The forest is waking up. A squirrel runs quickly and almost soundlessly over the track. The same track that I was carefully creeping along as quietly as possible just a moment earlier, making my way to the hunting stand in the featureless darkness. But now the light is coming and with it comes the landscape spreading out before me. And the sounds. The sounds of the forest. As if on cue, I hear grouse starting to sing behind me. A moment later I hear a familiar hammering and the black woodpecker’s siren-like scream from the tree tops. I can smell marshes, freedom and spruce trees. It smells exactly as it should.
Suddenly, a loud crack is followed by the unmistakable sound of dull hoof thuds accompanied by the snapping of small branches. It gets closer. My excitement, up on that hunting stand, is almost palpable. As it always is as a game animal approaches. Soon a dark shadow can be seen among the saplings that form a border between the marsh and the thick spruce forest. Without hesitation, a large female moose walks out from between the tall trees, heading for the moss-covered rocks to the east. As soon as she has left the thick trees behind her she starts to move majestically and silently across the century-old forest’s soft floor. Behind her the noise continues and two smaller shadows can be seen following her, seemingly competing over who can leave the tight forest behind them first. Her calves.
A low call from me makes all three moose stop and look my way. With their perfect flanks facing me, they stand in a row looking for the moose they thought they heard, all six ears pricked in my direction. And they just stand there. For several minutes.
A Siberian jay lands on the corner of the hunting stand. It cocks its head to the side and tries to see its reflection in the dull surface of my metal thermos. A fox can be heard at the far end of the marsh and a grouse starts singing at the same time. My pulse has calmed down somewhat and I have an easy shot for both the calves. But the cow with her twins in tow soon continues on towards the rocks – just as she had planned earlier – happily unaware of being followed by the eyes of a hunter.
I pour myself my first cup of morning coffee and enjoy the moment. Just as it was on my first childhood hunts with my father, I am too absorbed in the present to think about anything else. Every sound, smell and movement is a performance in itself and I am kept busy with processing all of the impressions that Mother Nature is providing me with.
After watching an ant stubbornly struggling up the hunting stand with an ash leaf in its jaws for several minutes I smile to myself and am reminded of the work I have to do today. I pack my belongings into my backpack and begin to slowly climb down from the stand. I move easily, relaxed. I don’t have a rifle over my shoulder today. My rifle is one piece of equipment that I don’t always take with me when hunting. Just the opposite. My rifle- free days outnumber the days I have it with me. Because hunting is not just about felling an animal. It is about a love of nature and wildlife. And spending time outdoors. And seeing, learning and becoming enriched by life. Good hunters – leave their rifles at home sometimes.