It’s day 3 of the 6-day moose season in our region.Today is a very different day from the last 2 – for one thing I know that my chances of seeing a moose have dramatically dropped. And I’m OK with that.
I’m a dogger today – I wait for the others to get into position and then for the woods to settle around them before walking through the heart of the forest to them. There are no trails in this country – a compass and GPS form a close bond with me today. Neither one is foolproof – I nearly spent a night in the woods about 5 years ago even though I knew I was less than 500 meters from the road and my waiting friends. Everywhere I looked was bathed in 4-6 feet of icy water. At that point your GPS, radio and compass offer limited support and staying calm is the closest thing you have to a tool.
(A faraway shot just sounded – it isnt’ likely us).
My clothes are very different today. I’m only sitting for about an hour before trudging through the forest. I’m in layers and dressed relatively lightly; it gets hot fast. I am also wearing very soft material including a lot of polar fleece. This gives me the option to be as quiet as I want when walking through the thickest parts of the bush. A doggers job is to make noise to “push” the animals towards our line of friends but the option of stealth always has a time and place.
Dogging has a fantastic rythym to it and I love it. I’m 800 meters away from my destination right now and it will take me 2-3 times that distance as I meander through the bush. Fresh track could take me even further. I’ll only walk 5-10 steps at a time before pausing, listening and looking around. The forest has her own rythym and I will try to study it.
I will also be walking differently today than I normally do in the city – a technique called “flat footed.” A human foot touches the ground twice for every step (heel before ball of foot). There are no animals in the woods which share this trait – a double snap of a twig caused by human feet is a dead giveaway of a threat. Each step I take requires careful placement of my foot flat on the surface of the forest floor.
2 Shots rang off. Definitely us. A third shot. My heart is pumping. Radio call – 3 shots were taken at a calf. The calf is with a cow which we no longer have a license for and the shooter passes up the larger animal for that reason. He isn’t sure that his shots connected – will confirm in due time. He mentions that he can still hear the two animals; I can barely pick up the fading radio signals.
This is a very different year compared to last year – not a single shot or even a sighting of moose (until deer season).
It sounds like the animals have moved. Another guy on the line confirms that her hears them moving. We are all holding tight.
Weather plays many roles in the hunt. We currently have about 1,200 pounds of moose (this will be far less in actual meat once butchered) hanging in our shed right now. We want to drain and age the meat as long as possible without it rotting. This becomes impossible if it gets too warm. The last 2 days have been beautiful which puts a difficult decision on the table – the balance of aging them versus rotting (which is simply not an option we will accept). We’ll know how warm it’s going to get in an hour or two and that will push our hand. It may be time to head to the butcher once this hunt is over.
If it continues to get warm, we will lose the afternoon hunt. Skinning, trimming and quartering 2 moose is plenty of work to keep us busy for a number of hours. Ideally we’ll wait until closer to the weekend and hopefully have a Bull to go eith them. Like preserving, the additional quantity seems to increase the work only marginally.
Static on the radio – dangerous half messages. I think the calf is wounded and a sudden change of plans ensue. The shooter is quietly tracking the calf and our line is now broken. He will place ribbons through the trees as he goes and has asked us doggers to hold still. Suddenly I’m a watcher and he’s a dogger – a cold day would be a real strugle in this outfit but today’s weather is looking after me. Sitting. Waiting. Listening.
The rumble of a truck and trailer bounce across the main logging road (about 400 meters away). Road hunters. More about them later – Dad is done walking a small loop and it’s time to huddle with the doggers before deciding what to do.
Taking watches, waiting for an update.
Call is in – time to start the push. I’ll be looking for sign, walking with purpose.
My heart is back in my throat. En route to our second run and it’s raining. I had a call that a big black bear was headed my way. I saw two flashes as he past in a full run. Too wet to write much more.
A long, wet afternoon comes to a merciful end. After two hours of bouncing through unforgiving terrain (including swaps that swallow you to the knee), fallen trees that make you scale them and hills that seem to only go the wrong direction) it was back to camp to finish cleaning the heart and liver from this morning. A quick call home to Dana before she leaves for a concert (Metric) that I’d love to be at. Body is sore and tired but it’s been a good day.
The afternoon hunt was lacking much drama after the quick glimpse of the bear. Another dogger saw a buck (adult male deer) near me before we started and that was all any of us saw for the rest of the hunt.
The morning was more eventful. The calf was indeed hit and it was successfully tracked until it settled down in the cover of a swamp and we couldn’t get close. The cow, protected by our lack of license and the heavy brush of a forest that looked more like Dagobah (Yoda’s home in StarWars) than Huntsville. She growled, snarled and hissed at us from 30 feet away (we could not see her in the thick bush). At 1,000+ pounds and eight feet high, this is no idle threat and must be taken very seriously.
It’s amazing how a moose will protect its young like this.
Is it upsetting to think of an adult trying to protect it’s young offspring like this? The answer is a very personal one and I am certain that’s different for each of us (meaning hunters as well as readers here).
Many of our crew are FireFighters. My Father was one for 37 years. I have learned that their unique view of many things, including death, is very different than most. I think the same skew is granted to the children of these families – it was a consistent reality as a child that my Father could lose his life every time he went to work. I had to learn to reconcile the intricate dance between life and death and the constant threat surgically removed some of the stigma of death.
Many of the guys grew up rurally where death of livestock is far more common to them than many of us who live in cities. The view for many is simply altered by exposure.
I have a different twist altogether. I have technically died twice and am certain I view life differently than I would have otherwise. There’s a sadness for me but also a recognition that it is what it is. I can’t fully explain this yet.
The short and easy answer is that I find it sad – deeply sad – but reconcilable. I have justified it by comparing it to commercial agriculture practices (that I know little about in actuality), calculated the low survival rate of small calves like this one and looked for other answers. I now simplify the entire process and accept it as sad and part of nature’s cycle – a part in which I play a measured role. I will reflect on the spirit and acrifice of the animals we have culled. in the meantime I will cherish the sustenance of body and soul that each provided us.
Our focus qill quickly move to finding a bull that has, so far, eluded us.