Nope…Nothing…Nada…Not Even Bigfoot

With a few exceptions, it has become a common theme in life that the act never lives up to the anticipation.  Such it was with this morning’s turkey hunt.
Yesterday I told you all of my run in with the chattiest gobbler I’ve ever come up against.  My hope was to return to the same spot today and hope to pull him across the 6th line of Nassageweya in to the Finney Forest Tract.
Arriving even earlier than I did yesterday I was nonplussed to find another vehicle parked at the Finney Forest’s entrance.  Not wanting to tread on another turkey hunter’s boots (especially in a tract as small as 20 acres) I went to my back up spot…the Acton Tract five minutes up the road.
The Acton Tract is about the same size as the Finney Tract, give or take five acres, and semi-famously was once the location of a Bigfoot sighting.  Based on the tracks I saw in the trail, equestrian pursuits are much more common than hominid-hunting.  Finding no other hunters (or menacing sasquatches sneaking around) to greet me at the gate, I suited up in the dark and stalked my way eastward into a dry, open bottom where I set up against a wide pine tree with a blown down pine top sitting in front of me to serve as a natural blind.
Once again, I was greeted by a still, calm, clear morning.  Unfortunately, no gobbling rang out to rouse me this morning, which I guess is only fair given the concert of turkey noise that I was privy to yesterday morning.  I went through my typical morning calling routine, cranking the volume up slightly just to reach any dozy, far-off tom turkeys.
At about 6:15am I heard the brief chirp of a car horn.  I recognized it as the sound of someone locking a vehicle with a keyless fob to the west of me.  I was almost certain that it was another public land turkey hunter, which is fine…I don’t mind sharing with someone else.  Sure enough about 10 minutes later, I heard some snapping branches and footfalls in the trail.  I saw my fellow huntsman and just as I was about to call out my position, he pulled his mask down and waved at me (maybe I wasn’t as well hidden as I thought I was).  I waved back, and with this silent acknowledgement, he turned down a trail to my left and I could see him no longer.  I heard him fire up his calls a short while later (he sounded pretty proficient) and in the stillness of the morning woods it became apparent that we were so closely situated that we would be competing for the same birds.  I had another spot lined up in the Acton Tract in case of just such an emergency, so I got up and walked straight away from the other turkey hunter  to a spot that was a little thicker, but also a bit quieter.  It was just about 6:35am.
About two minutes after I got situated I heard something running on the trail.  While I was not expecting a sasquatch, I had heard no other vehicles so I was curious about what to expect to see…I anticipated a deer.  What I saw was a pale yellow Labrador retriever…followed by a sight hound of some sort (likely a greyhound) followed by another yellow Lab.  All three stopped and looked pointedly in my direction (odds are they could smell by backtrail) and then, maddeningly, started to bark and howl at me.  I stood up and put my sling over my right shoulder, giving up my hunt for lost, and was only slightly surprised that with this movement all three dogs began snarling and sprinting at me.
I do enjoy dogs, just not three dogs that materialize out of nowhere and begin to chase you down aggressively.  I stood still and shouted “Get Lost!” or something at them, and they ran around me in circles, barking and growling aggressively but not really doing anything to worry me about being bitten.  At this time I saw their nominal “owner” on the trail and he began shouting as well.  A vague transcript follows:
Owner: “Peggy!  Hey!  Get over here!  Come…Come NOW!  Bad dog…Peggy?!  Listen!  COME HERE!  Down!  Leave him alone!  Come HERE NOW!  Peggy!”
Me: (slightly quieter) “Go On!  Git!  Git goin’ Peggy!  Get outta here!”
I don’t know why I talk like a 19th Century Klondikeman when I shout at dogs…congenital defect I guess.
At one point the smaller of the two Labs jumped at my back and gave me slight shove.  This man never came within 25 yards of where his dogs were harassing me…I’m still at a loss for an explanation why he just stood there and shouted.  Finally giving up on his shouting I began to walk towards him.  The dogs barked and growled louder, but as I expected they ran to encircle their owner and stare and bark angrily at me.  Eventually he began to walk away down the trail and the three canines followed him along the trail.
This man never said “sorry” or “how are you?” or anything else.  I wasn’t looking too closely but I never saw a lead or leash in the man’s hands either.
I won’t relate the quiet curses I laid at the doorstep of this man and his dogs, but a part of me did feel bad for this other turkey hunter in the Acton Tract…my friend if you’re reading this I hope you weren’t bothered by these dogs as well and I hope those mutts didn’t ruin your day like they ruined mine.
I trudged back to the car and took a moment to let the ironic rage wash over me when I read the Halton Forest signage indicating something like (I’m paraphrasing)
“All pets must be on a leash at all times.”
I was struck for a brief moment of the overwhelming futility that is sometimes associated with being a hunter, especially one in the private land sphere.  I, in order to practice my passion of hunting, must pass numerous tests and courses to hunt and possess firearms, I must renew and purchase licenses constantly (and at no little expense), to hunt in some public forests I must purchase special Conservation Authority permits and retain public liability insurance in the unlikely event of something terrible happening, while in other public areas I must submit to inspection of gear and game.  All this is fine by me; it is the small price one pays for the opportunity to hunt on generally excellent public facilities.
But by definition, “public” means that everyone should have equal access rights and show courtesy to other users of the property.  This was troubling because the individual out walking their dogs at 6:30 in the morning, off-leash & in violation of the “rules” posted at the entry to the property showed obviously no regard for the owners of the two (two!) vehicles that he most certainly had to see when he came onto the property.  It is possible (even likely) that this man didn’t care who he disturbed, but it does beg the question “why?”  Why should hunters be held to any stricter standard than other users of public forests?  Why should I be a saint when other users (judging by the occasional pop cans and empty fast-food and cigarette packages I observed at both the Finney and Acton tract entrances) are clearly sinners?  Why was the hunter I saw quiet, courteous and safe while the local dog owner (I say local because in the absence of a third vehicle I could only assume that this individual walked to the forest access) was reckless and rude?  Why does one person with limitless and unfettered access to the public forests seem to have a diminished obligation to follow the rules, while the regulated that use the area for brief, specific periods must observe those rules and many more?
I guess, and I may be way off, the answer is because most hunters (at least the majority that I’ve met, talked to, and participated with) treat their access to hunting grounds (both private, and in this case, public) as a privilege.  Most are also understanding of the fact that hunting, despite the millions in Canada, the USA, and worldwide that participate in the timeless traditions, is a considered a “fringe” activity by the decision and policy making public.

