Moose Hunting – In Your Words…

Today is the longest shortest post we’ve written.

Your comments during the hunting posts have been astounding – many are blob posts in their own right.  Comments are so often missed by most as they read an article and move on (which I understand) and some of the best content here is written by others.  I also adore hearing the views of others shared here – it is easy to think that our daily writing is sometimes equivelent to tossing a stone into the ocean.

I wanted to give your comments equal billing today – so we’ve compiled them here.  There are very few edits – the only edits I’ve made are to comments which were wonderful comments that could sound like self-congratulations for me to post them here.

We have also placed links to each of the installments if you want to add to any of the discussions below – as I said, I adore seeing comments here.

Lastly, we have to announce our contest winner.  There are so many wonderful comments below and so much to think about when reading them and, per the rules, I picked a random comment (used a random number generator from Google to find the winning commenter).  I am pleased to say that Rebecca was won a copy of The Food Matters Cookbook.  Ironically I had decided that if she was not our winner that I would buy a copy for her anyway – her comments gave me stunning insight into her family’s approach to hunting and her near-daily updates gave me the same experience that many of you had here reading mine.

Let me pass it over to your words (note, becasue this post is so long we`ve added a break to it on the main page and for those who describe – click MOREto see the rest as this covers all 10 posts)

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Day 1 – Late Arrival and a Welcome Greeting

Rayna
I just have to say that I had only started following your blog this summer and when you mentioned that you were doing a series on hunting I was really excited. For me, that’s very much a back of why I’m into gardening. It’s about having the skills and confidence to know that you can survive. I’ve never been hunting myself and don’t know that I have the patience for it, but I think that hunting (for food and not trophies) is very important and I hope that it isn’t a skill that’s lost in this high-tech mass-farming age.

Ayngelina
Very interesting writing style you chose for this piece, particularly considering the topic is controversial. It sounds a bit ominous and introspective.

Joel (not me)
I have been waiting for the start to this series for quite a while, and I am not disappointed by the picture you have painted.

Johanna
It seems so much easier to think of eating the flesh of animals, taken in a humane way when someone else is doing the killing. Our friend Alex, takes the lives of all the chickens we eat with a prayer for their life. We may believe that we are creating a sacrifice, yet I always wonder at the willingness of the chicken to be part of the ritual. In honor of the majesty of the land upon which you walk and the courage to take a life, we send you good hunting.

Vicki
This is such an interesting subject. I was just talking with my sister who still lives in a semi-rural area of eastern North Carolina, where we grew up. After asking about my brother-in-law, she told me that he was well into deer season, his favorite time of the year. I asked, “How much venison can one family eat?” She explained that her family and her children’s families enjoy all the venison they can use. She went on to say that 2 local farmers had asked Danny to come hunting on their land to help keep the uninvited “guests” from eating the crops. She said that one poor farmer had his entire bean crop eaten and trampled in one night! And because he is a good steward of the land, he happily gives anything he kills to the needy families in the area. They are happy to have it! He never has a deer that goes to waste. I am really proud of his contributions.

Charissa
I know the “1000 eyes watching” feeling very well. Years of canoe tripping, often in remote areas, doesn’t leave me scared of the dark, just aware that there are just as many creatures active in the dark as in the light.

Rebecca
It’s 7:37 am and more than light enough for a clear shot now. There’s a hard frost on the ground but our veggie gardens are tucked up comfortably under their plastic tunnels. It’s the first day of black powder season here. I saw Michael off in the dark this morning at 5:45 to make his way into position 45 minutes before the sun rises and the deer start moving. We’re lucky that we don’t have to travel far to begin hunting our winter meat. In truth, during bow season, I can hunt literally from the back of my house since the deer come down over the piney hill behind us and cross the property on the way to the woods on the other side of our neighboring farmer’s pastures.
While I’m waking up on coffee and blogs, I’m going over in my head the necessities needed for putting up deer if he brings one home: knives are sharpened, cutting table is set up, plenty of wrap, freezer bags and tape is at hand, the meat freezer is cleaned and ready for this year’s harvest, roaster, stock pot, pressure canner, and jars ready for stock from the day’s processing.
It is a huge feeling of appreciation and gratification that I experience looking over the jars in the pantry, the containers in the produce fridge and freezer, the boxes and baskets in the cold cellar, reflecting on the amount of food we were able to grow ourselves, purchase in from local growers, or forage this year. And, as with everything in it’s season, already I feel grateful and respectful of the animal that will give it’s life to help see us through the winter, and Michael’s skills and ability to do this humanely and well.

Charissa
The problem is, I think, two-fold. First, I don’t think the most of the reality tv watching public would find ethical hunts, seeped in tradition, good tv. Look at most of the reality tv shows out there that figure groups of people. Rarely are they sincerely working together, there is always some sort of competition, which leads to obnoxious behaviour. Sadly, many reality tv watchers like to watch obnoxious behaviour on tv, gives them lots to talk about. The only exception I can think of (off the top of my head) is the BBC production of “Victorian Farm,” which I thought was amazing, but does not get the same ratings as “Survivor.” Second, if ethical hunts were featured on tv or other media, the backlash from extremists in animal rights groups would be huge. Opening constructive dialogue with groups that have opposing views is one thing. Trying to reason with extremists is another. I am just pessimistic enough to think it would be the extremists who would come out of the woodwork, making it more pain that its worth.
However, I think this blog is a great, sensitively written, introduction to the many dimensions of hunting. It gives exposure to aspects of hunting that don’t get much airtime, such as the prep, the traditions, the method, the group effort, and the respect for animals. By bringing out the complexities, it moves people away from reducing the hunting debate to simple narrow questions such as “why are you murdering animals?”

Joan
I’m enjoying reading your article. We were brought up being taught that you hunt to eat and you eat what you kill. With the economy being so rough now days especially her in rural NC, gardening and hunting helps our budget tremendously. I wish you luck and look forward to reading the rest of your journal.

Day 2 – The Tribe Arrives

Kiwiswiss
I am enjoying this series of posts Joel, but it is bittersweet.
I am still recovering from rupturing my Achilles tendon and tearing the muscle. I haven’t been able to hunt since February, and am still having trouble walking over rough ground.
What constantly fascinates me is the differences in hunting techniques, both that you write about, and that commenters are posting. I have hunted in two different countries, New Zealand and Australia, and the experiences there were very different too.
In NZ, we can hunt all year round, and a hunting party is normally only one or two people out for a day or a weekend.
For a day hunt, I prefer to go alone, and if longer I prefer to have a companion. The hunting is normally in bush or forest, and involves a lot of quiet walking and stalking. I don’t use a dog, but a few do.
Also, given the size difference between the Canada and NZ, it is amazing how close you are to other people. Here, it is common to fly, either by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft, into a remote hunting spot.
If you get down under at any time, I will happily take you hunting here.

Joan
Sounds like you’re off to a good start. I’m wishing you much luck tomorrow. Interesting reading about your hunting moose since we have deer here. We enjoy eating the deer our friends and family get. I’d enjoy trying moose. Maybe you’ll share a recipe sometime.

Janet
I’m way too tender (read wimpy) to ever go hunting myself but I’ve always kind of envied the men back home and their hunting traditions. It seems like such a genuine bonding experience. Cool that your dad is with you. Shaeffer sounds a bit like my Ranger – pesky.

Me (to Janet)
Janet, I don`t think that`s wimpy at all. Only wimpy if you`re hiding from the mild cold. As far as hunting itself, I can wasily understand how someone can`t do it.

