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Photo illustration: The Globe and Mail. (Mike Derer/AP)
Photo illustration: The Globe and Mail. (Mike Derer/AP)

A hunter pulls the trigger on his kill Add to ...

Though I believe that if people eat meat, they should be morally obligated to kill that which they eat at least once in their lifetime, I have not hunted seriously since 1995. That year, I hunted in the south of New Brunswick above the granite rocks of the Fundy coast and I hunted until later in November. It was cold weather that autumn, with snow mixed with rain along the coast during the day, and deer would make their way along the trails and down to the rocky beach for salt, and I hunted among those intersecting deer trails. Here in spruce and birch cover, the brooks flowed to the bay, and old logging roads, forgotten for half a century or more, allowed for deer to travel unseen and unmolested to the shore at ebb tide and back up to the hills in the evening time, to lie in the long grass unseen in a wood thicket.

There was an apple orchard too where I hunted, and on the first day I made it to the orchard at dawn and then moved along a deer trail that ran diagonally from that old logging road to the quiet brook that swept under windfalls, and there I stayed for most of the morning. I had the ability then to find a place where deer moved during the rut, where the buck would paw the ground and mark its territory, and where it would circle around to see if a doe had entered the area. I hunted alone from the time I was 23 years of age, and I would sit as quietly as possible for hours on end.

There were many deer in the south of the province that year, though they were generally not as large as those in the north of the province, and I was sitting in a forgotten part of the world too, near three or four moss-ravaged tombstones, the resting place of a mother and her five children who had died in 1851. The village they once belonged to had nothing to mark it except those forlorn graves.  

Now and again, along those old trails, I would catch sight of a coyote slinking on its belly, or watch an osprey in the low, darkening clouds. And it was cold that first day too, and threatened snow. So I knew snow would come either that day or the next, and the cold would make the deer move.

I had with me a knapsack, with a Thermos of tea, a lunch, a small skinning knife and some chewing tobacco. And I had a chew of tobacco and a cup of tea about 10 that morning, and listened to the soundlessness of the woods and the shrill lowly caw of a crow as it flew from nowhere into nowhere, and I thought of that woman and her children, and how they left Ireland long, long ago, with such hope, and how their very resting place was part of a community that no longer even existed, known only to a coy dog or hunter or a lonely passerby.

I used a British .303 rifle with a Tasco scope set at the lowest range, for I was in close quarters, and I was using 180-grain bullets – that is, bullets with medium hitting power for deer. But I have used this bullet for moose as well, to good effect. I had a clip with five bullets, with one in the chamber, six bullets in all, and I never had any more bullets on me, and never felt I needed more. For a long time, when I was younger – that is younger than I was in 1995 – I never used a scope either. But over time I had long shots at both moose and deer and felt a scope necessary.

After a while, as the day stilled and it got later, I took a walk out across the logging road to the apple orchard and stayed there. Then as the daylight reflecting in my scope dimmed almost to nothing, I took my clip out of the rifle and headed back to my truck in the dark.

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