Hunting should involve much more than just the pursuit of game
Most of us hunters grew up as nature lovers. We were the kids who came home with seashells and bird’s nests in our pockets. We assembled home menageries of whatever wild and wacky animals we could convince our moms to allow through the door. And we spent our summers camping and hiking when other kids our age were consumed by more urban activities. The drive to explore the natural world is in our DNA, which led us to evolve into hunters.
Far too often today, unfortunately, I encounter hunters who’ve lost their zeal for the broader natural world they once embraced. They’re singularly focussed on whatever game they’re pursuing, to the extent they fail to appreciate and fully enjoy all that surrounds them—and that’s a pity.
OBSERVE AND LEARN
I, for one, have never lost my fascination with wild places. I’m forever checking my reference books to confirm the identity of the creatures I’ve seen in the many landscapes where I hunt. Learning about, and understanding, the relationships between the myriad mammals, birds, insects and plants gives me a greater appreciation of how various ecosystems work. In turn, that appreciation has enhanced my overall outdoor experience, while also making me a better hunter.
Some of my favourite hunting memories, in fact, have nothing to do with the animal I was targeting. One time, for example, a cougar strolled past my blind at 30 metres, right after I heard it scream at my deer decoy. I can only assume the big cat was trying to jar the inert deer into action.
From the comfort of my deer blind, I’ve also often watched fishers, martens and weasels hunting mice and squirrels, and black bears and coyotes hunting for whatever they could find. And I’ve seen lynx on the prowl, searching the thick underbrush for snowshoe hares.
I recall one memorable morning watching a ruffed grouse shuffling about the forest floor as I waited patiently for a deer to show up. At one point, it hopped up onto a log and I thought I might get the chance to see it drum. Unfortunately, for the grouse at least, it had no sooner settled into place when a goshawk smashed into it in an explosion of feathers—a classic case of the quick and the dead.
BOND WITH NATURE
Sometimes, mere observation can transform into unexpected interaction with wild creatures. One frosty October morning, I was hunting ducks with a friend, hidden along the shore of a small pond. A pair of mallards sailed in from the north and my partner stood and swung on the drake, dropping it neatly in the middle of the pond. Seconds later, we watched with amazement as a great horned owl glided silently out of a nearby tree and settled firmly on the downed duck. Grasping the mallard in its talons, the owl paddled to shore and calmly began plucking it like he’d earned it.
Being opportunists and acutely aware of your presence, predatory birds will often take advantage of the largesse hunters provide. They’ll also sometimes send you a not so subtle message. Sneaking along a bush line while looking for a whitetail buck one afternoon, I almost jumped out of my pac boots when a northern hawk owl swooped over me from behind, tickling my toque on its way past. In no uncertain terms, it was telling me I was in his territory, not mine.
At other times, it’s as though I’m working in unison with the wildlife around me. I like to hunt the big water for ducks, for example, and that’s provided me with countless encounters. From my boat blind, I’ve watched peregrine falcons and minks hunting the same ducks as I was after. I’ve observed otters dipsy-doodling as they chased fish, deer and moose feeding in the shallows mere metres away, and countless beavers, muskrats and shorebirds going about their daily business—all seemingly oblivious to the fact they had me as an audience. Such experiences, as much as the prospect of shooting another bluebill, keep me returning to the marsh.
So, the next time you’re in your stand in the woods, hiking the prairies or the mountains, or sitting on the shore of a marsh, revisit your roots by taking the time to enjoy all that your surroundings have to offer. It will help remind you why you’re out there in the first place.