My two sons were introduced to hunting at a young age. When they were quite young, I’d pick them up after school and take them out for grouse hunts during the last few hours of daylight. Devin and Austin both had little blaze vests (made by their mother) and blaze hats and learned early on where food came from. They carried the birds I took and marveled at the beauty of the feathers. They were often my bird spotters, and I’d tell them to put their “grouse goggles” on. Supper was fried grouse fingers, the perfect end to a hunt.
When the boys turned 12, they took firearms and hunter training. This was a natural progression, and they both became safe and competent hunters. Both boys took to hunting well, and my oldest son, Devin, became especially keen.
The first time Devin killed a deer is a moment I’ll never forget. He was 13, with long hair and braces. We went for an afternoon hunt east of Thunder Bay on a glorious late fall day. There was a skiff of snow on the ground, and we could see some deer tracks. Devin was hunting and was carrying my 250.3000 Savage. I was not carrying a firearm as he was an apprentice hunter. I was mentoring him, showing him how to track and scan the woods before moving on. We had done a large loop through a forest cut-over and seen lots of tracks and sign, but no deer.
“You want to take another walk through there Dev?” I asked.
“Yah Dad, I think so,” he replied. So, we started another stalk. As Devin topped a hill, he stopped and slowly put the rifle up. Not a word was spoken; it was obvious what was happening. He slid the safety off, took a breath, and squeezed the trigger. The shot echoed across the cut-over and then there was silence.
Half an hour later, we were standing over a small, antlerless deer. Yet it might as well have been the world record buck. Devin had cleanly killed his first deer and I was bursting with pride. His brother Austin would catch up a couple of years later, taking a buck and doe in the same day, which was another proud dad moment. Also a couple of years later, Austin would end up taking a huge buck on a gorgeous evening in mid-November with a full moon on the rise. But that’s a story for another time.
Devin had shown an interest in moose hunting early on but wasn’t able to swing it until he began working. In 2014, he was part of a fly-in hunt we did north of Armstrong. This was going to be a great opportunity for him to have a crack at his first moose as we had a cow and bull tag. On the first evening of the hunt, we boated to a weedy bay and stalked the edge. There were some sounds of an animal in the water, and I pointed to a trail along the lake edge. We slowly moved down the edge, but I hung back. Devin got to the back of the bay and could see a moose, but he didn’t have a clear shot. I had picked my way to another vantage point and could see the cow clearly. However, I wanted my boy to get the animal, not me. So, I held off. The cow turned and disappeared. There were a couple other unfulfilled opportunities, and then the snowstorm came.
In 2018, Devin and I both put in for a New Brunswick moose tag, and he managed to get drawn as one of 50. So that fall, we drove two days to get to the east coast where we would stay at Governor’s Table Camp, on the headwaters of the Miramichi River. The rules for moose hunting in New Brunswick are different from Ontario. As a non-resident tag holder, Devin would need to shoot the moose; I came along to carry the gear and provide moral support. The first morning of the hunt was one of the wildest I’ve ever experienced. We could hear cow moose calling all around us, bulls thrashing shrubs, and animals walking in water. Yet no moose ever appeared in the open. Later in the hunt, there was a close shave with a big bull, but a running animal in tag alders meant Devin again would not get his chance. That New Brunswick tag went unfilled.
Fast forward to this past October. It was opening morning of the moose hunt, and our small group of hunters, including Devin, Tom Armstrong, Paul Karpowich, and myself, had a bull tag to fill. There was a spot in a small cut that had a large rock overlooking a prime area. It was agreed that Devin would sit there. What unfolded that morning was almost hard to believe. Devin walked into the spot at first light, got up on the rock, and immediately saw a bull in the cut. He went to get his rifle in the shooting stick and made a noise. The bull trotted off, as did another animal he never saw. He was dejected and thought he had blown it.
About 30 minutes later, things changed. I was only about 250 yards away when I heard the shot. It came from Devin’s position. When I got to my boy, he was still on the rock. His eyes were a little wider than normal. “I spooked those first animals and thought it was over,” he said. “Then after 30 minutes, another bull walked out and came my way.”
Shortly thereafter, we stood around Devin’s first moose. His grandfather, who had been at camp due to a sore back, was alerted and made the drive to see his grandson’s moose. There was something ancient and sacred about the moment when we knelt beside the great animal.
It was the end of one journey and the start of another.