Packing away the camo and blaze orange is always a bittersweet endeavour. There's the almost overwhelmingly sad thought that it's going to be eight months until I take it out again. But as I fold my bib pants into the bottom of the duffle bag, I'm struck with another thought. And it's one of pure gratitude.
It's that time of the year when we should all take a moment to think about the events that would appear on your private top 10 list -- whether they have to do with hunting or not. My Santa sack of gratitude (because it really is that big) falls into two basic categories -- public and personal.
On the public side, I'm grateful for the simple fact that I live in a place where I can pursue my passion without traveling a great distance, being bound by ridiculously short seasons or unreasonable tag limits. At this point, I know some of you are rolling your eyes, wishing we as hunters had more latitude on these points. In my opinion -- and it's only my opinion -- we've got it pretty good here.
I've spoken with hunters in other parts of North America, and even other continents, where a particular big game season lasts but four days. I understand the reason for those short seasons -- it's because a conservation management effort went off the rails or came too late to the table. Or simply because Mother Nature had other plans.
We might not get it right every single time and we may not agree with the results when it comes to conservation in Manitoba, but overall, the plan is working. And it's largely because the parties at the table -- advocates, hunters and the folks with a Manitoba Conservation symbol on their emails -- all have the same motivation. Quite simply, we care about our great outdoors.
On the personal side, things get a lot more, well, personal. I often am asked by non-hunters why I hunt. It's not an easy question to answer, but my go-to statement has something to do with learning patience. As a largely impatient person, hunting forces me to get a little better at waiting (as if we have any choice). I've tried reading in a tree stand and playing games on my phone in a ground blind to pass the time. It doesn't work for me. So I think. I slow down. I give my brain the luxury of going places it rarely goes. And for me, this is priceless.
At this time of year, hunters often ask the same question of each other -- how was your season? I simply can't control the smile that breaks across my face, for this year was particularly kind to me.
There are highlights in each season, and for those I am grateful. During a caribou hunting trip to the northerly reaches of the province, I experienced the most physically demanding single day of my life (childbirth now seems like a cakewalk). With the butchering of my first ever caribou completed on a carpet of lichen, Labrador tea and blueberries, it was time to pack out our quarry and head for camp. Thank goodness Kevin, my brother-in-law, is strong and fit. He carried four quarters while I packed the antlers, head, our guns and gear.
During elk hunting season, I sat still for 15 minutes as a cow elk, no more than 35 metres from me, cooled off in a shallow dugout at the corner of a clearing. The sun was behind her. She would dip into the pond and send a stream of water over her head and across her back. Through my binoculars, her head filled the entire frame. Water droplets caught the light and turned silver. Rainbows danced.
When two bucks walked out for me during rifle hunting season on a glistening November morning, I knew my two-year deer drought was over. It was the first time I had hunted on my grandparents' quarter section. And I was hunting with my dad. We shared a laugh as we struggled to get that deer loaded on the rack of the Escape. After dressing the buck in the garage, we headed into the farmhouse, put together a big brunch and shared storied across the kitchen table where I spent many a Sunday afternoon as a girl, visiting with Baba and Gigi.
Sure I had success -- if success can be measured by meat in the freezer. But my bounty was much more than that. I can't help but think of a sentence I read years ago in book called A Year in the Woods: The Diary of a Forest Ranger, by Colin Elford. It goes like this.
"To be silent and alone in such a place, to witness the sights and sounds whatever the season, leaves you richer. So who cares if you don't shoot anything?"
Shel Zolkewich writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she's not playing outside, traveling or eating. You can reach her with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org