This is our 5th year of writing about hunting; if you’re new to our posts on the subject, here’s a few things you should know. 1) There will be no gory photos (if we change this decision in the future you will have ample warning before scrolling to see them). 2) We eat everything we hunt; in years that our cabin doesn’t kill animals, we eat far less meat (and already live on a meat-reduced diet). 3) If you’re looking for the basics of where to start or how I’ve decided to do this (even after years of living as a near-vegetarian), my article An Introduction To Hunting in Ontario (Moose, Deer and Birds; Confessions of a one-time “Vegetarian” is a great place to start. 4) This series will run through Friday. You can find this years series here.
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013. 5:15AM
I woke up with a playful kick to the pillow. It was my Father. “Time to get up Joel.”
Despite feeling very rested, I would have loved to have stayed in bed. The cabin was cold and dark and my bunk was warm in cozy. I could hear from the pitter-patter on the roof that it was drizzling and wet outside. I didn’t want any part of it but pushed myself to slide out of my bed.
Despite being a fairly regular coffee drinker, I rarely drink it on weekends or during holidays, including hunting. I made an exception on Wednesday morning and warmed my hands on a warm cup of coffee as the camp slowly came to life.
We were heading back to the same ground we’ve hunted all three mornings. We made the decision last evening after a decent debate; there’s a delicate balance between hunting an area that has fresh sign (a good thing) and over-hunting it and possibly pushing the animals out of the area to parts unknown. The first two days of hunting have been fruitful but tension was starting to creep in as it was suddenly apparent that the hunt would be more than halfway complete by sundown and we hadn’t taken a shot yet. It was still a mildly hot-topic of discussion as the day began.
But a plan is a plan…
I piled into the back of the pickup truck again. The plan was to be a carbon copy of the day before; the first run was a short push over the beaver dam, up the wall and out to the line. The second would be a slight modification – I would take one of the other doggers with me to push the land that I had done the day before because there was just too much land for one person to dog it effectively on their own.
I chose a different place to start my run from this time; and I made a mistake in doing so. My ideal spot would have been almost 200 yards deeper into the forest but I ‘took a shortcut’ and ran into a roadblock – a 60 or 70 foot high cliff that I couldn’t get past. This meant that I’d be close to one of the other doggers for the first half of the run. Being too close means missed opportunity – we’ essentially walked the same walk for the first while.
I made another mistake. This one came without warning. One moment I was walking on what I thought was level ground and the next moment I was sinking into the forest. ‘Sinking’ is a kind word. The forest ate my leg and through me to the ground. My right leg was buried from my food to mid-thigh. My other leg was flailed in front of me and my body was in a twisted heap on the ground.
It took me a few minutes to figure out what happened: What I thought was level ground was actually a pile of fallen trees covered by leaves. My leg found the space between two trees, sunk and I collapsed. I was luck not to have any significant injury as it would have been easy to break a bone, injure a joint or twist something severely.
On the bright side, there was a lot of sign and it was relatively easy to follow it through the snow.
The hunt ended with nothing but sign. I was slightly frustrated because much of the sign I was seeing was the tracks of my other doggers; we had somehow crossed each others tracks and I wasn’t sure we were effective at times. I tried to make the best of it and radically altered my planned route and things seemed to work out. I would later find out that one of our doggers was following fresh sign which is why he crossed my path and I’m glad we took the paths we choose.
Doug and I entered the woods together. The plan was for me to bring him to the place where I started this run yesterday and for me to get a bit further into the woods and we’d push the woods together around 10:00AM.
I left Doug 5 minutes ago and our plans changed in an instant when I found a fresh track. It looked like a cow and still had fresh dirt and snow sitting in the track; it was as fresh a sign as you could find without a foot standing in it. I called Doug who was less than 50 yards away and we began to push.
I knew at the time that we had a real chance to get an animal. Doug and I had cut off the only escape route between two large lakes and the guys on watches had the open end of our funnel well-covered. A moose will occasionally swim to elude capture but we had 3 doggers starting at the lakes and the chances of the moose running towards us were rare (although it happens, as it did on Monday with the Bulls).
I started following the track, committing to following it through thick and thin.
BOOM! The crack of the rifle was close. It had to be one of our hunters! My heart began to race, and I stopped still in my tracks. It was time to listen and see what would happen.
BOOM! The second shot was a good sign. I knew it had to be us and a voice on the radio confirmed part of my hopes, “Hi guys, this is Frank. I took a shot at a cow but not sure I hit it.”
In circumstances like this, it’s important that a hunter doesn’t lose his cool. He has to sit still and wait a few minutes. Every muscle in his body is screaming for him to run to the spot he shot at but that could force a wounded animal further into the woods and extend the process of it passing. There’s even been cases when a moose or deer will enter water and manage to seal their wound and survive.
After a few minutes, Doug and I decided to continue to quietly push towards the line and Frank stayed in place. It didn’t take long before the radio call came in. “Confirmed cow down.” We had harvested the adult moose we were after!
We continued to finish the hunt. A cow will travel with a calf this time of year and we wanted to make sure we didn’t leave one behind.
The moose was two or three years old and she didn’t have a calf (we confirmed this by checking her tracks and checking for signs of milking). She was 600 or 700 pounds which isn’t a large cow but we know that she’ll be very good eating.
Frank had hit her with his first shot. She died quickly and in the spot he shot her; he lost sight of her when she laid down. The tracks I had seen were hers – I followed them from the start of the hunt right to where she found her final rest. I quietly placed a few twigs in her mouth (a gesture of respect and a final offering; a Native American tradition that I read about from Hank Shaw).
The animal was cleaned in the woods (we took the heart and tongue back to camp along with the rest of the meat), and we took the moose back to camp. The rest of the day was spent finishing the cleaning (removing the fur being a big part of that) and hanging her to let the meat set.
We also put some time to celebrate our fortune. It wasn’t a crazy party but there was a great feeling of relief in the knowledge that our families would have moose for the winter.