Thursday, October 21
Things were getting tense today. We`re all getting along but 3 hunters have had to leave yesterday and 11 of us are left with one moose to show for our efforts. It`s not that we won`t be happy with one but the months of work that goes into a single week and knowledge that we still have the opportunity for an adult male had us a little anxious at the start of the day – tension will continue to progress as we get closer to the weekend and don`t have the bull down.
There is also some tension around where we`re hunting. 10,000 acres sounds like a lot of land – and it is. But coordinating the efforts of 11 of us – including finding places to sit, places to walk and ensuring there isn`t a lot of escape routes is difficult. It`s been even tougher in the last few years…
We have hunted our land for 42 years. We hunt a combination of our own 200 acres, some of the 10,000 acres of crown land that we know and we used to hunt other private land that we leased from the owners. Our preference is for our land, followed by private land and then crown land. The first two options offer exclusivity and offer us the ability to alter the landscape – mostly clearing deadfall so that we can see and shoot through what is becoming a very thick forest. This isn`t possible on the crown land and many open fields of my youth have become thickets and forests in only 30 years. It`s an amazing opportunity to have seen the changes nature makes to land in that time period – places we once drove trucks through are now hidden under the ponds of Beavers.
The land beside us has changed hands many times. We usually are granted access by the owners to hunt it – part is a low lease rate paid and part is that we keep strangers off their land. By allowing people they know and trust on their land, we can help ensure others aren`t there.
The land is a large lot – about 1,800 acres. It has been owned by 7 or 8 people in my lifetime and tends to alternate between large corporate forestry (logging) operations and dreamers with wild plans. My favourite plan for the property was from a small set of German Investors who planned to buy the land and build a secret 5-star resort to fly Hollywood Stars to. They would be able to relax in front of a small lake, have top-tier service and no one in the world would know they were there. The plans leaked out before anything got off the ground which disappointed me – I was hopeful Tom Cruise would be next door (even though I wasn`t really a fan).
It was slated for a boys camp, bought for investment and logged from time to time. It has few trees of value left (for the next 30-50 years) but it is a beautiful forest and covered in beautiful swamps.
Lots of swamps. Swamps filled with flies in the summer (this will be more relevant soon) and moose in the fall (in the case of moose, the world `filled` is an exaggeration – it`s not in the case of flies). Retched places that I often walk through, balancing from log to log before slipping and ending up knee-deep in water. They are fascinating places and I often find myself expecting to tun into Yoda.
The land also has access to other crown and private land that we are familiar with.
The land was purchased several years ago and had a different plan. I am going to try to write what I know of the planned activities at the time without bias though it would be unfair not to acknowledge that while I didn`t outright oppose the plan it did raise significant concerns and potentially threatened our ability to continue to hunt – including on our own land.
The most recent plans (now cancelled) were to build 400 time-share cottages and a hotel complete with restaurant, spa and more. The entire project was billed as an environmentally conscious project that would use solar, green roofs and more. It was a subdivision for Environmentalists wanting to relax in the forest. It would also effectively become a town (with a 4,000 square foot cottage built about 100 feet away from our outhouse) which did not acknowledge an access road people have used for 80 years (effectively making access to our land difficult) and could possibly eliminate hunting near town limits.
The project was not sympathetic to hunting – our use of the land (including crossing it to access other land) ended. We requested access and when denied we agreed to not use it.
The only thing that raised my eyebrow was word that 3 beaver dams which have held for 40 years suddenly broke and created 3 new, larger lakes. Likely an odd coincidence as it is illegal to change waterways like that. I know a giant field I have known my entire life (known as Jacklyn`s Field – a home to much wildlife including moose) has mysteriously flooded. I haven`t seen her is 3 or 4 years and it takes all of my will power to not head down that land and see. The public roadway takes us within 500 meters of her. I have many memories there – snow fights with friends, stuck vehicles, frozen watches, getting lost, seeing animals and more. I hope one day to see her again.
I want to make it clear that I am empathetic to this project. Part of it horrified me – part of it fascinated me. We resolved that if it continued we would adapt and we would hope we could continue to hunt and we would do everything we could to preserve our 40+ year history but we could only control what we could control. Any other approach would just add stress about things we cannot control.
