There was a final bit of excitement after I stopped writing last night: we pulled the memory cards out of the few motion-sensitive cameras we have and they worked! The cameras hang on trees and a small bit of food attracts animals in the area to the right spot. It’s not enough to keep them around or summon from afar – but it’s enough to let us know if anything is walking around – and, if it is, what time of day the animals are moving. We’ve never used cameras before and this is a new experiment for us.
The good news is that the cameras showed us pictures of moose! So exciting to see that they are around us and it’s a definite boost to the morale. The fact that most of the pictures are at night (it’s colder and they’re moving around to stay warm) and that all the photos are of adult males (which we can’t harvest) is ignored as we were just glad to see that there are animals on the land. It was an emotional lift for the camp and something that was well needed.
We’ve decided to hunt where we got the most photos (even though they are 4 days old and animals that we can’t harvest).
The rain was as bad as it gets this morning . We actually slept in and waited for a while before heading out. It’s an odd feeling – very few times as an adult have I willingly decided to go outside for 3 or 4 hours in the middle of a downpour like this. As you prepare for the hunt you know you’re about to get your butt handed to you by mother nature. It’s one-part inspiring challenge and one-part scary. You just know that you’re going to come back many hours later and much more sore.
There’s not much glamorous about this week but it still feels intensely important. And, despite the struggles, I am still having fun.
We’ve stoked the sauna before going out – we know that when we come home we’ll need to dry our clothes so we’re getting a running start.
We’re hunting a different part of the property today – I’m sitting on a watch where I’ve never been before in the middle of the forest. Four of us walked far from the trail and have lined a small section of woods overlooking a large swamp. We all know time is getting thin and that our luck needs to turn in a hurry.
The radio cracks through the tap-tap-tap of the rain:
I’ve just seen 2 or 3 moose. They may have swung back across the line.
That’s good and bad.
The good news first: he saw several moose. Moose don’t generally travel in packs (there are exceptions) unless it’s a cow and a calf. We have licenses for both. But he couldn’t get a shot – couldn’t ensure they were the right gender and hunting and guessing don’t mix. He had to take a pass on them.
Let me be clear: he did nothing wrong. But there’s many ‘what ifs.’ What if we’d left earlier? What if he walked differently? What if? What if? What if?
The bad news next: ‘swinging back’ isn’t a good thing. It means that the animals have possibly run far enough in front of the doggers to not be seen and then turned – before they got to our line of waiting men.
We can’t be positive that they’ve turned but we make some last-minute adjustments which means that four of us move position to where we think we may be able to cut off the exit. The plan isn’t perfect – by having the watchers move part way through the run we almost become doggers ourselves and all of this noise in the woods is the equivalent of trying to hide while walking through a room of meditating people while holding lit fireworks and blasting Cyndi Lauper from a ghetto blaster while wearing neon. In other words, it’s next to impossible to do without being noticed. And being noticed isn’t good – it means that you’ll push anything near you in the opposite direction.
Run is over and I gather with the 3 others that were deep in the forest with me. It’s still raining and miserable. We’re glad that something was seen, disappointed that we didn’t have a better chance at it.
The 4 of us filed back in the direction we believed we were supposed to go. Unfortunately we ended up slightly turned around and while we weren’t lost, we took a longer time to get back to where we started than we should have. After bouncing off course for about 15 minutes we found our way back to the forest path and then we heard it:
An unmistakable call of a rifle – and it was close. We quickly fanned out, took posts, calmed our breathing and waited. A single shot could be the sign of a quick kill or it could move something further through the bush towards us. The only thing that is known for certain is that it’s within a few hundred yards of where I stand and that’s a great sign.
A gunshot gets your heart racing. Your senses become hyper aware and you become completely in synch with every sense you have. Minutes pass slowly as you wait. And wait. And wait some more.
We begin to move after 30 minutes. There’s a gathering point where everyone will huddle and we make our way towards it so we can find out what happened. Just before getting to the gathering point we turn around the corner of our property line and I see them for the first time: the camp beside us is hunting close by. Everyone has been safe (we ensure this in a variety of ways) but I realize that the shot was theirs. We amicably wave but move on in case they have something on the run (we don’t want to interfere).
If you’re a hunter or have been reading closely you’ve probably picked up on something we knew as well – that our ‘getting lost’ is quite possibly what pushed the animals out to the other camp. And, as much as they are friends, it’s still a little sore to think about. They may have benefitted from what we tried yesterday – having another camp push the woods may help you see something.
I’m dogging again; giving one of the walkers from the morning a break. I’m dogless this time – I tried to take Schaeffer with me but when he saw the rain he decided to stay in. I gently coaxed him with a nudge of his collar and he opted to dig in and stare at me like I was crazy. He then turned around, went to bed by the fire and grumbled as he curled into a ball. I think he may have the right idea…
The rain is now in torrents and it’s cold. It’s relentless and I know that, like each of the previous hunts, the water will be so penetrating that my hands and feet will return to the camp covered in wrinkles. I’m not sure if I could get any wetter with the help of one of those all-around showers at a fancy hotel. It’s that wet.
I’ve just had one of the biggest thrills of my hunting career. I stepped into a tiny clearing in thick hardwoods and then the world came alive: two deer (who had been lying in the protection of thick cedars) transitioned from prone to their feet after jumping 8 or 9 feet in the air. They vaulted vertically before landing with a thud. I was within 10 feet of them when they vaulted – close enough to feel the thud when they hit the ground.
When the pair hit the ground they bolted for cover. I saw them for less than 2 or 3 seconds and their noise disappeared within 5 or 6 steps from me. I’m not sure I could have gotten a shot off but I certainly would have raised the gun and made a decision. I regret not raising the gun (with safety on) just to practice the experience and vow I will in the future. It’s thrilling to have experiences like these.
My heart also sank a little. 10 feet. That’s VERY close. They would have been happy to have let me wander past them at 11 feet away and I would have never seen them. This is fortifying my fear that we’re practically going to have to step on a moose in order to get a shot out. Considering that we are surrounded by more than 10,000 acres of crown land, stepping on one is rather difficult.
It’s Thursday afternoon and there’s two days left of the season. Some of the guys are calling home and making plans to stay an extra day. Even if we put an animal down there’s a solid day of work just in preparing it for the butcher. This is the first year I can’t extend my stay and I’m hopeful we put something down soon.
Back at camp, sharing plates of h’ors derves prepared by the guys. A few more got a peek at the deer but no one saw sign of moose or bear. We’re not even certain where to start looking tomorrow but we know we’re in for a challenge. It’s going to be a restless night…
To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).