WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 9 – Nothing But Hope

Sunday was a long day.  The phone stayed silent and I refused to make the call.  I was waiting to hear from my Father to hear the final word on our luck for the week.  I knew that the longer I didn`t hear from him, the better.  A call by noon would almost positively mean that they had nothing down – there would just be too much work to do to get out that early.

So I refused to call and decided to wait.

Four or five years ago this would have been less of a concern.  It would have meant that I had less variety in my kitchen while now it means that I will have decidedly less meat.  We don`t buy like we used to and the investment in the hunt ideally supplies considerably more than 50% of our meat for the year.  Failing to harvest will result in the outright removal of that source and it won`t be replaced.  On the bright side, we will learn more styles of cooking.

Coming home empty-handed is also tremendously disappointing.  There`s been more than 3 months of preparation for this single week and 14 of us worked the woods for 6 days.  There is a tremendous amount of effort – and build-up – in getting ready for the hunt.  Being `skunked` is tough to take as a team – and as one of the leaders.  It`s a feeling that will stick around for at least a year and I`ll replay many parts of the hunt over in my head until we harvest our next animal.  I`ll try to learn more about hunting in the rain.

There`s also a bitter reminder about my own independence and ability to provide for my family.  failure would have been disastrous to our family 100 years ago.  I know of some people who still depend on the hunt for sustenance and they don`t have the safety nets we do (i.e. local year-round farmers market and the economic ability to participate).  It`s humbling and does hit some of my confidence.

The phone doesn`t ring until after 5:00PM.  The late call is a good sign – it`s enough time for them to have gone to a butcher, cleaned up and head home.  It could also just be a sign of a call later in the day – and it was.  I`m told very quickly that the hunt ended without success.  The guys had a great day – 3 of them even got a look at moose (the better weather had them moving around a lot easier) but they didn`t get a good enough look to know the age and gender.

This brings moose sightings to 12 in total with 4 guys seeing them.  Add the single bear and we had 13 legitimate opportunities to fill the freezer.  There were multiple deer sightings as well but they weren`t in season so they don`t count.  I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn that hunting can be like this and that it`s not an all-you-can-kill-buffet.  We`ve come painfully close and haven`t had the chance to take a single shot.  The 6-day season is over and we`ll have to wait for another year.

In the days  following the hunt, I reflect on options.  The guys are going deer hunting and I had thought of getting into camp for a few days; a plan that fell through when an unplanned business trip popped up.  Dad is hunting for 2 weeks and will share any deer he gets (I really want to make jerky).  I have an invite for bow hunting in November (which I`ve never done) for a day which I`d like to try to make happen.   We also have some moose left over from last year which I`ll spread out.

Of course there`s also diversifying our menu at home and learning new meat-free or reduced-meat meals which is the thing silver lining.

And that`s how hunting goes.  I don`t regret the week and I`m very excited to get out here again in a year – though I`m thinking I need to do a bit more small game hunting in the fall in case we end up empty-handed again.  But ending up empty-handed can`t be an option two-years in a row.


Thank you all who`ve stayed with this series.  The last 10 days has been almost 14,000 words of posting; the length of the posts and the topic are enough to significantly lower our visits to the site – these posts have cut our traffic in half each of the last 3 years.  I hope you`ve enjoyed them, learned something or found something worth sharing.  We`ll be back to `regular programming` tomorrow. WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 9   Nothing But Hope wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 November

This is the final post in this series.  To see all of the posts in this series, click here.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 8 – Down But Not Out

It’s a beautiful day.

I packed up early this morning.  It was odd to be loading my truck while the remaining guys were loading up for the hunt.  It’s the first time I’ve left before the camp is officially closed in as long as I can remember (although I did miss a complete season when I started a new job 5 or 6 years ago).

The guys help me load as one of them takes a quick scouting trip down the road.  Their plan is to hunt an area north of us and wait to see if the other camp I spoke to wants to hunt in the afternoon.

Plans change quickly in the woods.  Our scout came back from his mission and reported very fresh sign to the south of us.  3 animals have crossed onto our property sometime in the evening.  The number is very important to us as it’s very rare (if at all) that adult males would travel in a pack of 3.  The chances of their being a cow and a calf on our land is very high.

The changing weather bodes well for us.  The animals which have been hunkered down will be anxious to get out and eplore, broaden their food sources and stretch out.

There’s a quick discussion about informing the other camp that we’ve changed plans but I know that they are not awake yet and there’s no easy way to get a message to them without completely disrupting our hunt.  If there had been a commitment to meet we would have held it but we make the decision to change our plans (a call to them later in the week confirms that this was a sound decision and that they weren’t let down).

One of the doggers jumped in my truck and we headed south together as my journey and his start in the same direction.  Shaeffer is wildly confused when our hunting friend jumps out to go hunting and we continue down the road.  He stares through the window, watching him disappear into the thick forest.

My hunt is officially over.  I’m down to the hope that the guys will put something down today.  I won’t know until tomorrow.  I know the weekend will be full of reflection, especially the ride home.

It’s about 4 hours to get back to the city.  45 minutes of that is on the old logging road; Shaeffer struggles to find comfort on it.  He jumps to attention at every corner (this road is full of them) and doesn’t find his peace until we hit the long stretched-out lengths of pavement that are offered by the highway.  At that point he curled up against me and found the solace of a deep sleep.  He will spend much of the net few days in a deep slumber.

I drive much of the way without the radio.  I always find the re-integration back into society a difficult task.  After days of hearing mostly nature, the sights and sounds of the city are nearly overwhelming.  My thoughts are a combination of thinking about the week, hoping for last-minute success for the guys today and thinking about our diet for the year ahead.  I’m also scheming about how I might find a place to hunt deer for a day or two but I try to remain optimistic that the guys will be successful today.

I was less than 5 kilometers from home when it happened.  “It” being the two cars in front of me nearly becoming one.  Everything seemed normal in one moment and in the next all I could see was the smoke of tires under stress and cars jolting left and right to avoid the two.  Despite leaving a large space I found my truck lurching under the stress of sudden deceleration.  I grabbed the dog with a free arm and held on with the other.  A quick glance in my rear-view showed that the cars behind me were also a threat.

As quick as the moment started, it was over.  Not a single car was damaged and traffic continued with all of our hearts racing faster.  But I felt somehow changed – I was no longer stuck between two places.  I was firmly in the city and moments from home…

The last piece in this series will be published tomorrow which will cover our final thoughts and the final word from the guys.  To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 7 – Where I Become Scout…or Warrior

Raining again – but you knew that.

This morning has been confusing.  We had a quick meeting last night and choose where to hunt in the morning but our plans were foiled.  A neighboring camp (there are 3, the closest of which is 5 kilometers away) beat us to the spot we were intending to hunt (it was on Government land which is first come, first serve).  This put a bit of chaos into our morning – we had to gather everyone up and re-plan.  It’s somewhat frustrating as we  all acknowledge that we are running short on time.

