I step inside the camp and look around. My daughter Lillian is nowhere to be seen but the fact that she has been spending a few days here is evident in the loosely organized piles of clothes, food, and dishes. There’s also a pot simmering on the woodstove. I pull off the lid to see the carcass of a ruffed grouse, stripped of meat and yielding Lillian’s trademark bone broth. The evidence of a successful hunt tells me that my 22-year-old daughter’s time at the family camp is going as planned. Her bow is gone and so is the dog, so I imagine she is back in the autumn woods, walking the trails, clearings, and creek beds for wildfowl. I smile to myself as the aroma that wafts from the soup pot carries me back to the fledgling stages in the formation of a hunter.
Rooted in Archery
As a preteen Lillian was enrolled in archery classes and she spent winter evenings learning to shoot a compound bow in a makeshift indoor range under the tutelage of Wawa’s Gord Bonitzke of Superior Archery. She did a lot of indoor target shooting and even visited an outdoor 3-D archery range a time or two. Although she displayed a mild interest in competitive shooting, it soon became clear that she wanted to bring her archery skills to the woods.
This came as no surprise because we had already spent many seasons hunting grouse as a family. Even before our girls could walk we had them in backpacks and strollers, working our way along wooded trails in search of grouse. It has never been about bagging a limit of birds, but more about time together in the wilderness and shooting enough to eat. It was part of a wilderness upbringing that helped both of my girls become comfortable and competent in the outdoors, but it was Lillian who did not fail to notice that grouse would make a fine quarry for archery hunting.
The ruffed grouse and spruce grouse commonly referred to as ‘partridge’, are abundant in Northern Ontario. In areas where they are not pressured, grouse can be accommodating in that they prefer to run than fly and will often stand quite still for a new hunter to get a good shot at.
When Lillian grew a little stronger we got her a compound bow with a little more draw weight and Gord at Superior Archery fixed her up with some blunt points for small game. Lillian sighted in the new bow and started to pay attention to yardage – the distance between shooter and quarry.
She carted that bow around in the woods for a long time before ever taking a shot at a bird. However, when she was presented with a shot she was comfortable with, she let fly at the first in a handful of birds she would take in the presence of her parents. Although pleased with these initial grouse, it was the first she got while hunting on her own that she was most proud of.
Seasoning a Hunter
“I have some good news and some bad news,” Lillian says as she pokes her head in the cabin door. Francine and I turn to listen to the tales of our teenage daughter, returning from one of her first solo hunts.
“Well the bad news is I lost two arrows,” she says. “But the good news is I got a partridge,” she exclaims with a broad grin as she hoists the unfortunate feathered creature by the legs for all to see. She describes a typical scenario when hunting with our spaniel mix: the dog sniffed out a bird and it flushed into a tree, holding still on an overhead branch. After two misses, the third arrow hit home.
The problem with shooting upwards is that a miss means our arrow continues skyward to disappear into the vast woods beyond. Lillian would end up finding one of the two arrows lost that day. In the ensuing years, she has become more adept at finding arrows by walking the bush beyond a missed shot and estimating the trajectory and where it may have landed. She is also learning to pass on shots that she is not confident she can make.
While she continues to grow as a hunter into her twenties, it is only one of many demands on her time. As a yoga instructor, a university student, and a seasonal forest firefighter, she still manages to join in family hunts as well as get out with her friends or on her own. A glance at the soup pot on the woodstove confirms that the grouse are dialled in, but with turkey, deer, and moose on the radar I’m excited to see what her bow hunting future holds.