I`ve been hunting most of my life – been in the woods for 22 years with a gun and seen it long before. Yet my grand total harvest is less than 6 birds. Of the birds I`ve taken, some were very easy and others were painfully difficult. Nothing wimpy about that from where I`m standing. Moose Hunting   In Your Words... wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

Rebecca
Michael came home early from hunting yesterday morning. He just got too cold to stay out any longer. Since he had a bout with Renal Cell Carcinoma last year he’s had trouble keeping warm. His tests are all clear and the doctors have no explanation for it. Then three weeks ago he unexpectedly had to have gall bladder surgery. Poor guy’s had a rough year and a half and this hunting season means more to him than just putting meat in the larder. He doesn’t say it but I can sense it. He did go back out in the afternoon and watched a good sized, six point buck wander along the creek in and out of the scrub but he never had a good shot at it. Unless he’s sure he can put it right down he won’t take the chance of injuring it or having to track a blood trail and possibly losing it.
There’s no hunting in Virginia on Sundays so maybe Monday he’ll bring one home

Micheal’s not concerned about whether he gets a good looking buck or not and neither am I. Doe or buck matters not as long as it’s a healthy, fit adult animal. He once was near tears when, because of the lay of the land and a trick of the light, he shot a young male maybe 8 or 9 months old. He doesn’t think it’s right to take a deer that hasn’t been through at least a winter or two. I agree with him but I also told him that we would treat that one like the best veal for our dinners. I processed it and labeled it carefully so he would know that the venison picatta or bacon wrapped filets came from the young one.

Yeah…all male hunting camp syndrome… Buck Camp friends in Pennsylvania call it. Buck Camp, meaning men only, stag all the way. I grew up going with my extended family to hunting camp every fall. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses, and all my cousins. Grandpa had a zipline running from the back of the cabin to out beyond the woodshed for us kids before ziplines were the attraction they are now. I know now it was his way of getting us young’ns to haul in the firewood. That was the price of the ride- zipline out, carry a load back. I learned so much at those camps both by doing and by osmosis.
Buck camp on the other hand, is an affront to me. Like an inference that somehow I can’t pull my weight, or I’ll disapprove of something, or god forbid, I’ll get my deer and they won’t. Michael went once while I visited with friends but he wasn’t impressed. He liked the guys but he said there was an awful lot of loose testosterone laying about. He’s been invited back each year since but always begs off.

Me (to Rebecca)
goodness I am loving your posts in their own right…I find them fascinating and am so thankful you are sharing Rebecca…

I grew up a jazz dancer, figure skater and artsy kid; more than comfortable with my masculine and feminine sides. I think I stuggled with the same feelings Michael encountered and can definately understand why you`d see it as an afront. I really am excited for the day one of the hunters daughters show an interest.

Our tag system does not allow us to freely choose between an adult male or female – we have a draw for ANTLERLESS DEER where limited access is given to harvest fawns or does. A `regular`tag allows us to harvest one buck.

Can`t say enough how thankful I am to read your words – wish i was awake enough to comment more; a long day behind and short night ahead has me hunting for sleep.

Kelly
Joel – I think that your insights into the mens only moose hunt is very thought provoking – I so want to take part in the hunt ever year…but cannot find my place in the male landscape of the hunt camp that my husband and father in law are a part of. The coincidence is that I can join them in bird hunting, like Dana…

I have really enjoyed reading about Schaeffer’s experiences – the wet nose wake up story left me laughing…that is such a Viszla trait…our Remi dog has the same tendency….poor victim!!!

Hope you had a great hunt…

[Read more...]

Well Preserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 10+ – Things I’ve Learned

I’ve posted for 10 days on our hunt – today`s post will take us over 15,000 words.  It`s been quite the journey – both the one I experienced in the bush and the one I went through as I chronicled the adventure here.

As explained before the posts went live, they are published exactly one-week after the adventure happened.  Our cabin has no access to the outside world and I`ve really got no intent to be on the Internet when I`m in the middle of the woods.

I`ve now been home for 2 weeks – though it feels far longer.  It took about 6 days before I wasn`t wincing at street cars and life feels back to a different normal.  Each hunt really does leave me feeling a little different – something that I feel weird writing about.  I don`t want to make things seem far bigger and more dramatic than they really are but it really is the truth.  The same techniques I learn in hunting to control my breath and pulse in the heat of excitement are brought into the boardroom and have changed the way I work in my very corporate role.

I thought I`d recap some of the things I`ve reflected on in the last few days that are left with me – tomorrow (the last post in the series) I am intending to share some of the thoughts of others (will explain then):

  1. Killing and hunting are not synonyms.  Killing is a part of the deal but I am more conscious than ever that this essential act is not the definition of the entire experience.  It used to be the thing I focused on and struggled with for many years – it has become a smaller focus of the hunt.  Seeing deer, turkey, spending time with my Father, friends and other camps are equal parts – some are greater.
  2. There are many parallels to what we do and what has been done for hundreds of years.  There are many difference but more in common than I thought.
  3. I am becoming more comfortable sharing stories on hunting in public.
  4. The responses to our hunting posts have definitively changed.  The topic still reduces our traffic significantly though the amount of emails, comments, tweets and other messages we have received are dramatically higher than in the past.
  5. People are commenting more – something I am way thankful for – it is so exciting to see and read comments and to hear other people`s stories.  The kind words touch me deeply and those that challenge us to see different viewpoints are just as appreciated.
  6. Being there with my Dog is more  fun than either of us could imagine – even if he sometimes abandons me to visit my Father.
  7. My new hunting gear is fabulous.  Having dedicated dogging clothes was something I should have done long ago.
  8. I am, indeed, getting older.  It was a new experience to be one of the older guys.
  9. I am becoming way more confident navigating the forest.  This is usually the point she humbles me and I end up lost again.  I am cautiously optimistic at my progress in the woods.
  10. There is finally something that I have found that I won`t eat…yet.  I have no idea why I am fine with ears, tongue and cheeks and can`t eat eyeball.  Just as interesting is why my friend could – except he skipped the pupil.  In many ways it`s our friend that tried squash for the first time in his life (in his 40s) that is the braver eater – he tried the whole thing.

We`re going to announce the winner of our contest tomorrow and amalgamate the comments that have been posted as I think there`s some amazing content that`s been shared and many would miss.  Would love to know if or what you`ve learned about hunting or your views on it through these posts or in general.

Thanks all for reading, it`s been fun sharing.

Joel

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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 9 – Back at Home, Struggling but Happy

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting   Day 9   Back at Home, Struggling but Happy wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

It was an early departure this morning.  We woke up around 7:00AM, packed the truck quickly and then cleaned around the camp before hitting the road by 9:00AM.  I was back in Toronto just after noon.

I have hunted for 15 years or so now.  I have been to the cabin many other times than for hunting but coming home from hunting is very, very different from coming home after a week of camping or relaxing at the cabin.  It’s remarkably difficult.

Hunting requires long periods of solitude that you spend in absolute silence while controlling your breathing, heart and movement.  It’s remarkably difficult at the start of the week but by the end of the week it’s fairly natural and the entire woods come alive in ways you can’t imagine on day 1.  The easiest comparison I can draw for you is to think of a time when you focussed on the night sky for a long time – the longer you look, the more stars that appear.

Imagine staring at a night sky for 9 days, getting in a car and emerging in bright daylight 3 hours later.  That’s what returning to the city is like.

