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Anticosti Adventure

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 at 8:23 am

Day 1

I glance at my computer screen and note the time. It’s 9:15am and I am nearly finished the paperwork that I didn’t get finished yesterday. Before heading into the office this morning I finished packing my truck with my hunting gear, gun and coolers. I am headed to Anticosti Island in Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Quebec, in pursuit of white tail deer.

 

Anticosti Island is a hunter’s paradise. Located above the Gaspe Bay peninsula in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, it is just over 3,000 square miles and has a permanent population of around 250 people. Deer are not native to the island but were introduced there in the 1890’s by Chocolate Baron, Henri Mernier when he imported a herd of 220 animals. After he died the island eventually found its way into the hands of the Government of Quebec and today it is licensed out to a couple of outfitters who have camps and offer hunters a chance to hunt and shoot two deer. Lacking any predation other than man and the abundance of good habitat, has meant that today the 220 original deer have blossomed into a herd of 160,000 animals making it the densest white tail population per square mile anywhere in North America. Add to that the somewhat exotic location and great hospitality and you get the perfect hunting getaway. I have been eagerly anticipating this trip for months now and I still can’t believe at this time tomorrow I will actually be on the island.

 

The border crossing into Canada is painless and pretty soon with the help of my GPS I am within minutes of my hotel. I join a few fellow hunters at the hotel for dinner and an immediate hunting bond is formed among the us. We share beers, pub food and conversation and my new friends refuse to let me pay my share of the dinner. For those who cannot conceive of hunting solo this is what they miss – the opportunity to meet new friends and hear accounts of their adventures.  We share great conversation and I am so pumped up I find it difficult to get to sleep when I get back to the hotel.

 

Day 2

 

I’m early. No I am up absurdly early – 2:15am. This is crazy, but I am so psyched about this trip that I am wide eyed and bushy tailed and realize it’s pointless to try and go back to sleep.

 

I arrive at airport early and weigh and check my gear. Once onboard and belted in we are quickly airborne.  The early wakeup this morning catches up with me and I am soon asleep and dreaming of a ten pointer. Our landing approach gives me good visuals of the island and I note the rugged terrain and what appears to be very large swamps or bogs. The landing is rough but nothing too bad and soon I am on a bus that will take me to Salmon Lodge.

 

The logistics of getting all the gear and guns to the right hunters is taken care of by the “eager to please” Safari Anticosti staff.  Soon after arriving at the lodge and meeting Amanda, our pretty bi-lingual hostess, my gear arrives and I unpack. I meet the other guests at the lodge including a charming couple from a town west of Montreal. Tom and Claudette are 73 and 75 and we hit it off immediately. I join them for lunch and will spend the next five days of meal taking with them. After lunch I fill out my license and then meet my guide Maxime. He’s been guiding on Anticosti for six years and is highly recommended by Tom. We head out to the range to sight in my .06.and devise a strategy for the morning. I will be hunting in Zone 12 and we agree to meet around 6:00am.

 

After a short hike, I am seated for dinner with Tom, Claudette and four other hunters. The meal is gourmet quality with four courses including a wonderful squash soup, braised chicken breasts smothered with a papaya sauce and a blueberry cheesecake.  I was hoping to shed a few pounds this week but now I think not.  The conversation in French and English covers hunting, politics and of course, hockey – three topics that I quickly realize everyone here takes very seriously. Finally after several hours of lingering over coffee and tea the conversation slows and most of us head off to bed in anticipation of a big day ahead.

Day 3

Yesterday I told Max that I like to walk when I hunt. I might live to regret that statement by the end of today but in preparation I have a hearty breakfast and pack a generous lunch from the wide array of sandwiches and snacks. After wishing my fellow hunters good luck I am in Max’s truck and we are headed to the eastern most part of Safari Anticosti’s concession area.

 

Max picks a trail that will start through a nice stand of mature spruce and then lead us to more open boggy country. We agree on a walking strategy and are soon engulfed by the forest. I immediately notice the absence of squirrels (there are none on the island) and so we walk in relative silence other than the odd bird that begins to greet the sunrise. The area we are in is dense and still somewhat dark. The sunrise is staring to penetrate from the east and beams of light illuminate parts of the forest around us. We jump a doe and as she runs off I am encouraged by the number of deer I have already today and it is not yet 7:00 a.m.

 

We are soon in the famous Anticosti bogs. They look like large cranberry bogs on Cape Cod or even the barrens of western Newfoundland. Some are larger than others, but all are wet. Despite the absence of rainfall for the past ten days or so they are still soaking wet and I am glad I have my knee boots. The walking is tough in these areas and after a couple of hours we break for a snack. The sun is up now and we are spotting more deer. However we are not seeing any bucks and after a couple of more hours and many more doe and fawn sightings we stop for lunch and decide to move a bit more to the west.

