Here are two stories from my book Poacher Chaser Holidays, A Blow So Fowl and Night of the Bears that I hope you will enjoy.
Sometimes the unexpected and totally unforeseen comes back to haunt you. This is one of those tales. While working in the Edmonton area my partner and I were out on patrol. It was migratory bird season. The area around Cooking Lake is very popular with local duck hunters so that’s where we headed for.
It was getting towards sundown. We checked some successful hunters on the way to one of our favorite hunter checking spots. As we approached there were duck hunters on both sides of the road—some shooting and some watching. We had an unmarked truck so the hunters did not know we were game wardens. Slowing, we approached as the shooting continued making note of who was shooting and who was watching.
Satisfied we had observed all that was necessary my partner drove to where the hunters along the road were the closest. I got out and he continued along the road to the other hunters farther along. The plan was for me to check the hunters he drove past and he would check back towards me from where he stopped the truck.
This was all going along fine. Our presence had not dampened the ardor of the hunters as they kept shooting while we were checking licenses. Ducks were falling all around, dogs splashing into the water in retrieval mode. Hunters were yelling and blowing whistles at dogs to direct them to the downed, but not necessarily dead, ducks. How any dog found the right bird appeared a bit of a mystery. They all returned with a bird, there was no fights amongst the hunters or dogs, what can you say?
We checked almost all the hunters and were getting close to each other when my partner shouted:
“Chuck, look out, a duck is going to hit you.”
I had no idea which direction it was coming from. I instantly went into a semi crouch, ducking my head, causing my parka hood to come up over my head. That was very fortunate. I was still going into the crouch position when the duck hit me right at the base of the neck, where the parka hood attaches to the parka, with a blow “oh so fowl!.” It hit hard enough that I had to take a step forward to keep from falling.
“Are you OK?” My ever-vigilant partner said.
“Yes, I am fine,” I reply, pushing my parka hood back off my face and head. That’s when the laughter started.
We finished checking the last of the hunters amidst wisecracks, got in our truck and left.
Oh yes, the hunter whose duck hit me retrieved it adding it to his limit for the day!
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Back when the Government did not mind if you took a friend or relative on a patrol my brother-in-law had time to join me on one of my spring river trips on the mighty Peace River. He had been to High Level before but not for the (fast-becoming infamous) annual spring river trip. The objective on these trips was to check for spring beaver trapping activity and spring bear hunters, whose numbers were increasing annually. (In Poachers, Cranberries & Snowshoes and Poachers, Beans & Birch Bark, there are stories of these “must-take trips.”)
We gathered our personal gear, food, parts for the boat, tent, guns and whatever else we thought we might need. This was loaded into the truck and boat and off we went for a five-day trip on the mighty Peace. Tompkins Landing was our first destination. It was about an hour-and-a-half drive from High Level. When we arrived the usual boat launch was too soft to back the truck and trailer up on so we used the ferry landing that, in effect, is an elevated ramp. Anything that might get wet was taken out of the boat and put in the truck. The ferry departed, the truck was backed up, ensuring the trailer wheels were back to the edge of the ferry ramp. A long safety line was attached to the bow of the boat back to the rear of the trailer. There is about a 3-foot vertical drop to the water from the ferry landing (not including the height of the trailer off the boat launch) so an empty boat was the idea. Ready. We pushed the boat off the trailer as hard as we could. The stern hit the water with a tremendous splash, fortunately the motor well held most of the water. Some bailing was required. With the boat dried our gear was reloaded. We parked the truck. Now we were ready for another adventure.
Pushing out into the river's current with the motor idling, our attention was heightened by the whorls (currents independent of the river current supposedly caused by movement on the river or creek bed, commonly called swirls). Depending on their size they are a force to be reckoned with. Being buffeted by these until we got on plane we continued upstream, passing Carcajou on our way to the mouth of the Notikewin River —our traditional meeting place with the Fish and Wildlife staff from Peace River .
The river was high enough that we were able to go behind numerous islands, both large and small. Migratory birds of the water variety were in the air and on the water in what to me appeared to be unprecedented numbers. When the motorboat motor was shut off and you floated, looking and listening, there was a cacophony of bird noise, making it hard to distinguish any single bird sound. The bird songs were the guys and gals were making a noise to announce their presence, to both attract a mate and warn others to get out of the way.
“I thought we had a lot of birds at home in the spring but there is nothing like this,” said my partner after a time of listening and looking.
“It's really something isn't it? Too bad everyone can't see and experience these things. There might be a better understanding of why some people get so excited about our environment.”
Starting the motor again the bird noise was gone, the trips behind the islands and even the rivers' main channel revealed more birds. We started rather late in the day with the intention of camping one night before we met the other guys. The sun was starting to go down but in northern Alberta the sun going down in the middle of May is not a big deal, you probably have two hours of light left. Our search for a campsite began. From previous trips I remembered some likely places. As we were searching these out we noticed the bears, as well as migratory birds, present in record numbers everywhere. Up trees, on the riverbanks, both at the rivers' edge and on top.
Turning for the bank I pointed and said: “What do you think of this?”
“Looks okay to me, we don't have to haul all the stuff up the bank anyway.”
“No, just the tent, sleeping bags and what we're going to eat. I think the rest of our food will be alright sealed in the cooler.”
“Whatever you say. Let's do it.”
We tied the boat up and started work.
Our campsite was a small grassy patch on the bank with one large spruce tree, very tall and very bushy. We started hauling our supplies up the bank. With the first loads on site we picked the flattest place we could find to put up our tent, it was within spitting distance of the lone tree. A form of northern darkness was starting when we made a fire to cook supper.
The bird sound had dulled a little so you could talk without shouting.
“So how are you doing?” I ask.
“Great, this is a nice change, the smells are better than on the farm. What do you think about the bears? There are sure lots.”
“I know, we have our food looked after and we won't have any in the tent. We probably smell bad enough now it would gag a bear that got too close anyway.” We both know that was not true but it caused much laughter.
On goes a flashlight so we can organize the inside of the tent. Sleeping bags unrolled, feet to the door. Rifles on the floor, on the side that you shoot from, one pointed towards the door. The door is tied from the inside, lights out. It's 1 am.
Something is poking me. I roll in the direction of the poking. In the half-light I see my brother-in-law half sitting up, motioning me to be quiet and pointing. I follow his point. There is a silhouette on the tent wall that looks a lot like a bear. You know it is a bear. There is no noise coming into the tent from the bear's footsteps as the silhouette moves slowly along the sidewall of the tent.
A sharp crack behind me, I turn, another silhouette, yes, another bear, it does not look quite as big as the other one. Oh joy! We could reach out and touch them if not for the canvas. By now we have silently picked up our rifles and are pointing them at the bears. They must have sensed something because they stop moving. No movement in or outside the tent for who knows how long. I look at my partner and he looks back. The bears have started to move towards the front of the tent.
Now what do we do? Wait and see if they come in for an early morning snack or defend our fragile abode? We can see better now. I look at my partner, open my mouth real wide like a scream and hold up three fingers. He nods. I refold the fingers. Both bears are now at the door and you can hear them sniffing......(to be continued in my book Poacher Chaser Holidays)
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