I’m hyper aware of time right now.  I’m hopeful that we’re able to get an animal in the morning which would leave the entire afternoon for the busy work of processing it.  Getting an animal later in the afternoon will lead to a very long night and more work for the guys tomorrow and I can’t stay past the morning.  I keep trying to tell myself that there’s still time and hope and I know the guys are hunting tomorrow if we don’t get anything.

The change of plans sees 3 of us circling a lake clockwise while the rest of the watchers head at it from the opposite angle.  The doggers will push to us.  We’ve decided to push the land where the moose snuck past us yesterday.  It’s cold and grey as the guys start.

I’m perched halfway up a steep hill and waiting for the doggers to come through.  Because of our last-minute changes the hunt has been delayed and will be a longer wait than normal.

My Father (who is dogging) came out to me.  No sign of tracks, no sign of moose.  We decided to move 3 guys and push the doggers at us from a different direction and he pushes on.  I walked the opposite direction to get move the closest guy to me.

The hill I descended was steep and messy.  I can see tracks where my Father slipped as he climbed the same hill yesterday.  I was thinking about that when my world was tossed upside down and I found myself lying on my back in a pile of rocks and mud.  Falling in the forest happens just that quickly – one moment you’re walking along and doing just fine and the next moment you’re disoriented and in pain.

The ground is covered in leaves and the leaves make it very difficult to see what you’re actually stepping on.  My fall was caused when I stepped on a leaf-covered root which was wet and slimy.  The root was on a steep hill and I had no chance of staying up – my foot shot in front of me and that propelled me backwards.  I ended up on the ground with my foot pointing skywards above me.  Some falls hurt worse than others (with many not hurting at all).  This one was one of the not-fun varieties – my body had tensed while trying to catch itself.  It’s not a lot of pain but I’m feeling the compound effects of  a damp week.

It’s odd how these moments aren’t ‘bad’ ones.  They serve as a sort of guy check where you reflect on what it is that you’re doing and re-evaluate if it’s worth it and ask how important hunting is to you.  And, as I think about hunting as part of my food source, there is no question of the importance of this to me.  It makes me remember the connection to my food and appreciate it that much further. 

It also makes the idea of mass-agriculture and the meat it produces less attractive to me.  I can’t explain why that is yet and recognize that such effort would logically make the idea of mass agriculture and it’s conveniences seem more appealing.  But for some reason, it doesn’t and I believe our consumption of mass-produced meat will continue to slow or stop altogether (it’s very minimal now, limited almost exclusively to restaurant meals).

I got back to my feet, continued to the next watcher and moved the line.

Nothing in the second hunt either.  I’m down to 1 more attempt this afternoon and time is now pressure.  We’ve only been shut out 3 times in 42 years.  We’ve seen animals and know there are lots around – we just can’t get them moving or get sight of them.

We stop for a long lunch and decide to go out right at the end of the day hoping that’s when things are moving around.  Some of the guys grab watches early while the rest get out on time for the hunt.

I am sitting at “The Fire Hat”:

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 7 – Where I Become Scout...or Warrior wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 November

We have a lot of watches like this on our property – an object in the woods that lets people know where specific watches are.  This helps us ensure we are in the right position which is helps ensure a good and safe hunt.  The Fire Hat is a wooden carving; I think it was a gift to him at some point in his career or when he retired.  It’s easy to find and serves an important part of our hunt.  Other objects like these include a wood cutout of a cow (there’s two of them), a bumper from a boat and a toilet seat.

My hunt is over.  Done.  Complete.  Finished.  My hope last hope is that the guys who remain are able to put something up tomorrow.  I’m disappointed I won’t be able to help but accept that it’s time to go.  We’ll make the most of the evening ahead but it’s time to start to pack up and prepare for morning.  I’ll wait until the hunt is complete and the men are all back before writing my final thoughts and what it means for the year ahead. 

But it is disappointing and I feel it.  We’ve tried everything we could – but there’s no prizes for effort.  I feel awkward that I’m leaving and I’m not very helpful to the group.

I’m going to take the lead on dinner tonight – cooking ribs.  Cooking helps calm me down – and makes me feel like I’m still bringing some value to my guys who are staying when I can’t.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 7 – Where I Become Scout...or Warrior wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 November

I suddenly feel useful again.

Two guys approached me with an idea: we could team up with a neighboring camp which have a tag for an adult male.  We could each choose a run and broker a deal that would increase both of our chances.  I pull together a quick meeting of the team, facilitate what we’re willing to offer and put the decision to the team.  The team approves.

In less than 20 minutes I transform from Chef to lead negotiator and am travelling through the forest on an ATV to the neighboring camp.  It’s a cold drive that takes me another 6 kilometers deeper into the forest and on a clear mission.  The drive is deeply contemplative as I prepare for our offer and think about the men (who we’ve known for years) and who I’ll need to speak with to make the offer. 

There’s a great responsibility that comes with this role that I’m struggling to explain.  We each take great pride in the camps which we are members in.  I am a member of Spikehorn and that’s as close a thing to a tattoo as I have.  This camp is 43 years old and is far more than the 14 men that are here this week.  I’m not representing 14 men on a vacation – I’m representing more than 100 who have hunted here over the years.  Many have since passed on; several of them were buried with Spikehorn shirts or memorabilia.  This isn’t a cabin, a clique or a casual club.  It’s years of tradition and membership is a right of passage that’s difficult to explain. 

The same can be said for the other cabin (and most hunt camps) and brokering a deal like this feels very connected to the tribal roots of this very land.  I feel like the lead Scout who is sent on a solo mission of diplomacy.  I feel proud and nervous at the same time.

The negotiation isn’t long – my visit lasts the length of a single beer.  I table the offer, knowing that some of the decision makers have gone to bed.  The camp is mildly receptive – though they tend to hit the woods far later in the day than we do.  I let them know where we’re hunting in the morning and let them know to come by any time before noon if they want to hunt in the afternoon.  The idea is received with mild interest and there’s no way to know if the offer was accepted other than waiting to see if the team shows up.

I return to camp, return to my ribs and we have a late dinner and a few more beer.  I feel better about tomorrow and feel like I’ve somehow contributed to it, even if that means I can’t be there in person.

To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 6 – Blame it on the Rain

There was a final bit of excitement after I stopped writing last night: we pulled the memory cards out of the few motion-sensitive cameras we have and they worked!  The cameras hang on trees and a small bit of food attracts animals in the area to the right spot.  It’s not enough to keep them around or summon from afar – but it’s enough to let us know if anything is walking around – and, if it is, what time of day the animals are moving.  We’ve never used cameras before and this is a new experiment for us.

The good news is that the cameras showed us pictures of moose!  So exciting to see that they are around us and it’s a definite boost to the morale.  The fact that most of the pictures are at night (it’s colder and they’re moving around to stay warm) and that all the photos are of adult males (which we can’t harvest) is ignored as we were just glad to see that there are animals on the land.  It was an emotional lift for the camp and something that was well needed.

We’ve decided to hunt where we got the most photos (even though they are 4 days old and animals that we can’t harvest).

