Trails & Trails — By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter
I am no hunter.
Before this month, that fact was hedged with an ellipsis of untapped potential. “I am no hunter … because I’ve never tried it, but if I ever do, Home Depot had better stock extra chest freezers!
Now when I say that I am no hunter, it is with the certainty of having actually shot something — a real, (previously) live, bull moose.
I went into this figuring I had at least some of the necessary ingredients that could possibly coalesce into a competent hunter, kind of like a determined fridge cleaning can result in a decent soup concoction when calling for pizza isn’t an option.
First off, I wanted to do it. It’s good for us humans to remind our civilized brains that, despite our autostarts, we’re still animals. I think we should all occasionally face some of the messier aspects of life, yet I’m one of those people without much firsthand knowledge of from where food comes.
Growing up in the Bush, milk was powdered, condensed or too expensive, and produce came in cans or was so wilted or woody that it was VINO — vegetable in name only. More people than not hunted or fished — my dad, brother, cousins, uncles, neighbors, etc., — but I was never invited to tag along, and by the time the fish or game got to me it had long since been removed of any evidence of life. No blood, bones, organs, fur or scales to be seen. The only meat covering I knew of was Shake ‘N Bake.
As for skills, I like to hike, camp and stomp around in the woods. I like to think I’m observant (at least enough to notice a 1,200-pound animal, surely?). I can haul a pack (through the power of profanity). And I can stay awake for long periods of time. That’s probably not relevant, but I once put leftover devilled eggs in a turkey stew and it was excellent, so who knows? I’ll use what I’ve got.
Granted, I was missing some key components. I didn’t own a rifle, and the few times I’ve shot one took about as much setup time as designing the International Space Station. My butchering experience was limited to being extremely annoyed when I’ve accidentally bought bone-in chicken breasts. I’ve never actually killed anything beyond mosquitoes, a few fish and houseplants.
Perhaps most egregious, I own only one article of camo — a thrift store GI Joe-looking shirt I bought for the sole purpose of playing Risk. (I might never have hunted so much as a spruce hen, but give me South America and I will dominate the world.)
Still, with the misguided optimism of the woefully uninformed, I figured, “I could do that.”
No, it turns out, I could not. At least, not without an amount of help that rendered my presence superfluous, if not obstructionist. It’s a pretty low bar when your highest achievement is not completely ruining things for other people. By day three, my sole focus devolved to a Dr. Seussian attempt at just staying upright:
Do not fall slogging through the swamp, do not fall wherever you tromp.
Do not fall climbing in the boat, do not fall as you will not float.
Thankfully, I had a hunting guru, Chris, who lent his hunting abilities — not the least of which was a rifle — to the cause. What I lack in hunting knowledge, experience and gear, he has been amassing since he was old enough to hoist a rifle (probably far younger than child protective services would ever condone). He was planning to moose hunt in the area in which I drew a permit, and offered to take me along.
While he seemed to overestimate my lack-thereof abilities, I, at least, wasn’t completely unaware of what this would entail. I was (mostly) kidding when I said my plan was to “here-moosey-moosey-moosey” call one to the jet raft so I wouldn’t have to pack it very far.
I knew that hunting responsibly, much less successfully, would be a whole lot of work. But I knew it in the abstract. Kind of like knowing Murphy’s Law of Betty Crocker — that a dropped cupcake will always land on the frosting — but not being able to explain why. (Because, science?)
Now I at least know what I didn’t know about hunting. Which was basically everything.
First off, the actual shooting of an animal is only about 1 percent of the experience. Approximately 70 percent is preparation for the hunt — all the planning, prepping, packing, researching, scouting and various other “ings,” of which, in all honesty, I did approximately zilch percent.
The actual hunt is only about 9 percent of the experience, and not a very exciting part. I had visions of stalking through the woods and charging up and down mountainsides.
Turns out, I should have been expecting a level of activity befitting a frat house the day after a raging kegger. Lots and lots and lots of sitting around, slow movements and strictly enforced quiet broken only by the occasional grunting moose call, which would not sound out of place coming from someone making their peace with a night lost to Jim Beam. (And, no, I will not do a moose call for you. Or anyone. Ever.)
I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly noisy person. But in the context of moose hunting, I’m apparently the equivalent of Sammy Hagar being stung by hornets in a mining shaft. Things I do too loudly (I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list): operate zippers, open/close containers, whisper, bend my ankle in my boot. Seriously. I operate Xtratufs at an unacceptable decibel.
Not that I’m complaining about the inactivity, as I quickly realized that trying to move around in the no less than five layers of clothing I wore at all times proved rather difficult in the predominately brushy, swampy conditions.
I will not trip on that there shrub, I will not land in devil’s club.
And the watching, waiting and quiet did allow for some quality contemplation of nature. We heard swans honking and a bear grunting in the dewy dawn. We spent a Ken Burns amount of time observing beavers swim laps outside their lodge. And I had occasion to settle some of the great questions of life:
Which is worse, being cold or hungry? Cold.
Wind or rain? Wind.
Mosquitoes, no-see-ums or gnats? No-quest-um.
But once you do see an animal, slow and motionless are out the window. Suddenly, 12 things must be done at once, many of them contradictory, and all issued in that ass-in-gear earnest whisper hiss that drill sergeants envy but only parents seem to master.
“Don’t take your eye off him. Look at me so I know you’re listening!”
“Come stand right where I’m standing!” (Um, so, shouldn’t you move, then?)
“Don’t rush. Hurry up!”
“Get in position. Don’t move, he’ll see you!”
“Wait for him to get closer. Don’t let him get too close to that pond!”
“Shoot when you’re comfortable. Get ready, you may only have a second!”
This was actually the third moose sighting of the trip. Chris spotted the first trotting along the edge of the woods. I didn’t see it even when pointed out. So much for being observant.
The second we flushed from its bed in the brush not 40 feet in front of us. I was still fumbling to get the lens covers open by the time it looked back at us and bolted. That went over about as well as shouting “last call” in a sports bar at the start of the third quarter of the Super Bowl.
Now that tempers have cooled, I’ll recount the scene, substituting vocabulary for what, in retrospect, I’m sure we can all agree might have been a better handling of the situation:
“Holy ice cream, he’s right there!”
“Get your puppies lens covers off!”
“Rainbows! Rainbows! RAINBOWS! He’s getting away!”
“You permanent fund dividend! He’s gone.”
The third moose was kind enough to come to the sound of our brush raking, walk to within 300 yards and turn broadside to where we were crouched. Thank you, sir.
Then came the last 20 percent of the hunt — butchering, packing, preserving and processing the meat. This was challenging due to shooting the moose at sundown, in crappy weather, across a swamp, in a remote area far from access to a road, plane or boat.
But thanks to Chris’ speed at dismemberment (I think that’s a compliment?), his connections (thanks, pilot Joe!), and rafting abilities, the meat got back to town with nary a fly nor scrap of spoilage on it.
The processing is still going on, both of the meat and, for me, the experience.
Hunting wasn’t what I thought it would be, which is a true mental feat since I didn’t know what to expect. Really, that just means I wasn’t what I thought I would be. “Inept” is perhaps a little harsh. “As useful as a cocktail umbrella in a hurricane” is more colorful — ergo, better. The soup’s definitely not on from what I add to the pot.
Will I try it again? Well, that freezer will empty eventually, and I seem to have lost my taste for boneless, skinless, no-evidence-of-life-less chicken breasts.
I am no hunter. At least … not yet.
Jenny Neyman is a reporter and editor for the Redoubt Reporter.