There’s no snow just yet, at least not here on the Avalon, although I did see a few fluffy white flakes blowing in the wind early one recent morning.
There’s been quite a bit of wintery weather on the west coast, the Northern Peninsula, and northward to Labrador. Winter comes early to the Big Land even in times of global warming.
But any day at all now, even on the Avalon, we will arise to a fresh blanket of lovely white snow. I’d better not procrastinate; it’s time I get my plow installed on the Arctic Cat.
Commuters hate snow. Having to scrape windshields and clean the driveway is nobody’s idea of fun. But hunters like me love the first snows of winter. Of course, I drive to work just like everybody else and I’m no big fan of the shovel and snow scoop, but my love for a snowy white forest tips the balance towards the white stuff over rain for me.
I look forward every year to the first snowfall, and what a blessing if it comes on a Friday evening. A Saturday exploring the woods on a fresh clean blanket of snow, that’s about as good as it gets. We sing praises to the hunting gods while walking the wintery woods.
All this talk of wintery woods reminds me of my favourite poem, Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I was never much appreciative of verse, rhyme and poets till I was required to read this one for a university course. It struck a chord in my outdoorsy teenage soul and taught me the essence of art, something my high school English teachers never managed.
I finally realized there actually was academic merit beyond math and science. Notwithstanding, I did continue on in physics, but with a growing appreciation for the arts.
Enough about my artistic fluffy side — let’s talk hunting. Whatever is it about a snowfall, magic of sorts, scientific, ecological creatures celebrating a new season, I don’t know. A mystery to me, but it gets all the woodland critters stirred up and moving about — moose, caribou, rabbits, all the same.
Back a few years ago, my buddy Matt Brazil was having a tough time getting his moose. We had been hunting every weekend since opening day and had seen nothing but a few cows, calves and very distant young bulls. Snow came on a Friday evening and it continued to pile up overnight. By Saturday morning, there was close to a foot of fresh fluffy snow on the ground.
I was out of the house long before daylight, warming up my quad before tackling the ride to our hunting cabin. The sky had cleared and the Big Dipper was clearly hailing Polaris directly over my head, pointing the way north as it has done for hunters since the dawn of time. I knew this was a perfect morning for moose hunting. It was the first snow. Frost tickled my nostrils in the still cool morning air. I felt the pulse of the Earth.
On the way to our cabin, I couldn’t believe the number of moose tracks. At least five moose had crossed the ATV trail and it had stopped snowing only a few hours previous. In one spot it looked like they were having a square dance. Moose were active and on the move.
It was still too dark to hunt so Robert, Matt and I continued on to the cabin for a warm-up and a cup of coffee while waiting for daylight.
Robert struck a match against the iron stove and held it under the dry tinder in the firebox. The flames danced and the dry kindling crackled, a sound that’s music to every winter hunter’s ears.
The cabin warmed slowly while we drank strong coffee and chatted with optimism about our plans for the day. After seeing all those tracks on the way in, we were pretty confident about spotting a few moose.
Fingers of daylight stretched lazily across the eastern horizon. The three of us stood on the edge of a cliff we call Gosse’s Hill, straining our eyes to see in the dim light of dawn. The black silhouettes along the edge of the big open bog below us transformed into green trees as the day gathered more light and energy from the rising sun.
Every dark spot looked like a moose until brought under the scrutiny of our modern binoculars. Ancient hunters must have sorted such anomalies differently, although I imagine they knew their hunting grounds and surroundings much more intimately than us mere weekend warriors. For us, if it didn’t move after a bit of gazing, it was likely not a moose standing amongst the spruce and fir.
After an hour of full daylight we still saw no moose, quite surprising considering the level of activity and signs on the snow. There were several sets of tracks crossing the bog below us, but obviously they were made before daylight. No doubt those moose were still nearby and could quite likely leave the forest’s cover in favour of the open ground below us at any time.
And that they did, four of them appeared seemingly out of nowhere. They walked purposefully across the mash, meandering in and out of the small clumps of low tangled spruce that grew here and there on the bog.
Matt picked out his moose and rested his rifle on his packsack that was lodged securely on a granite boulder. He was rock solid and ready to end what had been a long trying hunt. The crack of the .300 Magnum shattered the morning silence and staggered the big bull some 300 yards away. The heavy beast walked into a clump of spruce and dropped out of sight. There would be venison for the winter.
I think that without the snow there would unlikely have been such a happy ending on this particular morning. Many praises and much gratitude to the hunting gods for their blessing of snow.
If you are feeling depressed and low about winter drawing nigh, give Robert Frost a read. It just might just pick you up and inspire you to buy a warm hat and snowshoes.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at