Friday (possibly last day of the moose hunt)
Morning came fast again. It felt like it was only a few hours between suddenly cooking 2 pounds of bacon and needing to gear up and rush into the cold. Of course these things feel worse than they actually are – we actually had about 4.5 hours of sleep.
The entire mood of the camp changed in the instant we had an offer to return to land we hadn’t seen in a long time. It’s probably no better than what we have but it’s different and it’s something we know. It’s kind of like a used car salesmen getting excited about a shipment of ‘new’ vehicles to sell. They’re no better than what he already has in stock but they’re different so that’s exciting.
I have an odd feeling as we amble down the broken road on the way to meeting our new allies. There are 3 of us piled on the 4 wheeler – my Father, our Dog Shaeffer and myself. It’s cold and a lot of my warmth is generated from the dog wedged between us. It is a mercifully short drive.
Our friends are staying in a converted school bus. We have a lot more comfortable accommodation but there’s is a lot more portable. By the time we roll up the sun is cresting the hills and the entire land glows an orangey-yellow.
Their group is also excited. We are thrilled to be welcomed to old stomping grounds and they are excited at the prospect of hunting for an adult male.
It doesn’t take much to imagine our groups as tribes who have brokered a deal. We are both running out of time and options. If we cross the right animal today we could easily add 20 or 30 pounds of meat to each of our freezers. This would put a significant cut into the meat I would buy commercially as we are eating less than ever. I can easily admit to feeling a little tense; the worries of ‘being centered’ on Monday are a distant memory and I am here in totality. It’s the rest of the world that seems out of synch with me now.
We gather near the bus and a few of us huddle for a quick plan. Our numbers (17) allow for more options than any of us have had all week. Our new team members have seen a few Bull this week though they used their one tag earlier in the week) and we come up with how to push the land. Clint, the hunter that came to visit last night, agrees to drop watchers from both groups off and our doggers will wait behind. I am left in a field with my Father, the pup and several of their guys.
We have used 3 walkers all week – today we are going for 5 or 6. We’re starting close together (as little as 100 meters apart) and are combing the land towards the line. I am thrilled for the help and this approach is novel but I do catch myself thinking greedily that this means giving up much of the meat as we’ve agreed to share with each other.
Clint comes back after dropping off all the watchers and we all pile into a truck to be dropped off for the walk. My Father is out second and I’m number 3. I remember thinking it was pretty neat that we were the two doggers from our camp – liked walking this close with him through the woods.
I had to wait less than 3 minutes before entering the woods. In that time the dog decided to abandon me and head to my Father. I swear (along with many) that my Dad is half dog. We have had a lot of people bring their dogs to our camp – and its almost always the same story – dog leaves it’s host and goes with my Dad instead. Shaeffer even left me with a treat in my hand this week as he decided hanging out with my Dad (who did not have treats) was just more exciting. I’m glad he did decide to stay with me for a few treks!
We headed into the woods around 9. I walked for 3 minutes and then it happened. 4 loud shots. It was like cannon fire. There was no doubt this time – the shots were from our group. In fact it’s one of two people – my Dad or the first dogger. It’s time to sit still as possible and wait. There could have been animals with it, the hunter may have missed or there could be a wounded animal headed my way. Everything happened within 200 or 300 meters from where I stood.
Imagine standing there after the intensity of silence that most of the week has had. Your chest is tight, heart is racing. If you hold your hand up and look at it you notice that you are shaking like a leaf. These are very difficult conditions to be able to aim a gun with. So I stoof there and I tried to regain control of my breath, body and heart.
The radio sung, I knew this was one of our new friends. “Bull down. Bull down.”
It was still time to sit. I was curious what the dog was thinking about all of this – he was even closer than I was at this point.
Two guys quickly cleaned the bull and since we were at the start of the run we continued to push once all 5 of us were ready to move onwards.
My walk was fantastic – a 90 minute walk with some thoughts of what happened in the swamp where we started. I knew that I’d be home tomorrow now and that we’d have meat in the freezer. Some culls are tougher than others – this one was more exciting for me than sad. I can’t explain why some are met with pure excitement and others are met with sadness. Perhaps I was simply just greedy enough to want the week to finish by filling our tag and this meant the ultimate success. My emotions around hunting are filled with double-standards and hipocracy and the emotions I feel are often a great example of this.
The walk was fast and it was great to see forest I was familiar with. Some familiar swamps and a lovely hidden lake that I haven’t seen in years. It was great to see the line, get everyone together and hear the stories.
