“Thanks for coming with me,” said Trev. “Sorry we couldn’t close the deal.” His voice was tired then, and a touch disappointed. He was thinking wistfully about the four straight days we’d just spent hunting moose, of two different bulls we’d sent crashing through the brush without getting a shot, their horns musical – like woodblocks – as they slammed against the aspen whips. He was thinking about a three hour ride home, of having to get up the next day at 4 a.m. for work, of telling people, nope, I didn’t get a moose; in fact, it’s not as easy as shooting a cow.
The truck engine purred easily, heat on full bore to take a day’s worth of chill out of our bones. We were driving down the Victory Bog road at dusk. Here and there, headlights appeared from openings in the alders as other hunters emerged from the bush to head for home. A pickup passed us with moose horns hanging off the tailgate, the truck bed an unnatural tangle of limbs and cloven hooves.
Most of us are raised to believe that hard work and stick-to-itiveness can pretty much deliver whatever we want. This ethos is everywhere – in children’s books, in sit-com plots, in the little quotes that appear randomly at the top of your Gmail inbox. It’s expressed in the very homes we live in, in the ambition that created roads that bisect places like the Victory Bog – a miserably beautiful pastiche of fir flat and sponge swamp.
And yet no amount of can-do spirit can guarantee a filled game tag. This fact is what both draws people to and repels people away from hunting. Effort does not necessarily equal success. In the same way that a good baseball player only hits 3 out of 10 pitches, in the same way that a card player, no matter how skilled, still looses more often than he wins, the fair chase hunter is at the mercy of fate, of luck, of simple math.
Those who are repelled by the fickle nature of the pursuit soon find other ways of securing protein for their diet. Those who stick with it need to feel worth in the act of hunting itself. Traipsing through cedar swamps, over hardwood ridges, and up and down rock faces is mundane, self-forgetting work. If you’re open to it, there’s great value here. There’s also humility to be gained in putting total effort into something and coming away empty handed. It’s all there in the poetic record – Rilke’s assertions spring to mind that man grows by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater things.
It’s one thing to make mildly philosophical proclamations in a blog, it’s another to try to come up with something to say that will make your kid brother feel like he didn’t let himself or anyone else down by not getting a moose.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend four days,” I told Trev, then added: “we’ll fill the freezer during deer season.” I meant every word. I pushed my seat back and threw a boot up on the dashboard – on the radio a country singer was singing about getting on with his life. As we left the bog, a bobcat darted onto the road, then wisped back into the understory as quickly as she’d appeared.