I am amazed every year how loud the streetcars actually are.  They are impossibly loud, jarring and unsettling.  This is specifically problematic as we live 15 feet from streetcar tracks that support traffic 24-hours per day.

There are a lot of people around and so many are in a hurry.  The pace is one thing – the stress and curtness people have is something else.  I am certain I fall into the same traps but it’s stunning to see from the outside in.  And I truly mean that it is stunning – the last week has trained me to focus on everything that moves and makes a sound around me and there are so many blank stares that seem to almost run in to me that walking on the sidewalk is taxing.  I know that this observation is as much about my state of mind as it has to do with what I am seeing around me.

Shaeffer is exhausted.  If dogs could smile then he definitely is.  He was fast asleep in his bed at one point before suddenly waking, getting out of bed to stretch and then heading right back to his bed and asleep again – a round trip from the land of Oz in 30 seconds or less.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting   Day 9   Back at Home, Struggling but Happy wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

The oddest experience comes later in the evening.  Dana and I meet friends for dinner and then head to Massey Hall for a concert by Toronto-based band The Stars. Just like seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, alters your perceptions, my experience in the woods definitively has an impact on how I perceive the performance:

  1. The band has a peculiar habit that sees the stage covered with a few hundred roses that they tear apart before showering the stage or the audience with petals.  I find this practice alarmingly disrespectful to nature, the people that grew them and the economy in general.  I intellectually understand tat these flowers do not grow wild through the forests I’ve hiked but  still find the performance to be analogous to an assault on nature.  It’s an entirely emotional response that makes no logical sense – I am mad that they are wasting and killing flowers while the purpose of my trip was to kill animals (though not waste).
  2. We sat in the fourth row, stage right and were directly in front of a 30-foot wall of speakers.  The theater manager leaned into our row and offered a set of ear plugs to help protect our ears.  It’s the first time in my life that I’ve used ear plugs.  They fit loosely at first before expanding and filling your ears to protect your hearing.  By the time they’ve finished expanding I find that all sound is muffled – I am in a room of 1,000s of people and I am isolated from hearing any of them through the booming bass of the band and the combination of orange foam filters protecting one of my five senses.  It’s oddly isolating – much like sitting in the forest.  Although I’m sober I  find it easy to imagine all the swaying people replaced by the long branches of the forests of Northern Ontario.  I somehow feel the same feeling of comfortable solitude that I felt just over half a day ago.

The next few days will continue to be like this – emotional contradictions of logic that will slowly see my senses adapt to the perspective and rhythms of the world around me.  And perhaps that is what I value most about hunting every year – it’s a chance to recalibrate my senses back to nature as well as a different time; a combination that enhances my own experiences and interactions with the world (and the food) around me.

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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 8 – Learning from each other

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.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 8 – Learning from each other wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 8 – Learning from each other wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 7 – Getting Desperate and a Sudden Change of Plans

Thursday, October 21
Things were getting tense today.  We`re all getting along but 3 hunters have had to leave yesterday and 11 of us are left with one moose to show for our efforts.  It`s not that we won`t be happy with one but the months of work that goes into a single week and knowledge that we still have the opportunity for an adult male had us a little anxious at the start of the day – tension will continue to progress as we get closer to the weekend and don`t have the bull down.

There is also some tension around where we`re hunting.  10,000 acres sounds like a lot of land – and it is.  But coordinating the efforts of 11 of us – including finding places to sit, places to walk and ensuring there isn`t a lot of escape routes is difficult.  It`s been even tougher in the last few years…

We have hunted our land for 42 years.  We hunt a combination of our own 200 acres, some of the 10,000 acres of crown land that we know and we used to hunt other private land that we leased from the owners.  Our preference is for our land, followed by private land and then crown land.  The first two options offer exclusivity and offer us the ability to alter the landscape – mostly clearing deadfall so that we can see and shoot through what is becoming a very thick forest.  This isn`t possible on the crown land and many open fields of my youth have become thickets and forests in only 30 years.  It`s an amazing opportunity to have seen the changes nature makes to land in that time period – places we once drove trucks through are now hidden under the ponds of Beavers.

The land beside us has changed hands many times.  We usually are granted access by the owners to hunt it – part is a low lease rate paid and part is that we keep strangers off their land.  By allowing people they know and trust on their land, we can help ensure others aren`t there.

The land is a large lot – about 1,800 acres.  It has been owned by 7 or 8 people in my lifetime and tends to alternate between large corporate forestry (logging) operations and dreamers with wild plans.  My favourite plan for the property was from a small set of German Investors who planned to buy the land and build a secret 5-star resort to fly Hollywood Stars to.  They would be able to relax in front of a small lake, have top-tier service and no one in the world would know they were there.  The plans leaked out before anything got off the ground which disappointed me – I was hopeful Tom Cruise would be next door (even though I wasn`t really a fan).

It was slated for a boys camp, bought for investment and logged from time to time.  It has few trees of value left (for the next 30-50 years) but it is a beautiful forest and covered in beautiful swamps.

Lots of swamps.  Swamps filled with flies in the summer (this will be more relevant soon) and moose in the fall (in the case of moose, the world `filled` is an exaggeration – it`s not in the case of flies).  Retched places that I often walk through, balancing from log to log before slipping and ending up knee-deep in water.  They are fascinating places and I often find myself expecting to tun into Yoda.

The land also has access to other crown and private land that we are familiar with.

The land was purchased several years ago and had a different plan.  I am going to try to write what I know of the planned activities at the time without bias though it would be unfair not to acknowledge that while I didn`t outright oppose the plan it did raise significant concerns and potentially threatened our ability to continue to hunt – including on our own land.

The most recent plans (now cancelled) were to build 400 time-share cottages and a hotel complete with restaurant, spa and more.  The entire project was billed as an environmentally conscious project that would use solar, green roofs and more.  It was a subdivision for Environmentalists wanting to relax in the forest.  It would also effectively become a town (with a 4,000 square foot cottage built about 100 feet away from our outhouse) which did not acknowledge an access road people have used for 80 years (effectively making access to our land difficult) and could possibly eliminate hunting near town limits.

The project was not sympathetic to hunting – our use of the land (including crossing it to access other land) ended.  We requested access and when denied we agreed to not use it.

The only thing that raised my eyebrow was word that 3 beaver dams which have held for 40 years suddenly broke and created 3 new, larger lakes.  Likely an odd coincidence as it is illegal to change waterways like that.  I know a giant field I have known my entire life (known as Jacklyn`s Field – a home to much wildlife including moose) has mysteriously flooded.  I haven`t seen her is 3 or 4 years and it takes all of my will power to not head down that land and see.  The public roadway takes us within 500 meters of her.  I have many memories there – snow fights with friends, stuck vehicles, frozen watches, getting lost, seeing animals and more.  I hope one day to see her again.

I want to make it clear that I am empathetic to this project.  Part of it horrified me – part of it fascinated me.  We resolved that if it continued we would adapt and we would hope we could continue to hunt and we would do everything we could to preserve our 40+ year history but we could only control what we could control.  Any other approach would just add stress about things we cannot control.

When access to the land ceased, we had to make a decision: explore and find new areas or work on our own land, clear watches and shooting lanes and control what we could.  The last 5 years have concentrated on our land and it has paid off – the last 3 years have resulted in harvests from our property.