 

By late afternoon with no success we decide to try an old survey line. This trail is not on any map but is easy to follow and we see lots of deer signs including some very nice scrapes and rubs. Max enters the waypoints in his GPS and we continue on. As we approach a bog Max tells me he has spotted a really nice deer to our south. I can’t see it but my heart starts to pounding in anticipation. We crouch down behind some cover and finally I see him. He’s a nice six pointer and walking straight at us. We are cautious to avoid being seen. I slowly get my rifle ready and slip off the safety as I position it on the shooting sticks that Max has been carrying. Suddenly a doe walks right in front of us. She is less that fifteen yards and fortunately we have the wind in our favor as she walks on by without spotting us. I thought for sure she would bust us and the buck would be gone in a flash. However she doesn’t see or sense us and since the buck is clearly obsessed with the doe it enables me to get more comfortable and pick a good shooting opportunity. He continues to come right at us but I am getting a little concerned that he is going to veer off and start chasing his new girlfriend. I estimate about 125 yards to the deer and decide to take the shot.

 

From the time I pulled the trigger to when the deer began to fall was less than a second. At 125 yards, distance between me and the deer, a bullet travelling at a velocity of 2,800 feet per second will take less than a tenth of a second to hit the target. Within another second the deer would be dead on the ground. In reality the deer was dead before it crumpled on the boggy surface. The bullet had entered its neck and severed the spine killing it instantly.

 

A bullet is designed to kill its target by providing massive trauma to its victim by the transfer of kinetic energy from the speeding bullet to the target. Upon impact the bullet penetrates flesh and tissue causing massive cavitation in both a wound channel and tissue displacement incapacitating the animal physically. In addition by hitting major organs or the spine the animal may be incapacitated neurologically as well. In the case of my deer, the bullet entered through the neck causing massive tissue damage to the throat, which would cause major blood loss and in a short time cause death as the animal lost its oxygen supply to the brain. In addition to the trauma created by the bullet entering through the throat region this bullet provided the added shock to the animal by hitting the spinal column at the back of the neck and severing it. This caused the deer to crumple like a sack of flour due to the massive damage to its central nervous system. The deer was dead before it hit the ground.

 

As we walked out to where the deer lay I couldn’t help but soak in the majesty of the area. The sun was fading and there was an almost orange glow spreading across the bog. There was just enough time to take some really nice pictures, get the deer field dressed and loaded onto the four wheeler and get back to the truck before total darkness set in. After taking the pictures and field dressing the deer Max went to get the four-wheeler and I stayed behind with my deer. I reveled in the moment as only a hunter could understand. I felt no pity for the deer but I extreme gratitude for the harvest of such a magnificent creature that will provide many great meals for family and friends this winter. As I said it is difficult to explain to a non-hunter the feeling you get when you harvest such a animal. On a simple level it is the sort of circle of life philosophy at work here but it is more complicated than that. I choose to hunt because I love the outdoors and I want to eat only wild game if possible. I think the food is healthier and I want to participate in knowing where my meal has come from as much as possible. I do not understand those who will sit across the table from me eating a hamburger courtesy of McDonald’s and condemn me for killing a deer. I also fail to understand why people would rather have wild game stave and die of disease due to over population rather than be properly managed through hunting. So, as I sat admiring my deer, I thought of the phrase “the King is dead, long live the King”. By harvesting this deer I was helping to ensure the health and survival of the herd. “The deer is dead…long live the deer”.

 

The drive back to camp was accompanied by the retelling of the hunt and some quiet reflective times. All told we had hiked about seven miles today and I was getting a bit tired. It was only 5:00pm when we arrived back at the lodge and after a quick shower I made my way to the dinning area to trade stories.

 

It had been a successful for many. There was an eleven point, a ten point buck and a few eights and sixes taken. The meal soon arrived and we settled into conversations about past hunts, the economy and politics. Before saying good night I called home to share my success and went to bed in anticipation of another day of hunting.

Day 4

The idea that I can get up the day after shooting a really nice deer and head out in search of another one was just sinking in. Normally I would be done after shooting my deer but hunting on Anticosti means you get the opportunity to shoot two deer (either sex) and top up the freezer.

 

The routine this morning was much the same as yesterday and Max and I were soon headed out to Zone 3. This is a hillier region of Anticosti and includes several brooks and streams as well as the ever present bogs and swamps. A friend of mine told me that even the hills are swampy on Anticosti and I believe him. I opted for better hiking boots for today and I am glad I did. I brought two pairs of knee boots with me on this trip and today I have on a pair of Danner Pronghorn boots that are more adept to rugged hill country than the Lacrosse mud boots I wore yesterday. The added benefit of packing an extra set of boots is if you soak one pair you have a backup. I also carry extra socks in my backpack just in case I get wet in the field.

