The weather was calm, sunny & a bit cool, about 10 degrees above Farenheight. Not a trace of wind & a fresh dusting of frosty snow lay on the ground. The night previous was windy & cold! Sometime in the night, it calmed enough for a fresh layer of fine light powder.
Friday wasn’t productive at all, nothing, barren, desolate…tracks, signs, & more tracks left over from the dusting the previous night. Nothing was 12 hrs old…nothing.
Riding around on my four-stroke Yamaha, I’m plugged up with orange plugs to keep my ears in tact to prevent more hearing loss, but my eyes are sharp. I see, just as I edge my way into a little slough on the slough, a patch of dirty white fur. I look again, & it moves, & try to track it but it’s gone…I move closer to where I’d be perpendicular to the ghost I knew I saw, & see foot prints, fresh footprints, so I know my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. This is most encouraging. I make my way down this slough on a little, willow chocked island, within a slough. Slowly enough to scan, & yet fast enough that it seems that every small snow hump is a rabbit.
One small item I notice though in this is that there is no track on the freshly fallen dust of snow. All the tracks are dust covered & this tells me that there wasn’t any activity for some time.
Another thing I notice is that the moose tracks are covered as well, & there were plenty of tracks, all of them munching away at willows, tearing down the young budding trees, & snapping off the tops to get to the most succulent parts. Further in, where the older willow strands are, you can see the bark peeled off, & even nibble marks of the incisors of the moose jaw scraping what they can. This goes on for miles & miles through this little slough on an island in a slough.
I pull up to what seems to be a rabbit highway, & turn off the motor of the snowmachine, & sit back & wait & wait…trying immensely to be patient. I even attempt to walk the trail, backtracking the way I came, & notice that the snow is pretty ****ed deep when you aren’t careful where you step. Falling up to my mid thigh, & wondering first, what to do with the rifle, & second where to step to get back up on the trail, I nix the walking & head back to my waiting rig. I sit, scan the willows 180 degrees, & back again, hoping against hope to see something. I don’t see anything & quickly lose patients & decide to move forward. I did this once again & moved to another island & see more day old tracks & island hop again, to find only day old ptarmigan tracks. Dejected, dispirited, & desperate, I shot a stump to check my zero on my rifle & it’s hitting where I am aiming, & head back the same way I came.
I see nothing on the way out, & as I am approaching the village, I spot a bald eagle, kicking myself in the butt for not bringing my camera.
Today, Sunday, March 29, I find it to be warmer & I call my wife who has the snowgo, & tell her I need the rig. I get ready, not even putting on long johns, or my Mallarrai (rabbit fur hat) & I even leave my goggles behind, it’s that warm. I make my way down to the river, & I pull up to the ice fishermen, wave, & go further up the river & see two women who wave me down & ask for assistance in getting a hole punched out of the ice. Now this isn’t done with an ice auger, neither powered nor hand driven, but with a 5lb iron ice pick. It’s slow, arduous, painstakingly, for me, & I am Man! & here is two women, one of them stricken with Parkinson’s, wanting to fish & no man to help them with the hole.
I am obliged, it seems, as I know there’s nothing out there, & have plenty of daylight left for my hunt to get this done. About thirty minutes later, & only what seems like 2” of ice, the women have moved to the other holes that were vacated by the first set I waved to. I persevere, plugging away at the ice & dig deep down, up to my shoulder, to remove the shreds of ice that are built up. I slam the ice pick down harder & harder in the middle & feel it getting mushy, & I know I am close…oh so close! Keep pounding, ignore the pain, I tell myself, as my triceps & deltoids are screaming in cramped unison.
& there it is! The gushing sound of water, almost sounding like a toilet flush, filling the hole! EUREKA! I STRUCK GOLD! I clear the hole of ice with the spoon the women have left me, & strike again the bottom of the hole to round it out, & not even noticing my cramping pain. Large chunks of ice float to the top, spooned out & more chopping & spooning & I soon work my way 360 degrees clearing the entire hole.
The women who has Parkinson’s daughter came with her son, & a cousin of her, & fished my hole that I made for her mother, & she tells me that she gets bored easily & doesn’t like to fish. She hands me the willow stick, string, on the end I notice a gold pixee, & blackfish bait. I jig, for only a minute or two & already feel a strike! More strikes, & I know what I need to do to hook one, one slow jig, & another, pause, HIT! PULL! & sure enough, I pull out a lil 15” pike…I feel accomplished! I hand over the pole to the kid who came along with the woman’s daughter, & sure enough, not long after, he pulls out a larger pike than mine.
