Raining again – but you knew that.
This morning has been confusing. We had a quick meeting last night and choose where to hunt in the morning but our plans were foiled. A neighboring camp (there are 3, the closest of which is 5 kilometers away) beat us to the spot we were intending to hunt (it was on Government land which is first come, first serve). This put a bit of chaos into our morning – we had to gather everyone up and re-plan. It’s somewhat frustrating as we all acknowledge that we are running short on time.
I’m hyper aware of time right now. I’m hopeful that we’re able to get an animal in the morning which would leave the entire afternoon for the busy work of processing it. Getting an animal later in the afternoon will lead to a very long night and more work for the guys tomorrow and I can’t stay past the morning. I keep trying to tell myself that there’s still time and hope and I know the guys are hunting tomorrow if we don’t get anything.
The change of plans sees 3 of us circling a lake clockwise while the rest of the watchers head at it from the opposite angle. The doggers will push to us. We’ve decided to push the land where the moose snuck past us yesterday. It’s cold and grey as the guys start.
I’m perched halfway up a steep hill and waiting for the doggers to come through. Because of our last-minute changes the hunt has been delayed and will be a longer wait than normal.
My Father (who is dogging) came out to me. No sign of tracks, no sign of moose. We decided to move 3 guys and push the doggers at us from a different direction and he pushes on. I walked the opposite direction to get move the closest guy to me.
The hill I descended was steep and messy. I can see tracks where my Father slipped as he climbed the same hill yesterday. I was thinking about that when my world was tossed upside down and I found myself lying on my back in a pile of rocks and mud. Falling in the forest happens just that quickly – one moment you’re walking along and doing just fine and the next moment you’re disoriented and in pain.
The ground is covered in leaves and the leaves make it very difficult to see what you’re actually stepping on. My fall was caused when I stepped on a leaf-covered root which was wet and slimy. The root was on a steep hill and I had no chance of staying up – my foot shot in front of me and that propelled me backwards. I ended up on the ground with my foot pointing skywards above me. Some falls hurt worse than others (with many not hurting at all). This one was one of the not-fun varieties – my body had tensed while trying to catch itself. It’s not a lot of pain but I’m feeling the compound effects of a damp week.
It’s odd how these moments aren’t ‘bad’ ones. They serve as a sort of guy check where you reflect on what it is that you’re doing and re-evaluate if it’s worth it and ask how important hunting is to you. And, as I think about hunting as part of my food source, there is no question of the importance of this to me. It makes me remember the connection to my food and appreciate it that much further.
It also makes the idea of mass-agriculture and the meat it produces less attractive to me. I can’t explain why that is yet and recognize that such effort would logically make the idea of mass agriculture and it’s conveniences seem more appealing. But for some reason, it doesn’t and I believe our consumption of mass-produced meat will continue to slow or stop altogether (it’s very minimal now, limited almost exclusively to restaurant meals).
I got back to my feet, continued to the next watcher and moved the line.
Nothing in the second hunt either. I’m down to 1 more attempt this afternoon and time is now pressure. We’ve only been shut out 3 times in 42 years. We’ve seen animals and know there are lots around – we just can’t get them moving or get sight of them.
We stop for a long lunch and decide to go out right at the end of the day hoping that’s when things are moving around. Some of the guys grab watches early while the rest get out on time for the hunt.
I am sitting at “The Fire Hat”:
We have a lot of watches like this on our property – an object in the woods that lets people know where specific watches are. This helps us ensure we are in the right position which is helps ensure a good and safe hunt. The Fire Hat is a wooden carving; I think it was a gift to him at some point in his career or when he retired. It’s easy to find and serves an important part of our hunt. Other objects like these include a wood cutout of a cow (there’s two of them), a bumper from a boat and a toilet seat.
My hunt is over. Done. Complete. Finished. My hope last hope is that the guys who remain are able to put something up tomorrow. I’m disappointed I won’t be able to help but accept that it’s time to go. We’ll make the most of the evening ahead but it’s time to start to pack up and prepare for morning. I’ll wait until the hunt is complete and the men are all back before writing my final thoughts and what it means for the year ahead.
But it is disappointing and I feel it. We’ve tried everything we could – but there’s no prizes for effort. I feel awkward that I’m leaving and I’m not very helpful to the group.
I’m going to take the lead on dinner tonight – cooking ribs. Cooking helps calm me down – and makes me feel like I’m still bringing some value to my guys who are staying when I can’t.
I suddenly feel useful again.
Two guys approached me with an idea: we could team up with a neighboring camp which have a tag for an adult male. We could each choose a run and broker a deal that would increase both of our chances. I pull together a quick meeting of the team, facilitate what we’re willing to offer and put the decision to the team. The team approves.
In less than 20 minutes I transform from Chef to lead negotiator and am travelling through the forest on an ATV to the neighboring camp. It’s a cold drive that takes me another 6 kilometers deeper into the forest and on a clear mission. The drive is deeply contemplative as I prepare for our offer and think about the men (who we’ve known for years) and who I’ll need to speak with to make the offer.
There’s a great responsibility that comes with this role that I’m struggling to explain. We each take great pride in the camps which we are members in. I am a member of Spikehorn and that’s as close a thing to a tattoo as I have. This camp is 43 years old and is far more than the 14 men that are here this week. I’m not representing 14 men on a vacation – I’m representing more than 100 who have hunted here over the years. Many have since passed on; several of them were buried with Spikehorn shirts or memorabilia. This isn’t a cabin, a clique or a casual club. It’s years of tradition and membership is a right of passage that’s difficult to explain.
The same can be said for the other cabin (and most hunt camps) and brokering a deal like this feels very connected to the tribal roots of this very land. I feel like the lead Scout who is sent on a solo mission of diplomacy. I feel proud and nervous at the same time.
The negotiation isn’t long – my visit lasts the length of a single beer. I table the offer, knowing that some of the decision makers have gone to bed. The camp is mildly receptive – though they tend to hit the woods far later in the day than we do. I let them know where we’re hunting in the morning and let them know to come by any time before noon if they want to hunt in the afternoon. The idea is received with mild interest and there’s no way to know if the offer was accepted other than waiting to see if the team shows up.
I return to camp, return to my ribs and we have a late dinner and a few more beer. I feel better about tomorrow and feel like I’ve somehow contributed to it, even if that means I can’t be there in person.
To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).