I’ve begged off from the moose hunt so far this year. It’s not so much weather, first pouring rain, now snow - Sam didn’t go out on the soggiest days either. My handy excuse it the old dog who can’t be left by herself for much more than two hours at a time. In truth, I hate the killing.
A sissified attitude, I know, unfit for a bush woman, born of the modern luxury that makes not only hunting but food items in general a matter of choice, not necessity. If we don’t get a moose this year, we won’t starve, we’ll simply buy a bit more food later in the winter, try for a bear in spring or catch more fish. Gone are the days when hunting your meat was a matter of survival, gone for the most part are the close ties to the land that such utter dependence created.
Instead, thanks to the modern wonders of commerce and easy transportation, I could feed myself completely on Californian veggies and regional beef if I wanted to, never mind the hundred mile diet. I have those choices: buy meat or do without it, let the moose keep his life. It’s this that makes it hard.
To me, they’re not just funny looking creatures, a hunk of meat on the hoof, something that either we or the wolves eat. It’s the living with moose, with bears, that lets me know some of them personally. There was Broccoli Boy last winter, a bull calf who munched his way through the old broccoli in our garden; there was the young moose who went through the ice right in front of our cabin one spring; there are the cows who come by the cabin every winter with their calves when we see no other creatures for months on end. Our only visitors.
It’s not much I get to see of their lives, just glimpses throughout the seasons. Out here in the bush, where often it’s so quiet and can feel so lonely, where we see the tracks more often than the actual animals, a life is precious. It fills me with happiness and awe to come across another living being, an animal who ekes out his life beside me, who knows these woods that few people are familiar with so much better than any of us. They’re beautiful, the land alive in their every move - the water the moose splashed through expressed in his bouncing gait, the caribou he ate reborn in the endurance of a wolf, the abundance of soapberries filling and rounding the dreams of a napping bear.
I see these things, a guess at the intricacies that weave wilderness together, and I am loathe to cut a single life short because I’m not only robbing the animal of it, I’m robbing myself. It’s stupid, I tell myself, the animals eat each other too, and we’re not killing anything to get at a set of antlers or just a hide. We hunt to eat, so what’s wrong with that? Nothing, my head tells me; something, my heart tells me. Too many choices nowadays, the choice to let somebody else do the dirty work or to subsist on foreign vegetarian fare; both of which seems even more inappropriate to me.
I wrestle with this every fall, wishing I could switch off those thoughts, wishing I could see it more like Sam. He loves it - the being out there, the anticipation of a moose showing himself, the test of skills to get him close enough, much as he dislikes the moment when he has to shoot the animal dead. To him, it’s our meat supply, as local, free range and organically grown as you can get it, part of living here. After all, the moose would have died eventually, most likely a slower, bloodier, more painful death, so why not shoot him to feed us?
It makes perfect sense to me and yet I can’t help myself. Probably it’s the cross that animal lovers have to bear, what comes with caring about something excessively. I wonder if it was us, 10,000 years ago, the animal lovers who began to domesticate animals. What a disservice we have done to them, those chickens and hogs and cattle whose sole reason for being is to be consumed by us.
Whereas wild game live their lives the way it was meant to be, and chance is always a factor in the hunt. I tell myself these things, argue back and forth, grateful for the old dog who, this fall, might keep me from witnessing the death of one of those moose I know.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.