My game detector works so much better than anything you can buy in a store. Forget about the little game trail cameras you can strap to trees and the headsets you can wear to detect the slightest sounds. Never mind your own good old ears and eyes. I swear by my dogs who not only tell me whether there is an animal around and if there was animal traffic in the area over the last 24 hours, but also what species it is.
A walk with in the woods with our three dogs is a constant exchange of information. On our part, it largely involves calling them back to make sure they don’t stray too far, and cheering the old dog on who is always lagging behind. The dogs however keep up a running commentary on what they smell and hear. Over time, we’ve learned to decipher a lot of what they say.
The other day, I was informed by the dogs that wolves had trespassed right on our favourite trail, an unheard of act of boldness. Usually the wolves treat us like lepers and avoid at all costs coming anywhere close to where we usually walk.
But I was fairly sure that other canines had been there: all three dogs intently sniffed with relaxed tails, and Milan’s macho pee performance ended with his hind paws violently scratching the dirt.
My guess was that they had come through a few hours before, because if the scent had been very fresh, the dogs would have held their tails stiffly up into the air. And sure enough, when I caught up with them I saw a semi-fresh wolf turd right in the middle of our trail.
Reading the dogs makes it all the more fun and interesting out in the woods. I’m glad we have three because they each give us information about different animals in the area. Old Leshi, by now almost completely deaf and going blind as well, really cares about just one type of game: bears. A bear close by used to send her into a complete frenzy, and she has chased quite a few black bears up the closest tree. She has never run off to actively look for bears, no, she only wanted to clear them out of the way when they happened to be close by.
We were never too pleased with this pastime of hers – of course it can backfire dramatically, although she seemed to know what she was doing and always kept away a good distance from the bears. What with her assorted old age complaints, she hasn’t been treeing any bears for a couple years now. But I still know that when we’re out for a walk and her nose starts quivering, her tail goes up and she starts hobbling along at a most unsenior-like pace, there must be a bear around because that’s the only animal that gets her so excited.
Milan on the other hand is a moose specialist. We’ve curbed his urge to chase after them by means of an electronic collar and he has finally understood that running after them is not an option. When he comes rushing back to my side, shaking and whining, I know that he’s not had a scary wild animal encounter out there but that there is a moose at very close quarters that he’d just love to chase it but knows he’s not allowed. Older tracks that he follows intently are generally moose tracks.
Nooka is the least informative because she is apprehensive about most wildlife encounters except small game. I look to her for confirmation that there really is something close by when the other two have a scent, but that’s pretty much where the information ends. She is scared of large animals and her hackles will raise the most when there’s a bear around.
The newly stripped bark of two young spruce trees elicited no more than a brief sniff on our walk – sign of a porcupine that the dogs showed no interest in. There were voles in a couple of spots that got promptly pounced on by Milan and Nooka, and no big game in the area. On our way back, the wolf turd was subject to another thorough sniffing over (I had a poke at it too and concluded the wolf had eaten some small animal).
That’s our news from the bush, our topics of gossip: the large animals are elsewhere but the smaller game is busy and the wolves are making inroads. This newscast was brought to you by Milan, Leshi and Nooka.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon
River south of Whitehorse.