Half a year ago, I made the aim of blogging about my trips to increase my outdoors credentials. Keeping records and taking photographs is not my forte, but am working to change that to make it a habit. At times, it is easier just to use Facebook to keep everyone updated, and upload pictures and gear list for the blog instead of writing out everything.
I have gone out on several trips this year, but failed to write about them.
But there are good reasons for keeping a log. It allows us to reflect on our mistakes and gives materials for us to work with in the future. Also, we get to understand the area of our travels in much further depth by comparing them to others’.
Now who is qualified to write about the outdoors is subjective. Professional and avid hunters often brag about 150 days in the field; this is no small feat and anyone who could pull it off should be applauded. Others feel 20 to 24 days in the wilderness is sufficient. On the other hand, some feels it is the number of hours spent outside which quantify someone’s experience such as the Maine Guide Program requiring 240 hours in a calendar year or a minimum of 80 hours per year spread over a 5 years span. Whether the case, it is very clear that I need to put more time under the belt.
This year is not a great one. The trip to Finland got cancelled in part to family affairs with a lot of emotional drama involving relatives and also dealing with Finnish police’s bureaucracy. Initially, I was under the impression one can simply apply for a parallel permit and borrow one from a friend, but the process is far from simple and must be done months in advance. Taking one’s own firearm over is a headache and can take a month or two to sort out without prior preparations. Now, I understand why international hunters use bows and arrows instead of a rifle: less headache, and less paperwork.
Hunting with a dog in northern Alberta is limited to 60 days of the year before the traps are down when fur is at their prime, it is time to start putting in hours. Genetics may play a big factor in how a good dog will be at hunting; but without experience, having good genes is worthless. It is said a hunter who only goes out for one or two weekends out of a month will not have a great dog on his hand.
Since vehicular thefts and vandalism is common in the Peace country, I have started arranging to be dropped off and picked up in a designated area much like any family with only one vehicle shared amongst themselves or a travelling hunter on a DIY hunt who cannot afford to have a rental car broken into. The last thing I need is to return to a truck which disappeared.
I have two dogs which do play quite frequently, but also fight over resources. Predicting what an individual perceives as valuable is next to impossible and taking both on a camping trip is not feasible. Co-existence is all about management and understanding the dogs’ needs and wants. A babysitter needs to be arranged.
My mother is away in Edmonton for her jaw replacement surgery and unable to take in one of the dogs until she is fully recovered. Since the landlord does not like strangers coming over, hiring a dog-walker was not an option. The better kenneling facilities in the region do not take in dogs at the last moment notice, and the ones that do have subpar track records of clean or safe husbandry.
One proposal was to take the trailer out and leave Riley the Vallhund behind for the day and returning every four hours. The only problem with this scenario is less time spent setting up camp and practicing wilderness skills as with such an arrangement is very much like being at home. Not my idea of a weekend.
Given the constraints, we began discussing the idea of borrowing a trailer to set up out in the middle of nowhere. Got everything set up: a bicycle for emergencies, trolley lines to keep the dogs separate when needed. Then the owner of the trailer conveniently got time off work, and tagged along for the outing. This made the whole scenario more awkward as having someone around creates social expectations. Also, since not everyone has stellar dog-handling skills, a social situation puts more pressure on the dog owner.
My partner wanted to bring along the new Norinco JW15A, a Chinese derivative of the Brno No. 1 and Brno No. 2, which I bought off a guy from Dawson Creek a few weeks prior. Uncertain how accurate the iron sight is and not yet done research on what would be a decent scope, without any .22LR in the cabinet, we reluctantly left it behind. Besides, the only store open after-hour was Canadian Tire and sometimes it can take an hour for a staff with a valid PAL licence to come and open up the display.
Due to miscommunications, we stopped at the 50 km mark instead of the 21 km mark south. This area has seen intensive logging, and grouse reports are sparse. However, they were in the region since we saw two on the road near the area where we set up camp.
The following nights were cold, and the furnace kept coming on. I am used to the cold and was prepared to rely on my own body heat, but my partner was not and needed an external heat source. Since the dogs were not habituated to the trailer shaking all the time, they whined and barked throughout the night.
In the morning, he kept complaining about the cold, but the temperature during the day or at night was no worse than Willmore north of Jasper or Monkman in British Columbia two months prior. The complaints persisted for the night and day following after.
In the first morning, we headed north where the burns and clearcuts were according to Google Earth hoping that there would be some growth to promote the grouse population. There is no way to tell how old some of these sites are, and the imageries were last taken in 2013. Since I did not have a topographical map for the area so far south, I stuck mostly to the roads since the area is featureless without any predominant hills or tall trees to be used as landmarks. My initial plan was to use to known rivers, creeks and marshes to navigate the landscape. Without a map, knowing where these are would instill more confidence. I have learned a few years ago not to rely on GPS, and only printed maps.
Not knowing the area is rather unfortunate since the roading habit does not need to be reinforced and would be much better to encourage Pavel the West Siberian Laika to search in a zigzag pattern more often. This is not an incorrect hunting behaviour depending on the context, as sometimes running in a straight line is a more productive way of searching, but will explain why in another discourse.
The cuts were too recent for anything other than black bears to show up, but Pavel did find one game which he barked at for four minutes. Visual was unconfirmed since by the time I crossed the cut, the game disappeared.
Just before lunch, we headed south to another clearcut which appears to be older. He found one game, barked at it for a few minutes then ceased. We continued further south, scouted the area and affirmed the habitat was more useful for moose than grouse based on the vegetation and the terrain. On our return, Pavel treed a grouse, probably the same one as earlier given the event occurred in the same area, and barked for a good ten minutes before making visual confirmation and affirming that it was a legal game species. In these parts, Sharp-tailed Grouse are restricted only to the month of October and one must take great care not to confuse them for another grouse species. One bird down.
Except the carcass got hung up in the tree since it was an aspen with four diverging trunks. The dog, understandably confused, persisted barking at it for another 15 minutes while I tried everything to get it down.
Later in the evening, he found another game up north on the road toward the burn. Since it was getting dark, it was hard to tell if it was some kind of fur-bearer such as a squirrel or marten or if it is a grouse. Taking a fur-bearer with a trapper’s licence or a trapline is considered as poaching.
Since fitness was not a priority until last winter, one begin to realize they must choose their hiking or hunting clothes based on their fighting weight when the waist is at its narrowest and the shoulders are their broadest. Otherwise, one can reasonably expect to encounter chaffing of the worst sorts. My pants, Kuhl Convertible, which I bought two summers ago, kept causing hot spots even with a belt to pull them up with. They were simply too loose. and one size too large.
On the following morning, the dog barked at something twice for about two to four seconds each. Then after running down a logging road, he stopped, turned back, seek affections and refused to continue searching. It could mean one of three things: either there’s a wolf in the area; he is getting sore; or there is an oncoming storm. Not wanting to inflict overuse injury or being stuck in the mud, which can take days to dry out, we headed back home. Sure enough, it started raining an hour after everything was packed up then snowed another hour later.
At this point in time, it is not worth putting up a gear list since only a synthetic baselayer from Mark’s, rain jacket from Marmot, Baikal shotgun, Garmin GPS and DeLorme inReach SE were carried on my person. Several observations were recorded for future blog posts which I wish to explore at a later date.
Without careful screening of partners, the trip is not something I wish to experience again. Most of my peers have a much tougher mindset and are willing to put up with the wet and cold late in the year in much more extreme environments.