Hunting For Meaning

I love spending the day afield with my daughters. They have been dragged along to hunt and pluck ducks, shiver in snowy deer blinds and get ignored by their beloves Labrador retriever when she transforms from cuddly house pet into a no nonsense hunting dog. Really, she doesn’t even want to be petted when focused on birds. The girls have been at it since they were young and are good company afield.

A five year old Eva thrilled to be on a duck hunt
Toni carrying her BB gun as backup on a grouse hunt

We are in the process of moving from Alberta to British Columbia but for now, there are four days left in my last ever resident 2020 Alberta hunting season and I have yet to fill my antlered whitetail tag or either of my mule deer or whitetail antlerless tags. Eva said she wanted to go along so off we trundled to the Pattisons lake property. We would start the morning on the Mathisen property where I had killed a moose and a buck whitetail within minutes of each other a few years back.

When the Red Gods smile on a hunter, they sometimes belly laugh.

It was a pretty sunrise at least and the brood of four grouse that sat and looked at us in the dark were entertaining. Do that later and end up in the pot though! We were after deer for now.

Sunrise might have been spooky were it not so beautiful

The wind was not perfect but our timing and position were good. An hour in with a little fidgeting we decided to re-boot and take a long walk. On the way out Eva’s young eyes lit up and she said urgently “There’s one!” Where? “Right THERE in front of us!” Oh, there she is . . . just over the fence in the safety of the Miquelon Park no hunting zone.

Safe, no-go zones are part of the contract we make when we enter a hunt

Later we did a firearms safety talk refresher and she carried the .22 semi-auto. Empty chamber and on safe. I watched her closely and never caught a muzzle infraction.

We took a long stroll down to the Outback cabin where Eva was entranced (who wouldn’t be?) and pronounced she wanted to do a private writer’s retreat there. Gear down big girl, you gotta pay some firewood dues first!

Ever the musician, she holds the rifle like a guitar — how do you tune this thing?

I understand that without the knowledge of a hunting encounter or the thrill of bringing something home, hope and endurance can wear thin. When their mom, Naomi, joined me to hunt Blue-winged Teal in Cuba’s mangroves a few years back, it was not so arduous in February though there was some sunburn risk.

A better looking gun bearer never existed

However, a windy -4 day in November adds little sun heat and Eva was chilled so we hopped in the truck and drove into Tofield for a Subway sandwich and hot coffee. Her socks dried and warmed on the dashboard vents and she rejuvenated- AKA napped- while I drove around Beaverhill lake revisiting old favorite haunts, scouting for tracks, and just enjoying this patchwork or northern prairie and farmland.

I will hold down this warm truck seat while you take photos

I dawdled my way around the lake shooting some images.

Snow Buntings — the sure sign that winter has arrived. What the hell kind of bird spends their winter in Alberta then migrates north to ensure access to cold weather? Kind of puts pay to the definition of “snowbirds”.

Like Magpies, we love them because they are a winter bird, any bird will do in December after all

Every time I visit Stone House I say the same thing “If stones could talk”. There is often a barn owl perched in there in summer and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a couple of Mundare kids conceived in that house either by occupants or by teens partying. Someone from the old country knew how to make straight walls with round edged field stones that had been transported as glacial erratics on sheets of glacial ice carried in from at least Fort Chipewyan some 600 km to the north east. These same remarkable stones were cursed by many a farm kid who had to haul them out of the fields so horse-drawn plows could turn soil.

This place will out-live me and I am glad of it

I met a horse in the process of having a brainstorm. It may have been “Sure am glad I didn’t have to pull a sledge loaded with field stones” but more likely went something like “Isn’t hay just. . . grass we didn’t get to eat green! We wuz ROBBED!”

His wooly self was happy for an ear scratch and some company

The tracks tell it all. There was something of great interest to a coyote RIGHT DAMN THERE! I suspect a mouse perished but the efficiency of find, pounce, eat return to the path was interesting.

One of the coyote pair stopped off the line for a snack

Eva and I finished out the day talking in whispers and sitting in an abandoned corral that broke some of the wind and provided a ready-made bench rest for very steady shots. Nothing showed but the day was gorgeous and we will sleep well tonight. I know people talk about quality time with your kids but I think there is an argument to be made for quantity time too where many minutes can pass in silence and random thoughts can bubble through. Eva offerd this quote from Rilke’s book ‘Letters To A Young Poet’ — “If you trust in Nature, in the small things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness and knowledge.” Well, I trust in Nature to be non-judgemental, let me wander and wonder and to regularly humble me. Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management, once said something like “The biologist dies a thousand deaths for they know too much.” but my corollary is “The biologist finds joy under every boring rock because they know something of what is going on there”.

Solitude with a rifle and an intention can be quiet and precious

In some ways, I was actually sort of glad to not be distracted from really important time by all the gutting and dragging. Besides, there are still four days left after American Thanksgiving and the harvest this year might be more thanks than venison.

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Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.