The rain was as bad as it gets this morning .  We actually slept in and waited for a while before heading out.  It’s an odd feeling – very few times as an adult have I willingly decided to go outside for 3 or 4 hours in the middle of a downpour like this.  As you prepare for the hunt you know you’re about to get your butt handed to you by mother nature.  It’s one-part inspiring challenge and one-part scary.  You just know that you’re going to come back many hours later and much more sore.

There’s not much glamorous about this week but it still feels intensely important.  And, despite the struggles, I am still having fun.

We’ve stoked the sauna before going out – we know that when we come home we’ll need to dry our clothes so we’re getting a running start.

We’re hunting a different part of the property today – I’m sitting on a watch where I’ve never been before in the middle of the forest.  Four of us walked far from the trail and have lined a small section of woods overlooking a large swamp.  We all know time is getting thin and that our luck needs to turn in a hurry.

The radio cracks through the tap-tap-tap of the rain:

I’ve just seen 2 or 3 moose.  They may have swung back across the line.

That’s good and bad.

The good news first: he saw several moose.  Moose don’t generally travel in packs (there are exceptions) unless it’s a cow and a calf.  We have licenses for both.  But he couldn’t get a shot – couldn’t ensure they were the right gender and hunting and guessing don’t mix.  He had to take a pass on them.

Let me be clear: he did nothing wrong.  But there’s many ‘what ifs.’  What if we’d left earlier?  What if he walked differently?  What if?  What if?  What if?

The bad news next: ‘swinging back’ isn’t a good thing.  It means that the animals have possibly run far enough in front of the doggers to not be seen and then turned – before they got to our line of waiting men.

We can’t be positive that they’ve turned but we make some last-minute adjustments which means that four of us move position to where we think we may be able to cut off the exit.  The plan isn’t perfect – by having the watchers move part way through the run we almost become doggers ourselves and all of this noise in the woods is the equivalent of trying to hide while walking through a room of meditating people while holding lit fireworks and blasting Cyndi Lauper from a ghetto blaster while wearing neon.  In other words, it’s next to impossible to do without being noticed.  And being noticed isn’t good – it means that you’ll push anything near you in the opposite direction.

Run is over and I gather with the 3 others that were deep in the forest with me.  It’s still raining and miserable.  We’re glad that something was seen, disappointed that we didn’t have a better chance at it.

The 4 of us filed back in the direction we believed we were supposed to go.  Unfortunately we ended up slightly turned around and while we weren’t lost, we took a longer time to get back to where we started than we should have.  After bouncing off course for about 15 minutes we found our way back to the forest path and then we heard it:


An unmistakable call of a rifle – and it was close.  We quickly fanned out, took posts, calmed our breathing and waited.  A single shot could be the sign of a quick kill or it could move something further through the bush towards us.  The only thing that is known for certain is that it’s within a few hundred yards of where I stand and that’s a great sign.

A gunshot gets your heart racing.  Your senses become hyper aware and you become completely in synch with every sense you have.  Minutes pass slowly as you wait.  And wait.  And wait some more.

We begin to move after 30 minutes.  There’s a gathering point where everyone will huddle and we make our way towards it so we can find out what happened.  Just before getting to the gathering point we turn around the corner of our property line and I see them for the first time: the camp beside us is hunting close by.  Everyone has been safe (we ensure this in a variety of ways) but I realize that the shot was theirs.  We amicably wave but move on in case they have something on the run (we don’t want to interfere).

If you’re a hunter or have been reading closely you’ve probably picked up on something we knew as well – that our ‘getting lost’ is quite possibly what pushed the animals out to the other camp.  And, as much as they are friends, it’s still a little sore to think about.  They may have benefitted from what we tried yesterday – having another camp push the woods may help you see something.

I’m dogging again; giving one of the walkers from the morning a break.  I’m dogless this time – I tried to take Schaeffer with me but when he saw the rain he decided to stay in.  I gently coaxed him with a nudge of his collar and he opted to dig in and stare at me like I was crazy.  He then turned around, went to bed by the fire and grumbled as he curled into a ball.  I think he may have the right idea…

The rain is now in torrents and it’s cold.  It’s relentless and I know that, like each of the previous hunts, the water will be so penetrating that my hands and feet will return to the camp covered in wrinkles.  I’m not sure if I could get any wetter with the help of one of those all-around showers at a fancy hotel.  It’s that wet.

I’ve just had one of the biggest thrills of my hunting career.  I stepped into a tiny clearing in thick hardwoods and then the world came alive: two deer (who had been lying in the protection of thick cedars) transitioned from prone to their feet after jumping 8 or 9 feet in the air.  They vaulted vertically before landing with a thud.  I was within 10 feet of them when they vaulted – close enough to feel the thud when they hit the ground.

When the pair hit the ground they bolted for cover.  I saw them for less than 2 or 3 seconds and their noise disappeared within 5 or 6 steps from me.  I’m not sure I could have gotten a shot off but I certainly would have raised the gun and made a decision.  I regret not raising the gun (with safety on) just to practice the experience and vow I will in the future.  It’s thrilling to have experiences like these.

My heart also sank a little.  10 feet.  That’s VERY close.  They would have been happy to have let me wander past them at 11 feet away and I would have never seen them.  This is fortifying my fear that we’re practically going to have to step on a moose in order to get a shot out.  Considering that we are surrounded by more than 10,000 acres of crown land, stepping on one is rather difficult.

It’s Thursday afternoon and there’s two days left of the season.  Some of the guys are calling home and making plans to stay an extra day.  Even if we put an animal down there’s a solid day of work just in preparing it for the butcher.  This is the first year I can’t extend my stay and I’m hopeful we put something down soon.

Back at camp, sharing plates of h’ors derves prepared by the guys.  A few more got a peek at the deer but no one saw sign of moose or bear.  We’re not even certain where to start looking tomorrow but we know we’re in for a challenge.   It’s going to be a restless night…

To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 5 – Pressing for Sign

7:30AM.  It’s raining again.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining but the rain is really this consistent – and this much of a hassle.  I keep hoping that the weather will get off the fence that is autumn and either turn back to a touch off summer-like sun or throw us into the pit of winter.  Fresh snow would change our game entirely – tracks would be easier to see, sounds would be more discernible and animals would want to move to stay warm.  Instead we’re here with this all-encompassing blanket of grey gunk that plants everything firmly in place.

Shaeffer and I are hunting together this morning.  We walked almost 3 kilometers to this place in the woods and we’ll now sit near silence for 2 hours.  I mentioned in yesterday’s journal that we chose our position this morning based on where others were hunting and this long wait is to try to take advantage of the others moving through the woods.  We’ll sit quietly, hoping the world forgets about us, before getting up and pushing through to the line of other guys waiting for us.

It’s tough enough as a human to sit in one place for 2 hours; it’s even tougher when you’re a two-year old sporting dog.  Our pup loves it out here – despite wearing a few new scratches and sores, he’s always on the prowl of who comes and goes in camp.  If I walk 20 feet down the trail and away from the cabin I’m bound to be passed by a red blur as he races to be first into the woods.

