The sense of a hunter

It was a small, clicking kind of sound, only barely discernible above the very faint hiss of my own blood circulating. To say it was a still evening would not do justice to the quietness that lay over the woods like a thick down comforter.

I was breathing through my mouth, as shallowly and silently as possible, straining my ears to listen, straining my ears the way one might strain to pick up a great weight.

Intrigued by the faint, tiny patter around me, I was amazed to discover its source in the steady drizzle of small spruce needles falling onto the wooden plank that was my seat, some three or four meters above the mossy ground.

With wonder I savoured the marvel of listening to spruce needles fall – the tiny percussion section of an almost-silent forest.

Of course there were other instruments in this orchestra of quietness – the occasional cry of a raven or the sharp call of a Northern shrike and, once, a woodpecker in the distance.

From time to time a breath of wind would gently stir – the soft rustle of leaves and limbs coming closer and then fading away into silence.

On the horizon, grey clouds scudded across mountaintops dusted with the first snows of the coming winter. Between me and the mountains lay a dark and somber sea of green; a vast forest of spruce, pine and fir trees accented occasionally by the brilliant golden hues of birch, poplar and willow trees celebrating autumn.

The larger purpose of my strained attentiveness was to listen for a moose. Some moments earlier my companion had cupped his hands to his lips and issued a low bawling sound which was supposed to sound like the “come-hither” invitation of a cow moose.

My friend assured me that any self-respecting, virile bull moose within three kilometres would be making a beeline to our clearing, fully expecting to propagate his species.

Our hope, in contrast, was to secure a winter’s supply of moose meat. So we waited in watchful silence, rifles cocked, thumbs resting on the safeties, adrenaline pumping, ready to respond instantly and lethally to any bull who might enter our sights.

And, sure enough, it was not long before a large animal could be heard moving through the trees and brush just beyond the clearing we had staked out. A few very masculine moose snorts left no doubt about what the animal was, leaving me almost tingling with anticipation.

But whether our imitation of a cow moose left something to be desired or whether the hormones of this particular bull moose had not completely overtaken his native caution, he very deliberately avoided exiting the cover of the trees. Instead, he circled around us, sometimes not more than 30 metres away, but always completely hidden from view.

The minutes crept by, with anticipation gradually giving way to disappointment as silence once again embraced us, the sounds of the moose having finally faded away as he moved on.

Still we waited for perhaps an hour, my friend occasionally doing his cow moose imitation. But with light fading and the chill of the evening settling in, we were obliged to admit defeat.

Somewhat deflated, but deeply grateful for the beauty of the place and the thrill of the hunt, we made our way back to camp where a roaring fire, a hearty dinner and hunting tales from previous years provided encouragement and hope for the coming days.

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