The tradeoff is that we have far fewer options than we used to.  We`ve been fairly successful in the last few years so this has been less of a worry.  Now that we`re hunting on day 4 of 5 and we`ve pushed most of the accessible land we`ve got, pressure is on.

We started the day at the same place where we`ve been for the last 3.  We ran it at different angles and a different time of day.  I was a dogger again and am thrilled at the amount of walking I am getting to do this week.  I was having a bit of a pity party at the start of the week and it has turned a corner since.

We had another inside lunch – French Toast and sausage.  I can`t say how heavenly French Toast is after a morning in the woods.  I`ve had so much activity this week that it`s easy to imagine feeling each calorie enter my system and refuel my body.  Imagine watching the fuel gauge of a car raise as you fill the tank – I feel like that gauge as I eat after a morning in the wild.

The afternoon was a similar punch.  I let the dog rest for one of our runs and he was excited to see me for the third hunt of the day.  These last two runs pushed through our land and were walks I am both familiar with and I adore.

Remember the pig’s head?  We left it`s scant remains in the woods this afternoon and in the 2 hours it took us to complete our hunt they were removed.  One of the hunters heard the bear crashing through the wood, figured it for a moose and never got a peek.  He was probably 50 yards (or less) away at the time.  We get remarkably close to wildlife many times with a memory as our largest prey.

The day was largely uneventful (other than a close encounter of a bear kind of course).

Evening was fun but there was underlying tension.  We were running out of options and the land which had shown much promise and sign in the last few days bore nothing.  1 day left for most of the guys (I will stay Saturday if we don`t have the bull but that will make next week far more difficult) and we`re getting anxious.  It won`t be the end of the world of course, but we will try our best.

If you catch yourself cheering for the moose, that`s ok.  I once in a while think the same.  But I still want to fill that tag.

The night was still a good one.  A few games of cards, the world series and a great meal.  I was thinking of bed when the headlights of a vehicle started flashing on our walls.

Company is always a bizarre prospect.  You never know what`s coming – or whom.  Many of the guys crowd a window like a kid looking for Santa and when the reports trickle in that `I don`t know him,` even my curiosity rises.

My Dad knows the stranger – he always does.  He turn to me and says a single word – a word that changes everything.

`Logger.`

Clint is about my age – in fact I am slightly older (I am sensing a trend here this week).  We`ve never met but his hand swallows mine when we do.  I offer him a beer and most of the guys get back to the game.

Clint is charming.  We trade stories with a small group and I like that he mentions, several times, that he does things `because his Dad taught him to do it that way.`

Clint`s crew is out of tags – they can hunt the calf’s but that`s not anyones real intent.    I`m trying to figure out how to approach a topic when he beats me to it, `You guys have a tag, we have our own land and you know how to hunt it.  I`m open to teaming up tomorrow…`

Within 10 minutes I`m in the kitchen with a few guys cooking.  It`s near midnight and we`re getting ready for a bush lunch.  We`re gonna go all day – and I`m going to see land I haven`t in a long time.

This gives us access to the other side of the private land.  I`m excited at the option but I still won`t see Jacklyn… or her field (lake?)…

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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 6 – 5 Years in the Making

Wednesday, October, 20
I woke up excited this morning.  Sleepy but definitely excited.  Mostly sleepy – but there was some excitement in there.

The watchers were going back to the same area they sat yesterday morning – but the doggers are swinging around to different starting point.  And that starting point has me excited…

We woke up early, again.  It was near freezing and I dressed very, very lightly.  I was fortunate to have a heated ride to the starting point of my walk; I`m starting about 7 kilometers away from camp and have more than 2 kilometers to walk for the start of my hunt.  It`s a walk I`ve wanted to do for more than 5 years but I`ve never had my chance.

The walk started just after 7:00AM and looked innocent enough (although if you look closely you`ll notice a lot of underbrush that would reflect a bullet – there`s no reliable way to fire a bullet straight for more than about 15 feet in this type of walking):

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 6 – 5 Years in the Making wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

Walking more than 2 km would rarely make sense.  Even if there`s animals between us and the line, there would normally be a lot of room for them to escape between us.  A normal run is anywhere from 200 meters to about a kilometer – and even then there is plenty of room for escape.  I`m standing on a small patch of ground that`s part of more than 10,000 acres of crown land and we hope to find an animal between where we start and where we finish.  The weeks of tracking in advance really do help give us a chance…

The reason I am walking so far on this walk – and why it might make sense (although not all in camp agree) is the terrain.  There are a lot of cliffs and several lakes which connect and only leave a few places for animals to escape from which makes an ideal starting point with few escape rountes.  The difficulty is that I have to walk more than a kilometer before I get to the neck where two lakes converge – essentially my first kilometer (which took over an hour) was to get into position.

A lot of our walking is less than ideal.  Imagine walking through this (and yes I did) for 10 minutes:

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 6 – 5 Years in the Making wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

The visibility was about 5 feet or less.  This is one of the reasons why doggers have a lesser chance of getting a shot and why the idea of guys shooting anything that moves in the woods is off base.  I make a tonne of noise rubbing against these branches (they were particularly wet this morning) and the sounds of fabric rubbing on evergreen mixed with muffled swearing makes getting close to a moose next to impossible.  They can run through these woods at full speed.

If you think it`s any easier for a pup, check out Shaeffer`s view:

I imagined this walk to be pretty, full of cliffs and pretty lakes.  The first 90 minutes were tough – from the thickest woods to sudden drops or rises.  It is pretty amazing how a single piece of forest can change in less than 100 yards when it is left to it`s own devices.

Shortly after fighting through the evergreens above we had to navigate ourselves down a nearly sheer wall of rock in the middle of the forest (the trees at the top of the hill look tiny when in truth they were about 18 inches around – the cliff is 25-40 feet down):

Look again at the picture above.  Imagine yourself standing there, staring at it.  Imagine knowing that you could draw a circle around you that was a mile in every direction.  Imagine knowing you are likely the only human in the circle.  And that – that is why I`ve wanted to walk this walk for so long.

The feeling of solitude, independence, confidence, fear, connectedness and isolation are nearly overwhelming.  I could have 1,000 dictionaries and I`m quite confident that there`s no word to explain the feeling that you get.

Rather than explaining more, let me share that nothing came out of this hunt.  But let me share some photos that very few people have ever seen – it`s the next best thing I can do to taking you there:

I hope that series of photos helps set the context.  I have hunted for 22 years – in that time I have killed less than 6 birds (although I have taken part in many successful hunts).  My father has harvested 2 moose in 42 years.  I understand how difficult (and impossible) it can be to think about the killing part of the hunt.  I hope that these series helps share that hunting is not only about killing and there are many more powerful moments that are experienced.  I also hope that my mention earlier in the week about `finding my center` is a bit easier to understand from the angle of some of these shots.

The last picture shows a body of water where my GPS claims there are none.  A beaver (or several) has expanded the shores of a small lake by almost 200 meters – in turn the small pond has almost doubled in size.

If it looked like Shaeffer was getting ready to take a dip – he was.  Every time I turned my head he seemed to be running for water (or the edge of a cliff).  He had a great time exploring and plodding along.

When I mentioned tat noting of consequence happened during the hunt – I lied.  I just didn`t want to get sidetracked.  I don`t normally lie like that but I knew I`d let you know the truth right away.  I hope you`ll forgive me. :)

Half way through my walk I heard that a very large cow (adult female) moose had walked between two of our guys.  She showed herself to our oldest member before walking down a trail and visiting his neighbor – our youngest member.  Both were in awe and report that she was a very large animal.  The 14 of us are only allowed 1 adult female so the guys had to take a pass on her but it`s a successful hunt whenever someone sees an animal.  It means we are on the right track.

