Saskatchewan Canada, Kansas and Illinois. In February 2001, I attended the Eastern Sports Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., a place you could easily spend two or three days. There, I met Jason Lambly of Hunts from the Heart, an outfitter that focuses on deer, bear and bird hunting in Winnipeg, Canada.
Recalling my first Winnipeg hunt, I remember the excitement of going into the wilderness. I really had no idea what to expect. The last 10 miles of the trip was either on a snowmobile or four-wheeler, depending on conditions. These Canadian deer were substantially larger than anything I’d seen, with darker, heavier-masted antlers.
This was the start of an ongoing 12-year trek into the wild. Jason wasn’t satisfied with his Winnipeg territory; he wanted more. After five years, he decided to undertake an expansion into Alberta while still running his eastern operation. It took a few years for him to eventually decide where to locate his western base camp. But when he was done, he set it up exactly where he wanted it — in the middle of nowhere.
An adventure is the only way to describe this escapade. This is definitely a backcountry experience — way different than my previous wilderness experience in Vietnam — cold and desolate.
The 30-mile ride on snowmobiles or Argos to base camp is always interesting. This travel experience usually takes anywhere from two to six hours, depending on the weather and terrain. Temperatures vary from 25 degrees to minus l0 degrees F and occasionally colder. Snow is almost always on the ground and makes deer movement and visibility fantastic.
Preparation is the key. Arctic Icebreakers boot covers, good headgear, great mittens (sheepskin is the best) and Grabber McCool hand and toe warmers are not optional; they are required to enjoy the hunt. Also, a tree umbrella is incredibly useful should the snow decide to make an appearance during the day. What a difference this makes in keeping your vision clear, gun dry and eliminating your movement while you are waiting for that instant moment of decision. You have no idea what you may see — big bucks, wolves and lots of smaller critters abound.
Jason has a knack for making these excursions enjoyable and comfortable for this 66-year-old. I’ve taken many a nice buck in the 150- to 165-class, succeeding on probably 80 percent of my trips. The best was a massive, heavy-horned, 12-pointer, scoring 167. The remaining times, I’ve let some just walk as I’ve steadily increased my personal goals.
The most-asked question from other sportsmen is, “What is the most memorable event you’ve observed in the wilderness?”
Two years ago, while in an open blind (cold but great visibility) I noticed a spot in a field across the frozen river about 900 yards distant. After staring intently, I decided that it was a tree trunk and glassed other areas. Something made me look again and again, but I saw no movement.
I decided to rattle and bang the big horns extremely hard. Wow! The tree trunk moved! I could see the reflection off his antlers. Immediately, he began to run in my direction. Down a ravine and out of sight he went, and then crossed the frozen river.
Now he was about 400 yards away. I continued to rattle one last time before he could get a fix on my position. He continued to within 100 yards. Confused by not seeing other fighting bucks, he decided to walk toward the woods.
There was a moment of decision, then he was down — a beautiful dark-brown, 155-inch buck, a solid 11 points. Ice balls had formed over his body from the long sprint. It is easily the most memorable event I have experienced.
Next: Canada Focus, Part II