Sports | Deer factor

Ben Makuch challenges the perception of hunting as a blood sport

There’s all this talk about early morning sunrises, but they aren’t nearly as impressive as an early morning moon. Sitting stoically in a dying night, fading slightly, with its phosphorous and blue glare still spreading over the ground. They can illuminate shadows in a way that nothing else can, while hewing every daylight detail just enough to make you think of them differently. You need a minute to understand this type of moon. I can’t say I’ve taken the time until about a week ago, when I went hunting in a small town just outside of the LaRose Forest, which is west of Hawkesbury if you’re familiar with Jean Leloup’s famous tune “I lost my baby.”

Trust me when I say that there wasn’t anything sadistic about the whole thing. I wish I could recount to you a story a la Arnie in Predator or tell you how I capped Bambi’s mom and I didn’t even flinch, but either one of these stories would be a lie. No deer were harmed in the making of this article and it was rather one of the more peaceful experiences of my life that I can think of. Yes, I had to smear myself with deer urine and apply my torso with scent killer; and yes, if any of my other fellow hipsters had seen me in hunting attire that cold October morning, I may not ever find myself on St. Denis again without some seriously ironic stare-downs. But for me, this was the risk that needed to be taken in order to reconnect with my hometown.

Driving along the deserted country road I noticed the late autumn fields had been harvested and a glaze of frost tinted the ground. A place where I had once noticed a lush forest over a rolling hill, now had housing developments and an ever-creeping barrage of construction crews closing in on the remaining forest. The scene reminded me what it would be like if Wil-E-Coyote had ever caught Road Runner for dinner.

“I think I’ve been gone a year maybe and there are already new ’burbs. I mean, what the fuck man?”

“Good for us though,” said Mathieu, my cousin and partner in crime for this little operation. “It was all the deer-land in there. Can tell by the buck marks on trees. Everybody thought they’d be scared off near LaRose where we’re going. Then again maybe not.”

“Maybe not?”

“Not a lot of deer this year. These houses you know… It’s been throwing everything off.”

In hunting deer you need to rise early in the morning before they wake (normally around 4 a.m.), to place yourself between them and their habitual highways that lead to grazing lands in hopes of a somewhat ambushed attack along these corridors. Key to all this is a whole lot of waiting. And we did just this, parking the car and inserting ourselves a half-kilometre from where they probably nested. The woods are so abandoned that early in the morning, you feel like an explorer. Wilting frames of pines, cedars, ash, and black spruce are all yours if you walk underneath them.

My cousin and I, entirely scentless and completely undetected, slipped through the dead leaves and an increasingly autumnal forest until we found our position at a hunter’s hide. It’s a strange feeling to be perfectly blended into the terrain; noticeably more of an organic feature than usual. Most animals distinguish us by smell alone. Stripped of our fragrance by human cleverness, and given the right amount of stillness, we could be no different from a dead log. As we approached the hide, we were careful to be silent and sat slowly into a position we needed to maintain for upward of two hours. As any hunter knows, a slip of the hand can startle the prey. Mathieu was calm, scouring the cracks in between twigs and the slowly whimpering trees, already hunting the land, his cross-bow tightly squeezed in between his arms. He is a big man, my cousin, with a strong jaw-line and a steely pair of eyes engineered finely into his skull. I was not so calm. Picture the skinny wannabe-artiste in a camouflaged chair not really sure what to do. My breath is slowly entering the atmosphere, and I’m trying desperately to keep my neck screwed concretely into a single position while my bladder leaks driblets of piss. And believe me it’s easy to startle, every cracking leaf sets your heart racing, and in all the silence even a squirrel can seem like a buck trampling through his kingdom ready for a duel.

After an hour Mathieu patted through his chest pocket and whispered, “smoke break.” I couldn’t have been happier to hear that and I wasn’t going to argue whether or not it would keep the deer away – he was far more the expert. Might I add that Mathieu isn’t a knuckle-dragger or a redneck either – he did an English literature degree writing an honours thesis paper on Gertrude Stein. Looking at him, the primal hunter holding the fate of an animal with his trigger finger, juxtaposed by, say, Stein’s Three Lives, is quite the contrast indeed. My point being that not all hunters are bloodthirsty hicks some are admittedly, but not the majority. Some, apparently, can be feminist literary-critics. It’s an eclectic group. It’s an oversimplification to label the sport of hunting savage and uncivilized. Not every time a hunter hunts is an animal killed. In fact it rarely ever happens once for most hunters in a season. Not only that, tag limits are regulated by governmental geologists who maintain and record data on the health of deer herds in the area, and by correlating these statistics with hunting limits, deer populations can flourish. Because let’s be honest, like any circle of life you need a predator – and we’re just that. And how about the suburbs? Don’t let them off the hook that easily. Nobody is throwing red paint on any minivans or Timbits hockey players as far as I know. So think about it, one murderous shot of a crane can do more to the death of a deer than Jim-Bob from Lanark County.

Just then, as we had fresh delicious cigarettes ready to fire up in our mouths, three wolves came so near I can’t imagine I’ll ever see anything this impressive again. I’m told this sort are “brush wolves,” a mixing of coyote-wolf that risks the utter extinction of the pure wolf. But who am I to be picky about what kind of wolves I get to see? Apparently this variety of bad-ass dog have the loner stylings of a coyote, conflicting with the pack mentality of other wolves, equaling the potential end of wolf-packs. Whatever they were I can tell you the result is a beautiful creature mysteriously lost in it’s own design. They sniffed about, not noticing our scent, walking closer to the hide at an unnatural distance without there being black bars and an admission fee. Not being able to resist my curiosity any longer I moved my gaze for a stronger look. But the creaking of my neck gave me away and the jig was up. They ran away without a second thought. I’m not sure where they went, but they were probably brothers or cousins together on the hunt, searching for the same thing we were.