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Prime Time
By: Gord Follett

“Gordie, does Johnny’s bus have an oven in it?” Sean asked in a Nov. 7 text message. “I can’t remember from our moose hunting trip there a few years ago whether there’s an oven in the small stove or not.”

“Yup,” I replied. “Not as large as your oven at home, but there’s one there in working order.”

“Big enough for a nice prime rib roast?” he wondered.

“Oh yeah, no problem.”

“Kk; that’ll be our main meal on Monday.”

When I visited him two days later to finalize plans, he excitedly reminded me about the “dandy prime rib roast” he had, adding, “I’ll pick up spuds, turnip and stuff to go with it. Gravy, too. Should be a great meal – a nice treat – our last day there. Gonna be a great time. Can’t friggin’ wait!”

Sean Kearsey, Johnny Dyke, Tony Vinnicombe and I were planning a Nov. 10-13 rabbit hunting trip to Northwest Gander; Silver Trails, to be specific, where Johnny has a very neat old school-bus-turned-cabin, along with wood and storage sheds, plus the cleanest outhouse – with a heated toilet seat, no less – you’re likely to find in central Newfoundland.

The B’ys obviously had no fun at all on their Central NL rabbit hunt.

Sean Kearsey, Johnny Dyke, Tony Vinnicombe and I were planning a Nov. 10-13 rabbit hunting trip to Northwest Gander; Silver Trails, to be specific, where Johnny has a very neat old school-bus-turned-cabin, along with wood and storage sheds, plus the cleanest outhouse – with a heated toilet seat, no less – you’re likely to find in central Newfoundland.

Actually, just a few days prior, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make the trip because of a nagging lower back pain, but a couple of quick “tweaks” from chiropractor Keith Cassell in Mount Pearl brought me off the DL and back in the game.

Menus have usually taken up most of our planning discussions for various excursions over the years and this one was no different. We had more than enough cod puddings, tongues, fillets and salt fish to last four men at least a week, along with cold plates, hot wings, tasty desserts, plenty of bread to pair with eight cans of meat and fish for sandwiches, a variety of items for a boil-up, plus the regular breakfast menu selection.

“We won’t go hungry, that’s for sure,” Johnny commented when I shared a tentative list of grub each man would take.

This trip had already been postponed a few weeks earlier, and although the forecast called for fairly high winds Sunday and Monday, the “sunny breaks” and slightly above freezing temperatures prompted a thumbs-up from all four of us, so early Saturday morning we tossed our gear aboard Sean’s 16-foot enclosed trailer and headed west over the highway.

Once we were set up at the bus and had a fire going in the wood stove, we set out for an hour of scouting to ensure the areas we were planning to hunt were not full of active snares, especially those intended for foxes and coyotes. We did see several rabbit snares with tape markings, but the courteous hunter who had set them was obviously not intending to be back to check them, at least for a while, so he had them “pulled.”

We headed back to the bus for cold plates and chicken wings before shutting down the generator and climbing into the bunks much earlier than usual – 8:30-8:45. We apparently – and unintentionally – missed a few guests who we’d met in Gander on the way out and invited to stop by for a drink. They did show up around 9 p.m., but there was no sign of life in the bus. Our apologies, gentlemen. We at least hope you got your moose.

Needless to say, we were up by daybreak Sunday. With hopes that the early morning “30 kph winds with gusts to 50” would ease off somewhat, we decided there was “no rush” and proceeded to cook a full breakfast – minus the toutin dough that I forgot.

Winds did not subside, however. In fact, they seemed to be continuously “gusting” in the 60-70 kph range most of the day, which made it quite difficult to hear the dogs.

Tony had brought four beagles along; his buddy Dwayne’s five-year-old male, Gunner, and his own three females – 10-year-old Thelma, Bailey, 5, and two-year-old Sally. The plan was to hunt with two hounds Sunday and another pair on Monday. If we wanted to hunt for a few hours before packing up Tuesday morning, we’d take the one dog which seemed the least tired. Had this been later in the season when the dogs were in better physical condition, we would have run all four both days, but three moose hunts had taken up a considerable amount of Tony’s available time in October and he didn’t get them in the woods as often as he normally would have. Johnny had also been pre-occupied with helping his brother harvest a moose in Salmonier, which has become a helluva lot more difficult in recent years than it was a decade or two ago.

