I have been reading (for review in a future column) two recent books on hunting by aging Canadian novelists. The only real suspense in either is to discover how and why each writer quits hunting, and if either can manage that personal decision without nagging the rest of us to go forth and quit likewise.
All that was put on hold and interrupted by a surge of adrenaline caused by two of those “worth 1,000 words” pictures, as the cliché has it, both in this newspaper, the first in the Jan. 4 edition, the second two days later.
The later picture was of four headless, field-dressed and skinned deer carcasses dumped beside an oilfield road west of Caroline.
The atrocity is still under investigation, but there is already much outrage and speculation.
I am hearing hunters blamed, particularly trophy hunters, because the heads are elsewhere and too many people erroneously think that trophy hunters take only the antlers and leave the meat.
I know and have known many true trophy hunters, and all of them relish and respect every bit of the whole animal on those rare occasions when they find what they are looking for and squeeze the trigger. In fact, many of the trophy heads listed with Boone & Crockett were taken by ordinary “meat hunters,” so-called, who were hunting to fill the freezer with choice meat when the hunting gods gave them a trophy.
Back in 1926, Ed Broder was on his annual hunt for winter meat near Chip Lake, Alberta, when he abandoned a moose track to follow the huge hoof prints of what he suspected was a monster mule deer buck.
After long, hard slogging through deep snow Broder killed, with one shot, then dragged out what is now reverently known as “The Broder Buck.” It’s the world record non-typical mule deer, probably the finest of all North American trophy heads, scoring so high that the record will probably never be broken.
No, trophy hunters did not kill those dumped deer west of Caroline; probably not hunters at all, since the season has been closed out there since the end of November.
No, again, this was done by poachers who, by definition, do not obey the laws and regulations for seasons, limits, and against wasting the edible meat of game animals.
These poachers were probably feeling some kind of heat, or simply did not feel like cutting, wrapping and freezing the meat, or did not have enough dogs to consume the carcasses before someone noticed.
Out in that country people know about their neighbourhood poachers, but say little, because the poachers know where they live.
But the picture that really riles me — worse as I look at it again — was with a feature story Rite of Winter — “Annual Freeze-up signals the start of a Canadian custom.”
Sadly, it may be a rite and a Canadian custom, because one of the large pictures that accompanied the story does not seem to have stirred people up the way it has me; perhaps people are just ignorant of basic physiological facts, or somehow don’t think cold blooded creatures can suffer in the way warm blooded animals can.
Basically, we have a picture of an ice fisherman sitting in his vehicle, jigging in his ice hole, trying “for another,” while a large whitefish flops on the ice in the foreground.
Does it occur to anyone that this magnificent fish is alive, but suffering terribly, slowly suffocating, drowning in fresh air? (Basic fact: warm blooded animals get oxygen from air; fish, only from oxygen dissolved in water; either will suffocate or drown in the other’s element.)
One of the many things about ice fishing I found that I did not like was the amount of time I had to spend killing live fish left flopping on the ice by anglers too busy, unfeeling, or ignorant to kill what they intended to keep and eat.
Back in the good old days when we were allowed to keep a few fish from Alberta’s rivers and streams, I’d occasionally come upon a hole-sitting fishing group with a creel or sack jumping with suffocating fish.
I’d dump the container out and, keeping a civil tongue in my head, hold a seminar on how you quickly and mercifully kill trout and whitefish you intend to keep.
Some of our few lakes are among the rare places left in Alberta where anglers can take some fish home for the table.
If that is what you intend, then, for mercy’s sake, kill them quickly: if that is not what you intend, then get them back down the hole and into the water where they can breathe.
Also in that Jan. 4 paper was a story about a vehicle breaking through the ice and the occupants being hospitalized. If you must drive on the ice, keep the windows open, lest you discover how it feels to be a “drowning” whitefish flopping on the ice.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.