Losing the blackfish, I pluck the eye out of the fish I caught, & it explodes in my fingers, using the hook on the other fisheye, I carefully dig around as if I am surgeon on a patient…pulling the eye, & holding it, using more of the hook to unleash more tendons on the eye, & finally succeeding with out popping the eye.
Highly encouraged, the daughter goes to get her mom who moved further down. She comes over, plops down on the bucket for her, & jigs, for just a few minutes, & we hear her scream & holler, standing & startling us! She pulls up her string, we see the hole welling with water, & she looses the fish! AWE! And there it is, chasing the lure NEAR THE TOP OF THE HOLE! I desperately try to snag the fish with no luck & the daughter tells me to grab the fish out of the hole. I reach in & grab the fish by the head & pull it out, & we all laugh with gusto!
Tired & exhausted from the excitement, the woman asks her daughter to bring her home to get some rest. As she leaves, I prepare my hunt again…praying that my deed doesn’t go unnoticed.
I take the same trail, but this time, I get off the snowgo, & follow a moose superhighway into the willows, where I know for certain that my quarry will present itself for a shot. I go in as far as the trail can lead me with out going too deep.
With the knee high snow trail, I can hear my heart & lungs pounding as I try to wade through the melting snow, & try not to break through the foot prints of the moose, & find a clearing & pull out my plugs, & listen, watch & scan.
Nothing! Hadn’t the gods of the Lupus seen my good deed I wonder? & Why are the gods favoring Lupus today, again? What have I left undone, I wonder, as I watch & scan, scan, watch & listen.
Fed up with just sitting around, I leave.
I go further into the slough on an island, in a slough.
I repeat my moose highway sojourn, all to no avail.
I leave my perch after a ten minute watch.
My snowgo is heating up, I notice, & I stop to throw snow on the foot rails & rear heat exchanger.
I do not stay long in this slough, & island hop to the next island over, & it’s the same bleak looking snow covered trails, this is most discouraging, I curse the gods of Lupus silently, as I wind my way through the willows I come to the end of the drivable part & embark on another island hop, when I notice the silhouette of the ubiquitous partridge of the north, not 20 yards in front of me.
Stopping my snowgo, slowly take my rifle out of my holder, & remove the safety, aim, relax, telling my self mentally! I exhale, & put the last amount of pressure on the trigger, to start the squeeze sequence I learned 20 years ago, in basic training. I see my crosshairs steadying over the target, & I squeeze off a round, following through keeping my eye on the spot I shot.
I see feathers, a hit! The ptarmigan flew to my left, into the willows, I try to reverse my snowgo to see if I can see where it flew. Nothing, I then move the snowgo up higher on the bank, & scan & I can see just the faintest amount of black, & a thin silhouette, take aim & squeeze off another round, & hit it again…but it moved, to the left, but not much, & I find my target again, peering through the scope, willow & down to the darkness of the eye & silhouette.
I race into the deep snow to retrieve my bounty! Huffing & puffing as if I were out of shape, the need deep snow wrecks havoc on my heart, & lungs, & I reach my bird…three hits, one in the wing & breast, one on the legs, & a final head shot. I make a mental note to make this a one shot deal, as I need to dispatch these birds, tough as they are, with a quickness, as it’s my duty as a gifted one, to ensure a quick & human kill. Silently I pray to the Ptarmigan gods for thanks.
I make my way to another island & find even more quarry, & miss all opportunities to harvest the presented gifts. What have I done wrong, I think to myself, & make yet another mental note to bring along my shotgun next time.
I head home, as the sun starts to loose itself behind some low snow clouds, pondering what to do with the lone bird I’ve been gifted.
I could give it to my in-laws, but they always have a steady stream of food from their son.
There’s always the widow Teresa, who’s daughter I helped with the ice fishing hole. But she has sons, & grandsons, who take care of her.
Then of course, there’s always the widower Alexander, who is the oldest in town as well. Two of his sons are priests, out of town & one of his sons lives in town. He has three grandsons…
I juggle my decision around my head, until I see Alexander’s daughters ice fishing on the way home, & that tells me exactly whom I need to give it to. I give his oldest daughter a ride home, & go to drop off my bird to him. He is grateful, & I leave it in his freezer, the only bird in there.