Tag Archives: Hunting

Bears and fruit trees, part two

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent themes (false beliefs) that are pervasive about the human-bear relationship. What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. Other posts in this series are, ‘How to make bears and fruit trees get along‘ and ‘Bears and fruit trees, part three.’

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #2: We are not in competition with bears

Many people don’t understand that, despite trappings of modern civilization that buffer us from this reality, we are in direct competition with wildlife for our existence. Not only have we lost sight of this fact, but we have also begun to believe that there is a way to ‘live in harmony’ with nature and we work hard to convince ourselves this is achievable.

If you are one of these people, then you are wrong to think this way and here’s why.

Everything out there is trying to make a living just as we are, from the bears, to the fish, to the squirrels, to insects, and bacteria. Since humans have walked on this earth we have been in direct competition with nature for resources and thus have fought to protect these resources. If we weren’t successful, we starved.

Historically, humans hunted for our food and thus we understood our direct relationship with the natural world. We understood that if the wolf population was too high the deer numbers would be low and this would threaten our chance of survival. Consequently, humans understood we needed to kill some wolves in order to protect the deer numbers and, in this way, indirectly protect our own species‘ survival. We understood we were, and must be, part of that equation.

Today, every time we spray our lawns with insecticide, every time we build a new home, each time we pave a road, each time we build a shopping mall or a university, each time we fell trees to make lumber, every time we fill our gas tank, every time we buy some product that has been shipped half way around the world, every time we buy packaged food from the grocery store, and so on, we displace and destroy (or already have replaced and destroyed) the native plants, insects, birds and animals — and the resources they depend upon for their survival — that previously existed in the are area in question for our benefit.

Today however, few people would recognize the environmental cost to changing a track of forest into agricultural land and the inputs necessary to raise a cow, or a pig, or even an acre of soybeans to grow food for humans. Few would understand that it is environmentally more sound to keep the forest in tact and harvest a moose who is perfectly suited to that forest and requires no artificial inputs, let alone be willing or able to make the lifestyle changes necessary to manage that resource.

Only those who can afford food can ‘afford’ to entertain this false belief system.

Few people in North America today rely on hunting or raising food on their own land for their direct economic survival. Instead, we have accepted that large swaths of nature should be severely altered (if not completely destroyed) in order that we can live in city suburbs, and that agricultural (and other) products can be made cheaply and can be transported long distances to us. So it is not that we are no longer directly in competition with nature, rather that the competition is out of sight and out of mind. We are no longer aware of it because we don’t see direct evidence of it on a daily basis.

California’s bears and other flora and fauna have been displaced and/or all but been destroyed, its landscape severely altered to make way for suburbs, highways, orchards and market gardening, and its waterways re-routed for irrigation, as have the Okanagan and Frazer Valleys in British Columbia, great swaths of the prairie provinces across Canada and the USA, and the Niagara region of Southern Ontario. These areas are some of the major agricultural production areas on which we North Americans depend most for our food production and, therefore, survival. That these areas were once wild, and remain domesticated only by force and vigilance, is an idea forgotten or ignored only by those who can afford to buy food instead of growing it themselves (provisioning). It is only those whose economic livelihood is not threatened, those who live an indirect economic lifestyle by selling their time for a wage so they can buy food, clothing, housing, etc., for their (indirect) survival, who can afford to uphold the misconception that we are not in direct competition with wildlife for our existence.

We all are in competition with nature, even urban dwellers. Ironically, it is urban dwellers who are, not only the most food insecure because they are more dependent upon an agricultural production and distribution system that is completely out of their control, but also often the most unaware of how much competition they are in with nature for their survival. How many urbanites consider the tons of pesticides that are sprayed annually on wheat alone to keep the average crop from succumbing to weevils? While weevils are not bears, they too compete directly with us for our wheat!

Which brings me to two other important points about direct competition.

The privilege of living close to nature

We have developed strategies for competing with all aspects of nature, from traps (mice and rodents), to fungicides, herbicides, insecticides (molds, weeds, bugs), to windbreaks and rip-raps (erosion by wind and water). We have become so conditioned to these agricultural weapons that we no longer see them as such. We certainly don’t see weevils on par with squirrels, or squirrels on par with grizzly bears.  Many bear enthusiasts would not object to a farmer spraying crops to prevent weevils from destroying it but would be horrified if the same farmer shot a bear to protect his apples. However, if you were dependent upon the apple crop for your livelihood, or to keep you from starving, you wouldn’t. The privilege of a full stomach affords us the luxury of seeing these two actions as vastly different.  Today, most North Americans would tell me to go buy the apples from the store and save the bear because they are no longer engaged in direct economics and can afford to be blindly unaware of the cold hard realities of what it takes to put food on their tables.

If you have a stomach full of food bought from the grocery store, then you can afford to see squirrels, deer, hawks, and bears as part of the wonders of nature and feel ‘privileged’ that they are traipsing through your yard and let them eat your berries, apples, and carrots. But even then, there is a big difference between tolerating squirrels, deer, and hawks, and tolerating bears and other large predators. Squirrels can’t kill you but large predators can. In order to keep our yards and communities safe, we cannot tolerate large predators in our human settlements, period.

However, if you are dependent upon the food you raise for your economic survival (directly or indirectly) you cannot even afford to let the squirrels eat your strawberries or the deer eat your apples. Imagine that every time a deer came in to your yard you lost 1/3 of your annual wage. How long would it take before the joy of seeing a deer to wear off? How long could you ‘afford’ to feel privileged at losing 1/3 (or more) of your annual salary? In order to have food security, you must have the right to defend the food.

In Defense of Food

In short, humans have a right to livelihood. By that I mean the right to grow food instead of selling our time, collecting a wage, and then spending it at ‘the store’ (where cheap food magically appears). We therefore have the right to defend our food sources just as we did in the past. Salaried employees don’t lose wages when a bear comes through their yards, why should a provisioner or farmer? Some will argue that that should be part of the cost of ‘doing business’ as a farmer. Many will argue that I (and other farmers) should buy electric fencing, install bear proof feed bins, build bigger, stronger, bear proof chicken houses and so on in order to prevent the bear conflict. I am against this line of thinking for three reasons: this argument is based on false belief #1 (that humans can control bear behaviour by removing all attractants); there is little enough (if any) profit to be made in farming these days and the additional cost would make their products out of reach for many consumers; and finally, fencing out large predators and leaving them to roam the neighbourhoods around fence lines does not promote human safety.

If we want sustainable farming to be something that younger people choose as a career, if we want food security for our communities, if we want to have agricultural animals raised ethically and humanely, if we want good clean safe food, if we want the right to livelihood, then we have to support those who are willing to do the work and make it worth their while. Otherwise, we will have to accept that those farmers who could get well paying, secure jobs elsewhere, should get them; that we will have food insecurity; that we will give up our right to livelihood; and that we will have to rely upon the corporate agricultural production and distribution system.

