We evaluate a successful hunting session (known as a “run”) by a criteria that many may be surprised at. It’s a simple quantitative measure and is the response to a single question.
“What did you see?”
An unsuccessful hunt always has the same answer – a game we’ve played for as long as I remember. The answer is, “Everything I looked at.” It’s the answer you hear after most hunts – and the question you ask of all 13 guys when you meet up again. It’s a repeated pattern and a game you lose if you forget and simply answer, “Nothing.”
Eager hunters will often answer the question with what they heard as opposed to what they saw – I suppose substituting one sense for another has to count for something. “Saw nothing but I heard a few promising cracks over that way…” Hunting is for eternal optimists – 14 men working together for weeks for an end goal that happens in seconds.
A successful hunt, for us, is someone seeing an animal. Shooting is a distant second place. We saw more than 20 deer during moose hunting last year and had a single peak at a moose. We saw many moose 2 weeks later in deer season and didn’t see a deer. We can’t control what’s in there – working together to accurately predict where an animal might be and getting to see it in nature is a moment of great enjoyment.
I accept that it’s difficult for many to accept that Hunters actually respect (and many adore or love) the animals they chase. Some will never accept that this can be true – and perhaps they are correct. I am not the authority on the subject – merely an eye witness. I don’t imagine that the pig farmer looks at his or her piglets and dreams of their demise. Same with the meat farmer. Same with many of the hunters I know. The moment of harvest is bittersweet and offers a debt of guilt to it’s perpetrator.
The amount of guilt/ reflection taken on by each is different individual by individual but it is rarely a light moment of unconsciousness. It is a moment that makes me very conscious of what I consume, what I waste and of the greater impact I have on the world around me.
We were at the cabin during Canadian Thanksgiving when we went for a ride on the ATVs. My Parents rode on a bike ahead of us, Dana, Shaffer (the puppy) and I were behind. I noticed my Dad’s machine lurch to a quick stop when I rounded a corner. He jumped off motioning into the woods. I scanned the woods with open sockets until I found the apple of his eye and here she stood:
This is a young adult female moose (called a “cow). She is 1.5–2 years old (approximate) and is now on her own. She was on the road when my Father turned a bend – she quickly trotted into the forest until she considered herself to be a safe distance from him. She watched us for a few minutes (while not entirely uncommon, this is not a frequent behavior either) before darting into the woods. We stood, excited, happy, smiling. It was thrilling to have Dana and my Mother there to experience it with us. It was a great moment and was great to watch her trot away (almost silently) into the woods behind.
Shaffer also got into the act. We walked him over to her tracks – the freshest moose tracks he’d ever seen. He was beside himself with excitement – smelling, digging and licking at the tracks. It’s amazing how the instinct of a 12-week old puppy can kick in like this.
Do I wish it had been hunting season? In part, yes. But that’s not the overwhelming emotion. I don’t see a moose as an enemy or soulless product to consume. The prevalent feeling is one of excitement to interact with nature and to have seen her in her environment. It’s a feeling that reminds me of going to a fall fair or farm in grade school and seeing cows, pigs and chicks for the first time.
The goal of hunting is, in part, to provide sustenance for myself and my family in a way that I can morally justify. That’s not the entire goal though and it’s easy to overlook that, even as a hunter.