Canadian Thanksgiving

 In Stories

Sometimes we need to be thankful of what we have in order to achieve the things we still desire.

By Jim Rinaldo

I could hear the big bull up on the seemingly impenetrable mountainside. Each low throaty grunt sent chills down my spine. Occasionally I would see a young spruce tree disappear in a violent shuddering explosion high on the sheer ridge in front of me. Behind and below me two hundred yards was my new friend and guide Troy Wolfenden. I could hear the rhythmic cadence as he steadily called through his grunt tube, infuriating the bull with every passing moment. Still the big Shiras Moose stayed above me daring me to bring the fight to him.

The events leading up to this encounter started almost a year earlier with an email from my good friend Mark Buehrer at Bowhunting Safari Consultants. He had a spot come open for Shiras Moose with Troy at Beaverfoot Outfitting. I have used B.S.C. for several big game hunts and found every one of them to be of the highest quality. We would be hunting the mountains and river bottoms in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. This area nestled between Golden B.C. and Banff, Alberta is one of the most beautiful and scenic places on earth. I had spent the last two seasons in pursuit of Yukon moose, both ending with incredible adventures and newfound friends, but unfilled tags. Unlike the tented base camps and two man spike tents used on my Yukon moose hunts I would be spending my nights in cozy log chalet at the north entrance to Troy’s hunting area. I knew it would be a great venue to share with my wife Andrea. With a call to Troy and a chat with some of his past bowhunting clients, I was signed up and Andrea and I began marking the days off on the calendar.

The morning of October first found me high on a mountainside glassing the clear-cuts and river sloughs that coursed threw this valley. As it usually goes in this type of hunting quality optics are a high priority. For this trip I would be using Swarovski 10x 32 EL binoculars and Swarovski 65mm spotting scope. Long hours of scouring the bush in the biting alpine wind proved fruitless the first two days of the hunt. We spotted several cows and calves, but no good bulls. There had been a decidedly large increase in the logging activity here due to the onset of the pine beetle in this area and Troy feared the increase might have pushed the big bulls deeper into the bush. By the evening hunt on the third day I was ready for a change in tactics. Troy suggested we set up on a mineral lick he knew of deep in a mountain ravine.

As I settled in about thirty yards from the lick shrouded in a cradle of spruce boughs I could feel the anticipation building. The sign at the old lick was amazing! There were tracks and rubs enough to set any bowhunter’s heart pounding. The combination of the cool fall breeze singing through the tall spruce trees and the lonely lovesick cow moose calls moaning from Troy’s homemade birch bark horn made for a surreal symphony that night. These sights and sounds alone would have been enough for me to build a mental scrapbook with, but just then I saw the first movement through the pine boughs. A leg, then a shoulder, next a quick glimpse of antler moving through pines. I knew it was going to happen until I felt the breeze shift to my back. At 70 yards out I watched the bull come up hard and stop. He was to far out in the quickly dimming evening light to confidently judge his size, but it wouldn’t matter. In a flash he was gone. Somehow melding his giant frame into the forest around him. Vanishing in an instant wise to the game I had wanted him to play.

The next several days were filled with low clouds and damp winds. It seemed the top two thirds of the mountains had disappeared. We were unable to reach high enough vantage points to get any real view of the valleys and river bottoms below. The action that we had the first night at the mineral lick had dried up. It seemed the hunting trip was headed in the same direction my last two Yukon trips had gone.

Troy could sense my growing frustration and sought to change our luck with a different approach. We began the next day with a slow walk, stop, call, and listen type of still hunting as we slowly climbed our way up a long forgotten logging road. The miles slowly passed, as the old road became more of a path and the tall thick spruce began to consume us. We rounded a tight curve in the road as the clouds broke for a moment and I found myself starring down a huge valley of old and overgrown clear cuts bisected with streams and bogs. It seemed a haven for moose. Just as my spirits began to lift I heard the sound of footfalls behind us. I turned surprised to see the faces of two local deer hunters coming up the logging road. We spoke briefly as they walked past and I felt the pangs of frustration welling up inside me. They returned in less the twenty minutes to tell us they had spotted a small bull standing in the dim road just a few hundred yards ahead, but our search for it proved fruitless. It was a cold and quiet walk back to the truck that night.