Finally, because we all need to eat and that act displaces large tracks of wilderness in order to ensure our survival, then the cost of maintaining wilderness with its full compliment of flora and fauna, in parallel with local food security, should be borne by all society, not just those who choose to live close to the wild and raise our food.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Searching for that 1%

My moose all opened up for cooling.

“What you’re looking for is 1% of a moose,” Dave said softly to me as we followed some fresh tracks in the snow, “You’re not going to see 99% of him.” Then slowly bringing his hand up through the air between us, he motioned delicately through the air as if caressing part of the woman he loves, whispering, “You’ll see a leg…”. That example clearly outlined, he shifted his body posture completely to prepare for the next example. He stood up tall, arched his neck and head the way a horse does just before it is going to strike out at you, and brought his hand to his face before placing his index finger down the length of his nose. “You’ll just see the tip of his nose…”, he growled, and his face loomed over me while his body squared off with mine in an aggressive stance. Maintaining that pose, he brought his other hand up to the side of his head, placed his thumb in his ear,  before extending his arm to its limit, whispered, “Or an antler,” and for a brief moment he was a moose. Then, softening, he turned and pointed at a patch of willow brush, his hand tracing a half moon through the air: “Or, you might just see his butt.”

There was a pause in the lesson. I could see he was lost in the memories of various hunting trips past where moments he’d just described had unfolded before him time and time again. This is what makes David a good teacher: not only is he a very experienced man, but also he has a minutely accurate recall of events, and uses them to punctuate his lessons. Suddenly back in the moment, he looked directly at me and his eyes drilled through my mind, riveting the moral of the lesson on the back of my brain: “What you’re not going to see is a whole moose.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. But the point he was making will stay with me, as will this next lesson. It was the morning of the big day and he was revisiting things he’d said several times before. “I can’t stress this enough Kristeva,” he said. Then, he contextualized the lesson by footnoting the pedigree of this knowledge: “My dad always stressed this to me and so I’m going to stress it to you.” I was struck, once again, by the fact that Dave was referencing his father as he often did when teaching me something, and that his father (Clarence) often referenced to his own father also when teaching me something. This family is steeped in a tradition of oral teaching and thus, a lot of this knowledge must stretch back hundreds of years.

Like his father before him (and I suspect his father before him!), Dave never just says something with his mouth. Instead, his whole body has a role to play in the sharing of information. The more important he deems the information, the more body parts are engaged in the dictum. He leaned towards me and his right shoulder grazed my left one. “The hunt is not over until you’re back in camp,” and his hands became quad bikes moving along imaginary trails and parking in front of the cabin. “And your gun is hung up,” — hands, no longer quad bikes, were daintily gliding through the air as if hanging women’s lingerie rather than a gun-strap!

“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it… you know, guys on their way back to camp…” his hands came up to squeeze down hard on the imaginary throttle before me, “buzzing home as fast as they can like the hunt is over… you know, just because they’ve turned back towards home.” The look of disgust washed across his face as he pointed to the imaginary hunting camp that ‘those guys’ were rushing back to. He was stressing how we should come home as slowly and attentively as we head out. He implored me regularly to be vigilant at all times, especially when entering a draw or coming up to a meadow. “You can’t move slow enough when hunting,” he insisted. He then went on to describe several different occasions where he’d seen moose, or deer, or whatever it was he was hunting at the time, on the way back to camp when he’d thought the day was over. “One time, I was here,” he said pointing to the meat pole hanging in front of the cabin, “butchering out a moose when I heard a shot go off, right there!” He  butchered and imaginary moose then turned to look towards where the shot had gone off. “I tell you Kristeva,” he  paused and laughed,  recalling the incident, “it scared the living daylights out of me that shot was so close… but I immediately knew it was dad.” His dad had been on his way back to camp on foot and, meters from the camp, seen a big buck deer standing on the other side of the cabin from where Dave was butchering. Dave’s smile disappeared and his stern look returned to his face: “And you know, he made his point.”

Pre-hunt lessons over, we struck out for the day — and it was a glorious one to boot. This was a nice change from the several days of the worst conditions Dave had ever seen in his 42 years of hunting in the area! Yes, I even braved those days (though more for the experience of driving the quad than looking for moose). “The animals will all holed up in this weather,” Dave yelled over the incessant drone of the rain, “But we can break trail!” And break trail we did. For two days solid we climbed hills and plunged through meadows and even very nearly got stuck in a bog that should have been iced over by this time of year. That was the first time I’d ever seen a mole. Dave was ahead of me as we came to the bog. I watched with horror as he entered the meadow ahead of me and his bike broke through the ice before beginning to sink. He increased his throttle until his tires spun and the bike lurched forward out of danger, but as the tires spun, they spat a wee mole out of its shelter and onto the ice. I watched, fascinated, as it scurried across the path in front of me and disappeared a few meters away into another one of its snow-covered tunnels. Though it was not all that cold, the heavy rain and sleet made the going tough. On those days in particular, it was nice to see the smoke from the cabin billowing up to the sky as we crept our way back home. Today was a different story.

Though today was glorious, we were still breaking trail. While we made our way from the cabin at our usual ‘top speed’, me in the lead, I was mindful of all that he had taught me. “I see you’re practicing,” he said, maneuvering his quad beside mine. He smiled as he reached into his breast pocket for his tobacco before rolling a cigarette. Wherever we stopped, impromptu wilderness classrooms were erected and his stories enlivened each new lesson — his smoke breaks became signals that class was in session! This time, instead of waiting to hear what he had to tell me, I took the opportunity to get an answer to a tiny detail from one of his stories that had caught my attention but had  gone unanswered, until now.

“Last year, you told me that when you shoot a moose you always wait for twenty minutes before going after him… Why?”

“Oh, OK. You need to know this.”

He paused, finished rolling the cigarette, lit it, and took one long drag before answering. “If you take off after a moose once you’ve shot it… you’ll be running for miles.” He took another drag on his cigarette and the smoke billowed up around his face as he completed the lesson through his exhalation. “But if you wait…” he said matter-of-factly, “he’ll just go over there and lay down and not get up again.”

One of the bikes started to act up so we headed home a bit early so Dave could take a look at it. I made a sandwich while he fiddled with the bike. “I wanna go out and just give it a test drive before tomorrow,” he said, pointing towards my bike and gesturing that I should ‘start it up’. There was still a lot of hunting time left in the day and he was sure to emphasize that detail before we left. We headed out on the trail we’d been on earlier. “This trail is dated now,” he explained, referring to the fact that we knew when it was cut and that there had been no tracks on it at that time. So, if we cut tracks now, we’d know they were fresh. The bike was running smoothly and it was now time to head home. I took the lead again and puttered quietly along the meadow looking from side to side for that 1% of a moose. My eyes scanned the foreground and plumbed the depths of the forest, but encountered nothing.

