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.
Thursday, October 24th, 2013. 8:30AM
We got off to a slow start this morning.
The pressure is off the hunt and we only have calf tags left. There’s no great passion in harvesting (killing) calves except:
- 1 out of 2 will perish through the winter. Culling calves (in much the same way that other herds and plants) will make more food available to the survivors. The hunt is a controlled hunt meant to maximize the population for future hunts (and others to enjoy as well of course).
- It’s good learning and we’re here to hunt. As someone who’s hunted for 25 years and never had the opportunity to shoot anything larger than a bird, the challenge looms over my head. I’m sure that’s difficult for some to read but it’s the full truth – I’ve never had the opportunity to shoot a moose and I won’t know if I can until the opportunity presents itself, thus it’s something I long for.
Two of the hunters left this morning. We’re down to 10 hunters (with only 7 of watches) and have decided that today will be our last day of hunting. Yesterday’s success is a major factor in that (we’d be hunting until the end of Saturday if we had no success) as is the weather forecast: Saturday sounds awful and we’ve decided it’s just as well to leave as a group in case there’s any difficulty.
The 3 dogger (including me) were driven to our first run by the two brothers who left in the morning. It saved more than an hour walking and I was glad for the lift. My legs were heavy and knees were sore.
The weather was overcast once again and I knew that it was going to be a very wet morning. It wasn’t raining but every time I brushed against a tree I was certain to be showered in half-melted snow and slush.
It was time to walk. I headed into the forest and almost immediately crossed the tracks of another hunter. Being that we were hunting on private property (our own), the tracks had to be from one of my teammates. Crossing each others paths is good to some extend as it can really help confuse animals; but too much of it means we’re walking the same routes and not hunting smartly.
Some hunters will keep walking their intended paths when they see the tracks of another. I tend to do the opposite; I’ll follow the tracks for a while but once I know we’re heading the same way I’ll change my path in a direction that I think will spread us out. This sometimes backfires – if the other hunter corrects their course we end up walking into each others line once again.
Dogging isn’t exactly a science!
One of the other doggers found an abandoned bear bating station. It’s essentially a big barrel that is filled with rotting food (fish works best but you can use just about anything) and is left in the woods to try to attrack bear. We used one once (unsuccessfully) and decided it wasn’t the way we like to hunt. It’s meant to attrack the bear to the area for someone to shoot – there isn’t a trap or poison or anything like that.
The bear barrel is troublesome because it’s in a place it shouldn’t be. We can see it from our property and it’s on the land of a neighbor who does not support hunting. Whoever put it there was definately trespassing and has probably hunted both properties. It’s frustrating given that there are more than 10,000 acres of public hunting land less than a mile (in every direction) from the bating station. It’s especially troublesome as it could like like we were the ones who put it there.
There wasn’t anything that could be done (the bait was long empty) and the hunt continued.
I dressed far too warm. I expected to get wet from the rain but it’s sweat that’s the bigger threat today. Once you start to sweat, it’s tough to stop.
It often amazes me that I get hot enough to sweat in the first place. When I dog I only walk 5-10 feet at a time. I take a few steps and then stop, listen and look and repeat. It’s slow and deliberate and difficult to imagine that you’re expending very much energy at all until you realize that you’re short of breath and damp with sweat. Oh the glamours of the hunt!
The easiest way to cool down is to stop for a few minutes, open up your jacket and remove your hat. It can take minutes to transition from too hot to too cold and then minutes to repeat the cycle!
The best course of action to prevent overheating happens long before the hunt and largely amounts to dressing smartly (and in layers). I made a simple mistake this morning – I put a sweater on when I wokr up and forgot to take ti off before putting my jacket on to head for the hunt. Overheating is an incovenience on this walk as I know our land relatively well but if I was lost in the woods it would be a significant risk to my survival.
I finished my walk and ended it at my Father’s watch. We shared a few stories and planned the rest of the day. We agreed that we’d have one more hunt and then we’d be done for the year (for moose). The rest of the afternoon would be used to clean up, finish processing the moose (we still had to quarter it), pack and get ready for the morning. I left him in the woods and walked more than an hour to get to my next starting position for the final hunt of the year.
Minutes before starting on my run I was hit with a sudden realization. I knew that this was the last run of our moose hunt this year and that meant that I had dogged every single run of our hunt. It was the first time I’d ever done that in 25 years of hunting and it felt good.
My solo-celebration party ended quickly with a resounding SNAP! The sound could have been a few things; a fallen tree, a breaking branch, a crack in a giant tree or a large animal walking through the forest.
The second SNAP was pretty convincing. I wasn’t alone in the woods. I sent a quiet message on the radio letting other hunters know that I was hearing something. The dogger beside me (he was about 75 yards away) confirmed that he could hear it too.
I heard the unmistakable sounds of an animal moving through the forest for more than 10 minutes. There were more than a dozen loud snaps and I knew that we had something near us. The odds weren’t in my favor; deer season won’t begin for several weeks, we didn’t have a license for an adult moose (of either gender) and we’ve only seen a few bear in these woods.
I felt energized knowing this would the last hunt of the week and headed into the woods optimistically. It didn’t take long for the other dogger to confirm that he was seeing sign and it appeared to be that of a cow and a calf.
