Three brittle jeers break the blessed stillness of the woods.
I am found out.
I was enjoying the stillness, feeling totally alone and unnoticed. Observing, presumably without being observed. Now I am the centre of attention.
It is a blue jay, of course, that has sounded the alarm, warning everything with ears that I am slinking through their territory. I can’t see it, but it hears and sees me from some hidden perch.
I was hoping to spot some game. The day certainly is right. A bold blue sky with an abundance of late autumn sunshine illuminating the darkest corners of these woods.
The jay’s screaming has lessened my chances of spotting anything. I have a feeling that there is not much to spot anyway. There are few tracks and little other fresh sign.
The winter-like weather of early November seems to have alerted birds and animals to start moving to winter quarters. The bears likely have gone into hibernation; the deer are moving off to winter yarding areas where they have a better chance of avoiding starvation.
The official start of winter is three weeks away, but the signs of it bearing down are everywhere.
Bare-branch oaks and maples surrounding me are shivering. It’s not really that cold so I assume they are shivering in anticipation of what is to come.
From the ridge where I am standing, I see the lake below. It is frothing and spitting to protest the lashing it is taking from the wintery north wind. Soon the lake will be calmed and stiffened by relentless overnight freezing temperatures.
The freezing and the heavy-duty storms that accompany it will lock in winter for the coming five or six months.
I think about how lucky I am to be enjoying these woods before the big snows close them off.
Then it hits me: this is the first time I can remember being in the autumn woods unarmed. No shotgun for partridge, no rifle or bow for deer, moose or bear. In fact, I don’t even have a hunting licence, for the first time that I can remember.
I have decided not to hunt this year.
Some folks say age reduces the urge to hunt, but I still have that urge and still know the excitement of hunting.
I guess I am hunting during this walk in the woods. I hope to see a deer running down the ravine that leads to the lake. Or, hear the rush of a partridge flushing from beneath an evergreen. I’m just not carrying a weapon.
I have decided not to hunt this year because I see game numbers steadily decreasing in the woods that I travel. I have seen only one partridge this year, and if I saw it again while carrying my shotgun, I could not in good conscience shoot it.
The same applies to deer, although their numbers fluctuate from year to year and location to location. They could be abundant next year or the year after.
Not so the partridge. Where I wander the flocks no longer exist. The decline is a trend that I, and other hunters, have seen develop over the past 20 years.
My decision not to take any game this year is strictly personal. In no way do I advocate it as a decision to be followed by others.
Hunting is a valuable part of Canadian culture. It provides enjoyment and food for many people and is an effective management tool in areas where game management is needed.
Also, the licensing of hunting provides governments with money, which hopefully is used to better manage wildlife resources and ensure that hunting can continue for the many thousands who enjoy it.
None of my favourable thoughts on hunting apply to one aspect of the sport – trophy hunting. Killing any animal specifically to pose with its corpse, or simply to wall mount its head or horns, is not hunting. It is killing to feed one’s ego.
Hunting is about learning to become part of nature. That involves understanding that everything in nature – including you – is equal.
Parts of nature kill other parts. They do it out of need.
Humans kill animals, plants, fish and insects. When they do, there should be some form of need, and a great deal of respect.