We were getting close to camp again and I could feel disappointment rising. Trying to lift my spirits, I reminded myself of David’s lesson to me that was passed down from his father to him, “The hunt is not over until it is over.” I kept repeating it to myself as we crept our way homeward. One might say that the mantra paid off, because as I turned a corner and inched into an open meadow, suddenly, there it was — 99% of a moose. Jesus God, there he is! I got off the quad quickly and quietly, and kept myself small beside the bike hoping the moose wouldn’t notice any change.  He’d obviously not been spooked by the sound of the approaching bike. I reached into my pocket and got two cartridges out and loaded them into my gun. I winced as they clicked into place worried that the unnatural noise might spook the moose (Dave had warned me about that too). The sound of my bolt action got his attention and his head came up from the willow brush he been ruminating over, but it was too late. Now on one knee with the moose’s chest in my sights, I pulled the trigger. The moose flinched, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the sound of the gun or if I’d actually gotten him. “Again!” Dave directed, bringing me back to the task at hand. I reloaded, aimed at the now moving target and fired. This time he stumbled and it was obvious he’d been shot. He disappeared into the bush and it was all I could to not to take off running after him. “You did it hun!” Dave cheered as he grabbed me up into a bear hug before kissing the side of my hat-covered forehead. “Isn’t this exciting?” Indeed it was.

Not one to let an opportunity to prove a point, Dave held forth while waiting out the requisite twenty minutes before tracking him down. “Well, this didn’t quite go as I said it would… but I was right about one thing,” he said, and reached into his pocket for his tobacco pouch: “I told you that you wouldn’t see a whole moose.” Before proceeding with the explanation, he opened up a zig-zag rolling paper and stuffed it full of his tobacco. “Well you didn’t,” he continued, pausing to bring the rolling paper to his lips then lick and seal it. He stuck the freshly made cigarette into the corner of his mouth and held it there with the side of his lips, setting the stage: “You only saw 99% of the moose,” he declared, taking a deep drag on his smoke and savoring both the moment and the smokey flavour. Then, eyes twinkling, he stuck one leg out and pointed at his boot: “His toes were buried in the snow.”

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Filed under Animal issues, Educational, Hunting, Moose, personal food sovereignty, Wild game

Getting cold feet

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The tin holding the water is Clarence's billy can from his time in WWII!

One of the things that most terrified me about going hunting  (apart from getting lost!) was getting cold. I hate being cold and what is worse, I get cold quite easily — much more easily than David, my hunting partner (who I would swear could stand barefooted in sub-freezing temperatures smoking a cigarette and puzzling over the fact that I’m shivering).

This, coupled with the fact that he and his family are serious hunters who will tolerate the worst of conditions, had me quite concerned about my ability to keep up. “Those guys are successful because they work hard at it and are willing to do whatever it takes,” a friend who knows them well warned me. “I’m just no longer willing to work that hard,” he confessed and then added, “For example, David thinks nothing of heading out after dark to return to a downed moose miles from camp and spending the night out there processing the meat.”

The thought of spending the night on the side of a grizzly bear infested mountain with a fresh kill on the ground was a bit beyond my comfort level. I wanted to have a ‘nice’ time and the thought of what he might put me through in order to ‘be successful’ had me quite terrified. As it happened, last year the above scenario did unfold exactly as my friend had described. Luckily I had the excuse of having to return home and tend to my animals that night and, when I declined his offer seeing the moose butchering process by mag-light, I could tell that David was not impressed. He’s a hard man (or at least that’s what I thought then).

This fear of having to face all possible scenarios, coupled with my worry about not ‘cutting the mustard’, were the main reasons I spent last hunting season with David’s father, Clarence.  At the tender age of 83, he had finally slowed down — and softened just enough — for me to feel confident enough to ask him to teach me how to hunt. This year however I was more determined to get out there and really experience ‘the bush’, so I mustered up enough courage to head out with the ‘Jr. Edition’. I worked hard to convince myself that I was now brave enough to face any such scenario that might unfold — even if that meant spending the night on the side of a mountain gutting moose while holding a mag-light between my teeth.

Our first day out together I knew we’d be testing both our friendship and our tolerance for each other: it would be the making or breaking of the deal. David is not one to mince words or candy coat things to make you feel good. If you weren’t up to a task he’d let you know and he wouldn’t worry about whether or not he’d hurt your feelings. Facts are facts, period — and there’s no sense taking it personally. As fate and poetic irony would have it, the day was bitterly cold and it was snowing heavily. “I’m a bit worried about my boots,” I said tentatively as we were getting ready to leave. He turned and paused at the door long enough to say, “We’ll know soon whether they are any good,” and then he hoisted his rifle down off its nail in the cabin, slung it over his neck so it rested against his chest, and walked out the door signaling it was time to leave and the end of the discussion.

Not only was it my first day out with David; it was also my first time driving a quad-bike through mountain terrain. Until this point, my only experience with a quad-bike was harrowing the arena where I kept my horse and driving one between my ‘front forty’ that we’d been clearing and the woodshed, most of the distance being paved road. The temperatures had dropped significantly overnight which affected our equipment: the quad-bikes’ rear brakes were frozen and we couldn’t move either of them. It took some time and some monkeying around to get their wheels free, but we were soon on our way. It was cold and snowing as we headed down the trail.

We worked our way through the woods and into an open meadow before heading up an old logging slash to a bench with wonderful views of where we’d come from. “This is as good a place as any to spot moose,” he told me in hushed tones before providing colorful examples of ‘moose spottings of hunting trips past’. He is a grand orator and  is continuously describing scenarios he’d been up against or experienced at each spot we came to. After reciting a charming story about  a moose and her calf that he’d seen in this very spot years before — replete with sound effects and hand gestures — the task at hand and teacher in him suddenly took over:

“Now, has dad had you practicing loading your rifle and dry firing?”

“A little bit, but I haven’t done any of that since last year.”

“Well, that’s what we’re going to do then.”

I followed his instructions: load the rifle, pretend to ‘spot’ a moose, get into position, and ‘fire’. “Again,” he motioned silently with his hands. We spent the better part of an hour doing this, him scouting for moose while I practiced shooting them. “Even as seasoned and experienced as dad and I are, we still do this… It helps keep you fresh.” When he sees animals he can’t shoot (like a cow moose or a herd of doe deers) he’ll study them and practice dry firing on them. “You can’t do that enough,” he said turning back to where we’d parked the bikes. It was then that I noticed my feet were ice cold.