There was sign everywhere. Animals had been moving all through this area in the last 48 hours and it was clear that we had a chance of putting something up.
BANG! A single shot and it was definitely ours. I stopped in my tracks, quiet and waiting for an update or for more shots.
The radio was silent for more than 3 minutes. That may not sound like a long time to you but I promise you that when you’re standing in the woods trying to listen for ANYTHING that the time drags on forever. It’s worse (better?) than sitting in an overheated car on plastic seats while sitting in shorts rush hour.
The radio crackled to life but I couldn’t understand it. Something to do with Frank taking a shot but it wasn’t Frank. I’d later find out that his radio died earlier in the day.
One of the other hunters tried to send him a text message. It was a long shot but it worked. He had seen a large black bear running down the hill at full speed (they can run 40-50 kilometers – or 25-31 miles 0 per hour). He didn’t hit it but there was a large bear between us and the line.
The odds of us getting wounded by a bear are incredibly small. They are more scared of us than we are of them. Even if they saw us, they’d likely turn and run the other way as fast as they can. But knowing that you are choosing to walk towards a scared or angry bear takes a bit of a gut check. It’s far more psychological than actual but that doesn’t mean it’s any more comforting.
For some unknown reason I decided to walk through the middle of a swamp. I could have avoided it fairly easily but saw another dogger and wanted to push a piece of land he wasn’t and the swamp seemed like a good idea at the time.
From a hunting perspective, my decision was a good one. Animals will run into the swamp for protection (it’s much easier for long-legged mammals to navigate. I don’t have 5-foot legs so it’s not as easy for me.
From a walking perspective, the outlook is dim. If you’ve never walked through a swamp, it’s something you ought to try at least once. There are 3 types of things to step on in a bog:
- Water. This is to be avoided. It can be several inches to many feet deep. It’s bottom is rarely solid and it’s possible to lose a boot if you step far enough into the muddy base of some of these ‘puddles.’
- Dry-ish objects including fallen trees and moss. Both can be slippery and none are ever fully dry nor stable but most will keep your feet out of the water (for the most part).
- Traps. Items that looks like dry-ish objects but sink or break the moment you put weight on them and turn out to be water is disguise. The majority of the land in a swamp falls into this category.
In addition to uneven ground, the swamp is generally incredibly thick with thick evergreens and fallen trees that block your navigation and stop you from going where you want to go. It is possible to get so turned around in a swamp that the only way out is to deliberately choose to walk through water which is cold and exhausting (as the mud constantly tries to swallow your legs).
After walking through the middle of this swamp for more than 10 minutes I took a moment to gather my breath. I was still damp from my first run and over-heating from this one. My glasses were foggy and my body was screaming at me. I found a semi-dry piece of my T-Shirt to wipe my glasses on and returned them to my face when I saw ‘it.’
I got on the radio and tried to break the tension. “Doug, did you walk into the middle of this swamp and have a crap?” As much as I was making a joke and breaking my own tension, I was also dealing with my own fear. There was, of course, no way that a hunter had walked ten minutes through the middle of a swamp in order to relieve himself. It was tough enough to stand here never mind to try to navigate the complexities of a bowel movement.
The pile of scat was large, soft and I dare say, a little steamy. I was in the middle of a swamp where I could move about 10 feet a minute and I was standing where a bear had been in the last several hours (or less).
Have I mentioned that swamps can be creepy? Don’t get me wrong, they’re incredibly neat and important to our ecosystem and there’s really nothing to be afraid of but that doesn’t mean that they don’t mess with my head. It feels like Yoda is going to be waiting for you around the next tree which would be super-cool if you weren’t afraid that Darth Vader wasn’t hiding behind the rock in front of the tree.
Despite being slightly creeped out by swamps, there’s something I really love about them and there’s something so special about walking through them and seeing places that almost no one ever has. It’s something I value deeply even though I generally avoid the challenge.
I pushed my body – and my mind – though the swamp.
It took me about 10 more minutes to get out of the swamp and I was close to the end of the run when I did. I was happy to have gotten through it though sad to see the hunt end.
The rest of the day was spent getting ready for our departure. We had a great meal, watched the World Series and had our version of a party to celebrate our final night together. I was first to bed; there would be lots to do in the morning.
Friday, October 25th, 2013. 4:30PM
I’m home. It ended just like that. The hunt always starts so slow but then reaches the end before you know it!
It was a good year in the woods. I learned a lot and am grateful, beyond all else, for the men I hunt with and think of as family.
Afterword of the 2013 Moose Hunt – For Now
I’ll share some lessons learned in the near future and one day I’ll share even more. Despite adding another 8,000 or 9,000 words to my hunting journal this year, there’s more to tell about why I do this, what makes it important and why this is so special. But all of those stories are about people – specifically about the men that I hunt with – and they aren’t my stories alone to tell. One day I’ll share more of their stories when they (and I) are ready for that. Hunting is about far more than killing; it’s about an adopted family and men I love deeply and experience all cycles of life with. And one day I’ll be able to share more of that love here.
For those of you that read these journals, who tolerated their rough transcription and inconsistency of style and story that comes when my random free-flowing consciousness meets my notebook; thank you for sticking it out. I adore that you stuck it out with me and I hope it’s been worthwhile!