Off the Board, Opinion

Lessons from the hunt

It was on my first hunt, six years ago, that a bear charged me. I was pretending to be a moose.

My dad and I were crossing the Secret River, deep in Yukon Territory’s wilderness, in our motorboat. It was the first evening of the hunt, and we wanted to explore the shore opposite our camp. Stepping onto the sandy bank, we saw a fresh set of moose tracks. I followed Dad’s gaze, quietly learning from his 30 years of experience hunting in this habitat. I noticed willow branches with nibbled ends, trees with their bark rubbed off, tufts of wiry fur stuck on twigs, and giant piles of chocolate-covered-almond-looking droppings—all signs that we were in this elusive species’ territory.

Dad motioned for me to give a call, so I cupped my hands to my mouth and emitted a guttural “oo-uua”, mimicking a bull, or male, moose. Silence fell, just for a second—then, the violent cacophony of a large animal crashing toward us through the woods. My mind raced as I loaded my rifle. If it was a bull—identifiable by its antlers—I planned to bring it down with the perfect shot, just like I had rehearsed in the months leading up to the hunt. We’d bring home enough meat to feed our family for over a year.

But out of the woods, barrelling right at us, came a black bear! Thankfully, it stopped fifteen feet away, but my heart jumped to my mouth as I looked for its next move. I breathed a great sigh of relief when it bolted back into the forest. Dad and I grinned at each other. What an epic start to the hunt!

Only one minute later, I was rushing to load a bullet into the chamber again. A bull moose, onshore just ahead of us! I tucked the rifle into the crook of my shoulder and rested my elbow on the side of the boat. Big mistake. I couldn’t get the moose in my sights because the gunwales rocked too much. “Shoot! Shoot Mase, shoot!” urged Dad’s strained voice. But I couldn’t risk a bad shot that might just wound the animal. I wanted my performance to be perfect. I lifted my elbow and held the rifle freehand. By the time I found my crosshairs, the moose had trotted off into the trees, gone. Maybe our only opportunity for success, and I had failed.

I couldn’t fall asleep that night in our tent, tossing and turning in my embarrassment. Dad’s voice ricocheted around my head, urging me to shoot. Eventually, I drifted off to the sound of wolves howling in the distance.

I carried that feeling downriver for the next three days of our trip. Prowling through the golden autumn forest, every falling leaf sounded like hoofsteps. Around each riverbend, clusters of ancient driftwood appeared in the distance, shining like antlers. Trudging through the river’s maze of sloughs, every mountainous pile of fresh droppings brought a new opportunity to redeem myself.

The fourth evening, Dad called a bull to within 10 feet of us. In the three seconds I took to line up a shot, the moose got spooked and ran. A second chance, gone again.

By some miracle, we saw another bull on our way back to camp. It was 300 yards away, quite the distance, and I was trembling. I whispered “no shot”, and Dad dropped it with two perfectly placed rounds. He smiled, we shook hands, and three days of tension melted from my body. When we got to the moose, we nestled our hands into its warm fur and thanked it for its life. Our family is forever indebted to this animal––it helped nourish and build us. 

Looking back, I realize how great a learning experience the hunt had been. It is easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself when the stakes feel high. And when doing important work, being diligent is essential. I now see the private lessons it offered, which for years after I had been too self-absorbed to understand. When I missed my shots, the hunt asked me to accept my own inexperience with humility. It told me to be patient with myself and to focus on growth instead of perfection. Most importantly, it gave me gratitude for the land’s precious gifts, black bears included.

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