He generally doesn’t get too far ahead, instead opting to make sure I am following before running another 30 or 40 feet ahead before checking where I am and racing to and fro and then eventually pushing another short distance.  Looking at him makes me wonder why science has struggled so hard to find perpetual motion – they could just come to the woods with us and see it up close and personal.

His love of running through the woods is mirrored and then opposed by his loathe of sitting it in.  He’ll tolerate a few silent moments but his energy will quickly shift to wanting to get going again.  I suppose this is why walking through the bush is called dogging – he simply does it better than I ever could.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 5 – Pressing for Sign wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 November

It occurs to me that when Schaeffer pauses after racing ahead that he’s only partially checking that I’m coming.  The more I watch him, the more I realize that he’s stopping to listen to hear the next thing.  I half-way think that his glance back may not be checking to see if he’s heading the right way in so much as looking back to tell me to be quiet for a second so he can tell what’s going on.  He certainly does get excited when he appears to pick up on a scent and runs back and forth a trail, smelling the ground and the air.  It’s an amazing sight.

8:40AM.  The radio crackles for the first time.  It’s one of the watchers:

Some really fresh moose shit here.  Everyone keep their eyes open.

Schaeffer  and I continue to wait for the run to begin.  I’m wearing my lighter dogging clothes and can feel the cool on the air.

The cool is now cold and the grey that was the sky has turned almost black.  Sitting in the forest has begun to play tricks with my head (and the dogs).  Each time a tree cracks we’re convinced that a herd of elephant are coming our way.  A curious chipmunk almost created the canine war of the worlds with Schaffer on full guard and ready to find the ‘bad guy.’  When he realized it was ‘just’ one of the Chipmunks he grumbled a bit and laid down.  It’s not easy being a dog when you’re not dogging.

We’re now walking.  I started by following the proper compass bearing before finding what appeared to be a fairly freshly used game trail (a path made by animals through areas of frequent travel).  I followed the trail for a while until finding a small pile of bear excrement.  It’s the freshest sign I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’ve never felt that about sign before but this was just so fresh there wasn’t a question about it being new.  To be perfectly candid, I looked around to see if I was looking at something left behind by another dogger desperate for a respite and too far from camp but it wasn’t.

Tracking bear is surreal.  It’s not the most comfortable feeling in the world (and, in all candor, I’m sure that the bear feels the same way) and it’s a bit unnerving.  I know they are scared of us and every bear I’ve ever seen has run in the exact opposite direction of me as soon as it’s seen me but it’s still a bizarre feeling.  I also know that we’re in bear country and that I’d be pleased to have this one dispatched from our camp (both because of my own nerves and because it would go a long way to stocking our meat supplies since some hunters aren’t keen on bear meat so the personal share size is conceivable larger).

My feet are both unstable and heavy today.  Even with the benefit of changing boots through the days, my feet are cramped and feel like they’re made of steel [note: at time of typing this which is two weeks after the hunt, my feet still slightly ache].

Many years ago I spent 3.5 weeks in Italy (oh the luxuries of youth!) and walked 12-15 hours a day on the uneven cobblestone of Tuscany.  My prize consisted of a slightly torn Achilles tendon.  Our forest is worse than cobble – there are few pieces of level ground and most of what you walk on consists of deadfall trees and branches covered by a seemingly even plane of leaves.  It makes each step unpredictable until after the moment of committment and there are a lot of slips and the occasional fall.

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 5 – Pressing for Sign wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 November

UGH!  I made it to the line – and so did the bear.

I was a few hundred yards behind the bear when she appeared in front of one of our hunters.  She was running at full speed and he was able to see her (or him) in full glory but could not get a shot off.  It was not a question of effort or ability as my friend is one of the most experienced shots in camp.  It was just a matter of timing and positioning – he had less than 3 seconds to raise the gun, take the safety off, evaluate for safety and make a decision and he opted to pass on the shot fearing that he couldn’t make a swift kill.

We’ve had to pass on animals before.  In my 23 years of hunting big game in Ontario I’ve never had the chance to fire a shot at a large animal always seeing the wrong animal or the wrong gender at the wrong time.  I’ll never forget the cow (adult female moose) that came within 6 feet of me 3 years ago – the first year we didn’t have a cow tag (license) in 20+ years.  It’s less frustrating when one has already been harvested but it gets difficult as we near the midway mark of the week.

I jumped on an ATV with the dog and was transported to the other side of the property where I now sit.  We’ll have another punch before lunch and hope to put something out.  One of the hunters has placed a call on the radio saying he believes there’s a moose between us and the line – this is a good sign and something to get excited for.

The dog and I start our walk.

Started the punch at 12:00 and came out the other side.  I had problems on this walk – wandered off my line and ended up where another guy was walking.  This isn’t dangerous, it’s just wasted effort as we’re covering the same ground.  I altered my route and ended up facing a swamp.  Because of the weather and the encouragement of the sounds reported, I decided to make the most out of a bad situation and thrashed the swamp by crossing it 4 or 5 times.  It was brutal walking but it might be exactly what it’s going to take to get the animals moving.

But it wasn’t.  Nothing was pushed out.

Back at camp.  Team is cooking a bush lunch and I’m prepping hamburger patties for dinner.  It’s a very casual dinner for us (most are pretty formal affairs) but the guys asked for something simpler a year or two back and it’s a tradition that’s stuck.  We’re using a combination of pork and last years moose meat and I’ve taken the liberty to add a bunch of secret flavors (honey, pepper, herbes des provence, paprika, garlic and whatever else I could find).

We went back to camp, lit the sauna and dried out sopping clothes.  I’ve decided to leave Schaeffer in for a rest – he was pretty riled up this morning and wanting to go and I thought it best he take a shift off.  He wasn’t keen on the idea at first but I’ve seen over-exercised Vizsla’s before and they are out-of-their-mind-crazy-zombie-dogs.  There’s a sweet spot between not-enough exercise and too much and I’ve made the call that he needs a break (in retrospect I believe this was a great decision – the dog I came back to was much more relaxed than the frantic one I hunted with in the morning).

CRACK!  That’s just the sound I was waiting for!  I’m steps into the afternoon hunt and there was a massive sound that told me there was something just ahead.  I push on, making sure to stop every 5 or 6 feet to listen for more.

Radio snaps to life:

“Joel!  I just heard a real loud noise between where you’re coming from and where I’m sitting.  I think you’re on something, keep your eyes open.”

All of this after seeing so little for 3 days.  My heart is in my throat, I’m doing all I can to control my adrenaline and steady my hands.  Excitement gets the blood flowing which makes you less than steady and this makes aiming next to impossible.  More than 1 moose has been saved from an early ending by the beating of a person’s heart.

I walk with steely focus.  I focus on my breathing, my senses.  Focus on staying calm.  I could be moments away from something I’ve wondered about for more than 30 years and been trying to experience for more than 20.