For those of you that hunt that don’t treat the land and access with respect, and that feel hunting on public land at large is still a “right” I may need to take up a contrary position to you.  Part of using “public access” is being a member of the “public”, and if you’re just as discourteous or (dare I say) flat out ignorant of your role as a member of the “public” when you’re hunting as the dog owner I ran into today was, then you’re not doing anything to help perpetuate fair access to public lands for hunting purposes.
So now that I’m done being all ranty, I’ll wrap up how the rest of the morning for today went down
I drove to three other tracts of public forest in Halton that allow hunting (and at $1.41/ltr for gas, this was an unintelligent and somewhat expensive exercise) and was pleased, yes pleased, to find that all three had at least a car or two parked in the access lots.  Galvanized with courteousness by the poor example set for me earlier in the Acton Tract, I disturbed not a single one of the spots…they were already being sufficiently worked by others.
So overall after two days I’m batting .500 on the “pleasant experience” meter for the Halton Forests, which frankly is better than I had anticipated so in all I can’t really complain about having the opportunity to get out there and chase gobblers in well-maintained, reasonably-sized, and most importantly, available, hunting areas.
Saturday (if the weather holds) I’ll be off rambling around Simcoe County and the Barrie area for gobblers with my Dad (ahh…the pastoral pleasures of a father/son hunting tour).  I’ll keep everyone updated.

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