Posts Tagged ‘first nations’

For the newcomers to this great north american continent, the wilderness was a vast expanse to explore and survive, for the first nations it was their home. I believe that no matter how you interpret the wilderness, it is much greater than us, and our short history will remain an insignificant slice in this phenomenon called time.

There is one thing for sure, if you spend enough time in its core, it will become part of your very fabric and its mysteries will reveal themselves to you. This is of course, if you learn to interpret what the wilderness has to share.

A few weeks, ago I was immersed in the great white spruce cathedrals of this wonderful northern country with my hunting buddy, I had just taken a few steps forward breaking the snow crust surface with my snowshoes. We were pursuing the elusive snowshoe hare, when I suddenly turned to my buddy and said the following “I don’t know why but I can feel a great amount of energy in this area, I know we are being watched.”

My buddy, tells me I was like a hare whisperer, I knew that I could not put into words the very feeling but it was overwhelming. I took four more calculated steps, all the while looking into the dark shadows at the base of every tree, and almost in an instant on my left there was the hare in its famous freeze pose just like the Robert Bateman painting.

In a flash, I swivelled to the left, released the safety, aimed and fired. Once the smoke and snow cleared, my harvest was confirmed. It is difficult for me to share in writing the energy I felt and this almost instinctive hunt.

It is an experience or a slice of time in the wilderness, that transcends all modern logic and technology, it is pure mastery of the woods, which to this day leaves me humbled.

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The original hunter image has a special place in my mind and imagination. Humans have been hunting since their very existence on this planet. Dressed like Rahan the French comic figure, they used drives and spears amongst other tools to hunt mammoths, saber tooth tigers as well as the distant cousins of today’s Cervidae.

In order to appreciate the image of these hunters we had to rely on artifacts, cave paintings and finally our history books. But do we truly possess the expertise or knowledge to create an exact mental image of them or even an opinion?

If we jump forward in time and look at the North American natives, it is true that they hunted for food and fur trading. But I am confident there was a type of hunt similar to today’s sport hunting and this hunt may have been used for young men to prove themselves capable of mastering their fears and demonstrating their courage and abilities to provide for their tribes. This would have been a brilliant image for hunters. They were the providers and it did not matter what kind of rituals were associated to this practice of hunting but at least for that moment in time they were not judged but rather respected.

I recently read a book called “Adventures in the new world” The saga of the Coureurs des Bois, Written by George-Herbert Germain. This book is not just about their saga but about their history and more importantly about building an image of a nation. All Canadians share a sense of pride in this history and we can almost all identify ourselves with the Coureurs des Bois as they are part founders of Canada. There are several Québécois festivals that I have participated in or watched where the image and clothing of the Coureurs des Bois was quite visible. They are in a sense pioneers and hero hunters that are respected for their accomplishments and contributions.

One thing that struck me in this book is the chapter about the young and often poor Normans who left French ports such as Honfleur in search of new wealth. And in their quest to become the new bourgeoisie in this new land, instead they became negotiators with the natives sparing several European lives from being lost under the scalping blades of the Iroquois. They also learned the first nation’s languages and married native women bringing into perspective the importance of cultural awareness to improve trading. Yes, some did become wealthy but the majority lived a very tough life as hunters, trappers, traders and farmers all this under the shadows of the war between their nation and the British Empire.

Let us jump forward in time once again to 1901 until the mid 1940’s during the time of Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold “The father of wildlife management.” Let us observe their contributions towards the image of the sport hunter. The twenty-sixth president of the United-States was an avid hunter and promoted conservation in an exceptional way by assisting in establishing millions of acres of national parks and preserves. (The following article below is an interesting read)


Modern day sport hunters whether they are aware of it or not are conservationists and the majority of their purchases of material and licenses goes towards wildlife management and conservation programs. This is part of our image and we should be proud of it. We are also taught ethics, respect and laws during the hunters’ education course. A great example of this is the following; it is not illegal to parade your trophy on the hood of your vehicle through a busy urban street, however you might create reactions and not all would be positive, therefore damaging the image of the hunter. Discretion is a great form of respect.

Activists have sport hunters in their sights for a wide variety of issues, ranging from animal survivability to gun ownership; the unfortunate thing is they often show up at the range without any ammo due to misleading facts amongst other reasons. Unfortunately there is still a lot of work to be done against the illegal activity of poaching and working on improving the stereotypical image of hunters.

