After a long, record breaking summer drought, the land is dry. The streams and rivers that have been full for years, are now just trickles. And the weather continues to be clear, calm, and warm. Blame it on the ocean currents, I guess.
In Ontario, partridge (ruffed grouse) are generally hunted in the fall before the deer and moose season. Grouse have not been plentiful for a number of years, but they are there for the patient hunter.
Partridge (ruffed grouse) hunting requires patience and a good ear as you're more likely to hear a bird moving through the underbrush before you see it, as I found out last Monday, the Canadian 1997 Thanksgiving long weekend.
It was the 3rd and last day that I could stay at the camp before returning to the city, and I hadn't seen a single grouse all weekend. The Freshly Fried Breaded Partridge station at our Hunters' Banquet was going to be closed early unless my luck changed. Finishing my last walk, no birds seen, I unloaded my 20 guage and left in on the seat of my ATV. I moved a few steps away for a biological territorial marking imperative (ok, a pee!). While quietly gazing at the forest, I heard what I thought was a squirrel or chipmonk on the ground about a yard away. Then a beak, followed by a big feathered body pushed out of the grass in front of me. We stared at each other without moving for a few minutes, then he slowly started walking away while keeping a beady eye on me. And I'm just watching him with empty hands, my gun was on the bike seat, unloaded! After about 5 minutes, he disappeared behind a tree giving me a chance to move and retrieve the shotgun. With some sadness, but knowing he would bring pleasure and appreciation to those eating him and maybe some awareness of our participation in the food cycle, I shot.
Ed brought his boat up to check out the lake for fish. Most local residents fish only during the winter, through the ice. With the lake to himself, he scanned the underwater topography with his fishfinder and discovered a deep hole behind the big island where the fish wouldn't leave the bait alone.
It's hard to believe that in only a couple of weeks this riot of both leaf and undergrowth will be over. October in Ontario is spectacular! Warm days, no bugs, cool refreshing nights, and a red/yellow golden light from the changing leaves. Riding the trails by ATV is travelling within a golden yellow aura. The dying leaves seeming to actually glow from inside. And I just love the smell of the forest during the fall.
Although the ATV can carry you further and easier than walking, the noise and smell of the engine is not an attractive feature, but the magnitude of silence when the engine is turned off is deafening.
I had two weeks reserved for hunting so I decided to spend the 1st week grouse hunting and then the second week deer hunting. I arrived Saturday, late afternoon. An earlier snowfall forced me to leave my car at the bottom of steep hill leading up to the camp. I got the ATV running and ferried all my supplies up the hill before dark. The next day, Sunday, was mild and dry. I made a few short expeditions along local trails, carrying the shotgun in case of grouse. I collected some firewood during the late afternoon and settled in around my campfire for the night.
About 7pm I felt some coolness on my hands. Snow was gently drifting down. No problem. It wasn't cold and there was no wind. 1/2 an hour later I had snow drifts on me, even sitting in front of a blazing fire! So I headed inside to sleep until dawn.
Monday morning, Oct 27/97 greeted me with about 18 inches of fresh snow and still more falling!
I was trapped! Deep, heavy snow! Luckily I had at least a month's supply of food and fuel. My first task was to dig a path to the outhouse. Later, other paths grew, to the firepit and firewood pile, to the generator, BBQ, and ATV.
What I need is a snowmobile!
Flurries continue all day and into the night. Up to 0C during the day, but down to -4C at night. Nothing to do about it but eat, read, and listen to the radio. Tough life! CBC radio has it's moments with 1920's folk music and later I sink into the downhome style of CHIP 101.7 (Pontiac Radio from the Upper Ottawa Valley) with it's old-fashioned, polite, French influenced music and content. A comfortable sound with winter blown in around me, where Wayne Gretzky is a national hero and the announcer apologizes for his English (sounded OK to me, just like the Prime Minister!).
Tuesday is cloudy at, or just above, 0C which lets the snow slump an inch or so. After a breakfast of fried eggs, I dug a path for the ATV to turn around in and then make a run for the trail down the hill. I had to try! I warmed up and revved up the bike. I raced for the hill and hit the uncleared trail. Momentum carried me about 2 feet across the snow, then gravity settled the bike snugly down into the snow. I'm not going anywhere except by foot! I put the ATV into hibernation status and shifted myself into an "I could be here all winter" behaviour mode.