When access to the land ceased, we had to make a decision: explore and find new areas or work on our own land, clear watches and shooting lanes and control what we could. The last 5 years have concentrated on our land and it has paid off – the last 3 years have resulted in harvests from our property.
The tradeoff is that we have far fewer options than we used to. We`ve been fairly successful in the last few years so this has been less of a worry. Now that we`re hunting on day 4 of 5 and we`ve pushed most of the accessible land we`ve got, pressure is on.
We started the day at the same place where we`ve been for the last 3. We ran it at different angles and a different time of day. I was a dogger again and am thrilled at the amount of walking I am getting to do this week. I was having a bit of a pity party at the start of the week and it has turned a corner since.
We had another inside lunch – French Toast and sausage. I can`t say how heavenly French Toast is after a morning in the woods. I`ve had so much activity this week that it`s easy to imagine feeling each calorie enter my system and refuel my body. Imagine watching the fuel gauge of a car raise as you fill the tank – I feel like that gauge as I eat after a morning in the wild.
The afternoon was a similar punch. I let the dog rest for one of our runs and he was excited to see me for the third hunt of the day. These last two runs pushed through our land and were walks I am both familiar with and I adore.
Remember the pig’s head? We left it`s scant remains in the woods this afternoon and in the 2 hours it took us to complete our hunt they were removed. One of the hunters heard the bear crashing through the wood, figured it for a moose and never got a peek. He was probably 50 yards (or less) away at the time. We get remarkably close to wildlife many times with a memory as our largest prey.
The day was largely uneventful (other than a close encounter of a bear kind of course).
Evening was fun but there was underlying tension. We were running out of options and the land which had shown much promise and sign in the last few days bore nothing. 1 day left for most of the guys (I will stay Saturday if we don`t have the bull but that will make next week far more difficult) and we`re getting anxious. It won`t be the end of the world of course, but we will try our best.
If you catch yourself cheering for the moose, that`s ok. I once in a while think the same. But I still want to fill that tag.
The night was still a good one. A few games of cards, the world series and a great meal. I was thinking of bed when the headlights of a vehicle started flashing on our walls.
Company is always a bizarre prospect. You never know what`s coming – or whom. Many of the guys crowd a window like a kid looking for Santa and when the reports trickle in that `I don`t know him,` even my curiosity rises.
My Dad knows the stranger – he always does. He turn to me and says a single word – a word that changes everything.
Clint is about my age – in fact I am slightly older (I am sensing a trend here this week). We`ve never met but his hand swallows mine when we do. I offer him a beer and most of the guys get back to the game.
Clint is charming. We trade stories with a small group and I like that he mentions, several times, that he does things `because his Dad taught him to do it that way.`
Clint`s crew is out of tags – they can hunt the calf’s but that`s not anyones real intent. I`m trying to figure out how to approach a topic when he beats me to it, `You guys have a tag, we have our own land and you know how to hunt it. I`m open to teaming up tomorrow…`
Within 10 minutes I`m in the kitchen with a few guys cooking. It`s near midnight and we`re getting ready for a bush lunch. We`re gonna go all day – and I`m going to see land I haven`t in a long time.
This gives us access to the other side of the private land. I`m excited at the option but I still won`t see Jacklyn… or her field (lake?)…
This is one of the posts of 9-straight which chronicle my 2010 Ontario moose hunt which began 1 week ago today. The 9 days will be posted through this week and next weekend and will try to capture the essence of my experiences hunting for local food. The link above will reveal all the posts which have been published so far – as well as the complete series from last year. Last years series emphasized a lot of my personal struggle with hunting.
Every comment that adds to the conversation on hunting (i.e. you don’t have to agree with any of our views – but comments that are exceptionally short or ‘attack’ people aren’t eligible) will count as a ballot in our Food Matters Contest (full rules and explanation here). We hope to create dialogue over hunting and consciousness of what we eat and will listen to all with open ears and open hearts, willing to listen and share with all points of view).