I also know that if there’s something here, the chance may go to someone else.  That makes it no less exciting – a large part of my families diet depends on this and the long week is starting to get nerve-wracking.

Nothing.  There was nothing.  I don’t think it could have gotten away either – not the way we pushed that land.  And that doesn’t make it any better – it forces two of us to admit that what we heard was optimism – but it wasn’t a moose.  We likely heard ‘real’ sounds but they were likely the result of the wind stealing branches from a tree.

When I got back to camp I was presented with a business card.  It appears that the game warden paid us a visit but missed us.  We don’t have to do anything – he’s simply left his card to let us know he was by and is near.  We have no fears of a visit – we have nothing to hide.

A lot of people don’t know how much power Game Wardens have (and what a difficult job).  They have more power than the police – they can search your premises without a warrant can seize property and possessions and often travel with police as well.  They also have a brutally difficult job and are incredibly under-funded and under-staffed (our ‘local’ warden travelled more than 200 kilometers to pay us a visit).

The season is exactly halfway done (it ends Saturday, 30 minutes after sunset).  Yes, I`m starting to get a tight feeling in my stomach.

To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 4 – This time, in words

After posting yesterday’s video diaries from the Tuesday of our hunt I asked for feedback both here and on Facebook on the video format.  The feedback was split – many were passionate about liking the option to read for many reasons.  Because of the feedback I’ve decided to publish the written content from my journal – so this is a different take on what was day 4 (and the second day of the hunt).  Kean readers will note the absence of reference to the bear mentioned on the video – it was actually shot on the Wednesday and posted in error – more on that tomorrow.  To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

It’s just after 9:00AM and I’m huddled in the woods with the dog.  It continues to rain and that continues to present its challenges for the hunt.  We haven’t seen fresh sign in days and, even though it’s early in the week, that does begin to play at your mind.

A few years back we went almost the entire week without seeing a sign of anything until the final afternoon.  One of the guys had a quick peak at something but not enough to get a shot off. 

I also remember a few years before that when we had a full week of seeing nothing other than rain and snow.  We were heading back to camp in the rain on the final evening when a loud rifle shot cracked through the woods.  We were all sent back to our watches where we sat waiting for news.  After 90 minutes the dark was too oppressive and we went back to camp (you must stop hunting 30 minutes after the sunset).  When we got back to camp we found out that a young guy had shot a partridge (that he later ate) out of frustration.  Although he had permission to shoot from an elder, much of the camp descended on him for getting our hopes up and leaving us out there.  I think they were more frustrated with our lack of success than the shot of his gun.

Shaeffer and I are sitting on a log – we walked almost 4 kilometers (2+ miles) to get here.  We’ll sit for an hour or so before heading into the hardwoods and proceeding with the hunt.  This run is another 1.5 kilometers – and since the dog runs in circles, he’ll travel almost 10 kilometers from the time we left the cabin until the time we finish our first run.  He’ll probably run the best part of 30 kilometers today while I will walk a solid 15.

The rain is quieter today though it’s presence is certainly notable.  I’ve heard 5 or 6 shots (far way this morning – which is 4 or 5 more than I heard all of yesterday.  The bush is active and things seem to be easier to hear – including a chipmunk that startles both the dog and I and puts us on guard in case any other monsters like it sneak up on us.

Schaffer stays on his lead until we get further into the woods.  He’s restless and wondering why I’m insisting on waiting an hour before walking some more.  He doesn’t realize that we have to wait for the others to get into position or we’ll simply be chasing animals away from us with no destination.

We start our walk around 10:00.  My radio cracks a few minutes into the walk that one of the other doggers has seen fresh tracks.  There’s at least a sign of hope and I know it will go a long way to lifting the spirits of the 11 men we are walking towards.  I know, by now, each of the 11 has had much of the cold weather burrow into their clothes.

By 10.30 I’ve managed to finish my run.  There was some sever terrain and my feet are starting to feel the effects of walking on rugged land.  It’s tough to imagine but walking on uneven ground forces your feet to use muscles that otherwise lie dormant.  It amazes me to watch the relative ease that our Vizsla navigates this land – yet he can make a staircase look like some bizarre contraption from a fun house as he seems to fall UP the stairs in his excitement to get home from our walks.

By 11.00 I’ve been brought to the far end of the property.  The watchers remain in place and us doggers decide to push the land from the opposite direction in case there’s anything in there.  I’m sitting on a log in the middle of the forest that I know my Father has sat on for 40+ years.  I also know that very few people have ever seen this land (including many of the men we hunt with) and the tradition and heritage of this spot doesn’t pass me without notice.  I sit and wait in the rain…

It’s 11:20 when a plane grumbles overhead.  I hear it before Schaefer but then I notice him paying attention to it.  It’s one of the few times I’ve ever seen him notice the nose of a plane – te grumble of its engine is so foreign compared to the symphony of the forest all around us.  I catch myself wondering if moose ever pay attention to it or if the people onboard think of us down here.

By 11:30 it’s time to go.

This walk can be a good one if you manage to stay on dry ground.  I’ve got myself into the middle of a few nasty swamps on this land before and they are a lot of work to get through.  I joke that they are ‘Dagobah’ (where Yoda was from on Star Wars) and they are just that thick, dark and mysterious.  I don’t think enough people get to experience a swamp up close and personal and it’s a real shame – they’re amazing places that are every bit as cool (if not harder to navigate) that rain forests, deserts and the other landscapes of this continent.

The walk took almost an hour.  There were a lot of hills in the journey and not many easy ways to cross the land.  It’s one of my most favourite walks that I know of and alternates between low-laying swamps and rolling hardwood covered hills.  We head back for lunch, th entire team is soaked.

By the time I get back to camp the sauna is roaring.  Our sauna is a cedar-lined tin shed that was made for the purpose of warming us – and drying our clothes.  Most of my gear dried (for the most part) before we’d return to the woods for the afternoon hunt around 2:30. 

I dogged in the afternoon.  It was, once again, cold and wet with little sign.  It is only Tuesday but would be great to see more sign – or for the weather to begin to turn.

By 4:00 I was back at camp, done for the day.  As much as I wanted to head out for another watch, I was out of fully dry clothes and I was plenty tired – and there was much to do back at camp.

The first task came from a text message that somehow got through to the cabin (we don’t normally receive them there).  It was from my mother – she asked me to call one of the other camps (they had called her) that was about 10 kilometers from us.  I had to go for a hike to get a cellphone signal and was able to reach their camp - they had been tracking 2 moose (both believed to be bull moose – one being a giant) near our land and got turned around and ‘stuck’ far from their cabin.  They had been looking for a shortcut (or a lift) back closer to their land but by the time I got the message, they had already walked a long way to a body of water where they were picked up by a friend in a raft. 

We don’t have a license for an adult male but knowing that many people would have seen the tracks who had let us know where some would be hunting the next day.  Because we are one of the few camps around (if not the only one) with a license for an adult female, hunting close to those camps could be of mutual benefit as we could help push animals towards each other.  This forms the basis of a plan on where we will hunt the next day.