“Before Judy got her first animal I made her do this for over an hour on a herd of caribou that came through our camp… She was mad at me at the time, but she got her first animal that trip.” His face was stern as he described teaching his wife to hunt. In fact, his face is generally stern. Hunting is serious business and you take it as such. It is not something you do two weeks per year; it is a way of life for him. It was this fact and his stern look that made me nervous last year and hesitant to admit to having cold feet now.

So much so that I was considering suffering through the day as is. Suck it up Princess, you’ll live. He was about to start his quad when I mentioned my feet and almost held my breath in anticipation of his reaction. He immediately took his hand off the starter button, got off the quad, and, face softening, said, “That’s no good. You can’t hunt well when all you can think about is how cold your feet are… Let’s light a fire and get them warmed up.” Well that was easier than I thought it would be.

And so began my first how-to-light-a-fire-with-nothing-around lesson. He gathered enough material and had it lit in seconds. In fact, it was up and roaring so fast that I missed the actual ‘how to’ part. When I said this to him he looked up at me, saying gently, “Don’t be afraid to ask me to do it again.”

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Dave takes the time to make a fire, coffee, toast a sandwich and let me warm my feet.

Thankfully, I brought another pair of ‘back up boots’ and a change of socks. While tending to my cold tootsies, Dave busied himself with coffee break preparations. Already famished, I got out my sandwich. He motioned towards the grill, then said of the corner of his mouth that wasn’t holding the cigarette, “Toast it on the fire… That ham and cheese will be great warmed up and melting. Um-hum.” And so it was.

With feet securely placed in warm boots, I was now ready to go. We headed west along the trail away from our fire spot and it was not long before we cut our first moose track, then a second. It was this second set of tracks that got Dave excited: “That is more like it… see how he’s dragging his feet heavily?” he said pointing to the tracks in the snow.  “Cow moose tend to be like ladies, you know, they go more daintily through the world,” he explained as his hand came up in front of my eyes, fingers pointing downward, walking them daintily through the air. Then suddenly, he stepped heavily  through the snow out in front of me and rocked side to side exaggeratedly: “The bulls are more like us males.” He turned on his heel to head back towards me in the same aggressive manner,  declaring, “We kind of stomp our way through life, heavy like.” Gender distinctiveness demonstration over, he pointed down at the tracks,  and as an afterthought added, “Plus, these are more the size of a bull!”

A little distance beyond the second track we turned south along another trail, this one much more difficult going than the first. The moose track did not cut this trail, “Well, we know he’s still out there somewhere,” he said pointing to the northeast. So, we now knew where he wasn’t on two sides. “We’ll triangulate and box him in,” Dave said explaining that we’d head northeast back towards the original trail where we’d first seen this print. Several hours later we were back on our original trail and near our fire spot. “Well hun, he’s not come out of there… Now we’ve got him boxed in… He’ll be there for the night.”

It was nearing dark and getting cold. Back at our fire spot, this time I lit the fire.  “You can’t shoot now, but you can practice some more.” Once again, Dave made coffee while I went back to my stump and practiced spotting and firing on imaginary moose. Bellies warmed by the coffee, we fired up the quads and meandered our way back to camp in the dark. If he had told me we’d be staying out till dark before we left, I would have had ‘cold feet’ about heading out. Reflecting on this, I marveled at the fact that I was warm, comfortable in the dark and completely at peace in the moment. Not once had I been scared all day. It was a nice feeling.

As we neared camp David stopped the quad and signaled that I should pull up beside him. He lit a smoke before turning to me, murmuring, “Now, ain’t that a welcome sight?” nodding through the trees towards the dimly lit cabin. Smoke was billowing from the chimney and the light was beckoning us home to its warm glow. Indeed it was a welcoming ‘site’.

Clarence was relieved to see us and let us know he’d been worried once it got dark. He scolded David for keeping me out that late. I chuckled to myself as I watched the 84 year old patriarch of the family reprimand his 57 year old son for keeping me out after dark. He thought he would scare me and turn me off hunting and that he should take it more easily on me. I felt cared for and protected, like I was part of the family. I also realised that I’d graduated from being scared of the idea of hunting, to being thrilled by it.

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Filed under Animal issues, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, Wild game

Walk softly and carry a big gun

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Mine is a Remington 700 series limited edition .280

The above photo was taken on one of the first days out on my hunt. I was on foot with Clarence and it was my first time walking back into the depths of the Little Rainbow Mountains. To say the least, I was a bit nervous. It was quite cold (even though it was a beautiful sunny day) and we were alone on the mountain. His son and wife had not yet arrived at camp by the time we struck out, and part of me was counting on the fact that they would know where we were if we got in trouble. Not that I expected to have trouble, or even really worried about my 84 year old hunting partner’s ability. Rather it was my ability–or lack of–and the thought of something happening to Clarence, that had me concerned: I wanted to know there was a ‘back-up’ in case one was needed. I know I am inexperienced and that I could make a wrong decision if push came to shove in these winter mountain conditions. Luckily nothing untoward unfolded and we had a great hunt!

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One end of the Little Rainbow Mountain range.

The early part of the day was spent in preparation and getting to camp, and then we headed out on the trail. “This trail runs due south,” Clarence kept reminding me, “Mah dear, to get back to camp we just have to walk due north. It’s that simple, um-hum.” What Clarence never seemed to understand that–for an inexperienced greenhorn–nothing in the hunting/outdoor survival world is ‘that simple’. He is so comfortable in this world that it is beyond his comprehension that someone wouldn’t be. Without him seeing, I got my compass out and verified his statement. Then I set the dial and tried to convince myself that I felt more at ease.

Over the years of knowing him I’ve realized that he has difficulty teaching these kinds of skills. He is sometimes quite unaware of the depth of his knowledge, and thus can’t seem to separate what should be highlighted  because of its importance, sometimes even when I ask. For example, today while we were traveling along the trail I asked how he knew how to find his way. “Well it’s flagged,” he said matter-of-factly as if the answer was obvious.

As I stood there looking perplexed a look of bewilderment crossed his face then his chin jutted out in front of him nodding towards some trees ahead of us. My eyes followed his chin and looked for trees wrapped with ‘flagging tape’ but saw none. If I was going to get a clear answer from him I had to press further, “I don’t know what you mean.” He walked towards a tree and pointed at a yellow mark made from the tree’s own sap, “My sons and I made these marks nearly 40 years ago with an axe.” The trees then produce the yellow sap to heal the scar which becomes the ‘flag’. That, is what I needed to know.

Once I had these two crucial bits of knowledge the going was easy and I soon lost some of my nervousness and began to really enjoy myself. However, it did not last long. Minutes into our hunt we cut some fresh tracks; ones that made me glad to be carrying a big gun. I was out in front so I saw them first. My mind filtered through all that Clarence had taught me about tracks last year and ruled out most critters. I was just working my way round to the realization that it  was not a wolf, when Clarence caught up to me and looked down at the tracks.