We loaded the moose in to a trailer and all of us headed to our camp to begin the work of cleaning it and things got odd…
We were about a kilometer from camp when two men approached, walking down the road. They weren’t dressed for the weather, were not wearing hunting gear and were panicked. It didn’t take long to find out they were driving where they shouldn’t in a vehicle that shouldn’t be in here and they buried their car. They spent the night in the woods and had already walked about 12 kilometers when they found us. There was another 13 to go before they’d find the first house, a phone or heat.
I can’t say that we immediately welcomed them into our vehicles. They looked desperate and desperate can be scary. Their story didn’t completely line up and we were in the middle of nowhere. We drilled for more info before deciding one of us would give them a ride to civilization. One claimed to be short of his medication and I have no idea what they were thinking driving back in here. They didn’t want us to help them get unstuck – they just wanted to phone for a ride or get a ride out.
I feel glad that we were there to help, I was also received to see the truck come back after dropping them off. I don’t think we had the story nor do I think we’ll ever know the full story. I do know that hunting may have played a role in helping these guys out of a difficult situation that could have ended far differently. Had the weather turned like it can this time of year, these guys could have been in a lot of trouble very quickly.
Back at camp things were progressing well. One of our new ‘tribesmen’ has worked in a butcher shop and his knife skills are rare. He makes quick work of the 800+ pound animal and I’m shocked at how easy he makes this entire process look. It’s amazing how this experience allows us to earn from one another – we trade tips and tricks and work as a combined unit to skin and quarter the harvest.
We also shared our lunch. It’s a veritable buffet of sandwich ingredients. Most of us are so hungry that we could be eating shoe leather. Knowing that we are splitting this animal, we make the decision to go for 1 more hunt together – we can still hunt calves. An additional calf would make up for some of the animal ‘lost’ to sharing. I was pleased to be walking again – something I’ve done a lot this week. It’s also exciting to get to see more of our old stomping grounds and I am sure that this played a part in the decision to continue for many of us.
The dog, once again, abandoned me for my Father.
We walked for about 30 minutes before I heard the shots. There were 7 or 8 in total – it is likely that this means multiple guys were shooting – and that some were missing.
The radio call is unfortunate and I do find this sadder than the morning. “Found blood, sitting tight.”
Blood without an animal means that we have one wounded. We’ll finish our walk and then everyone will stay still. We hope that the animal will lie down (feeling safe from pursuit) and either expire or grow weak so that we can quietly approach it and complete the hunt. The most difficult part is waiting and we are able to hold back for more than an hour before a small group of trackers move forward. I stay back to keep the dog from trailing – we are not trying to push it now and stalking it slowly is preffered to chasing it.
Depending on the wound an animal can survive a bullet – occasionally this happens after it runs through frigid water and the bleeding stops. Losing an animal is not an acceptable option and we’ll track it until dark if needed. If we’ve waited long enough we shouldn’t have to.
It’s getting cold and I’ve been sitting in my dogging gear for about 2 hours. Huddling against a rock is the closest thing I have to warmth and consciousness is a tough thing to hold on to. Cold weather seems to be blowing in and I’m hopeful we find the animal and resolve our hunt.
A single shot booms through the woods. I know it’s us and I know what that means. It’s a kill shot. It’s very different from hearing a burst of shots as you know that sound was a hit and is the end of a life. I don’t have the excitement of the bull from this morning – there is respect, thankfulness, sadness and knowledge of what happened. It is also the sound of the end of our hunt.
The following hours were a repeat of the morning only with a party folded in. Most of us will pack in the morning – for now it’s time to be thankful. I snuck away for a few minutes to reflect on our day, our week and the bounty afforded to us.
This is one of the posts of 9-straight which chronicle my 2010 Ontario moose hunt which began 1 week ago today. The 9 days will be posted through this week and next weekend and will try to capture the essence of my experiences hunting for local food. The link above will reveal all the posts which have been published so far – as well as the complete series from last year. Last years series emphasized a lot of my personal struggle with hunting.
Every comment that adds to the conversation on hunting (i.e. you don’t have to agree with any of our views – but comments that are exceptionally short or ‘attack’ people aren’t eligible) will count as a ballot in our Food Matters Contest (full rules and explanation here). We hope to create dialogue over hunting and consciousness of what we eat and will listen to all with open ears and open hearts, willing to listen and share with all points of view).