We then had a visitor with an offer.  A neighboring camp was interested in hunting with us.  They have access to land which we don’t and we have that adult license that they don’t have.  We’d have a meeting later in the evening and decide to continue to hunt with just our camp.  A big part of the reason is to give guys who haven’t had a chance to shoot an animal yet with the exception of 3 birds, I’ve been waiting 23 years for the chance) a greater chance.

Some of the guys from the first camp (whom were stuck) visited later.  Hunting can be like that – literal tribes of hunters navigating the forest, enjoying visiting and meeting others and sharing knowledge, stories and laughter. 

Later in the evening gave way to the most serious task: bbq’ing steak over an open flame.  It’s a tradition that’s almost as old as our camp; our modern method involves heating a set of tire rims until they glow under the intense heat (firewood is stacked against the bottom of the barrel to choke out oxygen and further increase the heat) and steaks are seared on a rack which literally glows from the heat produced.  It is ironic to note that the majority of our camp is (or were) firefighters and they know how to create the most heat possible (note that both the rim and the grill are actually glowing at points – and the second-last shot shows near-white coals glowing as we cook):

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 4 – This time, in words wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 November

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 4 – This time, in words wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 November

Some were a little more cooked than others (COUGH) but all were pink or rare inside:

And that was day 2 of the Hunt (and 4 at the cabin)!

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 4 – Video Diary of Dogging Through the Woods

Today`s post will be unlike almost anything we`ve ever posted – let us know if you like this format or prefer words.  I decided to shoot a few short videos which may give you a better perspective of what our forests are like and what it`s like to hunt in Ontario.  The audio walks you through the details of what you`re looking at.  A word of warning – each video has short comments after them which are a bit of a spoiler if you haven`t heard the audio:

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

My observation about fresh bear excrement was very accurate.  I trailed the bear off and on for an hour until I `pushed`it in front of one of our hunters.  We had a license and the bear was within 30 yards of the shooter running full speed (they can run over 40 kilometers an hour).

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

The bear ran through thick brush like this.  Though our hunter could see it, he could not get a clean shot and rather than risking injuring it (bad for the bear and potentially those around), he passed on the shot and it ran away.  He had less than 2 or 3 seconds to choose and he made his choice; we all support it without question.

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

Tracking can be just that fickle.  We would later find out that two large bull moose (which we didn`t have a license for) ran across our land and into the territory of another camp.  One was absolutely giant (based on the trails) – I believe both survived the week; but seeing this sign and knowing where they had run would play an important role in making a decision for a later hunt.  This hair was likely from the two bulls as they crossed our land and away from doggers of another camp.

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

THe walking in the video above is far trickier than it may appear.  Your feet never land on level ground – it`s a killer work out for your feet and lower legs.  Having two pairs of boots (one for the morning and one for the afternoon) is a big help.  My morning boots are warmer and heavier  while my lighter afternoon hiking boots help keep my energy up.

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

What is just as amazing as the terrain is the fact that I`ve  seen moose run full speed down and through it – while hardly making a sound.

That was the tone of my day – a lot of walking, a lot of water and not a lot of hope.  Finding the piece of hair was about the most exciting it was on Tuesday.

Do the videos help paint the picture differently?  Are they helpful or a waste of time?  What did you learn from them that was interesting?

To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 3 – I’ll Tell You Why I Don’t Like Mondays

It’s easy to imagine that an alarm clock ringing at 4:45 in the morning makes just about the worst noise you’ve ever heard.  By the time I was awake for 30 seconds it was easy to conclude that was the second-worst sound I’d heard all day.  An incessant drumming on the tin roof told me what was waiting for us and, based on the time of year, the rain was bound to be bitter cold – it was the rain that was easily the harsher of the two symphonies.

I like to think I’m romantic.  I can appreciate the idea of a ‘long romantic walk in the rain.’  I also know that what was falling out of the sky was anything but sweet sentiment – it was simply an avalanche of liquid cold.

Each of us grasped our coffee in the dark of the early morning.  We knew we’d be heading for the woods before the sun climbed over the horizon and, despite the excitement of the hunt, there was a general disappointment with the weather.  Getting cold was only part of the proposal – rain brings more challenges than creature comfort when you’re in the woods:

  1. When the ground is wet, leaves don’t make a lot of sound.  The lack of sound presents two problems:
    1. We can’t hear animals; leaves are quieter when wet and rain makes a unbeleivable amount of noise when there`s nothing else interfering with it.  It`s really astonishing just how loud the rain is if you give it a chance to tell you.
    2. They can’t hear the woods.  And when they can’t hear well, they tend not to move – this makes hunting very difficult and leaves us hoping that the doggers (the guys who walk) practically step on our targets as very little else will get them moving.
  2. There`s not a lot of wind.  This is also problematic.  Ideally we want the animals to smell the doggers and run away from them and towards us – that doesn`t happen with little wind.
  3. The rain fills the woods with smells – I can`t detect the difference but many animals can and find it uncertain.  This uncertainty usually has them hunkering down in the thick, dirty hardwoods and swamps.  It makes for difficult walking and difficulty in finding them.
  4. There is so much water that tracking is getting tough – new tracks look old within hours as they are quickly absorbed into the landscape.
  5. Being cold makes it very difficult to stay still.  Movement = warmth (as well as severely limiting your chance of seeing anything).

I mounted the ATV ( a four-wheeled All Terrain Vehicle) with my Dad and Dog by 6:15AM.  It was still dark as we drove the 6 kilometers over old logging roads to get to where I’d be sitting for the first part of the morning.  I walked about 10 minutes into the woods after dumping the bike and watched Dad and Dog fade into the forest.  They’d be hanging out for about an hour before walking through to the other men in hopes of chasing something to them.  I’m sitting behind them in case anything squeezes around them and doubles back.

You’d be surprised how cold you can get driving 6 miles in the rain when sitting on the back of an ATV.  It’s just as shocking how hot that a 10-minute walk in full gear can make you – and that’s the problem.  Any amount of sweat simply equals moisture and that moisture quickly chills you off when you finally sit still.  My first watch is almost 3 hours of solitude – 180 minutes of trying not to move a single muscle while the cold slowly creeps into your clothes.  The occasional breath of wind shakes any remaining leaves in the forest and invariably turns on a tap of ice water which dive earthward and invariably find a way to sneak into the tiny space between the collar of your jacket and the skin of your neck.

The first watch was much like that.  It’s amazing how the rain can make so much noise in one moment and, in the space of a heartbeat, suddenly seem silent and disappear into the background as white noise.  There was the occasional radio call but not another sound or sight for 3 hours.

I don’t know a lot of people who have sat on a log of 3 hours.  It’s a very different experience than I get to undertake most of the rest of the year.  There’s no email, no noise and no competition for your attention.  Just you and the woods.  Some guys are able to stay focused and be in the moment; I’ve not learned how to do that yet.  My mind wanders to and fro and I do find myself occasionally fighting for consciousness (it’s a MAJOR no-no to lose that battle) and it takes me a while to settle in. It gets easier as the week progresses.

