by John Klus
September 9th, 2004 for most people was like any other day. If you lived in Florida you were trying to evacuate the state due to hurricanes. If you lived in New York you were preparing for another 9/11 Anniversary. But if you were around Peace River, Alberta, Canada, you were preparing for a new season. Hunting Season.
Being from Wisconsin I am used to starting hunting in the middle of September. I run a hunting and fishing guide service so I am outdoors all the time but there is always a trade off. By being a guide, instead of killing and catching, I am usually doing all the cleaning and netting. But September 9th was different, I was the hunter.
My father, who was 69 at the time, and I decided to take one more trip together before time took it’s toll on him. Along with age, during the summer of 2002 he was diagnosed with Leukemia. In addition to that my father’s father died in March of this year and we figured it would be a good time to get away. My grandfather’s death was hard because he played an enormous role in myfather’s life like my father plays in mine. From the time I was 3 or 4 years old, I cannot remember a weekend I did not spend with my father out in the woods hunting or fishing. The outdoors is where we spent 12 months out of the year. My father gave me the greatest gift of all, the outdoors. He showed me that the outdoors was more than a place to hunt and fish. He made it my church. Instead of sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, my children and I sit in tree stands. Our choir is not a line of people singing, it is the Sand hill Cranes and Canadian Geese flying overhead. It is a place we think about yesterday, today and the days to come. A place that makes my soul whole and defines who and what I am. Because of this bond, my father and I are best friends. And at this time we decided to take one more trip.
For this trip we did not choose to go to New Mexico for a giant bull elk, we did not choose Siberia, Russia for a monster brown bear and we did not choose to go to Saskatchewan for enormous whitetails. For this last trip we decided to go to Alberta Canada bow hunting for elk and mule deer not for the size of the animals but because of an outfitter. If you know anything about Peace River, Alberta it is not known for it’s huge elk, moose or bear. But it is known for having a lot of them and more importantly it is known for having Jordy McAuley.
Jordy McAuley, at least in my eyes, is a world famous guide. Jordy, if you have not heard of him, runs McAuley Outfitters out of Peace River, Alberta. Jordy has been a part of more blood shed then the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam put together. The beautiful part is there was never any human blood that we know of, just critters. Jordy has been guiding for decades, from Alaska to Africa and everywhere in between. He grew up doing it. Like my family, it was and is a family tradition and a way of life. His father was a guide. And like me, Jordy understands how a father becomes a best friend and a hero. You can see Jordy’s eyes light up when he tells tales of his fathers’ experiences. Jordy’s father unfortunately was piloting a bush plane by himself when he got caught in a horrific whiteout. And in the end that whiteout snowstorm took his life and some hunting history with him. But when you hear Jordy talk about his father and the memories, Jordy’s father comes alive again. When you look into Jordy’s eyes you can still see the pain of losing his best friend at a young age. But on this day it seemed that Jordy’s father, my father’s father and many hunting buddies from the past guided us on a journey that we will not ever forget.
Our 10-day hunt started on September 6th. We had hunted with Jordy a couple of years earlier and were amazed at the numbers of animals. On any given day we would see 100 mule deer, 50 of which were bucks, various elk, moose and bear. But this trip was different. The Peace River area had seen a month of straight rain and was not looking to slow down. The animals seemed to be non-existent. To be frank, we saw more animals in one day a couple of years earlier than we saw all 10-days this year. As any hunter knows, when times like this strikes, every animal counts, there is no room for errors because you may not get another chance.
Like every other morning it was raining. Like every other morning we started off elk hunting. Like every other morning we heard nothing. Due to the weather, the elk were not cooperating. No bugling, no moving, no nothing. So by 9am everyday we were deer hunting. The majority of the day consisted of covering ground and glassing for bedded bucks or bucks on the move. Due to not seeing much game, it made the trip a little more exciting. Every time we saw horns or what we thought were horns your sense of sight and smell heightened. You became a little more observant, the adrenaline rushes were a little stronger and your value of seeing hair was higher.
We covered a lot of ground that day and glassed a lot of sticks and bushes that looked like deer. Like the first few days, it was raining. At noon we sat down and had our lunch and as usual caught a little shuteye. Due to it not getting dark until 9 o’clock and it getting light by 5 o’clock, sleep was a precious resource. But by 1 o’clock we were pounding it again. At around 2 o’clock the rain finally broke for the first time since we had been in Alberta. We were glassing an open area with a small strip of woods down the middle and suddenly my Swvorski binoculars caught a rare but familiar glimpse, horns and a lot of them.
Anyone that has trophy hunted knows and understands the ordeal of trying to score an animal through binoculars and figuring out what it is going to score. But this animal was one that you dropped the binoculars and started planning your stalk.
The animal was bedded down about 800 yards away, upwind and along the strip of woods. Things in that aspect looked good but the only problem was everything was surrounded by nothing but grass. Grass that was not tall enough to walk through, not tall enough to kneel through, but hopefully tall enough to belly crawl through. After a three-person roundtable discussion, there was some significant doubt whether or not this could be done. But as most of us spot and stalk hunters know, a lot can be made of nothing. The plan was to mark the tree where he was bedded and start belly crawling. Jordy and my father stayed backed on a hillside to watch the festivities.
