It's thanksgiving, so I thought it was the perfect time to write about something I am becoming increasingly thankful for: hunting. I grew up in a family where my dad and brother occasionally hunted, but I was never really involved. To be honest I'm not even sure if they actively hunted anything other than grouse. Despite my lack of interest in it growing up I have never been against hunting; I'm actually very pro-hunting for food. There is something noble about the idea of putting in the work to feed yourself and/or your family, and of animals being able to live a wild and free life before becoming sustenance.
Since being with Fernando I have been exposed to hunting through his interest, and there is no shortage of interest from him. A typical night includes him watching hunting or fishing videos on YouTube and it is not uncommon for him to watch them while he works out at home. If he's not watching videos he is typically looking up ballistics, reading hunting articles, or watching soccer.
My point is, over five years I have been exposed to a tonne of information about hunting. Earlier this year, pre-covid, a friend of mine was taking the CORE course to get her hunting license in honour of her husband. It kind of felt like a now or never thing for me. I already had my firearms license so it was the last course I needed to be able to hunt. Fernando had brought home a deer in November and I helped him with the butchering and packaging. It really didn't bother me like I thought it would, so I went for my CORE, keeping an open mind about potentially harvesting an animal some day.
Fernando bought me a gun because he's amazing. He got me a compact Savage axis 6.5 Creedmore and this fall we sighted it in. It took a while for me to get comfortable with it. The gun is amazing and has barely any recoil, but the anticipation of the sound of the gun firing made me flinch every time. I got some tips from Fernando and my co-worker and I improved a ton in a short period of time. At this point I'm still not sure I'm confident enough to take a difficult shot, but I am open to taking an easy shot, and honestly, Fernando is going to get to fill his tag before I ever take a shot because he knows he can. We lived up in Fort St. John for a few years before moving to Vanderhoof so we are fairly familiar with the territory up there. More-so than here at least. so now that the gun and I were ready to go, we rented a beautiful AirBnB and we headed north to the Peace Region.
We decided to check out where Fernando got his deer last year to start off. We didn't have high expectations since deer aren't rutting in September, but it was worth scoping out anyway. We slept in Sunday morning (we're not morning people), so we headed out for an evening scouting session. We walked along a ridge following the Halfway River for a while looking for signs and honestly, just kind of checking out the scenery before moving to our intended location. We didn't even carry the guns for this first scouting session since there were plenty of hunters camped nearby.
After an evening of hiking, observing, and waiting, we saw nothing. There were cows in nearby farmers fields we could here, but no wildlife to be seen. We figured it was a long shot to see anything in that spot just yet, but not seeing something didn't mean we weren't successful in some way. I learned so much this first day. I didn't carry a gun but I learned to look for signs, be quiet, and Fernando was talking to me about what he was doing and why.
We made our way back to the AirBnB and got a good nights sleep. The next morning, we went back. It was just barely day break when we got there and we made our way up the hill again. It was cool and windy, covering the sounds of us stepping on all the fallen leaves as we went.
We followed roughly the same pattern as the night before; watch, listen, move, watch, listen, move. We could hear the cows in the distance still and with no new ungulate tracks we decided to cut our losses and join a friend of ours. Tab was hunting moose with her family near Tumbler Ridge and invited us to stay in her trailer with her if we wanted to join. Of course, on the drive back we saw a cow moose and a bull moose just off the road we were driving. Neither were legal and even if they were they were on private land or too close to a road, but it was nice to see that there were animals in the area.
After a quick trip to Backcountry and grabbing lunch in town with a great friend of ours, we were on our way. The winds were insane when we got there; gusts up to 70km/hr pretty much meant there wouldn't be much chance to hear anything, but we went for a drive to scope out some area since this was all new territory for us. We saw some tracks that were relatively recent. We figured with the mud it was probably within the week so we kept trekking and came into the perfect cutblock. Tall grass, aspen, some spruce mixed in, and tracks. So we hunkered down and called for a while.....
Later still.... Nothing
Just before dark we headed back to camp for dinner and rest. The next morning we went back. Observe, call, listen, observe, call, listen....
After the sun was in full force we went on our way to look for more signs. We found plenty of tracks, but no animals. There were daybeds as well, scattered throughout the long grass of the cutblocks. Wildlife were definitely in the area, but we weren't having any luck finding them. I was even texting with my co-worker, Bruce, about what we were seeing and asking for insight because he hunts a LOT and is typically fairly successful. Any insight was helpful and Bruce did not disappoint.
This is how the entire week went. We took a break at one point to fish at Charlie Lake so we could bring my dad back some Walleye, but nothing was bitting there either.
You're probably reading this in anticipation...but Kayla! What did you learn?!
It wouldn't have been fair to the story to just list a bunch of things I learned. There is so much more to hunting than I ever thought, even with Fernando watching endless videos and reading a million articles. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I was not prepared for how hard it would be.
Hunting is not going out, looking, shooting, butchering, and packaging. Hunting is patience in the most serene places when everything around you is frustrating you. It is learning to appreciate the silence because in the silence you can really hear what is around you, and that's really all that matters. I need to apply that to my daily life when we are surrounded by distractions and noise all the time.
Hunting teaches you observational skills that really just aren't used in day to day life. Whether is it watching for signs, noticing differences in the brush compared to the day before, listening for your clues, it takes the skills we don't usually use. We are so used to change in our lives that small things go unnoticed, but with hunting those small things make all the difference in your success.
I learned that planning a hunt around a full moon may not be the best option. We had little to no cloud coverage and it was 18+ during the day and cooling off down to 2 degrees at night, so the animals could move easily at night with the light of the moon and sleep in the comfort of the sun during the day.
I also learned that ungulates are magic. I've heard them called a few things lately, elusive being the most prominent word. I don't think elusive even covers it; magic is the only word I can relate to them. When you're walking on a road and trying not to make a sound, but realizing that with any step you take there will be the sound of crunching leaves, you really have to take a moment to appreciate that an ungulate can walk through the forest without making a sound, let alone on a road. They move through stands of trees that are so tight together a full grown human can barely fit through places, and they do it without a sound and without breaking all the branches; some obviously get broken, but most stay in tact.
Probably the most important thing I learned, is that hunting with Fernando is about more than hunting. It is about sharing in an experience together; sharing in hope, anticipation, exploration, and patience with each other. If you haven't hunted before, I recommend it. Keep in mind I've still never been in a position to shoot something so I still don't know if I can, but I can be a hunter's assistant and photographer until I'm ready.
So of course I went hunting with him again yesterday. I'll end this post with some photos from yesterday's adventure.