The guys walked for about 90 minutes and then the run was considered complete.  3 of us went back to pick the doggers up and move to a new position while the rest of the line remained in place and the hunt continued with the doggers coming from a different angle.  My Father (Paul) started more than a kilometer from where I sat when I heard the radio call.

“Darryl, have you seen the dog?”
“Keep your eyes out – he was with me but has taken off.”

My heart filled with simultaneous pride and fear.  I dropped the guys off and knew than Darryl was about 750 meters from my Father.  There was a lot of land between them and this was Schaeffer’s first time ever leaving my Father or I.  Our old dog (an awesome redbone-bluetick hound dog named Bud) would disappear all the time; it’s just what he did.  He’d come back or we’d get a phone call when he got too far from camp (once he was found almost 20 kilometers away and another night he crawled into a police car and ‘demanded’ they take him home).  But that hasn’t been Schaefers’ style.

I was excited because I could see him feeling more comfortable – and I know he knows more about these woods than I ever will.  But he’s my pup and it’s how I felt.  I sat in he cold rain alternating between trying to stay perfectly calm and just trying to ignore the situation – there really wasn’t much I could do.  The next radio call came in 10 minutes later:

“Paul call.”
“Go ahead.”
“He’s with me, happy as can be.”

I would later find out that he was rather enamored with the idea of a gummy bear that Darryl had given him earlier in the day.

There were some far-away shots around 10:30 in the morning and then nothing but cold and rain.  Despite the weather I was having fun – weather like this offer its challenge as well as reminds me of just how important I clearly feel this task is.  I’m not here for sport – I’m here, in part, to try to feed my family with something I wholly believe in with all of my heart.  It’s not something we talk a lot about but I know I’m not the only one here who feels the same; we’re all madly dedicated to how this forms part of our diet.

We mercifully headed back to camp for lunch.  While we’d intended to have a bush lunch we opted for eating in the cabin to get back some warmth.  Bush lunches are always a homemade soup poured into a sourdough bowl:

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 3 – Ill Tell You Why I Dont Like Mondays wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 October

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 3 – Ill Tell You Why I Dont Like Mondays wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 October

The walking was tough on the doggers.  One of the guys was really sore and my Father had fallen on his walk.  I jumped in for the run for the afternoon.  This meant wearing lighter (and initially drier) clothes but that keeping warm was also a bit easier as I’d be walking about 5 kilometers (with 1.5 of them being through very difficult terrain).  The second part of the walk would present a challenge to stay cool as much as it challenged me to stay warm.  Staying dry was out of the question.

Some of my walk was through the middle of swamps.  It’s tricky walking as your feet are never on flat ground and you have to question each step before you make it.  It’s as physically challenging as it is mentally.  Crossing a swamp is a nasty (yet somehow fun) challenge that’s magnified by the rain.  There’s water everywhere you step – above, below and everywhere in between.  All of it seems to be on a quest to find any bit of warmth it can find…

As I came through one swamp I realized I was stuck.  There was a creek which framed the outside of the bog- I’d have to find a place to cross if I wanted to be on dry ground.  The creek was 4-6 feet across everywhere I looked (Schaeffer just walked through it and looked at me like I was crazy when I didn’t.

I found a place that looked ‘just jumpable.’  Jumping in shorts in the warm summer sun is one thing – when you’re in multiple layers of outdoor clothes and starting perched on a slippery log, the distance you can cover is considerably different.  I found a place that was between 3-4 feet and looked doable.  I took a deep breath and launched myself, stretching one leg as far as I could, hoping it would hit the shore.  My initial relief of hitting the other side faded in milliseconds as my foot kept going – sinking almost to my knee in a murky mess.

My forward momentum was all about commitment and I continued to propel forward, leaving my foot behind.  I’ve done this before and one of two things happen.  Option #1 is that your sunken leg doesn’t move because it’s in a vacuum of mud or worse (i.e. a pile of roots) and you’re likely to break a bone or a joint.  Option #2 is less painful but not much fun – the ground agrees to give you your foot back after you’ve passed it and are spinning towards it.  Thankfully I had door #2 – Einsteins theory put me face first into the earth, my entire body smacked the earth in a single moment (like a champion belly flopper in a pool) before I could scramble to my feet.

A fall like this means a complete reset.  You check your gear, your gun and your body.  Check to ensure nothing is broken or missing and you pick up whatever you dropped – which generally includes small bits of ego.

And, yes, I was having fun.  And appreciating food and my connection with it.  It’s moments like this that explain, in part, the ritual celebration when an animal is harvested.  It takes a village of us and every ounce of effort we have to work together to provide for ourselves.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to happen on that run either.  We returned to campy by 5:00PM empty-handed.

My day wasn’t over yet though – I put on my coat from morning (now ‘sort of’ dry) and went to a tree stand to sit by myself.  I made a few moose calls and waited…

I waited for almost 2 hours before a martin ran across the field in front of me.  I got to watch the little dude play for a few minutes before he disappeared back into the forest.

The irony that Dana was back in Toronto getting ready to go to meet Hank Shaw (one of my hunting heroes) at an event hosted by another friend (the lovely Ivy Knight) while I sat in a tree stand didn’t escape me.  As much as I wanted to meet Hank, I was glad to be exactly where I was – rain and all.

To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 2 – Football, Technology and an Early Sleep

Sunday started late for me.  Schaeffer continued his morning tradition by waking up everyone but me (he seems to have learned that trying to wake me is a fruitless task so he ignores me in the morning and tries to wake everyone else).  Since the hunt doesn`t begin until tomorrow, many of us took our time getting out of bed and beginning the day.

We`ve had another day of bleary weather.  I`m very hopeful the weather will turn or this week is going to be more like swimming than hiking.  It`s been a few years since I`ve hunted in the rain but I know I`d far prefer snow over water as it`s easier to stay warm when your dry.  Besides, I`ve got a lot of gear that`s perfect for cold and I`m a little unprepared for rain.  We`ll find a way to make the best of it whatever happens.

A few scouting crews left earlier in the morning to check the land around us.  They`re checking for tracks – and a few are checking motion-sensitive camera that we`ve put on our land.  The cameras will show us what walks past them and will give us an idea of what time of day animals are moving around the land.  It`s our first year using cameras and I`m as excited about their effect on morale as much as I am about what could appear on them.  The cameras capture pictures, the time of day they were taken and record the temperature of when they were taken.  It`s our first year using them and I`m excited to see what we learn from them.

Since the day is gloomy, there was a lot of time hanging around the cabin.  We watched football courtesy of our gas generator as we waited for the small groups of scouts come back from the reconnaissance trips.  The mood is calm but palpably exciting – there is much hope for the week ahead and passing moments serve to get us all the more excited for the week ahead.