“Gunner and Bailey, you’re up this morning,” Tony announced while walking towards the kennel with GPS tracking collars in hand. I should mention here that while these devices may be considered expensive to some, they are “worth their weight in gold” when hunting with beagles, particularly on windy days such as the one on which we were about to embark.

We were slowly walking along an old quad trail near Southwest Hill when one of the dogs began to bark 60-70 metres off the trail.

“Gunner,” Tony said as we simultaneously chambered a shell. Both Tony and Johnny were toting 20-gauges, while Sean and I carried 12s.

Twenty seconds later, Bailey joined the chorus and the hunt was in full swing. John and Tony immediately headed into the woods to look for a clear shooting lane, while Sean and I stood back-to-back on the trail with shotguns to our shoulders. The hare managed to avoid all of us on its first run, but as it slowly moved along just inside the trees on round two with the hounds a fair distance behind, Tony spotted it and bagged our first of the trip.

“Got ‘im!” he shouted.

I followed with our usual safety precaution: “Shells out, boys!”

“Shells out!” I heard each of my buddies reply.

For anybody new to this wonderful sport, reminding a hunting partner to empty his or her chamber immediately after the game has been harvested is a great habit to get into. We’ve been doing this as long as I can remember because there is always a chance – and I personally experienced it many years back – that somebody in your party who had a shell chambered and safety off in anticipation of firing a shot which they didn’t get to take, will sling the gun back over his or her shoulder and continue on through the woods or along a trail with a live round and “red” showing on the safety. Not good.

“Listen, listen,” Tony said with his head tilted 10 minutes later. “They got another one going.”

He checked his GPS: “They’re only 150 metres straight in through here,” he said, pointing slightly to his left, “but I’m having trouble hearing them in this damn wind. This is one of the worst winds I’ve ever hunted in. I usually wouldn’t bother hunting on a day like this, but we’re all the way out here now, so we may as well continue and hope that it dies out, at least a bit.”

After not hearing the dogs for five minutes, he checked again: “Three-hundred and sixty metres that way; don’t know if they’re on a rabbit or not.”

Tony pushed through the woods for a couple hundred metres, then radioed us: “They’re hammerin’ one. You’re gonna have to move in and spread out, b’ys, so we can get this friggin’ one.”

Twenty minutes later, “Boom!”

“D’ya get ‘im?” I shouted.

“Not sure… Yeah, I got ‘im.”

“Tony again, was it,” Sean asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “ya might as well get used to it.”

The next chase, instigated by Bailey, was “a quick one.” The hare had barely begun its first round when Tony intercepted 40-50 metres off the trail and stopped the large, partly white hare with his second shot.

I had my Browning Maxus hanging off my forearm when the next rabbit emerged from the trees and alders and “sat up” on the edge of the trail just 20 metres away. I raised the gun quickly and fired as the critter turned and sped back towards the woods, but I was fairly certain it was a miss, so I walked over to where I fired to see if there was a slim chance that it was kicking out in the alders.

“Boom!” Another for Tony.

After initially taking off like a rocket, for whatever reason the hare decided to stop just 20 metres further down the trail in front of Tony.

Okay folks, ya gotta admit, there is a certain amount of luck involved here, to which I’m sure my buddy would reply with a grin, “ya gotta be good to be lucky.”

True enough.

We pickup up a couple more rabbits – including a while one that I finally managed to harvest – before heading back to the bus for a feed – a rather large feed at that – of cod tongues, fillets and potatoes. I can almost eat my weight in cod tongues, and the boys are no slouches in that department either, yet we still had enough left over for snacks and/or breakfast. And we had yet to soak and boil the load of salt fish that I brought along!

“Gonna be nice to have that prime rib roast for supper tomorrow,” Johnny offered. “As much as we all love fish, I’ve had enough for a while. That roast is gonna be a real treat.”

“Oh yeah,” Tony added, “I’m certainly looking forward to that… What are ya havin’ with it, Sean?”