 

Zone 3 lived up to its billing as tough country. Max and I hiked up and down hills, small ravines and through bogs and swamps. We crossed streams multiple times. We stopped occasionally to try and coax a deer out of the deep cover. On one occasion when climbing down a rather steep hill I slipped and dropped my gun and then had lingering thoughts for the rest of the day about the integrity of the scope.

 

Despite seeing only one doe all day the time sped by quickly. The landscape was as beautiful as what we hiked through the previous day. On one occasion our trail became flooded and we came face to face with the other thriving species on Anticosti – the beaver. A family of beavers had made short work of a group of soft woods and effectively flooded our route. We made a wide path to avoid the result of the world greatest natural dam builders and I soon found myself in a massive marsh. I could see in all directions for hundreds of yards. The daylight was waning and we agreed that I would sit here until dark and then meet on the road ahead. Max was going to circle back and retrieve the truck.

 

I sat in the solitude for about an hour and just before dark I decided since I didn’t have my GPS or a map.  I would head out to find a trail to the road. I had taken a compass reading earlier and used that as my guide. I quickly picked up a game trail and realized that the GPS and compass were both unnecessary as the trail was old and worn. I arrived at the road with plenty of daylight left so I decided to work my way down the road a bit to see if I might spot an unsuspecting deer. Pretty soon Max arrived and I loaded my gear into the truck and we headed back to camp. No luck today, but that means I get to hunt another day.

 

Day 5

After a late night of more good food and conversation and two days of piling up the miles I almost slept until breakfast. I always make a habit of having my gear and gun ready to go before turning in at night so I was up and ready in no time. Today we are heading to Zone 9. Another long drive and wide open bogs. After the 40 minute truck drive we unload the four-wheeler and drive for another 30 minutes or so before our trek by foot across the bog. It is sunny again today. Where is the Anticosti rain I kept hearing about? In fact by about noon it is getting quite warm and I find myself peeling off layers of clothing. It must be nearly 50 degrees and with the miles we have been walking I am sweating and tired. We spot a few deer but nothing worth taking.

 

By noon Max decides to head back and get our transport and we agree that I will meet him about two miles or so further along the trail where it intersects with another trail. As Max heads off in one direction I continue on. This trail is easy to follow as well and I lose track of time as I anticipate a deer around every corner. I scan the area for antlers but nothing is in sight and pretty soon I can hear the distant motor of the four wheeler approaching.

 

It’s about 1:15 p.m. by the time Max arrives and I decide to take a break. The walking and heat have taken its toll and I sit and relax for about twenty minutes taking in some much needed fluids and the surrounding landscape. I opt out of lunch having had a sandwich at ten this morning. We decide to hike without packs a few hundred yards to the tree line to see if anything is in the area. As we were about to press on I noticed a six point buck emerge from the trees off to my right. Max handed me the shooting stick and I immediately sank my bottom onto the ground and drove the stick in front of me. No rushing even though the deer was moving off. By being so low to the ground I could only see about the top 1/3 of the deer and decided to take a spine shot just behind the neck. The distance was just over 100 yards. I pulled the trigger and the deer went down. Max offered me a congratulatory handshake and I just slumped over on my back. I was totally spent but very, very happy.

 

The deer turned out to have slightly smaller antlers than the one I shot a couple of days ago but a much larger body mass. He was a real beauty as was his brother. Pictures and field dressing followed and Max headed off to get our transport. Once again I was left alone with my kill acknowledging the beauty of the animal and pondering the philosophical difference between me and most of my neighbors who cannot understand why I hunt.

 

 

Back at the lodge I purposely stayed up later this evening after the rest has retired. I sat looking out onto the St. Lawrence River that surrounds this island thinking about the past few days and making plans for a leisurely hike tomorrow. I decided to get up and have breakfast with the rest of the gang and then head out following my nose and see where I would end up. I turned on my iPod and listened to some music before heading to bed and drifting off into a wonderful red wine and philosophically aided deep sleep.

 

Day 6

My last full day on the island was filled with a morning and afternoon hike. I walked a good five or six miles and took numerous pictures. I spotted a beautiful buck and several does. Tomorrow I will be heading home and so today was all about absorbing as much of the island as I could. Later in the day I settled up with Max and Amanda. I gave generous tips to both. I unloaded a book I had been reading on Tom and Claudette and we made plans for a visit next summer. I will miss Anticosti, but more so I will miss these wonderful new friends.

 

 


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