Alberta’s soil is a clay type soil. When dry, it is very hard and quite. When wet, it is very sticky, thick and noisy. Needless to say, after a month of constant rain, the soil was more like a thick soup then dirt. But I did not come the whole way here to go home with dirty boots and nothing to eat. And anyway, I heard Jordy telling my dad that he was not giving me a chance in hell to get this done. As Jordy would say, you are going to bugger the animal. If I am one thing, that is stubborn and I was damn if I was not going to prove him wrong. So I started the 800-yard belly crawl.
Every time I planted a hand, the mud would seep in between my fingers. Every time I moved a foot in the mud, it would make a slurping sucking noise. Every time I moved my bow another couple of feet I would see the mud building up around arrows, strings, pins, peeps and cams. Things did not look good at this point but I continued to crawl.
After an hour of crawling I finally saw trees. After I reached the trees I figured it was about 250 yards down the tree line and the buck should be there. It is that easy, right?
I slowly but surely got on my knees behind a large bush to try and make another mark on the tree we saw the deer under. I saw the tree and again started crawling. After another half an hour I started to get close. Close enough where my moves became slower and more methodical. I figured I was close enough to start looking for a good tree or brush pile to get into a shooting position.
Before knocking an arrow I decided to make sure the animal was still there and in a position for me to shoot. As I hide behind a fallen tree I peaked my head over the top. But to my disappointment there was nothing. An hour and half of crawling for nothing that cannot be. Jordy and my father would have hollered that the critter had bolted, right?
I decided to belly crawl to the other side of the strip and check if he switched sides. I had to roll underneath a log and crawl through a puddle to finally reach a bush that I could kneel behind. I got half way on my knees and my eyes picked up that rare but familiar sight again, horns and a lot of them. But this time they were close, real close. The animal was no more than 20 yards away, quartering way and up wind. It can’t get any better than this. Though the adrenaline rush was on, I slowed the heart rate, knocked the arrow and started to draw. The buck was mine for sure. Think again.
I noticed my arrow was caked with mud. I could not close my release on the string due to mud. My peep sight was sealed shut with mud. I could not even see my pins due to mud. My cams looked like mud balls. There was no way an arrow could make any kind of forward motion out of this bow. I regrettably laid back down into the mud. I found a small stick and started working on the muddy figure that somewhere underneath was my bow. Fifteen minutes pasted and I figured the Icon Matthews would at least be able to advance an arrow into the air. I got to my knees again and like before, NOTHING. I looked and looked and looked. NOTHING.
Did he hear me scrapping mud off my bow? Was I to close and did he smell me? Like before, I decided to crawl back to the other side of the strip again and see if he was there. I crawled back through the puddle and started to roll underneath the log, when I heard something that sounded like chewing. And chewing it was. And again, I saw that familiar sight, horns and a lot of them. The animal was eating his way down the tree line. Eating his way to 10 yards away, then 7, then 5, then 3. The buck was getting into knifing range for God’s sake. Unfortunately I was still underneath the log with my bow on my chest. I could not move or he would see me. Maybe I could take the stick I carved the mud off with and stab him in the eye. Or maybe if I quick jumped up I would scare him into a heart attack. But before I committed to one of those great ideas, the buck noticed something out of place in his domain. He did not remember that muddy log lying there before and he did not remember a log smelling like this before.
As I anticipated, I heard the slurp, slurp, and slurp sound. But this time it was not my feet but the hoofs of the monster buck jumping away. I quickly got my knees, knocked an arrow and as I did so the buck suddenly stopped and was looking back at the muddy, smelly log. In a split second I estimated his distance at 40 yards, slide my slider pin to 40 yards, pulled back and launched the arrow. As if the arrow had a guiding hand with eyes the arrow entered the chest cavity and went through the other side. The animal again made the slurp, slurp, slurp sound and jumped over a small knoll. After visualizing the shot and thinking if it was a good hit or not, I heard from 800 yards away, back on a hill, He’s down, he’s down. I looked back and saw Jordy and my father piling towards me in an excited trot. I waited for them and then proceeded to follow the blood trail for 70 yards and came upon the dead animal.
For a few minutes, not much was said. We just huddled around the beast in amazement. At no time during my sneak did I realize how large the animal actually was. We stood around looking at it like we had just discovered the Lost Arch. After seeing how big the animal was we realized how spectacular this event was. The silence was broken by my father whispering, I am so proud of you. In thirty years of my life I cannot remember another time in my life where time stood still. The event was not special because the animal died, it was special because I was with my father.
After the event sank in, it was evident that we were not alone. I could feel Mother Nature in all its glory mourning the fall of a king. I could feel my grandfather, Jordy’s father and all or our past hunting influences right there standing with us, celebrating and burning the memory into our souls. But more importantly, my father was there. For hours, the three of us took pictures and relived the story over and over.
No matter how special the killing of this animal was. The event is outweighed by the time I got to spend with my father one more time. As always, the greatest gift I have ever and will ever receive in my life is the gift of the outdoors, a gift that turned into my spiritual retreat. A place I continue to call my church. And thanks to my dad I received that gift at a young age. And my children will be able to say the same. Instead of sitting in a bar or golfing, my father chose to take me every weekend into the outdoors. My father chose to spend a lot of time with me and in the end we became best friends.
At times in our lives it is hard not to think about how much money we have or the sort of houses we live in or how many times one makes it into the Pope & Young records. My father could have also been consumed with those types of things but instead he chose his son. I am sure my father would have killed more and bigger animals every weekend by himself instead of having to sneak and stalk with some smelling, sometimes noisy kid along. But that did not matter to him. My father taught all of us that the real difference you will make in the world is not money or material things, it will be how important you were in the life of a child. Thanks DAD.