In the dregs of an Ontario February (a time that for those who have not had the privilege to experience it is arguably the bleakest, wintry, and most depressing period of the year) hunting can become a distant and dream-like memory. Sure, in some parts of the province there are year-round opportunities for coyote hunting, and in other areas there are still pocketed opportunities for rabbit hunting, but generally hunting for everything else is closed. The return of the big game hunting for deer, bears, and moose that sustained us through the fall and into December won’t be returning for the greater part of a year while the halcyon days of spring turkey hunting, while imminent, for now seem to be permanently buried under the grim pallor of ice and snow. Here and there you may get a week of goose hunting in early March, but for many we won’t hear the braying, cackling, and murmuring of Canada Geese settling into decoys until September. Ducks? Around the same time, give or take a couple of weeks. The only similar lull to these mid-winter blahs is the lazy, hazy days of mid-summer; even then the opportunity to get out and wander the woods and fields is an attractive diversion. I know very few people who are motivated to go out hiking in the wilderness when the snowdrifts are a meter deep and it is 14 degrees below zero. Snowmobiling? Maybe, but certainly not hiking. And I’m in southern Ontario, in a region deeper south than most of the rest of Canada. In the northern parts of this country it is likely that they’ve been under this hunt-stifling deep-freeze, or an even more severe one, for far longer.
Even the prospect of Valentine’s Day (with the promise of candy and sundry other things) can’t seem to get me out this funk. Yep, February is pretty depressing.
So what can one do? Well, I started this blog so I could have an outlet for my pent up hunting needs. I also endorse sitting around with friends reminiscing about past hunts, watching hunting shows on television and the Internet, and preparing to go hunting when the seasons re-open by cleaning and polishing (and then re-cleaning and re-polishing) your weapons, unpacking, organizing, and then re-packing your equipment, and practicing your calling constantly and at a volume so excessive that it lowers your property values.
For those of you with non-hunting spouses, these well-intentioned outlets of therapy may seem to your husband or wife as pointless puttering or in the case of practicing with your game calls, a sign of mental illness. But really it is just a coping mechanism employed to help us survive the long winter of non-hunting inactivity.
But wait, in this self-pity there is an opportunity for perspective. Think of the game animals that you respect and cherish so much; they are outside right now really surviving. And not surviving so that you can hunt them when the next season opens, not surviving because they have nothing better to do, but surviving because they have to, surviving for the very definition of survival.
Because, after all survival is what they do best. That is why they are a challenge to hunt.
Every turkey that you hunt in the spring survived the depths of winter. All the moose and deer that are being hunted in the fall are being hunted by virtue of their (or their mother’s) survival through the previous winter. Every animal that we in the hunting community pursue had to survive countless natural and man-made threats to their very existence, and it is through their survival and adaptation that they gain the skills necessary to thwart and beguile predators (human or otherwise) everywhere. That challenge is an integral part of the appeal of hunting, at least for this particular hunter. My father told me once at deer camp that it was a good exercise to take a step back from the thrill of hunting, especially in the euphoric moments after harvesting game and think quietly about the life that the animal had lived, how it had survived, and the harsh reality of that animal’s existence in the wilderness as a participant in the struggle between prey and predator. I think introspection is more than just a good exercise, but an absolutely necessary part of the act of hunting. Too often the game being pursued becomes a footnote in the hunt, and not the main character; regularly confronting the more unpleasant bits of survival and death are what make hunting what it is.
So I guess before I go feeling sorry for myself about not being able to get out and hunt much of anything right now, I should probably just be thankful that I’m not sleeping outside in a cedar swamp, or trying to avoid being eaten by coyotes, or starving. I should also be grateful that by the virtue of their superb adaptations and incomprehensibly powerful will to live that wild game continues to thrive and provide opportunities for myself and others to pursue the hunting tradition.
And thinking all that I realize that wild turkey season is less than three months away here in Ontario. Which is just about long enough, with nightly practicing of course, to get my pot call and strikers all tuned to perfection.