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Spring bear on the Jordan river … and other tales!

Scottish hunter Ikey McPhee had me laughing my ass off with tales of lurchers, ferrets and a spring bear on the Jordan river.

Interview by Dougal Muir

Q: How did you get into hunting in the first place?

A: In the first place it was through my dad and my uncles. They did a lot of ferreting with Lurcher’s. As a little kid I’d always seen my dad go off on Sundays with the dogs and I’d always say “Can I come Dad, can I come Dad?” And my dad would always say back “When you’re out of nappies [diapers] son.” Then one day I asked him and he said “Are you out of nappies son?” I told him I was indeed and so he asked my Mum and she says yes so he picks me up, puts me on his shoulders and off we went. I was less than 2 years old!

Q: So can you remember it …your first hunt?

A: Oh aye, like it was yesterday! My uncle Sandy had a terrier, and he’d put it into the ‘Winnie’ [gorse] bushes and the rabbit would just bolt outta there and the lurcher would catch it. Other times the terrier would have a look down the rabbit hole and let you know if he was interested – then we’d put the ferret down the hole and he’d chase the rabbit outta the hole and again we’d send the lurcher after it.

Q: What’s the best part of the hunt?

A: For me the best part of the hunt would be just about everything from the anticipation of going hunting to sitting down and eating the meat afterwards. It never stops – it’s a way of life.

My first buck on Pender Island after not hunting for a few years I got with a crossbow. It was new to me so I got a lot of practice in on targets on my property and finally got my grouping down to four bolts inside two inches. Once I was competent and happy with my shots I then waited desperately for hunting season.

September 10th rolls around and I’m out looking for a buck … and didn’t find one! Always the way when you’re looking for one isn’t it. I then spent a few days doing short trips on the island after work.

One evening a couple of weeks after the season began I was parking my truck and walking over to the house when I saw this beautiful 3 point buck standing in the field by the house. I couldn’t resist it so I quickly grabbed my crossbow from the house, loaded it and used the truck as a blocker between the buck and myself. I was around 35 yards from the buck when I made this beautiful boiler house shot right in the rib cage. The buck turns around and runs in to the trees where I am sure he’ll collapse and die. But then, not 5 seconds later, he comes flying out of the trees and heads towards the road and I just can’t believe it. So after quickly reloading I take aim and shoot him again and this time he goes straight down and I head over to the road where he’s now dead and drag him of the road on to the grass verge.

I start checking him over but I can only find one entry and exit wound. So I decide to take a walk over to where I first saw him and I discover a blood trail leading in to the bush. There, under an old apple tree at the end of that trail of blood lies another beautiful [and dead] 3 point buck. Luckily I had the tags for both animals but my hunting season started and finished in the space of 15 minutes my first year on Pender.

Q: Ethically, how are you with taking a cow?

A: Having hunted a lot in Scotland, I actually think the best eating is a November Hind. A female in November is great because the animal is in prime condition. I have no problem taking a female when there are lots of animals. If they’re running short in numbers then obviously you leave them because they will produce young for next year but, ethically, no I don’t have a problem at all. I get sick and tired of all those hippies that say everything should be left alone, don’t kill anything! That’s just not how things are in the wild – someone has to control the numbers or the rest of those animals will starve or die of disease due to overpopulation.

Hunting in Scotland was so different from hunting in Canada. In Scotland you could basically hunt Roe deer 365 days a year because when the females closed the males opened up the very next day. So Roe does finished on the 20th June and Roe bucks opened up on 21st June. And there were no bag limits in Scotland like there are over here.

Incredibly, if you’re a landowner in Scotland and those animals were on your property they were effectively your own livestock and therefore yours to shoot as many and as often as you wanted. But if one of those Roe deer happened to jump on to the road and do some damage to a vehicle, well suddenly that deer is a wild animal and NOT the landowner’s responsibility [laughs]. The laws in Scotland were definitely written by the rich for the rich.

Q: Tell me some more about game hunting in Scotland.

A: Ok, I have a great story about a dog of mine. I’m working for Lord Thurso and he’s hosting a grouse shoot on his land. I have my springer spaniel ‘Gwen’ with me and we’re out with Lord Thurso’s guests, The Count Armagnac and his family. I was with the count and he and his daughter were both excellent shots and they got their two brace every ‘covie’.

I used to take my spaniel out walking with me at my heel so that she was getting exercise before ‘my’ hunting season began (pheasant, geese and ducks). Lord Thurso’s gamekeeper had a Labrador and he loved that dog. We watched the ‘covie’ of grouse go up and 3 birds get shot down instantly and I see a fourth bird glide and I figured that one for a runner. From my position it took me few minutes to get to the location where we thought it went down and by the time I got there that Labrador had been running riot with no success at finding that ‘winged’ bird.

At this point the count suggests that we try with my spaniel. The gamekeeper spits out, all cocky like, that if his lab couldn’t find that bird there’s no bloody spaniel ever going to find it! I ask them where they think it went down and I set Gwen off. She instantly finds a scent and starts off down a ditch toward a glen. The gamekeeper, getting more irritated still, shouts that that’s in completely the wrong direction and orders me to bring her back.

I set her off again in the direction I’m told and Gwen just jumps back in the ditch and heads off again. By now the gamekeeper is spitting blood and I have to bring the dog back again. I set her off a third time and off she goes down the ditch again. The gamekeeper is shouting at me and I simply tell him that the dog knows better than we do so let’s just see. She heads over the glen and through a burn and then she goes out of sight. 10 minutes pass and I’m thinking ‘Oh God’ before I see her coming back, strutting like a little pony and low and behold, in her mouth is this grouse!

The count is delighted and I’ve got a massive ear-to-ear grin. And, as she wen by him, the gamekeeper tried to grab the grouse from her mouth. She deftly dodged him and brought that grouse right up to me … a perfect retrieve. The gamekeeper sulkily acknowledged a great job, knowing that I was never going to let him forget that my spaniel had succeeded where his lab failed [laughs].

Q: Earlier this year we had a couple of black bear roasts from you Ikey, where ‘d you get them?

A: My first black bear ever I got on Vancouver Island. I went off on a Sunday and headed up the Jordan River way. I stopped up a few forestry river roads and got my quad off the trailer. I saw six bears in that one day. I sat in the bush waiting and this bear came out.
I had already decided that if I was going to try black bear for the first time it would be a spring bear. It was early in the season, maybe 3rd or 4th May and at the time those bears are not fat. Nice and lean, and hadn’t been near the ocean yet so the flavor wasn’t going to be horribly tainted by salmon. So it had been starving but I did give it long enough to get in to the skunk cabbage patch to get rid of all the parasites and such from its body.

I watched this bear for about 45 minutes suspecting it was a female (no cubs). Finally it presented itself perfectly and I decided I was going to take it. She was about 150 yards away and I got an excellent boiler house shot in – right through the ribcage and that bear went about 12 feet in the air before landing dead. That bear tasted brilliant, oh and I’ve had the hide cured to make a bear rug!