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2700 words
14 pics
Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

A Moose and a Goose
Rob F. Sanderson

           Moose feathers and goose horns in the famous James Bay Region, where the writer takes a few knocks, learns a few lessons, and fortunately for himself discovers that the lessons of the great outdoors do not always come wrapped in hard luck stories - at least, not wrapped all the way around!

A Moose and a Goose

           Everybody seemed to think this was a good idea and included plans for a goose shot on James Bay. The moosing was to come first, and as it worked out my fellow nimrods - the two Daves, Doc, Fred, Pete and Tom - were canoeing down the Fraser River before I jolted northward on the twice-weekly Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railroad. My coffee-&-cakes at this time was flying a New York-to-Europe airline route and the erraticisms of fall weather on the North Atlantic delayed my vacation.

           The little wood-burning engine had barely chuffed me out of Cochran when I heard our party had bagged a nice young bull. At Coral Rapids the bearded moose hunters themselves clambered aboard the train with their canoes, motors, tents and miscellany, and I was delighted to see the bull was young and fat. It would make excellent table meat.

           The critter fell, they told me, yesterday morning. The trigger team of Dave and Doc were accepting congratulations. By simultaneous fire from their .30 caliber rifles they broke the creature’s neck from a full 300-yard range. Although one bullet hole was in evidence, it was in order to congratulate both marksmen.

           Present plans were to proceed directly to the James Bay goose grounds. The Indian summer weather, though ideal for camping, made noisy hunting conditions and land hunting in the extremely dry bush was a poor bet. By the end of our goose shoot the woods would likely be damper and quieter and any remaining time would be spent hunting moose.

           Sub-artic darkness enveloped Moosonee long before our arrival and we de-trained in a damp drizzle. From the nearby wharf two huge canoes ferried us downstream through the murk and mist to the Moose River Island where, about 275 years before, intrepid fur traders founded the Hudson Bay Post of Moose Factory.

           Manager Duncan welcomed us out of the wet cold into his snug island domain. After a steaming four-course meal the moose hunters took turns heating wash boilers of water for the portable, zinc-plated bathtub, and were soon slumbering heavily between clean white sheets.

           At mid-morning, full high tide signaled our departure. The guides pushed the two huge outboard canoes into the sluggish muddy current and we corkscrewed down the elusive channel. The estuary is bottomed with vast shoals and at low tide boats commonly run aground a mile or more from land. In the late afternoon we beached the canoes on an island where the river enters James Bay proper. Here we set up camp for the night.

           The south end of the Bay is very vulnerable to wind conditions. North winds funnel water between the converging shores and wash up a terrifically accentuated wind tide. Extended northern blows flood the flat shore for miles inland. In the shallow seas the waves are vicious; high crested, short troughed, and hazardous. Boat travel, particularly at cross direction to the wind, is perilous.

           Foul luck that night nursed a lusty north wind. As our travel route to the Harricanaw River lay along the wave troughs, the guides announced we would wait for better weather. Anyway, they informed us, we shouldn’t expect any shooting until a spell of dirty weather arrived.

           At the end of the second day the insistent wind still fanned the rising waters. In the morning at last, the high tide lapped over the coals of our cooking fire. The guides now appeared concerned (it gave me a certain satisfaction to know these stoic men were worriable) and advised moving camp to higher ground. After we spent the day getting squared away in our new camp on the mainland north of the island, that night the perverse wind subsided.

           Somewhere miles and miles beyond the level horizon to the north, the geese were no doubt enjoying the high barometer and clear sky of our fourth day on the Bay. But Tom and I were out of patience and that afternoon we hit for Moose Factory with guide Joe. That night we readied for a trip back to moose country. If the bush remained dry, we would hunt from the canoe.

           The morning southbound TNO braked to a halt and detrained us at the trestle across Jawbone Creek. We traveled far and late through the endless swamp, taking turns paddling. At last we arrived at an island of high ground, a cone-shaped glacial hill. From the level summit our tent doorway overlooked the level miles to far-off upland ridges where the half-set sun spotlighted streaks of flamboyant October yellow on the poplar pennanted slopes. While gathering firewood we discovered fresh moose tracks and bleached antlers from seasons past, and when our supper fire had burned low we crawled into our snug forester tent and dozed off to the lonesome siren of a distant timber wolf.

           From here upstream the channel twisted like a telephone cord. We portaged around a falls, paddled beyond hearing, and within two hours looped back within easy earshot of the same cascading water, and finally escaped the sound for good. Along the banks we saw many moose tracks.

           Once in the soft mud we found hoof prints yet unfilled by seeping water. This was real moose country, definitely, but not hunting country. The visibility was less than pistol range, the cover impossible for land hunting. We were but two paddle lengths ahead of despair when, rounding a sharp curve in the channel, our canoe glided out onto the currentless waters of the first small lake.

           The shores were boggy with shallows well grown with moose food. At several places along the shore moose tracks and sign were fresh. We set up a mile downstream so as not to disturb animals frequenting the lake. About three thirty we returned to watch the lake from our canoe. Waiting in the early twilight we called occasionally through the birch bark moose horn, but the only life abroad was a pair of swimming beavers rippling the dusk mirrored waters.

           In the morning we paddled upstream to the next lake. We looked it over, found moose sign, lunched, loitered, then started downstream about mid-afternoon. It was late when we entered the lower lake, with Joe paddling silently in the stern. Suddenly he gave a low “Hsst!” and froze at paddle. We listened to the stillness of the early twilight.

