Fauna in the Land of the Black Bear
The Apprentice Bushman headed out from his camper home base for another day of logging to collect lodge pole pines for materials for road building.
The dew was fresh on the tender green leaves in a small grove of young aspen this cool, early July morning. Chainsaw in hand, he had walked a mere 20 yards when a full grown cow moose looked up from her morning meal and turned to confront the Bushman.
Apprehension was evident from both parties. The cow moose said nothing. The fur on her back said everything. From the relaxed slick down coiffure she had a moment ago, a somewhat agitated demeanor had now created a spiked bristly ridge line of fur from head to tail on her back, a military style brush cut. Her nostrils flared and farted. The Bushman’s anxiety was silent, but no brush cut for him. His hair remained as it had been: curly. The two parties froze, motionless, each assessing his/her next move. The Bushman weighed his options and decided not to yield his ground. The cow moose also weighed her options and decided not to yield her ground. The Bushman opted to seize the initiative. The cow moose betrayed a slight moment of confusion. The Bushman placed the chainsaw on the ground, engaged the choke button, pulled the starter cord and hoped that the engine would fire immediately. The chainsaw erupted with its characteristic raucous roar, tearing the precious fabric of silence of a country morning in summer. The hungry cow moose fled towards Red Rock Creek for silent pastures away for the noisy Bushman.
That was to be the only dramatic moment of confrontation with moose in our twenty year stay in rural Prince George. In fact it became a source of boast that our 40 acre Independent Republic of Girvistan showed evidence of being a sanctuary for moose. The moose endorsed our presence by shacking up and copulating in the bush within a few hundred feet from our home. For several years we watched grazing adults and baby moose from the warm, cozy comfort of our living room. Moose size depressions in a small area of tall grasses in the middle of the forested and undeveloped back of several adjoining properties indicated the continuing presence of the big ungulates. Young moose-high birch and poplar were abundant in the area and mosses and lichens and matted straw from tall grasses were available under the snow for the lean winter months. Water flowed year round in Red Rock Creek, a distance of 200 yards from their bedding area.
In autumn when the pop, pop popping of gunshots from hunters interrupted the screams of chainsaws cutting firewood for the winter wood stoves, we feared the worse, that our protégés, our regional moose would fall victims to the guns of our well liked neighbours, the barbarian hordes out there. Mind you, we were not averse to accepting the delicious gifts of flesh of murdered moose from those delightful barbarian neighbours. One particular offering of moose canned in a mason jar from the Hubbell family of nearby Woodpecker, was a particular family favourite. And marinaded moose steaks, yum!
Moose and grouse were not the only bush meat that fell onto our plates. In the land of the black bear we had the distinction of ingesting the flesh of Canada’s industrious rodent, the beaver.
To a soundtrack of Anne Murray’s Snowbird and Gordon Lightfoot, and with our spirits buoyed by Molson’s Canadian on a Canada Day July afternoon, we dined on a beaver that had been taken from Red Rock Creek that very morning. The Bushman’s wife baked the butchered beaver in the brand new oven which earlier in the year they had dragged up the snow packed hill to the house on a toboggan, the road up the hill being impassable all that first winter. The Bushman family recalls that the flesh of beaver was as dense and tough as a hockey puck with the distinctively unpalatable flavour of a hockey puck to match; “gamey” comes to mind, as if the animal had led a stressful life and died a stressful death and had been marinaded a lifetime in adrenaline and other stress related hormones.
To mitigate the unpatriotic barbarism that our beaver banquet implies, it must be added that the beaver in question had been legitimately harvested from Red Rock Creek. A neighbour and friend had acquired all the relevant trapping permits from the the department of Fish and Wildlife for trapping the beavers from the Creek which ran through his property.The beavers harvested would be donated to local trappers for the pelt. The Bushman’s friend had waged a long and weary battle with the beavers which built lodges and dams to divert the Creek and flood parts of the property. Beavers would build their dam overnight and the Bushman’s friend would dismantle the dam the following day. Friend and beaver, the adversaries, faced off on a daily basis: the Bushman’s friend tenacious and the beaver, his foe, persistent.
This time tenacity trumped persistence for the beaver had his comeuppance at the hands of the Tenacious One.
Wild Nature had her revenge in a massive way for the consumption of beaver, claiming the Bushman family’s stock of chickens on a regular basis over the next few years. Nature’s agents of retribution were many and their assaults were frequent and bothersome. Coyote and fox regularly removed their portion of the annual harvest of 100 broiler chickens which the family bought in May as day old chicks. By the end of June these chicks, nourished by some magical melange of grain and chemical additives had reached a weight of 3-4 pounds: a frightening efficiency! By mid-June each year the flock would start to be thinned and harvested by the wild canines who selflessly volunteered to control the overpopulation of chickens on the property. The Bushman family enthused by the abundance of bush around the house, had initially imagined that free range chickens would be nourished naturally and economically with the green bounty of growth in the bush. The animals of the bush instead were thankful for the bounty of free range chickens available free on the range for the taking.
