An unsuccessful fishing trip turned moose hunt when someone spotted three moose over near the shore.
Our laughter and talking stilled immediately and, following whispered directions, we traded places in the boat and gave Bruce the spot in the front, where he crouched, gun ready. Johnny sped up, heading straight toward the moose, which everyone had seen by now but me. There were three of them, they said. A mother and two young ones.
I was still looking at a couple of brown spots on a rocky hill in the distance, wondering if that was the moose. I didn’t figure out until afterward that the moose was much closer, standing in a marshy spot at the edge of the lake. All the same, moose sighting or no, it was very exciting.
We roared up to shooting distance. Johnny cut the engine. Bruce shot. Once, twice, three times. And three moose down. One more shot afterward to finish the big one off.
“And we were laughing and talking so loud, and the wind was toward them,” our Native friends said. Their voice moved without thought into Oji-Cree, laughing and talking in a language my sister and I could not understand.
“They gave their lives to feed humans,” Johnny explained to me. That’s called a blessing when that happens.”
“And the baby has been throwing things back over her shoulder the last week,” Karen said. “We didn’t tell her to.”
“In the old ways,” Dora said, “that means someone is going to make a big kill.”
We searched the reeds that grew thick in the water for the three fallen moose. Johnny waded in to tie them to our boat, and we pulled them behind—the boat slow now, working hard—to a rocky stretch of land.
Back home, when hunters go out with their orange coats and rifles to get a buck—hoping for a ten pointer and a nice rack to hang above the fireplace—they never shoot the young ones. Here it is different. There is no hunting season. The Natives shoot whatever they see, young and old. It is more merciful that way, because the babies could not survive without the mother. No one hangs hunting trophies in their living rooms, but there is great joy at the killing of a moose. Many people come to help cut meat and take moose meat home with them. Afterwards there is often a feast where people are invited to come and eat and take food along home if they want to.
While the men quartered the moose, Dora cut up some of the meat for our supper.
It was tender and delicious.
We motored home with moose parts weighing down our boat. Arrived home in late darkness, with moose meat still needing to be cut up.
Most of the cutting happened at Bruce and Karen’s house, where meat filled two tables and a long strip of cardboard on the floor.
Every usable part of the moose is eaten. Even the nose sometimes.
Traditionally, hunters do not sell their moose meat, because it is a gift. Instead they give it away.
They shake their heads when they talk about the white people slaughtering chickens and pigs. “I could never do that,” they say, “kill something that I raised and fed.”
And I think about all the people back home who could never bring themselves to shoot a wild, beautiful, living thing from the woods, and smile. “If we ate only what we shot from the woods,” I tell my native friends, “we couldn’t eat meat, because there wouldn’t be enough to go around.”
This is what I love about exploring different cultures: learning the way different people think and seeing the broadness and the wideness of the world. I feel very blessed indeed to have witnessed a moose hunt.
It was a gift.