           From across the calm water came a faint sound of splashing in the shallows. So low was the sound that, even in the quiet of the dying afternoon, I barely heard it. Slowly working into the silent rhythm of his hunting stroke, Joe slid the canoe forward through the dark velvet water. Our intent eyes searched the opposite shore of low bog and grass. With partly held breath, we watched the unfolding of a long cove, whence moments before had echoed the soft liquid sound of splashing. Was the noisemaker a beaver?…a cow moose?… or what we hoped for? Our chests were tight with expectation.

           Suddenly we glimpsed the giant dark hulk of the bull moose. Indistinct in the fading twilight on the far shore, he was partly obscured by dead tamaracks. He stood alone, hock deep in the boggy water. We could not well judge his spread because the antlers blended with the dark pine shadows behind him.

           Slowly the giant head turned with a natural majesty that stopped our breath. Now we could see the rack better; it was good. He swung his giant head from the lake to the direction of the forest and then back toward the lake, as if some instinctual sense warned him to leave. As we sat motionless the canoe steadied and Tom, in the bow, prepared for first shot.

           Aiming against the indistinct evening light, Tom drew a careful sight low behind the massive shoulder. Crouched amidships with my own rifle at full cock, I held my breath while my jumpy heart ticked off the half seconds. Then the rifle ahead of me roared. The canoe shuddered and the great bull lurched.

           For an instant his knees sagged and his whole frame fought for balance. Then he quivered to action and lunged for the trees. Instantly I threw my sights across the animal and squeezed the trigger. The report shattered against the shore, the big bull’s legs collapsed in midleap. With one last effort to thresh to his feet he gave a spasm and fell back among the bogs at the timber edge.

           We grounded the canoe and approached the great creature warily. The two bullets, one high and one low through the chest, had done the job. With axe, knives, and saw we dressed him out. By the time the heavy carcass was emptied, the short northern twilight was ended. We paddled slowly back to camp in the dark, feeling our way among the rocks and snags. The sack of fresh liver we hung from a limb to cool, and in the morning we breakfasted on large slices fried with onions and flour.

           Before the sun was well up we had quartered and loaded the carcass. One glance at the low-riding gunwales assured us that to hunt for another rack would be senseless until the meat from this trophy was safely in Cochrane cold storage. Even with the load lightened by sawing out as much bone as possible, the canoe ran aground frequently. But this disadvantage was offset by the help of the current.

           By steady travel we arrived at the trestle before train time on the morning of the second day. We had intended to try for another moose, but as we loaded our trophy onto the baggage car the conductor warned us that cold and snow flurries were due that very night. Great flocks of northern geese would be through any time. On the spot we decided to finish off the hunt with the boys on the Bay.

           Waiting for the northbound train cost us valuable time, but the night we arrived at Moose Factory bursts of frozen rain stung the windows and we were elated that the dirty weather still held. In the morning the weather abated somewhat and, layered in woolens and storm suits, we caught the full tide down the river. After hours of cold wind and spray, stiffened from cramped positions in the pitching canoe, we sighted a shore fire ahead in the twilight.

           The boys recognized our outfit and when we stepped ashore passed us platefuls of steaming stewed goose and earfuls of hot shooting talk. The hunting had been good; even the Indians wore broad smiles. Blue geese by the dozens, and some greater snows, had come in low across the points and over the blinds. After days of waiting the boys had slammed home load after load through the thick feathers. Mosquitoes and black flies were long forgotten in the chill weather and once swollen faces reverted to normal, happy features.

           During the night the weather cooled and the wind died. At breakfast in predawn dark while we held cups of steaming coffee in gloved hands, the fellows (who had suddenly blossomed into goose shooting authorities) re-explained when to shoot, which bird to shoot first, and how much lead to each shot. When the eastern edge of night began to bleach with the dawn, I was already crouched behind driftwood on a point, ready for the morning flight.

           Daylight unveiled a blank sky. The army of angry clouds had decamped during the night and even now were only a fringe across the distant horizon. A few small flocks of geese, less than a dozen birds in each, straggled up and down the coast at long intervals. I waited a long time before any birds approached within shooting range.

           It was a single flock of four geese, flying rather high, but they came over nicely. The goose I was trying to lead properly, a nice plump blue, dodged the first load, winced on the second volley, and finally succumbed at the third report. It was not hard hit and caused Joe a merry chase across the mud bar. Nothing more came near and in mid-morning we went back to camp with our lone trophy.

           We sent a motor canoe back to Moose Factory to put our accumulated geese in icehouse storage, and sat back to wait for more geese to arrive airmail. But the weather held fair and mild and the geese remained far behind schedule. On October tenth, under a blue sky full of little mushroom clouds, we pulled out for home. The weather was so warm that we rolled up our shirtsleeves in Cochrane while assembling our cars and trailers.

           Meanwhile, I treasured one goose as my trophy. The fellows kept me well reminded just how high my goose score was. They marked my goose with special care and packed him with exaggerated pageantry, and whenever the conversation lagged they found some way to bring my accomplishment as a goose shooter into the spotlight.

           “No, sir, not too many eggs in one basket this trip,” they would quip. “Perfect balance - big game hunting and waterfowl shooting side by side. Just about fifty-fifty, wouldn’t you say - a moose and a goose?”

           As you can bet, it was a long time before I heard the last of that trip - all the way to James Bay for one goose. Naturally, we later traded the moose and goose meat around until we had all we wanted of both, and I finished the exchange with more than one specimen of goose family.

           Though the last of the succulent meat has been long, long since eaten, the lesson of that trip I remember well. I learned that a successful hunting trip is a concentrated maneuver planned toward one objective. Looking back on all the jumping around and the number of changes of mind about when to be hunting for what, I’m convinced we were lucky to come back with anything at all…and that’s why I say Old Doc Nature sometimes delivers his pills pretty well sugarcoated.

           Sometimes, let us emphasize. Once lucky, I’m not counting on it as a matter of practice!

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob