Alone at the goose blind

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I was alone, or so I thought, at the goose blind one spring. The sound of footsteps behind me made me think that my hunting buddy had returned from the cabin for another round of hunting and waiting for the spring goose to fly by. As the footsteps drew nearer it seemed like buddy was breathing a little heavy. The steps stopped for a few seconds and the breathing sounded downright loud. I got up and turned around to see if buddy was okay. A startled caribou jumped up and twirled around a few metres away. It took off and left me standing there in a bit of a shocked state. The caribou had returned once again after many, many absent years from the Great Whale River area.

After the initial shock, buddy shows up and I ask him if he had seen the caribou. He points out to the Manitonik Sound where a large herd was meandering by. We both smiled and settled down for the longer wait for the geese, which the hunters down the Hudson Bay coast had promised would soon be in our sights. The caribou seemed a lot more tempting, however, and soon others from the camp ventured out and harvested a few for the camp. The year was 1986.

Sixteen years later, the caribou showed up during the winter months, along with their companions, the ptarmigan. That year, caribou were so abundant that it seemed that harvesting them so close to town might spook the whole herd into leaving en masse. But soon the norm to get caribou was to either head down to the Chisasibi area or charter expensive aircraft to get to the herds. Outfitting camps, set up in prime areas, benefitted greatly from the magnificent herd’s annual migrations over the decades. Soon, conflicts arose, and recreational sport hunters were seen as the culprits for the atrocities discovered by many a riled Eeyou hunter.

Again, the caribou disappeared from the Hudson and James Bay coastlines until the turn of the century, when the cloven-hoofed masses again returned to the north. This time, the outer islands of the bays and the coast of the lower Hudson Bay had some caribou to hunt. We accounted for three cleans one fine April day, when the caribou were on their northbound journey to their calving grounds. We headed back home after leaving nothing behind and hiding the blood-stained snow. It was a good hunt and our journey was satisfying, knowing that we had some much-needed country food in our freezers.

The caribou, in its wild wisdom, stayed away again for some time, traveling the deep inland routes. This forced hunters to travel for many hours to get to the herds. Hungry packs of wolves were always nearby, following the herds as they did for thousands of years. Again, the need for meat overrode costs and planes were chartered to wherever the bush radio said they could be found. In the old days, those wise with the art of divining information from bones were consulted and for some good reason, were a reliable source to track down your next food and source of protein.

This year, the caribou are abundant again, loitering around the urban areas of Cree and Inuit communities. Every one is all smiles again, seeing huge herds walk by within sight of the town. This morning, a caribou dodged my truck and hurried off to join its family of hundreds, grazing on the abundant grasses around Great Whale. The story was the same for Chisasibi, who had to deal mainly with the increasing traffic of hunters out to take part in a tradition that sustains us as a people, the caribou hunt. This year, I hope, will be the beginning of regular annual visits by the herd. I can’t wait another decade for a good meal.

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