As I sit to write this column, it's the last day of rabbit hunting for the 2011-12 season. That's another one of many over and done with.I love eating rabbits, and I managed to stow a few in the freezer, mostly white hares shot amidst green woods in late November and throughout December. I will once again savour my rabbit stews while March winds blow a damp freezing gale.
I didn't tend a line of snares this autumn; just couldn't find the time. I was planning to build a few early winter rabbit gardens but you need snow for that sort of thing. And you all know the state of snow affairs on the Avalon Peninsula. This land of moderation in both winter and summer is beginning to bring my nerves down. I think I will devote tonight's prayers to the snow gods.
There's very little snow right now and, with the exception of just one wintery week, that's the way it's been for the whole so-called winter. Luckily, I managed two fine snowshoe treks in our single week of proper winter weather. If there had been more snow, I'd certainly have done more rabbit hunting.
There's nothing I enjoy more than hunting in deep snow with snowshoes strapped on my feet, or skis for that matter, but I haven't hunted on my cross-country skis for many years. The Avalon has forced my skis into retirement.
I lived in Port Rexton throughout the 1980s. In those years, the winters on the Bonavista Peninsula were quite snowy and I enjoyed them to the fullest. I would ski three or four times a week, or whenever the weather co-operated.
Our house was built at the edge of the woods and I'd just bind on the skis alongside the basement door and hit the trail. It was fantastic exercise, much better than any elliptical machine or treadmill.
You weren't permitted to carry a .22 rifle in those days, so I often slung a lightweight .410 gauge shotgun over my shoulder to shoot the occasional hare that crossed my path. Skiing along with the bite of the cold winter air in my nostrils was most exhilarating. Now that we Newfoundlanders are allowed to hunt with .22 rimfires, I'd love to get back into Nordic-style hunting. In fact, skis might be a perfect mode of transport to pursue those pesky coyotes. And you can legally tote along your .22 centrefire throughout the entire winter.
Picture this. You're skiing downhill along a gently sloped barren when a wily coyote shows himself 300 yards ahead of you. You coast to a halt and blow into the distressed rabbit call that's hanging around your neck. Mr. Coyote stops dead in his tracks and looks towards you, thinking he's lucked into a free meal.
Your winter breakup camouflage maintains the guise as you drop to one knee and silently rotate your rifle from the sling position to the ready. You work the bolt and it chambers a round in the flat shooting .223 rem. The heavy barreled Savage carbine holds rock steady, supported by a makeshift ski pole monopod. A sharp crack breaks the winter silence and a coyote rolls over dead in the snow. Now that's hunting at its coolest. If only we had some snow,
Skis and rifles have a long history together. The world's first known ski club, the Trysil Rifle and Ski Club, was formed in Norway in 1861. Its purpose was to promote national defence at the local level. And it paid off brilliantly during the German occupation of the Second World War.
The Norwegian's combining of marksmanship and skiing would eventually evolve into an Olympic sport, first contested in 1924. Early competitions were held with quite robust rifles like the 30.06 Springfield. Nowadays, the much tamer .22 rimfire is standard.
I'm thinking us Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should be pretty good at running or skiing around the woods and shooting at stuff, especially the crowd from around the bay. We grow up hunting and shooting, don't we? And we can certainly get ourselves around in the back country. Actually, it turns out that we are natural crackerjacks at it.
This year, the Canadian Eastern Biathlon Championships were held on Prince Edward Island. The kids from The Rock made their first appearance in six years. You'd think they'd be out of practice. There were six shooters on the team and they brought home six medals - three silver and three bronze.
Seamus Boyd-Porter of St. John's earned the privilege of competing in the Canadian Nationals. The remainder of the team included Angus Boyd-Porter, Austin Hodder and Emma Taylor, all from St John's, plus Kelsey Barrett and Joey Hutchings from my home town of Spaniard's Bay. They were coached by Dave Porter from St. John's.
Congratulations. Hard work certainly pays off. And it looks like the townies can shoot right up there with the best of the best outside the overpass.
We soggy old guys might not be capable of winning shooting medals in the snow, but we can certainly have plenty of fun and get ourselves in shape. If the snow falls, rig up your skis or snowshoes, sling your rifle and get out there.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard's Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.