I spent the last couple of days with my brother in the woods, hunting deer. We used to go with our dad, but he decided his time had passed a couple of years ago.
We drive to Russell, a small community on the Yellowhead highway near the border of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. We stay in a hotel, get up about 3 hours before sunrise, and drive to a PFRA community pasture, on the west bank of the Assiniboine River. The terrain is a mixture of sand hills and prairies, with large areas of poplar scrub and some swamps where the water is trapped by ridges. The colours are largely brown, dun, grey. There are a few faded green leaves.
The pasture has changed in subtle ways. Water is being trapped in larger swamps and ponds, and the beaver have moved in and built dams in the drainages, blocking more water. The poplar scrub seems to expand. The cattle crop the grass in the prairie, but the poplar seems to keep taking root.
There is a cemetery in the pasture, the cemetery of the ghost town of St. Madeline, a Metis community that dissolved, or was moved when the federal government established the pasture. There are still new graves in the cemetery every year, and many graves are tended by new wooden crosses and floral arrangements.
In most years, there is snow by this time of the year but we haven’t had any yet.
The hunting was nearly impossible. The deer are in huge thickets, and have ample escape cover. When there are a lot of hunters – not necessarily deliberately trying to drive deer – the deer may move around but when there are only a few hunters in the bush, the chances of a clear shot are slim. The deer population crashed after a bad winter about 5 years ago, and the number of hunters has fallen off.
I managed to get close a couple of times. I saw deer within 50 yards, screened by brush, running away.
I started to hunt because my father introduced me to it. I don’t know where he got the bug, but his choice to move to Canada from Holland was influenced by the dream of being able to hunt – a sport inaccessible to most Europeans. When I was a child, his time and resources were limited but he managed to take his sons out a few times every year, and we continued to hunt with him after we grew up.
Now it has become a part of my life. I get away from my job, and spend time with my brother, discussing strategy and telling tales.
I had a good time, interpreting the land and the wind, feeling the effect of the brush in breaking the wind, feeling the sun on my back and the wind on my face, following trails in the brush with confidence of knowing where I was and where I was going, and the constant possibility of the sudden primal predatory encounter with an animal. I felt, simply, alive and connected to the land and the sky and the moment.