We are all ambassadors of the sport and with this we have a responsibility to educate not only ourselves but others on issues that are directly related to our sport and its traditions, so that our image remains a proud one. On that note, I love my plaid shirt and my Browning sticker on my car.

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The Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources and Fauna identify the geographic area where I practice sport hunting as Zone 10, for me it is known as the “Swamp” a twenty minute drive up the road or the “Real Woods” a two hour drive north to the woodlands of park Papineau-Labelle. 

The truth is that this land running along the Ottawa River as we know it today provided living, trading and hunting grounds for the Algonquin. Even with the arrival of the Europeans and ongoing skirmishes with the Iroquois, they managed to survive. I want to dig up and find their knowledge about hunting grounds, methods used and tools. In doing so, I will also discover a rich history that took place in my own backyard.

For sport hunters’ modern day hunting seasons are managed by the provincial and federal governments based on studies from data collected throughout the previous seasons and other methods used. Conservation is a critical element as it allows for wildlife to replenish itself from disease, overpopulation and predation as well as sport hunting. What is amazing is that the first nations did not have access to our databases or science labs to assist with these techniques and yet their hunting seasons perfectly overlap the hunting seasons of today. This reveals that they were quite aware of conservation and wildlife management.

It has been documented that the Algonquin would travel up the Ottawa River to the hunting grounds and hunt from late November to February. My small game season this year was practically the same except, I hunted snowshoe hare until the end of the month of March. Whether someone relies on migratory patterns, hunting seasons or data collected in two thousand nine analyzed by the government, we can say that we have followed in the steps of the first nations and have identified the first key. We are hunting at the right time of year.

A very important point of this blog entry is that I am a small game sport hunter and I wish to perfect my skills as a still hunter. Therefore allowing me to become better at my chosen sport, while respecting nature and doing my part as a conservationist and naturalist. However, for the Algonquin, hunting was a necessity for survival as it provided food to the community and for this reason hunting had to be perfected or sometime supplemented with other sources of food such as trading, fishing and agricultural items such as corn.
I want to be able to isolate the Algonquin trapping and hunting from the other trades, then chip away the rough and find information from historical documents, songs, documented stories from elders and finally folklore. Knowledge that will ultimately enrich us in our most humble existence and make us better hunters, as we are just part of the whole cycle of life.

Prior to the government land laws the first nations had no restrictions with concerns to hunting grounds and the invisible boundaries were dictated by migratory patterns and wildlife habitat. It can be said that this fact still applies today but there are still limitations. Today the natives can hunt for food on land in which they have access to; this can be done all year long and with no licenses. However this is different for the sport hunters as they are required to hunt in very specific hunting grounds under controlled hunting seasons and licenses. These grounds could be a pourvoirie, ZEC’s (Controlled zones), Sepaq parks, family, private or crown lands.

It is true that the Algonquin used bows and arrows, spears and knives for hunting large and small game; however trapping was a quicker way to hunt. A few weeks ago, I went hare hunting for a few hours with my .22 rifle, it was an excellent day but I did not harvest any hares. However, the week prior my friend went out and setup several snares in the same area and harvested three hares in a twelve hour period. This is proof that trapping is more efficient than hunting with a bow or a gun. There is a famous engraving done by Claude Collet 1619, showing a deer trap method used by the Algonquians’ that enabled them to harvest large amounts of deer, this would prove to be a great example of trappings success. Snares, natural tree fences or pitfalls where often used for trapping.

Hunting with a rifle makes for a great sport but it is not always a guarantee compared to trapping where at least your chances if done right were higher. The black powder guns that were brought over with the Europeans and then traded with the first nations did assist the natives in a positive way during hunting as it slowly replaced the bow and arrow and proved more efficient.

Let us look at some of the techniques used:

Paintings have shown that the first nations would use camouflage in a masterful way, creating sort of parkas or ghillie suits with animal hide and fur as well as deer antlers, enabling them to blend in with the environment and get close to the game. This was a must if using a bow and arrow or spear.

Algonquin hunters would use their cunning skills such as observing movement in the woodlands or listening for specific noises, this would ultimately aid in finding their game if they were hunting and not trapping.

This is an interesting method also used by the natives and is still used in places all over the world. Several teams of hunters break up into the woods and make noise beating through the woods forcing the game into a killing zone, where other hunters are waiting with bows or rifles.

(More techniques will be added shortly)

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