It is also neat that our youngest get to see her.  It`s his first year hunting moose with us and I`m thrilled to have him with us.  He`s hunting with his father and in his last year of high school.  I have  met him several times as a small child and now he`s old enough to participate with us.  This is the first time that I`m not part of the young kids just starting out.  Memories flood back to what it was like to be in his shoes – asking lots of questions, nervous about recognizing the age of the animal, where to shoot, what radio calls are allowed and the like.  It will likely be a few years before he takes a turn walking on his own (though the GPS may change that) and new emotions – including fear of getting lost – will crop up.

Being one of the adults is actually new to me – even at 37.  I`ll always be a son but being one of the experienced guys is a new emotion.  It`s not entirely comfortable – a reminder that I`m getting older than I think, the guys around me are too and that things will continue to change, evolve, age.  It`s a comforting thought to know that the tradition is starting to find a home in another generation younger than mine and perhaps there`s a fourth generation out there to continue this camp (something that was potentially in doubt only a few years back as hunting was rarely something pursued by the young).

More than anything, I`m thrilled my friend has his son with him and that another has joined us.

After the long punch (walking or `dogging`is also sometimes called `dog punching`as you punch the push – like a dog), we did a small walk through the area we were successful with yesterday.  Nothing came up.

Everyone piled back to camp and it was time for our first cabin breakfeast of the week.  It took about 90 minutes and we ate well.  We want to ensure we get the adult male by end of week but it is clear that we feel some of the pressure has been removed and that there is still some time left.

We went out for one more run – the same run we had done the day before.  It only took about 90 minutes and I gave Shaeffer another rest.  We had seen so many signs the day before that we decided it was worth another try.

Although there was time to have another hunt, I called the day off early.  Two guys had to leave today and Wednesday is traditionally a larger party night.  An annual tradition sees a few visitors showing up from nearby camps and this years party had plans to dress in costume to look like one of the guys from another camp.  Or so was the plan…

The evening gave way to a wicked storm.  Thunder and lighting pelted the cabin – the sound of rain hammered our metal roof sounds like 1,000 tap dancing gods above.  It`s one of my favourite sounds and I enjoyed it as I half-way paid attention to watching a movie in the dark.  We`d given up on having company based on our climate and were shocked to see headlights pull into our forest lot around 10.30 at night (at which point I had started to sleep on the table).  A few guys – the closest to our suspect – dressed in their costumes and got some great laughs.  I enjoyed their efforts but found that my walk from earlier had caught up harder than expected and I practically snuck off to bed.

Have you ever been in such isolation?  Can you imagine the feeling?

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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 5 – A Swim Far From Home

Tuesday Morning, Oct 19. 7:45AM
We started today with a blustery 5 kilometer drive on the ATVs.  The only light for miles came from the headlights of our vehicles.  I am huddled on a skidder trail (a skidder is a piece of specialized logging equipment that is similar to a snow plow for a forest – it cuts rough access roads through the woods for loggers to access the trees they are selectively harvesting).  Forst is everywhere (including my helmet) and it`s cold.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010   Day 5   A Swim Far From Home wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010   Day 5   A Swim Far From Home wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

We are hunting on Crown Land today – Government Land that is reserved for activities including hunting, fishing and camping.  It`s not groomed like a provincial parks and there is no maintenance of the land.  When it comes to hunting on it, it`s first come first serve which is why we had to be in our spots before we could actually hunt.  (I would later learn that the hunter on the first watch saw 3 or 4 groups approaching to hunt this same land and turned around when they saw us.  The early bird does get the worm).

We are hunting in this area early in the week when all of our hunters are still in camp.  It`s a big expanse of land and our numbers will be our biggest asset in covering it.

Leaves play a critical role in our hunt.  Although the trees are typically full of color on Canadian Thanksgiving (1 week before the start of the hunt), and we hope that they`re gone when we start our pursuit.  Leaves in trees make it very difficult to see for any distance.  Leaves on the ground offer another dilemma – they make a lot of noise.  A single step on the ground makes enough noise to alert animals from 100s of yards away.

When I first get to my watch, I use my feet to clear a small patch that allows me to adjust my position while making minimal noise.  This is an important step that has to be done early in the watch as the first few hours of sitting is largely to stay quiet so the woods forgets we are there.  Clearing bush half way through the hunt can be enough to alert incoming animals and ruin the effort of the group.  Fresh, crunchy leaves are very difficult to conceal your sound – it`s one of the obstacles to overcome in order to have a successful hunt.

7:55AM
A thick fog is rolling in – there was almost no sign of it 10 minutes ago and suddenly it is heavily upon us.  The haze is dropping closer to the ground at a rate of 5 feet per minute.  There`s a fresh cill in the air and it`s a fantastic morning.

8:45AM
Weather is clearing up and it`s warming up.  This has been a long sit but easier than yesterday.  The doggers are starting at 9:00AM.

9:00AM
Sun is hitting the top of the trees; weather is becoming relatively warm.

A single shot just banged in the distance.  The trend of solo shots continue – this one is also not us (another trend).  Doggers will start any minute I can`t beleive we`ve only sat here for 2 hours – feels much longer.

The radio sings as two doggers plan to meet at a beaver dam where they plan to cross together.  Both note they haven`t seen this specific dam in 3-4 years – these are conversations that frequently amaze me.  The conversation is as casual as many of my friends state they`ll meet one another at a local pub or subway stop.  I don`t know if I`ll ever know these woods this good and I don`t know how they do it.

9:23AM
4-6 shots in rapid succession.  I don`t think it`s us but the forest can play tricks with sound.  It`s likely miles away but I can`t tell for sure.  Have to sit still and listen.

9:25AM
Radio is buzzing with activity – the way I write this may sound like the norm but it`s quite the opposite.  Each call on the radio is a giveaway to the location of the entire line and something that we use sparingly.

The voices are crackled and sputtering from where I sit.  I think there may be a moose down and am stretching my ears to listen as close as I can.  This could be the confirmation that we have something.

9:27AM
A cow (reminder: adult female moose) has been harvested!  One of the two doggers that were planning on meeting at the dam was the marksman – a difficult shot from almost 200 yards.  Well have to sit in place and finish the hunt in the event that there`s anything more in these woods.  Then there will be a long day of work before continuing the hunt.

10:30PM
It`s been almost 13 hours since the animal was harvested.  It`s been a great day – albeit a long one.

Te moose was harvested 500 meters from the nearest road.  The dogger made his shot as she sat at the edge of the beaver dam that was previously discussed.  After being hit she managed to walk about 20 yards before expiring – she chose to walk into the pond made by said dam.  We found her corpse halfway across the body of water – it was about 4 feet deep where she lay.

There is both a sadness and excitement when I see an animal that has been harvested.  It`s a tough combination for skeptics to believe but it`s as real as anything I know.  When you find the animal in frigid water it`s easy to move past emotion and focus on the challenge of the task at hand.  One of our team jumped in the water (the dog in fast pursuit), walked to the moose and wrapped a rope around it so we could pull it to shore.  Two of us volunteered for the task, he was a little quicker to the shore than I was.