“Oh my aching back,” his eyes widened with delight as he surveyed the scene, “that’s a cougar track. Wow…  it’s fresh and it’s a big one.” Oh good. Cuz that’s what I wanna hear… I looked due south along the nice little ‘moose hunting’ trail that I had–until that moment–felt relatively safe on. Then I looked due east towards the cougar tracks and felt a chill run down my spine: I wanted to get as far from this spot and those tracks as I could, and fast. As my mind worked in overdrive trying to keep my emotions in check, I was only dimly aware that Clarence was verbally reconstructing the scene for me. Suddenly he said something that brought his voice to the foreground, “Well looky here mah dear… there’s three of them traveling together!”

As ridiculous as it may sound, like the Spanish Inquisition, I wasn’t expecting to see cougar tracks, let alone three sets of cougars all traveling together close to where I stood. I was, after all, out looking for moose. Why would there be anything else out here? “A mama and cubs?” I ventured, my mind grinding back into focus. “Noooooooo. See that track here,” he said pointing at the largest of the three sets, “That is a huge Tom print… biggest I ever saw.” In light of the fact that Clarence has hunted cougars for more than 50 years, that statement is saying something (and that something is not something I was comfortable with at that moment!). “Why would cubs be traveling with a tom?” I asked still hoping he would reconsider his analysis. “Oh, those other tracks are not cubs… nooooooo, they are also full grown cougars… probably all toms.”

They had come from the west and were headed due east when they cut our north-south trail in two. As if this wasn’t enough to put a chill in my bones, Clarence had declared the tracks only minutes old. He showed me how they had been walking slowly on the west side of the trail, how they had all stopped in their tracks right on our trail, and how they had taken off on the run to the east: “Hey mah-dear… Why they were probably looking at us!”

ClarenceontrailIMGP3140_2

Clarence Hall, cougar hunter through and through.

It was not easy to get Clarence re-focused on the task at hand. In his world cougar trumps moose every time. It was in the midst of yet another one of his ‘I-wish-I-had-my-hounds and do-you-wanna-track-em’ reveries that I thought of another use for the parachute cord in my possibles bag: a Clarence Hall lasso.

As I watched him drift east talking more excitedly with each step, I wasn’t sure how else to get him back on track and headed due south again. It took some time but eventually I more or less got him re-focused, but it certainly wasn’t the end of his ruminations. The last thing he said to me before falling asleep was, “I wish we’d tracked those cougars today. You know, in hindsight.”

 

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Filed under Animal issues, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, Politicking with predators

Gone hunting

For Moose:

Fresh moose tracks in snow.

Fresh moose tracks in snow.

Hunting season is upon us once again and this year I was lucky enough to get a moose tag. Unlike other game animals (where you simply go to the store and buy a tag for them), moose are a ‘limited entry hunt’ (LEH) animal. In other words, you have to apply for an LEH tag in the spring and hope that your name gets drawn which allows you to buy a tag and hunt.

This year, I was lucky enough to get such a draw; my first ever. So, this morning I’m off to find me a moose. It is the early draw so I’m hoping  there will be some snow on the ground. It is not often that I hope for snow, however without snow on the ground locating and tracking a moose is much more difficult.

Here’s hoping it has snowed ‘up top’ and I’ll be looking for a moose making tracks in it!

Bull moose droppings; flat on one end.

Bull moose droppings are flat on one end. These are from a baby bull hence the small size.

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Filed under Animal issues, Conservation, Hunting

Hunting lesson one: the ‘possibles’ bag

My pretty in pink possibles bag with my hand-me-down ammo pack and buck knife.

My pretty in pink possibles bag with my hand-me-down ammo pack and buck knife.

Today I went to my hunting partner’s place to catch up over coffee. He and his wife have been away with other friends and family for over a month on a hunt that took them way up north. Their trip was highly successful so when I arrived  in their kitchen today there was not a lot of time to stop for chatting and catching up; they were in full production mode dismantling several massive parts of a moose. It was all laid out on their table in large pieces ready for processing. “Is that the last of it?” I asked, wondering how much longer they would be working at this. “No. That’s just one hind quarter. The rest is still outside.” It was more meat than I’d ever seen sitting in one area. “We still have part of a goat and a sheep to process too.”

One end of the table held an electric meat grinder that was working full time and the other end of the table was the cutting, packing, wrapping station. Somewhere in the middle his grandson was cutting stewing meat and his wife was managing to take the stewing meat, place it in glass jars and pressure can it nearly as fast as they could produce it.  I could see that they were probably going to be at this for the rest of the day and night and offered to stay and help but they declined the offer. I was about to be dispatched on another errand.

Watching these people in action reminded me that the hard part in hunting is not necessarily the actual hunt. Once the animal is dead on the ground is actually when the work begins! “We stayed and helped my daughter cut up her moose but I felt badly because we only helped for one day.” He explained that it would have taken another whole day of several of them working together to finish the job but that was time they couldn’t afford to spend. “I’m supposed to be in too many places at once and I feel like I’m letting everyone down,” he confessed, letting me know he felt badly that we weren’t already out on my hunt (my hunt officially started last week but they couldn’t get back in time).

We talked about the hunt they’d just been on, got caught up on each others’ news, and I tentatively asked if they thought they would have time to do some hunting with me before my tag ran out. “Oh, we’ll be ready to go tomorrow morning.” I felt my mouth gape as I starred out at the sea of flesh before them. Then my mind whirred to little effect as I wondered if I’d be ready to go tomorrow morning. He began to make arrangements for my hunt: “Do you have your LEH?” Check. “Have you got your gun sighted in?” Check. “Do you have ammo?” Check.

So far so good. “Do you have your possibles bag ready?” No. I watched as the grinder came to a halt and production ground to a halt. Having been hunting with them before I knew what this meant but also knew I didn’t have all items that were needed. “OK. Hun,” he said turning to his wife, “Kristeva’s going to need a few things from our packs.” He began listing off the items that would become my ‘possibles’: a decent length of parachute cord, neon pink flagging tape, mag-light flashlight with the battery turned backwards, extra batteries, extra light-bulb, a Bic lighter, two Snickers bars, extra ammunition, a Gerber Exchange-A-Blade Saw with two blades (one for cutting firewood the other for cutting through moose bone), a compass, a scalpel with #22 blades, extra blades, fire starter sticks, and of course, last but not least, my LEH moose tag and hunting license. I wrote down the items that I either had already or would need to buy and his wife rummaged through their gear for the certain specialty items that they would not be caught without but that I wouldn’t be able to buy today, like parachute cord.

