Hunting or not, wild animals are my teachers

Why have I never written about hunting before?

Maybe it’s because writing about an experience makes it more real. In the face of hunting, that is hard for me to accept.

I do love my hunting partner, my husband Don, for it. He, too, is quite undone after actually shooting an animal. He will only shoot a gun to provide us with wild meat. Once a year, he will do some target practice and sight his gun.

To be truthful, for the hunter/gatherer lifestyle we live, at heart I am the hunter and he is the gatherer. I love finding the animals, as I do love being on, and living from, the land.

So there you go. This northern land of untouched wilderness where the buffalo roam is just a figure of speech. As you probably know, our buffalo are wood bison that were introduced here in the 1980s.

You could say that I came at the same time as the bison. I was a vegetarian, and totally unaware of what I had signed up for, I jumped at the opportunity to go commercial fishing with the Tlingit at the Tulsequah River. I was enjoying life in the middle of nowhere, living in a tent, repairing nets, hauling ice from the glacier.

One morning at 5 a.m., however, I suddenly found myself cutting off fish heads. Many fish heads. When my family back home heard about this, they laughed at me. I come from a farm family and they all eat meat.

And here I am now, going hunting most years. My first hunt, as it often goes with firsts, is still the most memorable.

On a beautiful fall day, we took the canoe to Squanga Lake, motored to the far end, paddled into the weeds, and followed little passageways from one lake to the next.

At one stretch, we actually had to pull the canoe overland, which was right up my alley, since I enjoy being out in the wilderness. By the time 3:00 o’clock came around, my husband started thinking about turning back, as it would be too late to shoot anything after that.

Sure enough, with me at the front of the canoe, we came through a narrow passage into yet another little lake. There he was: standing royally in the middle of the lake.

In that split second, my mind scrambled for the right words, since Don could not see the moose yet. If the canoe kept moving forward, the moose would likely see us. But I couldn’t come up with the word “bull” – which was essential, because in Yukon moose hunting, one can only shoot bulls.

“A #@%& MALE  MOOSE,” I whispered hoarsely.

Don and I quickly changed places in the canoe, as he warned me, “Cover your ears and keep paddling.”

I opted for the latter, to keep the boat steady. As mister moose stepped onto land, Don shot, and the moose lay dead,  right at the shoreline.

Now the work began. I had been listening to elders about hunting, and made sure everything was taken that I wanted. Only the guts were left behind. Yes, I do take the bum guts: a most beautiful, clean organ, which tastes delicious.

From that hunt on, it has only been bison for me. In the beginning of the bison hunting years, the animals would basically walk into our freezer. Not so anymore; they know, now. We see fewer bison now that they are being hunted. But that is what also makes it so magical: the joy of being out there, searching, loving it.

On this year’s trip, I was collecting flaxseed from the meadows while we followed fairly fresh bison pies. With no bison in sight, we returned to the jeep to drive home.

“Let’s check the gravel pit where we got one last year,” Don suggested.

“If we go that way, let’s stop at that water hole where flowers were still blooming last week” I replied. I am a wildflower buff, after all.

Walking to the water hole, I suddenly saw the familiar dark shape that spells bison. The excitement was too much. I fell to the ground, in order not to alert the animal, and mumbled something. After a few seconds, Don understands: bison.

This is where we both find it quite sad, because the bison stand there without fear. If you are a good marksmen and you know your gun, they really don’t stand a chance. Don, of course, doesn’t want me to talk about this.

When the female falls, the males in the group come up to her, nuzzling her. That is why I don’t write about this gladly.

Now, however, I am extremely happy and grateful to be working every day with the meat. Sometimes I work the hide, but this year we left it.

I always try to use as much as I can. This year, I added making lard, which is wonderful. But be prepared: my first pot was quite messy – the lard sticks like candlewax.

I boiled the fat, which I found right under the skin at the backside of the animal, for a few hours in water, then strained it into wide-mouth canning jars and drained the excess water that collected in the bottom after the lard hardened.

Successful or not, all hunting trips are beautiful experiences. I love being out there, with or without purpose, but to actually live off the land is a great honour.

Thank you, wild animals. You are my teachers.

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