If you have to navigate water in the near-winter, the trick is to remove as much clothes as you can before entering the water.  When you return to shore you take off any clothes you were wearing and replace them with dry clothes on the shore.  Light a fire to regain your heat and dry any of your wet clothes.  It`s a tricky balance and can be very dangerous even though we`re fairly close to the comfort of our camp.

We cleaned the animal in the woods and had another bush lunch before my Father went back to camp to get the trailer for the moose.  We took advantage of that time to run a quick hunt; and I had my first chance to be a dogger this week.  It was a brutal walk as I was dressed far too warm (I was dressed for sitting) and I left more than half my clothes in a pile that I would later return to so I wouldn`t melt into a puddle of sweat.

No real excitement came from this late hunt and we returned to camp – we skinned and quartered the meat so it could hang to dry for the week.  I wish our butcher would hang our meat for 3-6 weeks but the influx of meat to their freezers makes this impossible this time of year.  It`s really a shame as this would be the best treatment for our meat but we don`t have a walk-in fridge large enough and the weather outside is too unpredictable to count on it`s assistance.

We went for a third hunt in the afternoon – this time we returned closer to camp.  I walked again and it was a great adventure (Shaeffer decided to stay back and rest on this one).  No great excitement this time although there was a lot of fresh sign.  One particular pile was so fresh looking that I did the nasty act of picking up a piece.  It was cold.

I am new to the world of picking up poo.  Although it`s mostly just chewed grass I can easily admit it`s not something I have a soft-fuzzy spot for.  I don`t have to touch most of it – a fresh pile is shiny while the older fare gets dull and dry.  Touching it (and yes crumbling it) is a way to check for warmth and thus freshness.  I emphasize that it`s mostly grass and quite green and pellet like.  But it`s still poo.

If you`ve been reading for a little bit you know that when we walk towards the line we walk slow and steady.  I stop every 5-10 steps, have a listen and look around to see what I see.  I took a camera on the afternoon walk and took a photo every time I stopped and will share them in a series on the blog – I hope they give an idea of what the walk is like (nb I will post these after the hunt as it`s going to take a few hours to set up the photos one after another and will have up early next week).

The harvest generally allows for a night of festivity.  Beyond our regular meal we enjoyed a night of partying – although we all knew we would have to be ready for the morning hunt once again – after all there`s still an unresolved bull tag that`s left to be dealt with.

The night ended with a quick shower and a solid night sleep.

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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 4 – The Hunt Begins

Monday Morning (Oct 18)

7:00AM
Cold and barely light.  Alarm went off at 5.30.  We`re sitting still untill the doggers start moving at 9:00am.  I`ll be in the same spot past 11 or so this morning when we are planning to meet for a bush lunch.

7.40AM
Watch beside me just called for a moose.  I know the sound I am hearing is a human mimicking an adult female moose (trying to catch the attention of a male) but the sound still excites me.  The caller is an experienced hunter who is in a tree stand (the height allows te sound to travel further).  I cn barely see him if I peer through the thick of the bush.  We had meant to send someone to call last night but forgot.

8:20AM
I have been sitting while barely moving for about an hour-and-a-half.  It`s cold and I`m struggling to settle into my watch and stay conscious.  The contrast of this morning with the speed of my normal life is jarring and I can tell that the day will be enjoyable but awkwardly still.  It`s days like today that the crashing of a squirrel across the forest floor can sound like an elephant and scare you stiff.

8:45AM
It`s cold.  Starting to see signs of the sun but it`s light is only starting to kiss the tops of trees.

9:00AM
First touches of sun are beginning to reach me as I huddle in the woods.  I`m not freezing but I am chilled.  I am thankful that I invested in enough winter socks (they are almost $15 a pair) to get me through the week.  Once my feet get cold, my body will follow.

I am fighting to stay awake this morning.  I slowly transfer my position between leaning on an ATV and a rock.  This allows me to stay silent in position.  I wish I wasn`t struggling to stay awake – very little has to do with being tired; most of it is just from sitting without moving.

The doggers have started moving (my walkie-talkie informed me of this) and my neighbor just made is last moose call of the morning.

9.45AM
The first dogger is out.  There are 3 of them in total and we`ll all stay in position before a few of us move.  The majority of the group will stay where they are sitting and face the other way while the doggers walk a few kilometers and will `push`the bush from the other direction.

These two hunts are refered to as `Wolf Road.`  It`s not much of a road – you`d destroy a truck to drive it through here and the path is so rough that our 4-wheel bikes still get stuck from time-to-time.  The road saw it`s hayday somewhere between the 1940`s and 1960`s when it was a logging road familiar to hardy men and their tougher horses that worked this land by hand.  They would often camp in these woods as they worked even though they were less than 10 kilometers from a `real`road – a trek that took my Father and his friends 5 hours on a good day to travel here in the 1960s and 70s.  My first trip in took that long in the late 70`s before access became far easier in the late 1980`s with another road of forestry and new access roads.

We still find the occasional artifact from that time – generally it`s pieces of metal from a horse harness or other equipment.  I think of these men (and the rare woman who is evidenced by the odd find of a crumbling foundation or settlement wall) when I sit in the woods.

10:00AM
The first run is over, all doggers are done.  I just heard my first shot of the hunt though it`s not one of our crew.  It may have been across the lake that we are near.  After 40 years of existence, our cabin knows most of the others in our area and it is likely we know the person who just made that shot.

It`s sunny though cool – a lot nicer than it can be at this time of year.  A little chickadee has come to visit – funny that I think of them as `cute` and `fragile`yet they live out here through the winter.

10:27AM
I`ve moved positions – the change is helping me get into synch.

I’m sitting at a watch known as “the chair” or “the old chair.”  We occasionally leave markers like this broken stool so people will know where to stand.  This stool (that converts to a walking cane) was the proud tool of one of our hunters about 25 years ago.  I remember the day he proudly pulled it out of his truck and showed off his new toy that would make his watch more comfortable.  I was a child and slightly jealous.  About half of our current hunters were there – to the others it’s simply an old broken stool.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 4 – The Hunt Begins wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 4 – The Hunt Begins wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

It’s amazing ow cold it’s gotten since the sun has come out.  Perhaps tat’s psychological – expecting it to feel so much warmer than is reasonable because of the touch of the sun.

This run should start around 11 (it will take that long for the doggers to walk into position) and should be done by about noon.

A nearby woodpecker scared me silly.  The radio confirms that the next hunter over is watching a martin playing in the woods – he’s describing it on the radio since the hunt hasn’t begun.  I love it when any of us has this type of experience.

Time to put on my gloves.

10:38AM
Second shot of the day.  This one boomed and echoed though it’s not likely one of us.  There’s an outside chance it could be and my heart is racing a little faster.

Controlling your heart and your breathing is a difficult thing in the woods.  After hours of sitting still it is easy to get excited when you hear a shot or  crash of something coming through he woods – excitement, anxiety, pressure, anticipation, and more rush through your senses and affect your heart and breath.  This makes standing still – or holding a gun straight – a difficult challenge.  The best can control their adrenalin through these moments and release it after the hunt is over and I suspect that many of the Fire Fighters we hunt with do this as second nature.  I am not so skilled.

Shots are often grouped in small bursts – 2-3 at a time.  I’ve heard two singe shots so far which indicate a slow start to the season in our area; something to be expected since the amount of licenses for adult moose have been decreasing for the last several years.  It’s getting more difficult than ever to get a license for the adults – we are privileged to be able to harvest 1 adult male and 1 adult female.  Young moose (1 year or less) are culled in higher numbers in order to ensure there is enough food for them to eat through the winter and to keep the population in check.  Surveys of animal population are taken every year in order to ensure the process is managed and won’t lead to over (or under) culling.

