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Novel ponders morality of moose hunting

Roy Ness' first novel, Rutting Season, is somewhat of a soap opera. But there's more to the story than two vastly different people navigating their feelings for each other against the Yukon wilderness.

Roy Ness’ first novel, Rutting Season, is somewhat of a soap opera. But there’s more to the story than two vastly different people navigating their feelings for each other against the Yukon wilderness.

When Hannah Weinberg, a Vancouver eco-warrior passionate about defending grizzly bears, gets lost in the Selwyn Mountains and suffers hypothermia, she has to rely on Dan McKay, a moose hunter from Ross River hoping to get meat for winter. She has no choice but to get involved in his hunt.

The two develop a relationship. But it’s complicated - not just because of their vastly different views on hunting.

Hannah’s husband leaves Vancouver to search for his missing wife. Dan faces his own relationship challenges - custody battles with his ex-wife, a strained relationship with his father. And since the novel is set in Yukon, there’s only about “1.5 degrees of separation” between many of the characters, said Ness.

But the book is really about the ethics of hunting - the difference between hunting for show, and hunting for survival, said the author.

“Trophy hunters don’t come off very well in this book. I suppose I’m cutting out a portion of readership,” he said.

The local actor, playwright and former radio commentator on CBC has spent many years reflecting on the issue.

The idea for the novel came in the late 1980s when Paul Watson, environmental activist and one of the founders of Greenpeace, came to the territory to protest hunting wolves from airplanes. His visit caused a stir, internationally and locally.

“There was a tremendous amount of animosity towards him from the Yukon,” said Ness.

Now, he agrees with Watson that shooting wolves from aircraft is wrong. But at the time, he didn’t - although he respected Watson for “being willing to put his ass on the line” for his beliefs.

Watson’s visit stuck with Ness, and he wondered if there could be a story in it. He wrote a treatment for a radio play, never produced, called Project Grizzly.

He didn’t begin writing Rutting Season until the mid-2000s. He completed the self-published work this year.

For Ness, a story only works if it holds his attention, he said. He wanted the characters to be as real as possible. He worked to avoid Yukon stereotypes. Gold is only briefly mentioned in the novel, he said.

Although he’s lived here since the 1970s, he wanted readers familiar with the area to be able to say, “I know that spot.” Funding from the Advanced Artists’ Fund allowed him and his daughter, Claire, to take a 10-day canoe trip down the Macmillan River. The trip inspired several scenes in the novel, and he patterned one minor character after an American trophy hunter, a dentist they met on the trip.

He rewrote the novel last year, after attending the Sage Hill Writing Experience, a professional development retreat for writers, in Saskatchewan. Writing the novel helped solidify his own views on hunting, he said. He now believes trophy hunting is wrong, he said.

“I used to go out every year hunting, moose hunting. And now I don’t. If I have enough food in my freezer, I don’t go out. And I know a lot of people that do, they go every year, and they’ve got a full freezer of game meat. And I think that’s wrong.”

Greed fuels a lot of personal hunting, he said.

“It’s like, ‘I gotta go out and get a moose. I always have to go out and get a moose, whether I need it or not.’” He knows people who have double freezers full of meat. They have to give much of their game away, and throw out the pieces that get freezer burnt before they can be eaten.”

Time, and realizing animals have voices and thought patterns, has changed his views on hunting.

“When we see wildlife, for a hunter going out to shoot something, we see a very tiny slice of their life, minutes of their life. But animals have a whole life, and they have thoughts and emotions - at least, I believe they do.”

His writing reflects this. Ness used different animals’ perspectives: a dog, a raven, a grizzly bear and some moose, to tell the story. He read several books about animals and spoke with a veteri-

narian who works with moose.

His changing views on hunting may have beneficially affected his results, he said.

“I’m not as avid a hunter as I used to be. I don’t want it as much.” He paused. “Maybe that’s good, I seem to have better luck when I don’t really want it,” he said, laughing.

Ness has a premise for a potential sequel that could wrap up some of the novel’s loose ends. As for his other works, his musical Dogtown, based on the life and death of Trevor the Dog, will hopefully open in the spring of 2014.

The Rottweiler-shepherd cross achieved international attention after a 2009 court case between Whitehorse’s bylaw department, which wanted the troublesome canine killed, and the Yukon Humane Society, which wanted him to live. Trevor was put down after being diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year.

Rutting Season is available at Mac’s Fireweed Books, Well Read Books and Coles, as well as on Amazon.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at