Schaeffer and I got out for a walk.  He dove into the woods and found an old tennis ball he must have deposited there in the spring or summer.  I was rather surprised given that we were almost a half kilometer away from camp at the time.  He insisted on playing fetch and we did so for more than a half an hour:

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 2 – Football, Technology and an Early Sleep wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 October

We had a camp meeting – discussing safety, the plan for the week and discussing ideas on the general plan for the week ahead.  The meeting is generally very light-hearted although there`s lots covered to set the plan for the week ahead.

Part of our Sunday tradition includes picking two teams for the week ahead.  The teams alternate chores – a team does the inside chores one day (cooking, sweeping, cleaning) while the other does the outside (firewood, sauna and water).  My team is on outside duties today; our biggest challenge is pulling tomorrow`s meals out to defrost (especially the soup which we`re intending to eat in the woods, weather permitting).

I made time to sharpen my hunting knife using a diamond sharpener I bought for my Father.  My knife was woefully dull and I was really happy with the results.  These small hand units make precision sharpening a breeze – you simply draw the blade through the holder, ensuring the red wheels spin which indicate that you`ve alligned your knife correctly:

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 2 – Football, Technology and an Early Sleep wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 October

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

My big challenge of the day was to calibrate a bunch of the guys GPS units.  Our handheld devices are similar to what you have in your car except they show us topographical maps of the natural landscape around us.  I`ve been working on creating  a custom map that shows us the roads, trails and hunting spots that we`ve used for the last few years.  I hadn`t shared what I was working on with the guys until I knew I could transfer it.  It`s pretty exciting to me to see the excitement as I hand over their custom maps.  (It`s taken a few years to learn how to map our land like this; if there`s sufficient interest it`s something we can share at WellPreserved though I don`t know how many people here it would interest).

If this post sounds a bit all-over-the-place, it is.  The day was much like that – a great day of relaxing, doing fun chores and quietly focusing on the week ahead mixed with a lot of hope that the weather will turn.  The alarm will go off at 5:00AM or earlier – we all head to bed at a reasonable time…

To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 1 – Running in Quicksand

I am certain there`s a million better writers who have lamented about the reasons why time flies when you need it to crawl and why it dithers when you need to find the accelerator but you`re reading this and you`re stuck with me.  And I fought time as hard as I could today.  Needless to say, when you`re fighting an eternal entity and you`re a mortal, you`re bound to lose.  Each step closer to leaving for camp put me somehow one step further behind; I`m sure you`ve been there.

Today started late – I slept longer than I had planned and that bled into my final tasks for work which both started later and took longer to complete than planned and the cycle continued through to blog posts and then errands.  There just always seemed to be ‘one more thing’ to do before I’d be free to head in to camp.

I’m sure the weather hasn’t helped; it’s been raining grey today.  You know that special kind of gloominess – grey clouds lurk overhead and stretch to the skyline where they kiss their own reflection before plodding a dismal path to your feet and the reflection of the puddle you stand in.  You could swear that the moisture licking at your exposed skin are pieces of that very gloomy sky as opposed to water just completing another cycle from land to sky and back.

Despite my personal frustration that leaving for camp seemed to be an eternal quest, the truth is that it was a lovely start to the day.  I had a chance to gather my thoughts, complete the things that needed doing and once certain I could leave it behind I was able to put my wheels on the dirt trail that would take me to camp.  But let’s back up and talk a bit more about the time I had while running through town, dusting off the final pieces of a check list that would take me into the depths of the Ontario forest for the week ahead.

I popped by the local butcher, realizing I had forgotten to prepare or bring any type of hors d’oerves (an annual tradition that each hunter joins in on).  The butcher shop was postered with sentences like “Do you know where your meat comes from? We do…” and this tongue-in-cheek phrase:

WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 1   Running in Quicksand wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 October

It was a blatant reminder that many of the critics of the local food movement who claim it is a urban-upper class and exclusive movement haven’t stepped out of the city themselves.  I know more preservers and local food people in the country than I do in the city – albeit many wouldn’t know (and would chuckle to hear about) any form of a ‘movement’; it’s simply how they live.  I spent a few years (ages 2-5) growing up in such an environment and perhaps that’s the root of my strong sentiment around it.

When I entered the butcher shop, I realized I’d made a mistake.  What they had been lovely – but it was also tremendously scarce.  They apologized (needlessly) and began to explain but I knew exactly what was happening.  Any butcher in Ontario can process wild meat – but must empty their shop of all domestic meat, perform a thorough cleaning and then bring in the game.  It must all be exited from the business before domestic product is returned.

I’m skeptical of the reasons (‘health’) although not nearly enough of an expert to be qualified to be so.  I find it unfortunate that butchers can’t make a living selling to regular customers during this time (and since it is illegal to sell game, regular customers must go elsewhere for the month that is moose and deer season) and it prevents us from ageing game more than a few days.  I sometimes (often) dream of having a place I could age game for 20-40 days…

Town was full of Hunter Orange.  It was clear that there are lots of people around for the same reasons we are.  Many knowing nods are exchanged and I find myself so curious to know what the stories of these other camps are.  There’s more than 40 years of history to ours and surely there are similar stories  all around.

My truck hit the dirt around 1:45.  I was kind of surprised that I was only 2 or 3 hours behind my ‘best case.’  As soon as the wheels hit the dirt, time became irrelevant and I laughed at how uptight I had been about it in the previous hour.  It was nice to be on the way.

‘Dirt’ means 45-60 minutes of rough driving on abandoned logging roads.  To give you the idea, I shot two short videos of the drive in (one facing me as I drove slowly across the road and a second facing the road). I’m driving about 10 km per hour (5-6 miles per hour) and am not on a proper road which is why I filmed (I wouldn’t do this on a highway):

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

After an hour of that, our ‘driveway’ is less than a kilometer of extremely rough roads (it’s actually a logging road that’s existed since this place was forested with horses).  Here’s a sample:

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

It was great to get to camp – as you’ll see in the last video, Schaeffer was doing just fine and excited to see me – the audio is somewhat humbling so if you’d like to watch it on mute, I’d be indebted really. WellPreserved Goes Moose Hunting – Day 1   Running in Quicksand wellpreservedmoosehunt2011 October

a video by Well Preserved on Flickr.

The rest of the day was delightfully slow.  The hunt doesn’t begin until Monday so Saturday devolves into quite the party.

I made two garlic-herb breads to go with our preserved tomato sauce that made for an awesome dinner:

And all was going smooth…

The last of the crew pulled in around 8:00PM.  My Father and I were told, along with others, to have a seat in the kitchen as there was a surprise awaiting us.  I grabbed a seat and the door opened…

Our surprise was my second-cousin Steve.  I hadn’t seen him in years and he hadn’t hunted with us in more than 10 years – and he came to join us for the week (we had an extra bunk this year so there was plenty of room for a 14th guy).  A fantastic celebration followed and the party lasted late into the evening…

That concludes what I’m sharing of the first official day in camp – more to come tomorrow!  To see all of the posts in this series, click here (a new post will be published every day through Sunday, November 6, 2011).