I was asked not too long ago if I’d ever had the experience of hunting in the northern parts of this country, or to be more specific, in the James Bay region. My answer is yes, and it wasn’t that long ago and it wasn’t in a galaxy far, far away.
It was on the northeastern side of The Bay, just outside the community of Chisasibi. I happened to have some time on my hands, and decided to make the trip to the community and visit with the friends I’d made on a previous visit.
It was a bit of a long drive but it was worth it.
The trees and rolling hills had been covered in ice and snow for quite a while by the time I got around to rolling into town. Yes, I was prepared for the cold, and had brought my winter clothes and my trusty old ski-doo suit, not to mention my Indian version of the old fruit of the looms my life-saving rabbit-fur-lined long underwear.
I was ready for anything, and my old war pony made the trip without freezing up and leaving me stranded. My friends were happy to see me and we sat around drinking tea like it was going out of style. They told me all sorts of stories of life in the community, and I shared a strange and twisted version about my home base. There were some good down-home laughs and, of course, the traditional teasing of the visitor.
Wild meat was on the table at most meals, and that was fine with me. I can eat that stuff until the cows come home. In fact, if the cows come home. I’d still prefer wild meat. These folks knew the way to my heart and took care of me like I was one of the family. In fact, I almost didn’t come home. I liked the way folks live up there and could have easily adjusted to the Cree way of life, but I had to come back to work.
Before coming back to North Bay I hinted that I would like to bring some caribou meat back with me. Hinting was the easy part, but by hinting I found out how things work in that community. These folks have quite a sense of humor, especially when they let it all hang out. After my hint came the response. In no time flat I found myself on the back of a ski-doo sailing across a frozen lake in the middle of a sub-zero snowstorm. Thank the Creator for my rabbit-fur-lined briefs.
I’m not too sure how far we drove because I was too busy checking out the terrain and doing the scouting thing. But we did drive for a while before coming to the lake. We didn’t have to travel very far on the frozen-snow-covered late before we noticed them. Them, being a herd of about 15 caribou nestled on the small island that was tucked into a corner of one of the bays of the frozen lake, about a half-mile from where we were. I was instructed to jump off the ski-doo and load up the rifle, which in this case was a .22 magnum.
So, there I was standing on the frozen like in the middle of the snowstorm with no cover except the small snow bank about 100 feet from where I was standing. I decided to crouch down as low as I could get and see what my guide was up to.
He made a wide circle around to the far side of the small herd caribou, and then I just watched as he stampeded them towards me. Well, this got my adrenaline going because I was not used to having a herd of these animals coming straight at me and I didn’t know what to expect next. With my adrenaline stretched to the max, I found sitting still behind my little snow bank was no longer an easy task.
As soon as the herd was within the 100-yard mark of where I was sitting, I jumped up and picked out a target. I also had to make sure I didn’t blast my guide out of his saddle at the same time. As soon as my target was in a position to make my shot dearly, I opened fire.
Well, I was impressed with how fast these caribou moved in the deep snow, and it took a couple of shots to bring one of them to a stop. By the time I decided to try to get the drop on another one, the rest of the herd was already well past me, hitting the shoreline and making their way into the bush.
We field-dressed the caribou as quick as we could because it was so cold that the warm blood was freezing before it had a chance to hit the snow. After that big critter was quartered, I placed a hind-quarter in the back my vehicle, and my guide returned to his family with the rest. That was a good thing, because I ate their wild cuisine like it was going out of style. I was just happy to put back into their freezer some of what I’d eaten when I was there.
I did get to bring home some caribou and enjoyed every bit of it, and even brought some to my community for the Elders try. I will always remember the time I spent with my newly-found extended family in the James Bay frontier. Today, I only wish I can find the time and the resources to do it all over again. If any of the Pachano family from Chisasibi gets a copy of this story, thanks for the memories and your kind hospitality. This crazy old Algonquin from North Bay misses you folks and not to be too bold with my hinting, but I would love another chance at a caribou.