“The normal stuff, ya know, gravy, spuds, turnip… and I brought a couple of small steaks to throw in with it, just to make sure we have plenty of meat, although I think that roast is more than big enough to feed all of us.”

The boys decided to drive half dozen kilometers or so out the road towards Glenwood to get cell phone service and check in with their ladies before supper, while I stayed behind to get the ol’ woodstove going. Thirty minutes later, Tony walked in the bus and announced that “Sean got some news for ya.”

“About what? I asked.

“I’ll let him tell ya when he comes in.”

Tony couldn’t resist, however, and spilled the beans.

“Ya know that prime rib roast he’s been talking about and we’ve been drooling about?”

“Yeah.”

“He left it home.”

“No. No. You’re kidding, right?”

Just then, Sean walked in and looked at the expression on my face.

“Tony told ya, didn’t he? Shagger. Gordie, I don’t believe it. I called home and Theresa said, ‘You do know you left the roast in the fridge, right?’ I told her I didn’t, that I’m pretty sure it’s in the cooler I brought out, and she said, ‘Oh no it isn’t’.”

If I had a dollar for every “dig” one of us got at Sean over the next 24 hours for leaving the main meal of our trip at home, it would have been enough to pay for our gas to and from.

One of the first came early in the evening, when Tony suggested we have hot roast beef sandwiches lunch hour Tuesday before heading home, adding, “Oh, that’s right, we can’t because we don’t have any roast beef.”

Winds Monday were up slightly from Sunday, but with this being our last full day, we certainly weren’t gonna stay cuddled up inside the bus. And besides, Sean was just as anxious to bag a couple grouse as he was rabbits, so off we headed. As luck should have it, we had a pair of grouse in the pan of the truck before arriving at our hare hunting destination. That would bring our grouse total to five up to that point and we’d add another pair before calling it quits.

Tony decided to let Gunner run again with Thelma and Sally this day, and if he appeared overly tired by noon, we’d put him back in the kennel. Bailey would rest all day and run solo for a couple hours Tuesday morning before hitting the highway.

I believe it was Thelma who got the first hare going, less than a minute after I lifted her off the tailgate. Sally was just seconds behind, while Gunner had apparently discovered some slightly older scent elsewhere and was trying to zone in on the fresh stuff, which he eventually did.

Again we split up and found ourselves in a ‘U’ formation keeping an eye out for Sally and Thelma’s

While waiting, I heard Gunner open up 70-80 metres to my right.

“Gunner is barking somewhere behind me,” I radioed.

“Yup, that’s two different rabbits,” Tony confirmed. “Johnny is close to me, so we’ll stay around Thelma and Sally. Gord, you and Sean should move in towards Gunner.”

“10-4.”

It wasn’t long before Tony bagged theirs, then they began moving towards us. Sean caught a glimpse of the hare flying across the trail, so we once again went back-to-back in anticipation of the rabbit crossing back over.

He crossed alright – about 200 metres further in the trail and around a turn where we couldn’t see it. In through the trees we pushed again where we heard the hounds make two complete rounds until a shot rang out 80-100 metres to my right.

Figuring it was Tony, I shouted, “got that one, too?”

“Yeah, I got ‘im,” Sean announced.

“Good job, bud. Good job.”

Despite a couple of two-plus-hour runs – thanks in no small part to not being able to hear the beagles over the wind – we managed to bag another half dozen rabbits before taking the dogs back to their kennel around 4 o’clock on Monday, following which we dug right in to a delicious feed of prim… salt fish and potatoes.

Under clear skies, light winds and a temperature of plus-3, Bailey drove three more to the gun within a couple hours on a perfect Tuesday morning. By the time Sean, Tony and I got back to camp around 11, Johnny had everything cleaned up. Once we tossed our muddy boots and camo outfits in the back of the truck, we were ready to hit the road, albeit reluctantly.

Three days of relatively good hunting, tremendous camaraderie, continuous laughs and superior grub jobs (for the most part) had flown by, it seemed, in the blink of an eye.

Although Sean can “take a joke” better than anybody I’ve met in my lifetime, I still felt just a tad guilty for all the digs we “got in” for forgetting our main meal. Indeed, the poor fella really took a prime ribbing.

Until next November, boys…

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