Not content to let the wild canines enjoy Bushman family chicken, the wild felines quickly joined the feast.
The Bushwoman strolled in a leisurely manner the fifty yards from the house to the newly built chicken house, an a-frame log structure fortified with a fenced yard to contain the free rangers and deter the freeloaders. Her mission was to collect the day’s eggs production form the laying chickens. Her resolute stride showed a confidence growing from a couple of successful years of living in the bush. As was her custom, as she approached the hen-house she was engaged in a constant dialogue with her charges, congratulating them on their recent accomplishments in the area of egg production and urging them to keep up the good work.
The chickens were excited as the chicken whisperer neared the coop. They expected to be rewarded for their hard work with a generous helping of grain. The Bushwoman opened the chicken coop, removed the eggs, tossed grain into the chicken’s yard and left to return to the house with an ice cream bucket full of eggs. When the Bushman looked out the window he noted a Lynx crouching on a log in a shoulder high pile of debris, twenty feet from where the Bushwoman had just passed. The lynx having tasted the fat broilers would wait until the coast was clear of humans to target the easier prey.
Neighbours reported several sightings of cougar at this time on their properties although the Bushman family had no evidence that the big cats dined on free range chickens from the Republic of Girvistan.
Over time the chicken coop became a magnet for animals shopping for a free supper. In the land of the black bear, the black bear itself was not exempt from the lure of chicken. After several encounters with lynx, the Bushman bought a 20 gauge shotgun and bird-shot cartridges, more to create a loud noise as a deterrence than to hunt.
Black Bears had been frequent visitors. We had the first experience with black bear while living in the camper at the road building stage of our life in the bush. The Bushman family had watched from the window of the camper, a young bear selectively remove small berries with its mouth from the branches of a berry bush beside the camper without disturbing the leaves. On another occasion a curious young black bear had wandered under the basketball hoop which the Bushman had erected in the front yard, less than fifty feet from the house for his basketball playing daughters. A blast in the air from the shotgun was all that was needed that time to chase the bear and put an end to its hoop dreams. But the foul smell of a chicken house full of fowl was an irresistible lure for one bear.
There it was circling around the chicken house, looking for the way to get into the page wire enclosure to help itself. Quite excited, it would run around the enclosure then stop, focus on one chicken and when the chicken moved it would resume its run, circling the enclosure. It was time to activate the bluff of a big noise from the shotgun to send the bear away.
A shot in the air from the dining room window of the house and the bruin leaves on the run into the forest. The contented Apprentice Bushman congratulates himself and resumes his activities. Fifteen minutes later the bear returns and resumes his research into ways to break into the enclosure. The Bushman repeats his strategy with the shotgun with similar results, the bear departs on the run into the lodge pole pine forest. The Bushman waits. After a few minutes the Bushman decides that the shotgun has done its job and he leaves his surveillance post. A half and hour later the bear returns and resumes his sprints around the chicken’s enclosure. Instead of firing into the air, the frustrated Bushman takes aim from the dining room window at the ample backside of the bear and fires the cartridge of bird pellets at the rear end of the persistent bear. The bear leaves the yard and this time abandons its pursuit of chickens.
By now it was clear not only that free range chickens was an unsustainable idea but that that it would take a facility with security like Fort Knox to contain our winter supply of chicken. One last lesson from the wild was the clincher.
The general alarm goes out from the chicken coop. About seventy chickens are clucking a warning. Wave upon wave, the chorus repeats a non-stop alert. The Bushman, armed with his shotgun walks the fifty yard from the house to the chicken coop to investigate the reason for the chickens’ excitement. There are 8 dead birds in the fenced enclosure. A skunk emerges from under the chicken coop and confronts the Bushman. The skunk has burrowed under the chicken coop, killed the chickens in the enclosure and is dragging them under the coop. It now claims the basement suite of the chicken coop as its own and defends its claim, bluffing a charge at the Bushman with its teeth bared then retreating into its recently claimed lair under the coop. Enough! the Bushman thinks. Given more time the rest of the flock of chickens will suffer the fate of their late colleagues at the hands of a skunk, no less, and the Bushman family will be deprived of the expected harvest of chicken meat for the winter. The antisocial behavior of the skunk also suggests the possibility of rabies. The Bushman points the barrel of the shotgun under the chicken coop. The skunk charges and seizes the barrel of the gun in its mouth. The Bushman fires!
After the skunk’s carcass was incinerated, the surviving chickens were hastily slaughtered. A few days later the chicken coop was burned to rid the area of the stench of the ambitious skunk which put an end to chicken husbandry for the family.