I sit and wait.

11:15AM
Next run has started.  It’s windy which makes the entire forest come alive and sound like a highway.  This makes hunting and knowing what is going on even more difficult.  I have seen moose run close to me in weather like this and not be able to hear a sound.  I am quite convinced that a deer managed to walk within 40 feet of me on a day like this and I never saw it; finding the tracks later were a sign of the missed opportunity.

I word my boots too long yesterday and didn`t dry them well enough.  The slight condensation that greeted my feet at 6:00AM has turned into cold.  It is, however, nice and sunny.

11:30AM
Doggers barking now – hearing them close already.  The wind carries their voice like a current moves a raft.

12:00PM
Run is over.  We hear that there`s a lot of undergrowth on the walk.  The forest is closing in and making travel through it very difficult.

We`re heading back to camp though we`ll be eating outside for speed.  Today`s lunch is a homemade soup served in massive bread-bowls that we carve with our knives.  The fire will keep us warm.

1:52PM
Back on a watch.  Most of us try to avoid watching and dogging on the same day.  I have two very different outfits for each purpose – today`s fit is all about layers and staying warm.  My dogging outfit is super light and built for walking silently through the woods.

Lunch was awesome.  The afternoon can be a challenge – belly full of warm soup and body recently warmed fireside.

I am about 15 feet above the ground as I write this – sitting in a tripod stand.  It`s a freestanding structure that allows me to get a bit longer view of the swamp I am perched over.  This watch is called `the hole.`

The wind doesn`t feel cold yet but experience tells me that I best bundle up and hold tight.

2:18PM
Run will start any time.  Bundling.

2:50PM
Run over.  That was quick.  There was a lot of sound but I think the animal I heard was wind.  No sots heard at all.

3.45PM
Another push.  I`ve moved yet again into a nearby spot.

The doggers must have walked 20 kilometers today.  Shaeffer still looks excited and his scattered style of exploring the bush has probably made him walk twice the distance of the guys.  I`ve seen him at the end of each run and give him a high-protein snack of commercially dehydrated chicken (it is the only ingredient).  I`ll keep him well fed and snacking through the day will help him having fun through the week.  I`ll also give him a few shifts off through the week if needed as he`d just keep running until he couldn`t.  It`s a lot of fun to have him here.

The sun has been more merciful with it`s warmth this afternoon though the long shadows of early afternoon and the odd bone-chilling gust affirms that this is indeed autumn.  I`ve not been in the moment today and must find my center.

3.58PM
Just saw a doe (an adult female deer).  I had 3 or 4 good peaks at her before she disappeared.  We`re in very thick forest and I took some video of her that proves how thick the woods are – even though she`s in the frame (I was looking at her when I took it), I can`t find her on the film.  I don`t know if I would have had a shot if this was deer season (late November) but am thrilled to have seen her.

This is often my luck – the wrong animal in the wrong season.  I`m not complaining – a successful hunt is any that results in one of us seeing an animal.  This is the first we`ve seen since the season opened (though the team who was here late last week had several sightings of moose and deer).

She was fairly quiet and what noise she did make could have been easily explained away as the wind had I not seen her.  It would have been easy to miss seeing her – perhaps I am indeed `finding my center.`

4.20PM
Hunt is over.

6.30PM
Called home and then road trails for about 2 hours.  There are a lot of road hunters in the woods this year.  Most won`t have licenses for adult moose so they could help us – or make things a bit more challenging.  Time will tell.

This is one of the post 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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 3 – Creature Comforts

Sunday is, in some ways, the longest day of the week.

There`s a lot of time to kill and you can`t hunt.  You also don`t want to party too hard as tomorrow morning will come every earlier than yesterday or today.  There`s a bit of an excited tension weaving it`s way through camp and we`ll do some light tasks to get ready; most of them are just to keep us busy and help the time pass.

The first order of the day had me working on an h`ors derves to serve later in the day.  We often feast on Pork Hocks for a Sunday afternoon treat which is often served around a campfire.  I decided to mix things up this year and purchased a pig`s head from our local farmer who was pleased to provide me with a part that is often discarded.  There could – and will be – an entire post about how to cook such a thing, why and how to eat it but we`ll keep that for after the hunting pieces.  It did take about 10-12 hours to slowly roast on a barbecue at about 225 degrees.

My principal task for the day was to try to get our TV working.  The first television came to our cabin in the id 1980s and has been there (during the hunt) ever since.  It provides updates on weather and a connection to the outside world (to use a phone we have to hike or drive to a rock that is on high ground and provides the only cellphone signal for miles around) and allows for a neutral distraction through the week.  It`s not essential but it`s a nice to have when 14 guys are living in fairly tight space for a week.  It runs on a gas generator, as does the rest of our cabin (we alternate between this and a system of propane lights and stoves).

I have been trying to establish a satellite signal at the camp for 3 years and today was the day I needed to end the struggle once and for all.

I am sure, for many, that it sounds like a TV would be a disconnect with this excursion – and that adding a few hundred channels would add to that discord.  There`s two reasons why I wanted the satellite to work:

  1. We have an antenna that received a few channels now.  The antenna normally gets shut down after dinner and replaced by a DVD.  The lights go low, volume goes up and we tend to watch a few movies in near silence as each of us slowly drop into slumber and skulk to bed.  It’s tough to stay awake through a movie when you’ve been in fresh air all day; the warmth of the fire and comfort of the cabin quickly lull me into theater of the mind.
  2. Baseball.  The Toronto Blue Jays won 2 World Series when I was younger.  I watched all of the games with my Father – except when he hunted and he watched them at the cabin with the guys.  By the time I became a Full-Time hunter, baseball had become the domain of private networks and we couldn`t see the games at the cabin.  I`ve often imagined watching the games with all of the guys, each of us with varying interest (I haven`t wwatched a baseball game in years) and levels of engagement.  Lights would stay on, there would be side conversations and general merriment and when a big play happened we`d all be drawn to the screen like a fly to light.  Baseball would take us from a dark room of individual experience and turn our evenings back to a shared experience.  That`s how it works in my imagination at any rate.

I ended up having to drive to town again today.  It was a very quick stop to an electronics store to purchase a signal finder which would help with the job.  The transaction featured a strained conversation with a store clerk who easily picked up that I was a hunter based on the time of year and my purchase.  He had recently moved from England and I tried to avoid a barrage of questions he had for me; most of which had a pretty sharp edge to them.  He ended our conversation by stating he couldn`t wish me luck but he wasn`t oposed to what we were doing.  I am empathetic to his stance – was more excited to get back to the bush than anything else.

It took us 4 or 5 hours but a small team did get the satellite going and we will have baseball this year.  It`s an exciting day – one t«t I believe will change not only wat we watch but how we interact.

The day also had some formal business.  We had a safety meeting, planned strategy and conducted our memorial targeting championship that is named after a friend and former member who passed away a few years back.  Each of us had two shots at a target and we would name the `sharp shooter`amongst us.  It`s a silly contest that`s more about bragging rights than skill building but it was a good time.  My Father took top honours; he`s always had the gift of a sharp eye and there were several comments that it was fitting that he would win because he was so close to the friend we were honouring.

