December 15, 2015
Tracks in the snow, dinner on the plate By Fern Yip
Elbows propped on a table at O’Shea’s Restaurant, Jasperite Reg Cook cups his hands over his nose and lets out a series of nasally, wailing snorts.
Cook, a local hunter who just wrapped up his season, is demonstrating ‘the calling method,’ a technique wherein hunters lure animals by mimicking an animal call—in this case a cow moose. No male moose appears out of the nearby crowd watching the hockey game, but that’s beside the point. Over the last few months, hunters like Cook have been busy in the bush outside of Jasper National Park, following animal tracks in the mud and snow.
Cook recalls one of his first hunting experiences several decades ago when he originally took an interest in the sport. Despite spotting a couple of deer, he passed them up and continued on for several kilometers in the hopes that he would encounter a larger animal. That hunt he returned empty handed. Later, he was given some advice from his father: “Son, you shoot the first animal you see, then you pick and choose.” Since then, Cook has prioritized hunting for sustenance rather than a trophy set of antlers. “After all,” Cook says, “we probably wouldn’t be here unless our ancestors learned to hunt.”
Hunting, Cook said, requires tuning into a deep level of sensory awareness that is different than hiking or biking through a landscape. Instead of constantly moving to cover distance, hunters often slow down to a snail’s pace in order to avoid being heard by prey animals. In the long moments of stillness between moving, Cook has realized that “the bush is a very busy place,” and has had wildlife encounters with martens and wolves that any nature enthusiast would envy. Through these experiences, Cook has gained an appreciation for all life forms, including the common red squirrel, one of which kept Cook mesmerized for two hours as it scurried to stash winter food. The extreme patience that hunting demands is something Cook advises new hunters to learn early. “Slow down,” he says. “If you’re moving too fast, the animals will be running around you.”
Laurent Bolduc and his son Manuel are relatively new to hunting. Manuel, now 17-years-old, was 12 when he first got the idea to go hunting. “I was at a friend’s house when he showed me some deer antlers and grouse feathers from a hunt he had returned from,” Manuel said. Eventually he approached his father.
“He said ‘it’d be neat if we went, we could get meat,’” Laurent recalls. Although Laurent had never hunted in his life, he saw the request as an opportunity to bond with his son and spend time together in the bush. After taking all the necessary hunting courses and acquiring proper certification, they spent the first year learning mainly how to track.
“We followed cutlines aimlessly. We got lots of lessons and advice from hunting friends.
The first animal the father and son successfully took was a deer. The experience was an impressionable one. Manuel recalls a rush of excitement, followed by sadness upon realization that the deer had been killed. Laurent remembers how astonishing it was to see the coyotes scavenge the gut pile in less than an hour. Nothing was wasted. They celebrated at dinner by cooking up the deer’s back straps, an excellent cut of meat.
In their kitchen, Laurent and his wife, Karina Hernandez, proudly stand alongside a deep freezer, inside of which is 120 lbs of wild meat harvested this season. Unlike meat from the grocery store, the couple knows exactly where their food has come from and are convinced that it’s the best organic meat available.
“This is precious stuff” Karina says. “I couldn’t throw away any of this meat from my plate knowing how much effort has gone into locating, cleaning, and butchering the animal.”
For hunters, the experience of taking an animal’s life also represents a culmination of all the hours committed to getting to know an animal intimately—its likes and dislikes, its daily routines. Over time, a hunter gains an understanding and deep respect for the hunted.