“You can ditch your day-pack but you never go anywhere without your possibles bag,” my friend insisted, practically glaring at me through narrowed eyelids as if I’d already committed this hunting faux pas. The possibles bag goes inside my day pack which has all sorts of other necessary goodies. The possibles bag will equipe me–theoretically at least–to be able to deal with ‘anything possible’.

The ‘possibles’ were laid out on the bench for me next to their ‘possibles ‘bags, which were all very utilitarian in color: black, brown, cammo, and dark green. Then my friend headed upstairs to find me my very own possibles bag. “I’m sorry hun, but it’s the only one I have left,” she said quite apologetically as she handed me a pretty little calico pink draw-string bag with little red and blue shooting stars all over it.

I stifled a laugh and said nothing. I was charmed by the metaphor but knew it would be lost on my utilitarian friends (they’re just not that kind of people). I smiled as I accepted my possibles bag and thought, ‘If tiny shooting stars streaking their way across cotton candy pink doesn’t conjure up images of all in life that is possible,’ I don’t know what will!

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Filed under Educational, Hunting

Rod and Gun Club dinner and dance

David Hall's cougar watches over the Rod and Gun Club annual dinner and dance.

David Hall's cougar watches over the Rod and Gun Club annual dinner and dance.

Last weekend we held the annual Rod and Gun Club fundraiser dinner and dance. In preparation for the dinner, the members of the Rod and Gun Club prepared the meat they hunted this fall, butchered farm raised food animals, and taxidermied animals for the display. Earlier in the year, I helped Clarence butcher the turkey he planned to donate and also helped his son, David, skin and butcher out the cougar which he recently prepared for the display. The dinner provided me the opportunity to bring my duck breeding venture to a close. I butchered the last of the Muscovy ducks and took them to the dinner.

Gary carving the elk, moose and grizzly bear roasts.

Gary carving the elk, moose and grizzly bear roasts.

The vast array of different foods there was surprising given the small community and was a testament to the amount of ‘industry’ the people in this valley are involved in. I could have tried every kind of meat on offer but managed to limit myself to what I could fit on the plate and still be able to remember which meat was which by the time I got from the smorgasbord back to the dinner table. On offer was nearly everything one could imagine and then some: deer, moose, caribou, elk, wild boar, duck, turkey, beaver, llama, black bear, grizzly bear, and of course, David’s cougar. He presented it freshly roasted as well as smoked sausage and hams.

Animals of hunting trips past on display at the game dinner and dance.

Animals of hunting trips past on display at the game dinner and dance.

I tried everything except the caribou and beaver. I had tried caribou before and the beaver just wouldn’t fit anywhere on the plate by the time I got to it, though it did look delectable having been made up into a beautifully presented stir-fry. I was surprised to see that the dinner even catered to vegetarians, with salads of various kinds and several versions of tofu, vegetable stir-fries and bean dishes. I also took a home made loaf of bread and others had made rolls and biscuits. The meal was scrumptious and most of us ate far too much, but I did manage to save room for dessert!

What struck me most about the dinner, besides the fact that it was such a  unique example of local culture and something particular to this valley, was the fact that the vast array of meats differed little from each other. I was expecting to notice a greater difference in texture and taste between the carnivorous animals and the ruminants. My favourite meat was the elk, with the cougar and the grizzly bear roasts tied for second place. So similar in taste and texture were most meats that I’m certain I could feed my mother a grizzly bear roast and tell her it was beef! Of the options I sampled, the animal that had the most distinctive taste was the llama.

The Rod and Gun Club puts on this dinner and dance every year to raise money for the club and to raise awareness of hunting and animal conservation. Many would find it curious, if not ironic, that the hunters in this valley are some of the most aware of conservation and environmental issues and the most active people in terms of environmental conservation and preservation of animals. They are by far the most knowledgeable bunch of folks I have ever had the pleasure of learning from about the complexities of the natural world around us and the balance of nature.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Cougars, Educational, Food Security, Hunting, Locavore, Politics of Food

Hunting season is over

The cabin at Louie Creek on a sunny day.

The cabin at Louie Creek on a sunny day (note the fresh moose skull hanging on the cabin pole).

Hunting season for deer and moose finally ended for us  on November 30th, and I came home without my buck. Neither Clarence nor I even fired our rifles. In fact, in the whole trip (for me this meant 7 days and Clarence was gone for 14) we didn’t even see a legal deer or moose. Nevertheless, what the trip lacked in face to face game-hunting, it well made up for in excitement and educational opportunities. I learned how to identify the tracks of all sorts of animals, and spent some time tracking moose that managed to stay just out of our sights before crossing a boundary and leaving our legal hunting area–how often they did this made me wonder if the Department of Conservation supplied the moose with free hunting synopses.

The first day out, we spent hours traveling the roads (de-activated logging routes, actually) by vehicle, looking for some fresh tracks. We covered mile after mile on the road west of our cabin, road and then the east road, but found not a single fresh moose track. Others in the family took off on foot, snowshoe or ATV. At 83, Clarence the patriarch had a pace which suited me just fine on my first time hunting. We did see fresh wolf tracks, and many other tracks such as foxes and martins. While I was excited to even see the old moose tracks and wondered why we were not striking off on their trail, Clarence patiently explained that a moose that made a track as old as the one we were looking at could by now be 50 miles or more away. Ah ha. The next few days were spent similarly. We got up in the mornings and headed out on the hunt for fresh moose tracks, returning at a civilized hour for lunch or dinner, while the other members of the family disappeared for 6-9 hours at a time, often into the early gathering dusk. Finally, we did come across some fresh tracks. “Oh, my aching back, look at those here, my dear,” Clarence said, head hanging out the window while gently bringing the truck to a stop. “Here we go,” he whispered, and then reverted to sign language.

On the trail of fresh moose tracks.

On the trail of fresh moose tracks.

On the trail of fresh moose tracks, heading north.

Spot the two hunters in this photo!

We got out, hung our rifles over our shoulders, I took note of the compass direction, and he signaled that I was to lead the way. The moose was heading almost due north. I struck out in front of Clarence and followed the fresh moose tracks. As you can see from the above photos, we are walking through an old clear-cut. The moose like the openness of the clear-cuts, primarily because their favourite food colonizes those clear-cuts quickly. Tracking is pretty easy in this kind of snow: the snow is not so deep that the walking is difficult, it’s fresh enough not to make a noise as you walk, and it shows up the tracks well. The moose had woven its way through the young re-growth, looking for delicacies among the evergreen saplings. “Red Willow,” Clarence whispered and pointed to the chewed tips of the brush, “it’s a moose’s favourite browse.”

Red Willow with tips browsed by moose.

Red Willow with tips browsed by moose.

