By Francis Marion – First Published December 20th, 2017
Demography is destiny.
Buzzard stopped the truck at the bottom of the valley and dropped the old man and me off in the middle of a patch of muskeg that ran the edge of an aging cut block.
“The preacher and I are going up to the next series of blocks just up that ridge. We’ll meet you back here in a few hours,” said Buzzard to the both of us as we pulled our gear from the back of his pick up.
I nodded, shouldered my rifle and pack and turned in along the edge of the old cut skirting the edge of the bog. About a half a click in on the back end of the clear cut an old cutline ran north and east, following the edge of the valley bottom and muskeg for miles. About a click further there was an old mineral lick that game had been using for decades longer than I’d been alive. The old man and I planned to follow the old line in, now overgrown and almost impassible but for the game trail beaten down its center, and circle the lick to see what we could find.
As we stalked quietly along the game trail the old man tapped me on the shoulder and motioned me to stop. A few feet in front of me in the middle of the trail was a steaming pile of grizzly scat the size of a football.
“Jesus,” I whispered. We looked at each other and shook our heads in disbelief and carefully carried on. There are times when you are in the bush when you wonder whether you are predator or prey. In reality, I suppose we are both, but then that is the beauty of it.
So carry on I say. And we did.
As we slipped quietly through the damp grass we picked up a well-used trail beaten deep into the moss moving east to west across our path. Even in the early dawn light, we knew this was our turn. As the trail moved east of the old cut line the heavy bush began to open up into low-lying labrador tea and shorter willows. The lick, although we couldn’t see it, was direct to the north of us so we moved slowly and quietly, circling its perimeter until we caught another trail moving north again on the far east side of it.
As we crept the trail moved north and east around the back side of the lick through some mature poplar and birch and then swung suddenly almost straight west back towards the lick itself. The old man and I almost ground to a halt. The wind was in our favor and coming from the north so we made the last few feet stealthily through the birch to the heavy willow adorning the edge where we’d wait until mid morning.
As we settled in with the rising sun at our backs the woods and the muskeg slowly but surely began to come alive around us. Magpies flew back and forth from the more mature trees to the lick and landed in the middle of it only to flutter away and return again, unaware we were there. Squirrels chattered in the distance and mice scurried through the grass around us and beneath our legs through the fallen leaves and roots of the willows.
As the sun began to rise behind us we could feel its warmth as it lit up the lick. To the West, we could hear the sound of crashing timber. This is the beauty of the forest. Everything has its strengths and its weaknesses. I have watched bears the size of small cars move in and out of timber while testing every step and not make a sound. A whitetail doe can suddenly appear from nowhere like a ghost in the mist. But moose. Moose almost always make an entrance.
As the young bull poked his head through the willows not more than forty feet from the old man and me, he paused and surveyed the area. We were well hidden and the wind was in our favor so as long as he didn’t circle to the south he wouldn’t know we were there. He looked the lick over as the breath from our lungs, his and mine, both hung suspended in the damp, cool August air.
Slowly the young bull, happy that he was alone, moved from the cover of the willows to the edge of the lick. We both breathed. As I looked at him through the mist and scope the light from the sun bounced off the moisture on the leaves from the willows behind him and reflected through the edges of the velvet on his antler, illuminating them in the process. I watched and waited for him to turn.
I could see the impact of the 220 grain projectile on his hide through the lens of the glass on my rifle. The bull stood, looking into the willows where we hid as though he hadn’t been hit at all. I chambered another round.
Slowly the young bull walked off to the south towards the scrub willow we had passed through on our way in. I stood and put my scope on him again but felt the old man’s hand on my shoulder. I hesitated and turned.
The old man shook his head and said “He’s finished. Don’t shoot up the meat,” and as he nodded the bull dropped into the scrub, vanishing from sight about forty yards away.
We walked out carefully from behind our wall of grass and willow and made our way to the far side of the lick where the bull had stood a moment ago. We followed another trail going south with the bull’s fresh tracks in it until we broke into the scrub willow where he’d dropped. It’s funny how such a large animal can disappear so easily but as I looked down I knew he was close. My pant legs, which had been rubbing up against the small bits of brush along the edge of the trail, were coated in blood.
In the middle of a patch of tea near the trail we walked in on he lay flinching, his last breaths leaving him as he struggled to move. We stood for a moment to assess the situation and take a look around. We were aware that we’d just rung the dinner bell so we waited.
A few minutes later as we lifted the bulls head to have a better look at him the old man looked at me and spoke:
“You hit him hard. He just didn’t know he was dead yet. I didn’t want you to ruin any more meat.”
I just nodded and set my rifle against a piece of bush.
“You hold the legs and your rifle, I’ll clean him. Watch for that bear.”
“Yep,” was all the old man had to say as the work began.
I think about that hunt from time to time and when I do I am reminded that sometimes it takes a moment for reality to take its course. Philosophy, like math, life, and death, is unforgiving. Choose the wrong one and either the heart or the brain will cease to function, even as the other carries on for a time. This is the conundrum of progressive liberalism. It is a dead end for all who practice it, even for the sisters of wildly popular tech giants.