Writer pays homage to all creatures great and small

These are the latest books by two Canadian novelists: Governor General Award Winner David Adams Richards, a Giller Prize winner for one of his novels and twice a Governor General’s Literary award winner both for another novel and for Lines on the Water, his fishing memoir; less well known, Carpenter is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, authour of several novels, as well as some non-fiction, including Fishing in Western Canada.

Facing The Funter, Reflections on a Misunderstood Way of Life, by David Adams Richards, Doubleday Canada, 213 pages, hard cover, $29.95.

A Hunter’s Confession, by David Carpenter, Greystone Books, 243 pages, paperback, $19.95.

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These are the latest books by two Canadian novelists: Governor General Award Winner David Adams Richards, a Giller Prize winner for one of his novels and twice a Governor General’s Literary award winner both for another novel and for Lines on the Water, his fishing memoir; less well known, Carpenter is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, authour of several novels, as well as some non-fiction, including Fishing in Western Canada.

Carpenter, born in Edmonton in 1941, became primarily a road hunter for birds under the tutelage of his father and his pals, riding around, jumping out occasionally and “blasting away,” and doting on “limiting out.”

His dad once gave Carpenter hell for leaning his shotgun with “two live shells in the chamber” against the car. Two shells in the chamber of a Wingmaster pump shotgun? Impossible. On another occasion Carpenter, probably illegally, carries a loaded firearm on a hiking-fishing trip into Jasper National Park, then, when a cougar stalks up close behind him, deems it a great personal conversion that shooting it was “unthinkable.”

Carpenter scorns the modern rifles and scopes of his friends in favour of a “peep sight” .30-.30 generally inadequate even for what little big game hunting he does. He says he is not a good still hunter; “I need to be constantly on the move.” Well, it is stand hunters who stay put; still hunters move slowly, quietly, stopping occasionally. He doesn’t understand why anyone would want to hunt mourning doves, and then extols the virtues of hunting what he likes to eat. Well, shooting doves is extremely challenging and they are one of the gourmet gifts of the gods?

These gaffes are partially redeemed by the occasional great one-liner: “the path to hell is paved with unfished lakes”.

Carpenter treks into Northern Saskatchewan to meet, “the last great hunter,” who, when he finally tracks him down, the aboriginal turns, walks into the bush, and disappears, “as though he had earned the right to be free from people like me.”

Richards might have done the same, had Carpenter tracked him down in his beloved Miramichi country big woods in New Brunswick. Facing the Hunter is full of stories of hardship and hunting as it should be done, mainly for moose meat, with considerable reverence and total respect for the woods and the quarry.

There is a tone of sadness right in the Prologue when Richards tells us “I do not know at this moment when or how much I will hunt again. This is some of my story about how and why I hunted long ago.” He is 60, living largely in Toronto and hating it so much that he occasionally goes to Bass Pro Shop to escape: “I can walk about and think of the Maritimes. I am not fully alive in it, but by God I am more alive.”

Carpenter’s last shot came when he was 54, with the last bird he killed on Sept. 14, 1995 when he noticed the male spruce grouse was bleeding from the beak. The next day Carpenter was bleeding from a burst blood vessel in is his own beak, so severely there was danger of him fainting from loss of blood and drowning in his own blood.

On the long ride to meet an ambulance from Nipiwan, he sends up a prayer: “Get me out of this one, and I swear, I will never again shoot another creature.” Ironically, when he confesses he is quitting shooting to the only real hunter he has ever known, the hunter replies: “Well, the last few times out you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn door. I mean, hell, what is it exactly you’ve given up on?”

Carpenter was probably never a really hunter, and his unstated confession is that he knows it. Yet he goes on to praise great hunter-writers who had sold their guns, as though they, too, were converts, instead of aging gents who were just not up to it any more.

Sadly, life in Toronto and the attempts of its education system to feminize his boys and turn them against hunting made Richards realize “that my race of people, whoever and wherever they were, would become extinct.” Worse, the woods are either gone, or going fast: “The world no longer belongs to us. In so many ways, we are now in the same position the first nations people found themselves in.”

And yet, Richards goes back to what is left of his woods to guide his oldest son to his first deer, and, at the end of Confession, Carpenter hopes that an interested neighbourhood kid will become a real hunter, a guardian of habitats and full of reverence and love for the creatures he pursues.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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