The awesome power of being on the land

three hunters, standing near the water, talking
Project: Good Food Stories

By: Daniel Kanu, Program Manager

This fall I joined Jeff McKay, an experienced hunter and trapper, for three days on the land hunting moose. Jeff brought along two youth from Cross Lake, Theorn and Frederick. I met them on the highway, 150 kilometres west of Cross Lake. We launched a small motorboat on the river and set off in search of a campsite. After coming ashore, and setting up camp. We started by calling the moose cows, with a low moan followed by a sharp huff. Between our calls we listened to the quiet night, waiting for a moose to call back. We spent much of the time in silence, listening for moose. Finally, late in the evening, we heard the grunt of a bull moose. Excited to hear an answer to our calls we all stared into the dark, down the river, towards the snapping of a branch. It was too late and dark to chase after the moose, so we took turns sleeping and calling.

In the morning, we got back into the boat and drove the boat down the shoreline, scouting for signs of the moose we had heard the night before. We kept a lookout for red willow branches, stripped of their leaves, and other signs. When a tree missing bark from being scraped off by a bull’s antlers caught our eye, we pulled the boat over to take a closer look.

heading out in the boat

Heading down the river

Jeff showed us moose tracks and how bent, but not broken, blades of grass stomped into tracks, told us that a moose had been there the night before. Jeff explained that bent grass squished into tracks means a moose made the tracks recently. If the grass in the tracks was older it would have dried up and broken in half. We searched the area finding droppings, chewed twigs and more tracks – all signs that a buck, a cow, and a calf had visited the spot. We figured the family came down to the river curious about our calls from the night before.

Back in the boat, Frederick shared with me that he had learned a lot being out on the land over these last few months. “When I am out here, all I see is medicine, in the plants in the water and even in the trees.”

two of the youth along for the hunt pick medicine in the trees

Offering tobacco

Over the past year, Jeff has brought over 15 youth out to hunt moose and geese, to trap muskrat, and to fish. Cross Lake is a community hurting from the loss of six young people to suicide last year. Jeff sees he can make a difference in the lives of youth by sharing the gift of being out on the land. Jeff, Frederick, Theorn, and I shared lots of stories over those next few days and it was clear to me that this was a special place for everyone.

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The trip gave us the opportunity to reconnect with the land and share in a common goal that required focus and calm. Jeff, Frederick, and Theorn spoke with great appreciation about the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with the land. By the end of our trip, no moose came forward, but there was much we learned and gained by being on the land.

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