Tag Archives: Learning to hunt

Getting cold feet


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.”


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.


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

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.


Filed under Animal issues, Hunting