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).

Comments

  1. Beautiful post, Joel.

  2. Michael was out Monday and Tuesday. Saw several deer but nothing he would hazard a shot at. He’s hunting on a friend’s property who in years past, allowed the farmer next door to graze his cattle on until hunting season. Last year she stopped the practice and in a year’s time the scrub has overgrown so much that the “shooting allies” have become obscured. Michael’s tried it from both sides of the brush but it seems that the deer must be sensing him because when they start to move they always choose the opposite side of the scrub from him. He must be centered enough, he said he had a finch land on his back yesterday! Today is Michael’s last day off from work so his hunting will be limited to evenings while there’s light left, and Saturdays from here on out. We are getting a little antsy because usually by this time we have two deer in the freezer and anything else he gets we share out with other folks and our local food pantry.

    Hunting regs here in Va are pretty, umm, lax, for lack of a better word. You do need a license and proof of a hunter safety course to get that license, but once you have it, you can take 2 bucks and 3 does per person. Once you’ve filled your quota you can get bonus tags for more does. Hunters used to have to stop at a registered check-in station (usually a convenience store or gas station) after harvesting a deer to get their licenses punched and the animal’s ear tagged but now it’s a call-in system. You’re on your honor to call in and register your kills. You do have to use a particular weapon for a particular season: muzzle loader, rifle, bow. I’m especially excited about bow season because we can now use crossbows. That used to be limited to handicapped hunters. Up until the past year I used a Mongolian horse bow, a traditional style bow with shorter arms that made it easy to carry and shoot in the brush while packing more punch than a recurve or long bow. The crossbow gives me a lot more options and power without giving up the mobility. The deer are so plentiful and damaging around here that in past years some of the towns have had to let bow hunters who go through special training and licensing into some parts of the towns during certain early morning hours to try to cut down the “urban” deer population.

    Michael’s been caribou hunting up in Quebec twice now so he’s well acquainted with all the licensing you go through plus all the paperwork he had to do to get his rifle across the border. He’s brought home a total of 4 caribou and we still have a few roasts and shanks in the freezer. It’s wonderful meat and a pleasant change from deer. I chose to opt out because I have a terror of traveling lonely, remote icy roads in trucks. But the photos he brought back were absolutely beautiful and if I could have teleported into that camp I would’ve. Unfortunately on his last trip back out from the camp they had a thrilling moment driving the Trans-Taiga and that pretty much pegged his fun meter. No injuries, a few dings in the truck but no need for repairs, and the truck pulled right out of the ditch they slid into, but when the anxiety of the drive outweighs the enjoyment of the hunt it’s time to stick closer to home!

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  1. [...] His first hunt – although there`s a few more photos and stories about him in the 10-day series around moose hunting, this one has the most of him where he`s the happiest – in the middle of the woods. [...]

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