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Well, Dad, I know we didn’t get a moose, but that sure was a fun day!”
Coming from my then 14-year-old son, I felt a bit of a sting near the corner of my eye; there wasn’t anything I could have heard that would have made me prouder.

The author’s son Jordan with one of his many Whitetails.
Let’s back up a bit. As a person who thoroughly enjoys the outdoors, it was important to me to raise kids who would share that passion. But as any parent knows, it’s always a mystery as to what your children will find interesting (or not) as they grow up. I have two boys, Jordan and Blake, separated by six years with Jordan being the elder. Early on in his youth, it was very evident that Jordan possessed the level of enthusiasm for the outdoors that I had hoped he would. While most kids were sitting in front of their TVs watching cartoons or playing video games, his wish was to watch hunting show after hunting show. He enjoyed accompanying me on as many of my adventures as I would allow, and he dreamed of the day he’d turn twelve and begin making his own hunting memories. Check! One son down, one to go!

Blake was more of a typical young boy. He loved to play with toys, to colour, and to watch cartoons. “Watch hunting shows... come on, Dad, really? That’s boring.”

“Hey Blake, want to come ice fishing with us tomorrow?”

Jordan at age 13 with a big bear.
“No, thanks,” would be the answer, but I’m sure if he hadn’t been so polite it would have been, “Yeah, right, Dad. Sitting out in the cold, freezing to death, just to catch a little, slimy fish? I don’t think so.”

Yikes! I was worried.

I knew I had my work cut out for me, and my approach would have to be different as Blake grew older and neared that magical age here in Alberta of twelve. With Jordan, it had been easy. Long days on stand, freezing temperatures, no entertainment while hunting, he didn’t care. This was all accepted as normal and he loved every second of it.

To ensure Blake enjoyed his time out in the woods, I had to find ways to make it fun for him. And to his credit, it only took small, subtle changes to keep him interested: having plenty of snacks, being in locations with cell service so we could watch funny videos on YouTube, allowing him to nap occasionally (or as often as needed), and only going out for short periods of time. The idea was not to push him and that as long as he was having fun each time out there, he’d want to keep doing it. And it worked! In his first two seasons, he shot two small whitetail bucks and my fear that he’d grow up not enjoying the outdoors was quickly disappearing.

Fast forward now to where we began this story. Blake was 14 and had drawn his first moose tag. He spent a pile of time practicing with his bow during the summer, and I went into the fall with a bit too much confidence. Archery season and moose is usually a slam-dunk. Calling rut-crazed bulls here in northern Alberta is easy... or so I thought.

We went out day after day in late September, early October, and not only did I manage to never call in a bull for him, but we also didn’t even see a single moose. Nothing. Nada.

He put on a brave face and made it sound as if it wasn’t a big deal; however, I couldn’t help but think that this hunt was going to sour all that progress we had made.

Thirteen-year-old Blake with a nice whitetail.
With the rut behind us, we moved into November and the rifle season. Again, I was a bit too confident. Finding a bull while out walking the trails and cut lines would be easy. Someone should have slapped me back then. I should have slapped myself! Hunting is rarely easy, and with all the hours spent with no success, this hunt was proving to be the perfect example of what hard hunting really can be. We searched and searched, but there were no moose to be found.

Then, one Saturday in mid-November, we caught a break. Three inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight, so we headed out at first light in an attempt to find a fresh set of tracks and follow them until an opportunity presented itself. It only took 20 minutes; two sets of tracks and by the looks of them, two young bulls were traveling together. I explained to Blake that we’d have to go slow. Very slow. Be cautious of the wind. Stay as quiet as possible. And if we did all these things, we’d have a great chance.

The next many hours we tracked. It was painfully slow. Each rise we’d come to was met with the anticipation that something large and black would be waiting on the other side. Yet, each time we were disappointed to find nothing. We stayed on the tracks until they became intertwined with other sets of fresh tracks. We found fresh beds, running tracks, and more beds, but no moose. Finally, around 1:00 pm, we caught sight of a young cow, which lifted our spirits a bit. But with no bulls around, we weren’t sure what to do next.

We found another set of tracks shortly after, and these were big. Maybe our break had come. We followed carefully as the tracks entered a thick stand of spruce. We stopped for a snack, and as I went to drop my pack, I caught sight of an antler only 75 yards away. Up came my binoculars, and there was a good 45-inch bull looking directly at us.

“Blake, get your rifle up,” I whispered.

“Dad, I don’t see him,” he replied, as he peered through his scope.

In fairness, the trees were thick and with the spruce being dark, it made picking the bull out difficult. Knowing the bull wouldn’t give us long, I moved Blake’s rifle on the sticks to where I thought he should be looking. Then the bull began to move and our opportunity had passed. I gave Blake a pat on the back and told him it wasn’t over. We still had three or four hours, and we’d give it our all to find him again.

And so again, we followed. We tracked that bull through the snow, through the willows, and through some nasty swamps. Our only reward was to catch one more glimpse of him at 200 yards shortly before dark with no shot opportunity. When the day ended, we had hiked 12 kilometres. We were exhausted and hadn’t even fired a shot. I was dejected, I was sad. I had just made my son spend a whole day hunting in some of the worst conditions we could have endured. All those efforts spent over the last few years to make hunting an enjoyable experience had all gone to waste. He’ll never want to hunt with me again, I thought.

It was a quiet ride back to the house that night, but as we sat in the entrance taking off our boots, there came that statement I’ll never forget.

“Well, Dad, I know we didn’t get a moose, but that sure was a fun day!”
Even as I write this three years later, it still causes my eyes to well up a bit. For it was in that moment that I knew he was hooked on the outdoors too.

Blake with his first moose.
Three days later, I decided to take him out for a drive early in the morning before school. We found a group of bulls feeding in an alfalfa field and Blake made his 125-yard shot count, dropping a nice bull in his tracks. His reaction was enough to pull at anyone’s heartstrings. Tears filled his eyes and his voice cracked with emotion. He understood the work and effort he had put in was justified for such a reward. The respect for not only the hunt, but for the animal itself was written all over his face. My eyes filled with tears as I hugged and congratulated him. That moment, just like his comment a few days earlier is something I’ll never forget.

It was only fitting that Jordan was 15 minutes away and eager to help. As the three of us loaded that bull into the truck, I couldn’t help but stop and take in how special a moment it was. My wish had come to fruition. They were both hooked. They had the same passion for the outdoors and all I could think about was how many more memories we’d be making in the future! ■

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