The next day was Canadian Thanksgiving. It started like the previous five had with low overcast skies and bone-chilling damp winds, but the forecast was for improving conditions through out the day. As the morning clouds gave way the warming afternoon sun it seemed we were due for a change in both weather and luck. With Troy’s wife Claire planning a traditional Thanksgiving feast and all of Troy’s family coming to the chalets for dinner we planned to return from the evening hunt a little sooner than normal. It seemed a perfect afternoon for Andrea to tag along. We decided to hike up the old logging road and glass the overgrown clear-cut. Maybe that young bull the deer hunters had seen would show himself. With only one full hunting day remaining in our trip I told Troy that I would be happy just to bring a truckload of tender hams and back straps home to my family and friends.

We covered the ground more quickly this afternoon. Steadily climbing back to the old clear-cut, we walked in silence each to their own thoughts. I had convinced myself that the weather, loggers, deer hunters and Moose had conspired against me and with all of that I would be forced to cut my evening hunt short for a holiday I knew very little about. Fully aware of the results a negative attitude can bring about, I never the less let myself become mired in self pity even after we had settled in high above the overgrown basin.

I wish I could say what it was that came over me that October evening. It may have been the warming rays of the sun as it slowly tracked toward western ridgeline. It may have been the incredible Canadian Rocky Mountains stretching out in front of me or their snowy peaks reaching for the heavens. But as my eyes scanned these unforgettable vistas they settled on the spot that my wife stood. Even with her binoculars pressed tight to her face I could see the smile below them. I could feel the awe that she was engulfed in. The awe that I, just moments before, had begun to take for granted. The day was Thanksgiving and it’s meaning slowly started to push out the self-absorbed thoughts I had allowed myself to become immersed in. I began to take a steady and sure inventory of the things I was thankful of and in short time had a list far to long for the pages written here.

The words came on their own, as if directed by divine intervention. “Lets head back to camp. I can’t wait to meet your family Troy and I think I can smell the pie from here!” We gathered our gear and started back down the trail, notably more relaxed and pleased with our decision to head home. Smiles abounded as we told hunting stories and laughed our way down the old logging road.

I was amazed that I even caught a glimpse of the bulls rear quarter slipping into the bush as we rounded a curve oblivious to his presence. It was just as amazing to watch Troy’s demeanor go from lighthearted fellowship to dead serious hunter in an instant. Andera held her position as Troy and I crept down the road. For a moment we saw the massive palms of his antlers as he stood just yards off the road in a small rushing creek and in a crash he was gone. It was Troy that suggested I follow, using the noise of the stream for cover. I was certain the old bull would still hear my heart pounding above tireless babblings of the creek.

I had maneuvered myself into the bush a short distance away when I began to hear the bull grunting above me. The old boy was hung on the steep ridge and refused to do more than answer as Troy and I put forward our most challenging grunts. I positioned myself below him at the lower end of a treeless bench. I watched as yet another young spruce shuddered under the Moose’s heavy antlers. The site of this made me think to break a dry branch from a dead fall beside me. When I raked and shook the six-foot spruce I was hiding behind it was all the old monarch could take. I could hear the timber breaking and actually see the thick under growth of young spruce parting as if a wake from the bow of a ship. He broke into the clearing a mere fifty yards away, head swaying back and forth as he slobbered and grunted in his rage. The cool evening mountain thermals blew fresh into my face as he started across the open bench in front of me. I slipped the release on the “D” loop of my bow and drew. The seconds seemed like hours as he swaggered and swayed his way straight towards me looking for his challenger. When he cleared my hiding place he stood only eleven yards away. At this range the bull was so close that the sight picture through my peep would show all five pins in the kill zone. But I was on automatic now and instinctively I found the twenty-yard pin as it slid to a tuft of hair just behind the big bull’s shoulder. The carbon shaft sank to the fletching as the Moose spun where he stood. I grunted once more before he could bolt and to my surprise he stopped to look back one last time still seemingly ready to fight. As I fumbled to nock a second arrow he stepped behind a spruce and lay down.

Troy was still blowing his grunt tube when I made my way back to the road. He started to ask what had happened, but the smile on my face said it all. We jumped and hugged each other as I tried to tell them what I had just been through. Minutes later kneeling beside the huge old bull I said my thanks to God and counted my blessings one more time that day.

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