Except for the rattling of a few remaining leaves at the top of the birches, the forest is silent. The fresh snow is great for seeing animal tracks. The first to leave their impression around the camp are deer mice, squirrels, chickadees, and blue jays.
I use A GUIDE TO ANIMAL TRACKING AND BEHAVIOUR by Donald & Lillian Stokes, to identify tracks.
Wednesday, and a few more centimeters of fresh snow overnight. The temperature is slightly warmer and the snow is beginning to fall off the trees. To console myself for the loss of traditional fall bird-hunting weather, I cooked up a bunch of steamy hot pancakes topped with home made maple syrup and butter. (I also like them sprinkled with brown sugar and fresh lemon juice.)
By 3pm I have no choice but to walk out! All our Hunters' Banquet food is across the lake in the freezer at the farmhouse, which has civilized access to power and phone lines, and the food has to defrost before the banquet on Saturday. It's a couple of hundred yards downhill, through snow over a foot deep, to my buried car (I leave it snug in it's white cocoon), and then another couple of hundred to the plowed road. Then a pleasant 20 minute stroll to the farmhouse, there to discover that Peter has phoned from the city and all the food is happily defrosting without my intervention. At least everyone now knows I'm alive up on the ridge!
|By evening, back at the camp, I've grown an elemental fire. With no wind and warm air over the cold snow, the fragrant wood smoke is settling in the forest dark beyond the flames. A couple of foil wrapped potatoes in the hot coals wait for later. The night sky clears and the stars go deep forever while my feet warm from fossil starlight.|
Thursday hits with clear sunny skies and a heavy freeze. At 8:30am I'm still snuggled up in my down bag, listening to CBC radio, and reading EVOLUTIONS SHORE by Ian McDonald. At the edge of my sight I see movement through the misted up trailer window. There's a grouse wandering around out by the outhouse. I slip into my boots, move slowly outside the trailer and load the shotgun. With respect, sadness, and joy, she becomes part of my diet. In the afternoon, Peter walks into camp. His 4 wheel drive truck is not coming up the hill!
Peter spends Friday at the farmhouse, prepping food for the banquet and I basically get to relax all day, except for juicing pounds of locally grown Ontario carrots. Carrot juice has been a revelation to me. I never realized how sweet and tasty raw carrots can be. The juice is like a milkshake! I bought a juicer just to make carrot juice!
Up at 4am on Saturday, which was mild, and by dawn, sunny. We moved all the food and cooking equipment to the town's Community Hall by noon. I took a break in the early afternoon, managed to get my ATV down the hill, and then headed for one of my favourite grouse haunts. I have no coat on, my sleeves are rolled up, and the sun is burning a mist off the snow, it's a beautiful moment. As I leave my ATV, walking deeper into the forest, 2 birds take to wing, too fast and too far away for a shot. Then, about 75 yards away an elegant whitetail doe, golden in the sunlight, silenty walked away from me, quickly hiding behind a ridge.
Then the magic dissipated as clouds moved in about 2pm and a long cool rain began.
We sure needed our doe tags this year! Does and fawns jumping out the bush everywhere. Smaller, faster, lower target profile when running increases their odds of survival. Gossip suggests that our experience was not unique in the area. Trapping and tracks show that the fisher are plentiful this year. Trophy bucks are a status symbol but young tender bambis make the best meals.
Days and days of rain and snow reduced hunting opportunities during our 1996 two-week rifle season. Besides the wet weather making it tough for our dogs to pick up deer scent, local word was that the wolf population had driven many of the deer away. Our gang did have good luck still hunting during the times when we couldn't run our dogs.
Opening day 1996 was fine though, and I saw my first black bear in the wild. Later the same day I brought down an 8 point buck which after 2 weeks was still the big enough for me to bring home the club's Largest Buck Award for 1996.
The land we hunt is highly variable, from open hardwood forest to thick, dense firs, so no gun is ideal for all situations.