About four hundred yards across the clear-cut, I came across two more sets of moose tracks coming from the east.  They seemed to meet up here and then travel on together, all heading north. This put a spring in Clarence’s step: now we were on the trail of three adult moose. Another few minutes into the tracking and a fourth set of tracks showed up, also coming from the east, “Awe, it’s a baby moose,” whispered Clarence, “It must be traveling with its mama.” Although we now knew that at least two of the moose we were tracking were definitely not legal to hunt, there was a surprising tenderness rather than disappointment in his voice. We carried on, though, because the first two sets of tracks were definitely adult tracks.

After about half a mile, we entered into the deeper forest on the other side of the clear-cut. The tracking is not as easy at that point; the trees drop snow and cover the tracks, the sunlight doesn’t penetrate the forest easily and the tracks become obscure, and the density makes the walking much more difficult. We continued tracking the moose until Clarence finally said it was time to turn back. Why? I asked, “Because we are almost back to the highway. Those moose will have crossed it by now.” In other words, they’d made it to safety and out of the legal area for which Clarence had a hunting tag. It amazed me that Clarence seemed to know exactly where we were on and around these Little Rainbow Mountains, no matter if we were in the truck, on the trail or deep into the bush. He kept saying, “Now we’re going north… now we’re heading south south-east… now we’re going north west,” and so on. Each time he spoke, I looked at my compass: he was always dead on.

The next few days were spent very similarly. We’d head out each morning looking for fresh tracks. When we came across fresh ones we’d get out and track them for as long as it made sense: until they left the legal area, until it became too dark, and on one occasion until the weather abruptly turned sour, which happened so quickly I didn’t see it coming. One minute it was warm and sunny; next thing I knew, we were heading back across our tracks in a blizzard, donning more clothing and battening down the hatches of our ‘Elmer Fudd’-style hunting hats to keep warm.

Moose track in snow.

Moose track in snow.

Although we didn’t ever get close enough to see the moose actually making the tracks, we did reveal the story of how several of them spent their day. Clarence was always teaching me as we went: he had me do ‘dry runs’ where I’d pretend that a rock or tree up ahead was in fact a moose, load my rifle, take aim and pretend to fire, then unload and continue on the hunt. He also taught me and then quizzed me on every set of tracks we came across. On one occasion, while we were tracking a moose, the tracks merged with another baby moose. Despite the fact that the moose was obviously a mama and therefore not legal, we kept on hoping to catch a glimpse of them. Clarence was happy to let me lead and teach me as we went: looking at the browse they were eating, where they had bedded down for a rest, and showing me the droppings of the baby. “Oh look, it’s a baby bull,” he said, lifting a morsel between his fingers and holding it up for me to look at. “How can you tell?” I asked, trying not to show too much alarm over the fact that he had moose feces in his hands. “One end is flat,” he said and gently placed it back on the snow. “Don’t worry, I won’t hand you a cookie with that hand, OK?”

Baby bull moose poop; note it is blunt on one end.

Baby bull moose poop; note it is blunt on one end.

In the end, he did eat a cookie with that hand. He also ate  his favorite snack, Cheetoes, and happily licked his fingers with each bite then turned to me and laughed. “Well, the First Nations peoples used moose droppings to thicken their stews,” I said, “So I guess it can’t be that bad for you!” I’ve noticed Clarence’s lack of concern with ‘personal food hygiene’ on numerous occasions; for example, he is happy to pick an apple off the ground in my yard, take out his pocket knife and without washing either the knife (which has a species butchering resume the likes of which some zoos never achieve) or the apple (nestled on my grass where my chickens free range), cut into it and start eating. While I’m shocked each time he does it, I’m also slightly suspicious that less worry about sterile conditions of food, coupled with a regular bag of Cheetoes, might just be the answer to his longevity!

While I didn’t get my buck, it didn’t mean the hunting party came back empty handed. One of the team got a moose, and I got the opportunity to taste some of it! However, I didn’t share the family’s enthusiasm for the liver (an issue from my childhood!). I also got a quick lesson in how to skin a moose, and an overview of the merits of this particular moose with respect to its mounting appeal. One of Clarence’s sons is not only an avid hunter but also a professional taxidermist. He kindly offered me the hind end of the moose for tanning, but kept the cape because this moose was particularly beautiful, in his professional opinion, and he told me why: the light color was appealing, the markings on either side of the face were symmetrical (which hardly ever happens), and the dimensions of the skull and overall shape of the head were extremely esthetically pleasing.

Although my freezer is still game-less, I learned much: how to identify the tracks of anything which walks through a British Columbia forest, how to identify moose and deer habitat and their feed (or ‘browse’), how to handle and fire my gun, and how to orient myself around the Little Rainbow Mountains. I feel a lot more confident about next Fall’s hunting season.

David explains why this moose will make a beautful mount.

Gesturing to the skinned skull, David explains why this moose will make a beautiful mount.

Nice add for Cabelas hunting gear!

Nice add for Cabelas hunting gear!

David explaining to me how to keep the moose hide and pack it for shipping to a tanner.

David explains to me how to keep a moose hide fresh, and pack it for shipping to a tanner.

Listening intently to David as he explains the principles of taxidermy.

Listening intently to David as he explains the principles of taxidermy.

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Base camp

Here is the moose hunting base camp, the cabin at Louie Creek. It is where Clarence and his family moose hunt from. They have been hunting here for 42 years. The cabin was built by an Indian trapper many, many years ago and Clarence got permission from him to use it. Over some years, Clarence and his sons built many trails from the cabin up into the mountains behind. Since then, the old trapper has died and the cabin now sits inside a hunting guide territory. The family still has access to it and keeps it up through additions and repairs. Heading up again today. More on the hunting trip when I’m back, I may be here a while!

The cabin at Louie Creek.

The cabin at Louie Creek.

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Woman running fairly close to the wolves

The big 'bad' wolf leaves his tracks in the snow that we follow.

The big 'bad' wolf leaves his tracks in the snow that we follow.

My friend Clarence needed to go to ‘The Lake’, and by Lake we Bella Coola-ites mean Williams Lake–a 458 kilometer trip east of here, one way. Williams Lake has an approximate population of 14,000, and is the home of our nearest stoplight as well as all sorts of goodies that you otherwise cannot get in Bella Coola, like Tim Horton’s doughnuts. So for us, a trip to Williams Lake is a big deal. I asked Clarence if I could go with him. I wanted to buy myself a bigger gun, one that is suitable for deer and moose hunting and, if necessary (but God forbid it be necessary), for bear defense.

Another reason I wanted to join him was for hunting. With a near 1000 kilometer round trip through the best hunting territory in the province, I thought it would provide us with ample chance to hunt on the way back home. When I relayed my thoughts to Clarence, he corrected me in no uncertain terms. “What do you mean ‘on the way back’? My dear, we’ll hunt both ways,” and his thumb motioned away from the center of his chest towards the middle distance and then back again for emphasis, solidifying the plan right there in my driveway.

