5:00AM came early. I was last out of bed and coffee couldn’t come fast enough.
Most (including me) were in bed early; the last went to bed around midnight. My Father popped out of bed at 11.30PM and thought it was time for the hunt – it’s like Christmas morning for grownups.
I’m on Wolf Road sitting near a creek – we call this place Flat Rock (one of two different places with the same name). The grey sky is turning blue, weather is around freezing. The doggers (these three guys sit in the woods like us for about an hour before getting up and walking through the deep forest towards us – in theory “pushing” any animals between toward us sitting on watches) will start their walk around 8.30. All is quiet except for a single hunter who has gone back to camp to get his ammunition clips (and I’ve just realized that I’m not sure he knows where the keys are as I write this).
Sun is starting to throw shadows. Radio call came in – moose sighted on the watch next to me and is heading further from me to the next guy down the line. I am less than 200 yards from a moose right now, waiting, listening, focus. Heart is picking up speed – no clear sight (or shot) for anyone. Yet.
First run just ended. One of the doggers saw a buck (adult male deer) – he was alerted to the animal as it rubbed its antlers against a tree. When the dogger stopped suddenly the deer got spooked and ran. Two of the hunters had a brief sighting of a moose (that’s more than we had in 5 days last year). One of them only saw legs and the other had a brief look at the side – gender and age are unknown. Dad followed it’s tracks on his dogging run – figures it is a large adult.
2 of the watchers now move position and the rest of our group of sitters now rotate 180 degrees and face the other way. We figure the moose ran between two of our sitters and past our line. he doggers will push from the other side and I will sit in the same spot (facing the other way) for the next 1.5-2.5 hours.
It’s a good start to the hunt – so close.
Moing animals cause chaos to our formation – moving chess pieces on a board with infinite spaces (and a fininte number of “good” moves) is made increasingly complex by our attempts to avoid getting lost or standing in the line of gunfire. It’s taken over an hour and most of us are sitting within 100 feet of where we started. I made a big move of about 100 yards. Time to sit. Wait. Quiet.
Shot went off. It was close. Second shot. The radios are silent. Heart racing. Moments take forever. Code 2 just came in – this means that a cow (adult female) is down.
Adrenalin is rushing – meat for winter is now a certainty. There is a bittersweetness that comes with the cull for me. A formal excitement crossed with the reality of death of an animal I beleive I have love and respect for.
A correction has come across the radio – Code 2 has been changed to a code 1 – a young bull calf is down. Having a bull, cow and many calf tags offer luxuries of choice and calls are always made on the safe side (too many of the wrong age and gender are a significant problem that we simply cannot afford). Our tags grant a luxury to the first shooter of not needing to confirm age and gender – from now on we have to confirm both before firing.
The message of the young bull is relayed through the line. We all stay in position – the hunt will continue until the doggers come back to the line and then we’ll work on cleaning and hanging the animal.
Possible cow sighting. Holding tight.
This is a massive contrast from last year which saw us hunt for 4 days before even finding fresh sign of moose and coming home empty handed.
Another shot. Big cow sighted – could be headed this way. It’s a game of waiting and patience – the radio is once again silent. She is between us and the doggers and a large lake forms the base of our trap.
More gunfire and reports that she is hit. It’s an uncanny morning of action and an irregular hunt.
Reports of the cow – she has been hit and is on the run. It’s not something that we like – it’s the worst part of the deal in fact. A wounded animl does not paint a positive mental picture in my mind – the ideal happens when an animal is dropped without ever hearing the bang of the gun. It really can be that quick.
Everyone sits tight. A single dogger quietly tracks her trail If she is not chased she will likely lie down and speed the ending. We hear periodic reports on the radio and wait. Of course she could have already passed and simply be waiting to be found as well.
It’s been about 20 minutes since the shots and they’re losing the trail. Time for the tracker to sit still as well – this promotes the chance of her lying down. We will resume the tracking after a small passage of time and track her past sunset if needed. This could be a long day ahead.
The doggers are back to tracking the cow. Radio traffic is getting heavy and it’s clearly an uneasy time until we find the cow. Tension is apparant in voices – it reminds me of those TV shows which track the Alaskan Crab Fishermen.
This was the end of writing for the day, tomorrows post fills in the void of what happened from 11.05 onwards… See you then!