We also formalized duties of our sub-teams.  We divide the camp into two groups and split chores – one group has to do inside duties (cooking, cleaning dishes, tend fire) and the other has the outside (sauna, campfire, wood) for a day and the next day duties flip.  It`s a way of splitting up work and making sure guys get the opportunity to rest and that work still gets done.

It`s been decided that I`ll be watching tomorrow.  In some ways I am excited (watchers have a better chance, in theory, to see something) but I am also a little disappointed because I want to be out there with the dog (who will be with my Father tomorrow).  There`s lots of week left and I will get my chances to dog so the best path of resolution is to apply patience.  We`re also having lunch in the woods tomorrow – it will be a long day.

We`re charging radios, checking batteries, unpacking whistles, compasses and maps.  Anticipation is definitely building.

Eating the Pig`s head was a fascinating experience – one that I`m sure many Social Scientists would have adored observing.  There we were, a room full of men in the middle of the woods with the purpose of harvesting (i.e. killing) animals and there was an unease about what sat before us on the table (including with me).  I have eaten like this once before (and consumed parts of the entrée without being served like this several times) and I still found it somewhat confounding.  I knew I`d have to be first.  I showed how to cut a piece, laid it on a piece of pumpernickel bread lined with cheese and bit it.  I had a combination of hot crackling and fat that was similar to butter.  It was rich, hot, a little uncomfortable and fabulous.  As I stepped back another stepped forward and tried.  Soon almost everyone was digging it.

I don`t know why it`s tough for me to think about eating the face of an animal when many of us salivate over it`s back, ribs or butt.  It is a fascinating experience and most of the entire serving was consumed in 20 or 30 minutes.  Not all partook and there was no pressure to do so.  I can understand why some didn`t or couldn`t partake and how most of the rest struggled at times but can`t find words for it.

The day finished with a quick sauna (more on that later) and shower.  I feel like a new guy and am ready for the week ahead.

The alarm is set for 5:00AM.  It will be dark and a touch cold and it will feel earlier than is proper.  It`s time to search for darkness and the comfort of my bed.

This is the second post 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).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting 2010 – Day 2 – The Tribe Arrives

Morning came way too fast – and she arrived with a lot of chaos.

To explain the eruption that started my day I’ll need to rewind to the last moments of the previous evening.

After finishing my journal entry I closed my book, secured it with the magnetic clasp that bound it and sealed it within the inner pocket of my jacket.  The final remnants of my bottle were swilled as I rose from my chair, lit my flashlight and killed the propane light.  A short walk to my bunk preceded a quick disrobe (this is the warmest way to sleep which is why I am sharing this), shiver and a hurried scamper to get into the warmth of bed.

Our closest neighbor at the cabin is about 5 km through the woods.  We are more than 13 from a street light and 20+ from any significant gathering of humanity.  Laying in bed here is a bizarre experience – you see the identical darkness with your eyes open as you do when they are shut.  I can’t see the hint of my hand as the digits hover close to my nose.  It is odd that this darkness, inside, is comforting while outside it can be overwhelming.

I tend to lay in bed, eyes open and seeing nothing.  The transition from consciousness to slumber is difficult to notice as the world is dark regardless of what you are trying to see.  I believe this also helps significantly in a deeper sleep; one I rarely wake from without someone physically prodding me.

Back to the eruption of the morning…

I went from asleep to awake in an instant.  I could hear yelling and screaming and recognized the voice of one of our members (it is his 40th year hunting at our camp).  “GET OUT – GET THE HELL OUT!”

It took a comment to realize that his screams were also on the edge of the throes of sleep.  What sounded like a panicked plea wasn’t – although my nerves were still high realizing that the assailant had to be my 15-month old puppy.  It was going to be an awkward start to the week if my dog was going to lauch wet nose and wagging tail at every member of our crew as they slept.

I scurried out of bed, Shaeffer ran for the kitchen and I threw on some pants.  His ‘victim’ stayed in bed.

Our cabin is two rooms – a bunk room that sleeps 14 and a kitchen/dining/social room.  I entered the kitchen and saw my father standing with a funny look on his face and watched as he threw a tennis ball into the bunk room.  More specifically, he threw it in the bunk of the dog’s “victim.”  We both chuckled, traded a silent hug and settled into coffee around the wood stove.  My host from the previous evening joined me as did the one other conscious member and we all became re-acquainted.  For the entire conversation we all sat shoulder to shoulder and stared at the glowing embers of the fire.

Moose season in Southern Ontario will start on Monday and last 6 days.  The weekend is about having some fun, prepping for the week ahead and tracking.

I knew I had to go to town to run some final errands.  I got that out of the way early – it’s about an hour each way and there were only 4 guys (of our 14) in camp.  I took off around 9:00AM and headed to Huntsville.

One of the guys was having problems with his ATV (All Terrain Vehicle – or four-wheeler).  He left about 20 minutes ahead of me to drive to a mechanic friend that lives on the border of the forest line.  It didn’t take me long to catch up to him.

My friend was 7 kilometers in the middle of a forest on a logging road when his ATV broke down.  5 minutes before I found him a truck had been coming down that same road, saw him stalled in the middle of the road and navigated around him before moving on.  This is a major violation of both common courtesy and the way many of us believe things should happen in the woods.  It’s disappointing to think that had he been there by himself (the truck had no way of knowing otherwise), that my 72-year old friend (still in great form to hunt and be in the woods) would have been found and abandoned like that.  This experience chilled me and became a precursor for a related experience 7 days later.

It took extra time to get to town but we got the ATV to the shop and a quick adjustment had the world right again.

Town was a bizarre experience.  I ran into 3 people that I know – 2 of them I saw 3 different times.  We were all doing the same things – hardware store, liquor store, final groceries and that type of thing.  1 was co-worker from Newmarket but the other 2 were guys I knew from the area.  We’ll never be local up there but it’s times like these that make us feel like special guests and not just aliens landing for a week.

I was heading back to the woods when I stopped at our mechanic to make sure my friend had not come back.  Once I confirmed that I pulled my truck back to the logging road only to see 3 trucks approaching and knew that most of the crew was here.

The 3 vehicles pulled to the side of the trail.  This isn’t a “real” road anymore – there are no traffic signs, pavement, plowing, grading or repairs.  In fact, it becomes a groomed snowmobile trail in the winter.  It’s easy to find places for multiple vehicles to clear off the path and make room for others to pass.

I lined my truck up behind the last one and we all popped out to greet each other, trade hugs and handshakes and have a beer before navigating the final 13 kilometers (which takes about 40 minutes).

There are 14 hunters this year.  9 of us are either the father or a son of another member.  We are all male.

Women have never hunted moose or deer with us (though my mother and Dana are present when we bird hunt).  Women were actually banned from our Moose hunt in the 1960s – but perhaps for a different reason than you may think.  It was several wives who actually initiated the ban – requesting that if their husbands were going to be away from them for 10 days in the middle of the woods they would far prefer there were no ladies present.  None of the spouses or children have shown interest in Moose hunting yet so that separation has remained a reality; one that may one-day change the moment that someone’s daughter wants to hunt.  We’re very focussed on family and keeping this tradition alive.

I drove in with the new crew and the  day continued onwards.  Saturday is one of the best days of this trip – most of the guys are here, everyone is having fun and we know the alarm clock isn’t going to pull us out of bed and into the darkness at 5.00AM.

A communal spaghetti dinner (with our preserved tomato sauce) paves the way for a great night of revelry and our bizarre family of hunters is reunited once again.

This is the second post 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).