I thought moose hunting with small kids was a good idea. A multi-day game of hide-and-go-seek where only the moose gets to hide. A reason to command all whining to a halt in the name of “stalking.” Preschool anatomy lessons as we scrape out guts and pry apart quarters.
And did I mention we brought along the family pets?
Rounding a tight bend in the Teslin River, the early morning sun obscures my vision. “There’s a moose,” murmurs my partner Terry, as he depowers our 20-horsepower outboard and points towards a backlit grassy shore.
I reach for the binoculars but four-year-old Arthur has them pressed to his face—with the eyepieces in the wrong direction. “Pass those to me, please,” I say, but he replies, whispering, “No, I’m the scout, remember?”
I clip the huskies to their thwart-bound chains and flip open the hunting box to retrieve our four sets of ear protection.
August and September are busy months for Yukon families determined to stock up on the fat of the land before winter. Picking berries is our usual stand-by and we do it until the chest freezer is half-full and the children’s mouths and hands and poop are stained blue. Where we live on the sunny slopes of Marsh Lake, it is a berry haven. Wild Saskatoon bushes grow so heavy with big plump mock-grapes they droop to the ground. The rise behind our house is aptly named Strawberry Hill as the pea-sized sugar explosions fruit all July long. Wild and cultivated raspberries thrive here and the mixed pine forest is carpeted ruby red with cranberries. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with the fruit section at the grocery store. The phytonutrient levels in my body are reaching toxic levels.
But one needs protein. And the Haines salmon run, despite our wader-clad attempts, continues to skunk us. So that leaves hunting. Traditionally, Terry goes off with a friend for a weekend to haul back something of the red-meat variety to butcher up into edible portions. If we’re lucky, it will fill the other half of the freezer, nuzzling up in frigid embrace with the berries.
This year, we did something different. The Yukon’s Teslin River is a good family trip—a pretty river with lots of tall cut banks, hoodoos, and distant mountain ranges. Gentle riffles sweep past sandy-beach campsites. But it’s also coated head-to-toe with thick moose habitat—bushy willows, grassy sloughs. And since it’s hunting season and there’s room in the big freighter, it’s time to try a hybrid family/hunting trip.
Terry steers our 21-foot red freighter canoe toward the bank of the river where the willows provide shade from the piercing glare. “It’s a bull,” he says, looking through his own field glasses.
My heart thumps as I fumble with the various headsets to distribute. The dogs are sprawled out sleeping. The kids are content and quiet. This could be it.
Terry and I anticipated how the scene might unfold. If a moose is within easy shot of the boat, Terry will pull to shore, tie up the boat and flop to the ground for a steady shot. My job is to keep the cretins in the boat, sitting low and wearing headsets.
“I’m going to drop you guys off back upriver and try and get closer on my own,” Terry says u-turning the freighter.
We’re on day four of a weeklong trip, over 100 kilometres from the boat launch at Johnson’s Crossing—a good eight-hour ride upriver full throttle. If he successfully kills this moose, we’ll hang the meat overnight and then watch Terry and the moose depart without us. In this summery heat, the meat would need an express ride to a cool garage. Three days later Terry would return to collect us.
As we motor away from the young grazing bull, I can feel the humming motor vibrate my stomach. Terry is staring down at the Yukon Hunting Regulations booklet.
But all our planning and packing and fire drills are for naught. This bull is located smack dab in the middle of a narrow First Nation zone where we are forbidden to hunt without a special permit. We see no more moose for the remainder of the trip but stay happily occupied searching for them, poking the boat into sloughs and seeking out fresh tracks.
It makes it harder to get a moose but we’ll try the family hunting trip again next August. Arthur wants another chance to try his burgeoning moose call. And I want the chance to juggle blood, guts, kids, camp and a couple of wily huskies. The berries in the freezer wouldn’t want it any other way.