Tracks in the snow

deer

Buddy woke me up early this morning with barking that tells me he’s picked up on something around or near the farm. My thoughts were of critters from the woods come to feast on the compost pile in the garden closest to the house.

But an hour-or-so later after the ever-so-important, two cups of coffee and the morning feeding of the dogs, the tracks in the fresh snow near the end of the driveway where the road comes to a dead end, told me differently.

I don’t usually refer to the end of “no exit” Cathedral Drive as a “dead end.” But this morning it seems appropriate. Not that anything died right there. The fresh tire tracks showed a vehicle, likely a pick-up truck or SUV, had turned around, backing into the driveway, and headed back down the one-kilometre country road. Happens all the time. People often turn down Cathedral Drive off Hope Ness Road, out of curiosity, or because they made a wrong turn. But not usually at this time of year, on a Monday morning.

At first, I didn’t think of the possibility of a hunter or hunters; not, that is, until I heard what sounded like . . . well, I won’t call it a “crack.” It sounded more like an explosion of a small cannon going off, and fairly close, maybe a half kilometre at the most. Ah, I realized, it must be “black powder,” season.

Sure enough, it was the first day of bow and muzzle-loading, long-gun season (Dec. 3 to Dec. 8) in Ontario’s 83A hunting area, including all of The Municipality of the Northern Bruce Peninsula. What I had heard, presumably, was a muzzle-loading long gun being discharged; otherwise, it was illegal.

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Later, on a leash for safety sake, Buddy was alert to something in the wood ahead

I called Buddy, my big, beautiful German Shepherd who, I confess, was off-leash. He always comes when I call, unlike Sophie the Cockapoo. (That’s a relatively new, registered breed, a cross between Cocker Spaniels and Poodles. She has the intensely sharp sense of smell of a spaniel, though the poodle genes are not so clear. But the “poo” part of her breed-name is certainly appropriate for a little dog who will eat just about anything she finds outside – she’s especially fond of squash bits from the compost pile – if I let her outside off the leash.)

So, to be on the safe side we, the dogs and I, quickly turned around and headed back after hearing that shot. There were no more. Just that one, leading me to think there had been a death in the woods, most likely a local White-Tailed Deer, buck or doe – surely not a fawn.

They’re around, I know. Well into the night during growing seasons I’ve seen evidence of them having nibbled on my peas, beans, and certain other veggies. Once, a friend who turned into the driveway saw a few of them running out of the front garden in the glow of headlights. I take some precautions to keep them away from the peas especially, including a simple, brush wall of tree branches. It works, for a while. I think I’ll build a proper fence spring, using recycled boards from the fallen-down drive shed, and cedar posts.

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In the garden with Sophie

Otherwise, why grow peas and beans? But, again, I confess, I’ve grown attached to the critters, deer especially, who come to do a little browsing on my property, in the middle of the Hope Bay Nature Reserve. To the point that I’ve come to think of them, rightly or wrongly, as “my deer.” So, it grieves me to think one of them has just died. That’s in addition to those I know were killed during the early November deer season, possibly by a hunter who baited a likely area with apples the week before. That’s a common practice, and a despicable one; as if hunters don’t have enough advantages.

I’m not a hunter. Once, many years ago as a young man I shot a groundhog that had stuck its head up to have a look around. I still have a memory of its violent death throes. Ever since, I have had no interest in hunting for sport. I can imagine easily enough hunting for food to feed my family and community in certain circumstances, as a younger man of course. Those circumstances would have to include being skilled enough in the use of rifle and/or bow to ensure the animal does not suffer; a proven respect for animals as living creatures, like us, should also be part of the hunter’s code of honourable behaviour.

I will also say here that I think there is something to be said for skill in the use of long guns and ground among a nation’s citizenry. The Canadian experience in two world wars proved that; otherwise, we might not be where we are today, free to enjoy life in a free country, living under the rule of law built on a creative and thoughtful foundation of enlightened due process and respect for life.

But deadly weapons in the hands of people with no respect for anything is a very dangerous thing.

This blog post also appears on the Hope Ness Facebook site

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