As it happened, we didn’t get away as early as intended, so the hunting on the way out was limited to looking for animals from the comfort of the vehicle. As we wended our way up ‘The Hill’, our eyes were fixed on the snow on either side of the road, searching for tracks. There were none to be seen, and this disturbed Clarence to no end. “I don’t like what I’m not seeing,” Clarence muttered over and over, speaking more to the goddesses of the ungulates than to me.

We drove along slowly, more intent on spotting some game and/or its tracks than actually getting to Williams Lake. Clarence repeated how he was puzzled by ‘what he wasn’t seeing’. There was nary a deer nor moose track to be seen. We did, however, manage to spot all sorts of predator tracks: wolf, coyote, fox, but no big game. Nor did we see anything ‘legal’, as he put it. That is not to say we didn’t see any animals at all. Before leaving the valley, we met a big boar grizzly bear at the usual ‘pee stop’ at the bottom of the hill–the precise place that I had seen a mother sow and two cubs several weeks before. While peeing, I watched the boar and wondered if he might be the father of the cubs of previous relief. Suffice to say, you learn to pee fast around here.

As we drove on, we spotted a couple of foxes along the roadside, making their way into the forest. There were numerous snow geese and other water-fowl, even a few beavers. The most exciting moment, however, came as we were approaching Riske Creek village. As a big cat came up the left hand side of the roadside incline, I saw him first and called out, “Cougar, cougar, cougar!” and watched it leap from one side of the highway to the other, touching down only once. It was a beautiful sight and only the second cougar I’ve seen in my life, the first being in my driveway early one summer morn.

I was anxious to see what the tracks looked like so we stopped the truck, got out and asked the earth to reveal the missing parts of the story. The cougar had crossed the road from left to right; the prints from his take-off position were clearly marked, and I had seen him touch down only once, almost perfectly, on the centre-line of the road. His landing spot tracks were just as clear, at the other side of the pavement on the right hand side of the road.  “Why that cougar was moving!” Clarence exclaimed, pointing at another set of tracks in the sand, “Look here! He was in hot pursuit of a deer.”

There were lots and lots of deer tracks on either side of the cougar prints, going both ways across the highway and back, and fresh ones right in front of his. As he made sense of the story, something palpable took hold of Clarence; he wanted to track the cougar. Next thing I knew, he was talking about getting his son and their dogs, about how the dogs would be on that cougar in a flash, about how cougars don’t have the wind to run very far, about how it would likely tree very quickly in this country, about where he would place a shot if given the chance, about how he’d placed other shots of cougars past, about how exciting it would be for him to see me ‘get my first cougar’–Oh. My. God!

The more excitedly he talked, the more worried I became. It  sounded like I was going to be hunting a cougar any minute and I wasn’t prepared, emotionally or otherwise. I wasn’t comfortable with the picture of myself running behind Clarence in pursuit of this cougar, struggling to keep up and maintain composure. I didn’t want to be walking deep into these rapidly darkening woods in the paw-prints of the cougar, knowing I may never seen Williams Lake again… let alone my husband… or my farm.

In the middle of my near panic-stricken reverie, Clarence finally worked his way around to sound reason: it was, after all, getting dark, his son was preparing for a moose hunt, he didn’t have his dogs, and he was on his way to Williams Lake to go shopping with a newbie, inexperienced greenhorn. “I might have to come back with my son,” he concluded finally. Thank goodness for small mercies.

While I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of spending the evening rummaging around the plateaus of the Chilcotin hoping to tree the cougar, it was, nonetheless,  interesting to have the earth give up the cougar’s secrets even if only for a short distance.

As we approached Williams Lake, safely nestled back in the truck, we finally did see some deer–all does. We stopped counting at fifteen.They were beautiful, but not legal. Nevertheless, where there are does, there are  also stags, as I was reminded by my hunting partner!

The next day was spent shopping. We had planned to head back to Bella Coola that day. However, over coffee and a Tim Horton’s doughnut, Clarence decided we should spend another night in Williams Lake. No sense in leaving late. No sense in traveling rushed. That will just cramp our ‘hunting’ style. That would be no good, no good at all.

We got away early the following morning and enjoyed meandering our way home, again in search of game. We covered a lot of ground that Clarence was very familiar with and then a bunch of ground he wasn’t. Once again, and even though we were well and truly off the beaten path, we found no sign of deer or moose. We spotted nearly everything but: fox, coyote, beaver, martin, muskrat, geese, squirrel, and more cougar prints in the snow. It was a great experience to find different tracks, try to identify them and have my guesses confirmed or corrected by Clarence.

While the whole experience was fascinating to me, Clarence didn’t really get excited until we came upon fresh wolf tracks. Suddenly, the raison d’etre of the hunt shifted–we were now focused on getting ourselves a wolf. He immediately stopped talking and reverted to sign language. “But I don’t want to shoot a wolf,” I whispered, and looked into the face of utter bewilderment itself.

Why not a wolf? proved to be too difficult to explain in sign language, let alone in a hushed, ‘we’re hunting now’ sound-byte. At that moment, I decided it would be easier to simply go along with the man and hope we didn’t catch up with the wolf–and in the end we didn’t.  But we did see enough of the story to be intrigued: we tracked one set of tracks alongside the road to where it peed on a sapling (three footprints around it), but close by we found another set coming towards us. There was clearly a reunion. We tracked both pairs for a while longer, until Clarence observed the dwindling daylight. I was more than content to stop tracking and take these photos, relieved it was not photos of an ex-wolf in my hands, instead of just my hand and the evidence of his. I only wished I’d taken them when we first came across them, as they were then very fresh and much crisper than is revealed in the photos.

Clarence is an old-time, true-blue hunter. He has hunted everything on legs and probably on wings as well. He is the consummate bushman, and a wonderful person to be with while learning new skills. He is experienced, and his ease with the natural world shines through. He has been our ‘cougar man’ for more than forty years. Whenever a cougar was spotted where it shouldn’t be (too close to a home, looking at children on a swing-set, found in a yard having killed a dog, and so on), it was Clarence that our community turned to.

He has a moose tag that is good for the next two weeks. He had taken the day off to bring his great-grand-son back to go to school tomorrow and stopped in on his way back up to camp. He asked if I wanted  to come up and see the country they are hunting in. Many of his family members will be there–several also have moose tags.  It’s a family thing, an inter-generational thing, a way of life for them–and I am privileged to be included.

Wolf track in snow, toenails showing.

Wolf track in snow, toenails showing.

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Filed under Animal issues, Funny stories, Hunting, Politicking with predators