“Hayley wake up,” I whispered. “It’s 4:30 and we have to get ready. The sun will be up soon.”
This was a very common phrase in our house. When I was just a boy, about six, my dad started to take me out hunting. These were the best days of my childhood. We would get up early, eat, and run out of the house so we could get to the blind before sun up. There was always a flock of geese waiting on the tidal flats we hunted. If you showed up late they would see you walking down the hill and spook. So like my dad, I started Hayley out young.
While my three-year-old little girl was slurping back her Lucky Charms and bouncing in her seat with impatience, I was getting our lunches and snacks ready for the day. “Hayley, sit still please,” was another common phrase on these mornings.
Once the gear was packed, with gun in the truck, we had to don camo outfits. Hayley’s great-grandmother was a seamstress, so she always had gear to keep her warm and hidden. Like any child, she was unable to stay still, so changing clothes was a helpful task to assign her. She ran off to her room to put on her new outfit that Grandma had made for this season. When she came out she was dressed like any hunter you would see hiding in a field waiting for waterfowl to come over, except for her bright pink rubber boots.
It was supposed to be a warm day which usually means less action. So we went to an aircraft flyway. Even though the planes were a few thousand feet up they could still get some birds moving. Soon we had five or six snow geese down and Hayley was getting bored.
I kept watch to see if anything was moving, and when I looked over at my little girl I was expecting her to be sleeping; instead she was playing with the geese we downed. They were set up nicely as though they were still alive, heads propped up by twigs.
“I am playing Barbie geese and we are having a tea party,” she said. I laughed so hard that if there were any birds heading our way, they changed plans.
The mid-morning heat was starting to set in, and it did not feel like a September hunt any more. Even with the passing planes, the geese quit moving. The breeze slowed and then ceased.
It was starting to feel like July so we decided that we would go for a hike around the area and see what we could find. I let Hayley carry the binoculars so she could watch for geese and bears.
Hunting near Churchill, Manitoba, there was as much of a chance of walking into a polar bear as there was a flock of geese. We spotted squirrels, robins, a couple lemmings scurrying quickly across the mossy ground, and when we got back to our hunting blind there were signs of a fox snooping around where I had plucked some of the geese.
September hunts in Churchill can bring all four seasons at you in one morning, but this expedition turned out to be a summery one. The fall colours were amazing. The one-sided spruce trees, and the vibrant reds and yellows of the willows made for a beautiful back drop to watch Hayley play in between waves of birds.
I was taught on this trip by Hayley that if you look into the sky with binoculars you can see stuff. To this day I do not know what stuff she saw, but it made me smile every time she would look straight up for geese.
This day ended with us reaching our limit on Canada geese and coming close to our snow goose limit, but like any other trip with our kids, who cares if you get anything? You are out there to have fun and show them what a great life this is, and how to enjoy the outdoors.
Hayley has continued to hunt with me for her whole life. She has never enjoyed the part where the animal has to die, but understands and appreciates it.
When we moved to the Yukon I was unable to secure a reliable hunting partner for the first few years. So Hayley and I (like always) would pack up and head into the wilderness on another adventure.
Now Hayley is 14 and we are still planning annual moose hunts, and having a great time. I don’t think she realises what it means for me to have her out there.
Like the song says, “I guarantee this memory’s a big’n, and she thinks we’re just fishin’.”