The last conversation I had with my grandfather was when he told me the story of how he got his rifle. It was a Christmas present half-a-century earlier from my grandmother, on the advice of her mother that “every real man should own a gun.” How times have changed; I wonder what my great-grandmother would think of me.
My grandmother’s brothers were hunters, and Grampie told me about joining them on his first and only hunting trip: how they posted him behind a rise, showed him how to hold the gun and bade him to lay down low and to shoot anything that they flushed over the hill towards him. He had fired a couple of shots into empty beer cans earlier that day, and this marked the extent of his shooting training.
As he laid on the fallen fall leaves listening to the wind through bare branches, he wished for no animal to come near.
After a while he heard a gunshot way off to his left, followed by yelling. One of the men had wounded a deer, and it was headed straight towards him.
He kept praying he wouldn’t have to shoot anything. My Grandpa always was the empathetic type.
I asked about the gun because I had recently gotten my Possession and Acquisition License (PAL), and my Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE) course, and I was preparing to go deer hunting in the coming days with a local and wondering if there were any family firearms around that no one was using. This possibility seemed preferable to using some new, innocuous store-bought rifle–I always prefer items that come paired with a good story and familial history. I still had not gone hunting with anyone (I had tried without success back in Gold Bridge) and it was therefore not yet clear how I would faire with the death and gutting scenario, which would have been helpful to find out before doing all of the necessary courses; but hey, “no education is wasted time” as I like to say.
Hunting was actually quite enjoyable. It was fascinating and spiritual and I figure that if we are going to be meat-eaters, it’s more ethical to pray on local, organic, land-fed wildlife, which is over-abundant on Haida Gwaii and eats the variation out of our ground vegetation. It’s estimated that there are 25-35 deer per square kilometre here. Lots and lots of deer. Filling the ditches at the sides of the highways at dusk, wandering through our yard browsing our moss-lawn. They are unabashedly everywhere at this time of year.
The story goes that a few pairs of sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) were brought over by boat–some say a row boat–in the early 1900s, and when they failed to build a thriving population, more pairs were brought until the species became firmly established upon the landscape, eating their way through the dense understory virtually unchecked. There are no natural predators of deer here, though black bears can often be found feeding on deer carrion and offals at the sides of the logging roads, and I’m sure the bears contribute to the odd kill.
My grandpa told me that, thankfully for him, one of the brothers made the kill shot before the animal got close, and that decades later he gave the gun to my uncle who hung it on the mantle of his cabin. I asked my aunt of its whereabouts (the cabin had since been sold), and arranged to pick it up while I was back east for a cousin’s wedding this spring.
I hung up the phone that day thinking that I should call Grampie every month with a question about his history, not realizing that this would turn out to be our last conversation. We played phone tag over the next two months, my work, the time difference between here and back east, and various medical appointments getting in the way of our connecting.
Grampie passed away the day before he and my grandmother’s 71st wedding anniversary in early 2016. He had a rich and storied life, and I think of him each time I take the gun out to the range to practice my shot. I’m thankful that our last conversation was a story, one that I plan to pass along to future generations.