A Widowed Homesteader Learns to Hunt Moose, or Die Trying

Olive A. Fredrickson wrote six tales for Outdoors Life about her life as a homesteader, trapper, and subsistence hunter in Canada. Lastly, she turned her experiences proper right into a novel, The Silence of the North, which was co-written with former OL staff creator Ben East and eventually made proper into a movie in 1981. This was her first journal story, printed in 1967 beneath the title “I Had To Have Moose.”

THE CANOE WAS a 30-foot dugout that the native tribe had given me on credit score rating. They’d be alongside throughout the fall to say price in potatoes.

It had been hollowed out from an infinite cottonwood with a hand ax, nevertheless the tree wasn’t straight to begin with, and the canoe had inherited the character of its guardian. In another case they may not have parted with it. Due to this it was not solely heavy and unwieldy however moreover so cranky you hardly dared to look over the facet besides your hair was parted throughout the heart. 

I was throughout the stern, paddling. My six-year-old daughter Olive was wedged firmly throughout the bow. Between us had been Vala, 5, and the new child, Louis, two. We had been going moose looking out, and since there was no one to go away the children with, we’d ought to go as a family. 

We weren’t searching for pleasurable. It was early summer season season, and the crop of greens I had planted in our yard was rising, nevertheless there was nothing ready for use however, and we had been out of meals. 

The moose season wouldn’t open until fall, nevertheless in the mean time British Columbia sport legal guidelines allowed a prospector to get a permit and kill a moose any time he wished one for meals. I was not a prospector and, anyway, I had no method to enter metropolis for the permit besides I walked 27 miles each method. Nevertheless my infants and I had been as hungry as any prospector would ever be, and we wanted to have one factor to eat. I was constructive the nice Lord would forgive me, and I hoped the game warden would too, if he came across about it. 

So one scorching, windless July day—shortly sooner than my twenty-eighth birthday—when fly season was getting precise unhealthy, I often known as the kids collectively. 

“We’ve acquired to go try and kill a moose,” I discussed. I knew the moose may very well be coming proper right down to the river on that sort of day to rid themselves of flies and mosquitoes. 

I had certainly not shot a moose, nevertheless necessity is the mother of numerous new experiences, and I decided I’ll do all of it correct if I acquired the chance. I acquired Olive and Louis and Vala ready, loaded them into the massive clumsy canoe, and poked 4 shells into my outdated .30/30 Winchester Model 94. I jacked one into the chamber, put the hammer on half cock, and started upstream in the direction of the quiet current of the Stuart River. 

It was a bit of bit larger than a yr after the June day in 1928 when a neighbor, Jack Hamilton, had come to our lonely homestead 40 miles down the Stuart from Fort St. James, throughout the mountain nation of central British Columbia. He had a telegram for me from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Edmonton, and wanted to interrupt the data that my husband, Walter Reamer, a trapper, had drowned in Leland Lake on the Alberta–Northwest Territories border. Walter’s canoe had tipped over in a heavy windstorm. 

That was just about 40 years up to now, nevertheless I nonetheless keep in mind elevating my hand to my eyes to wipe away the fog that instantly clouded them and Hamilton fundamental me to a chair by the kitchen desk. 

“You’d increased sit down, Mrs. Reamer,” he talked about. 

I appeared spherical at my three children. Olive, then solely 5 years outdated, stood wide-eyed, not pretty taking all of it in. Vala was collaborating in collectively along with her little white kitten, and Louis lay on his once more, reaching for his toes. What was to become of them and me?

Olive leaned her head in the direction of my skirt and commenced to cry softly for her daddy, and I felt a lump in my chest that made it arduous to breathe. Nevertheless that was not the time for tears. If I cried, I’d do it out of the children’s sight. “Will you be all correct?” Jack Hamilton requested sooner than he left. 

“I’ll be all correct,” I suggested him firmly. 

All correct? I questioned. I was 26 and a homesteader-trapper’s widow with three little children, 160 acres of brush-grown land, just about none of it cleared, a small log residence—and worthwhile little else. 

From left: A bull moose with an outstanding rack swims the Stuart upstream from the author’s homestead; the author confirmed at a time when “my wilderness life was pretty easy.” Outdoors Life

That was merely sooner than the start of the great melancholy, the interval that Canadians of my expertise nonetheless title the dirty thirties. There was no allowance for dependent children then. I knew I’ll get a small sum of help money each month, presumably about $12 for the 4 of us, nevertheless I did not dare to ask for it. 

Olive and Louis had been born in Canada, nevertheless Vala had been born within the USA, as had I. I was afraid that if I appealed for help, Vala or I or every of us could also be despatched once more to that nation. Throughout the very first hours of my grief and loneliness, I vowed I’d certainly not let that happen, it would not matter what. It was the 4 of us alone now, to fight the world of privation and hunger, nevertheless a minimal of we’d hold collectively. 

My father had been a trapper, and my mother had died after I used to be eight. We had been a cheerful family, nevertheless on a regular basis poor individuals with no money to speak of. And after I married Walter, his trapline didn’t herald rather a lot. I had certainly not acknowledged one thing nevertheless a troublesome life, nevertheless now I was grateful for it. I knew I was additional as a lot because the hardships that lay ahead than most women may very well be. 

I don’t assume I appeared the half. Please don’t get the idea I was a backwoods frump, untidy and slovenly. I was small, 5 toes two, and weighed 112, all good sturdy muscle. And if I do say it, after I had the best clothes on and was out dancing, I’ll compete with the easiest of them in appears. 

There have been numerous moose spherical our homestead, some deer, black bears, wolves, rabbits, grouse, fox, mink, and muskrat. I decided I’d develop right into a hunter and trapper alone. 

We had a bit of bit money out there to buy meals with. We had no horses, nevertheless I dug potatoes, raked hay—did irrespective of I’ll for our few neighbors to pay for utilizing a gaggle. By the following spring, I had managed to clear the comb and timber from just some acres of superb land. 

Olive was housekeeper, cook dinner dinner, and baby-sitter whereas I labored exterior. I planted a vegetable yard and started a hay meadow. I hunted grouse and rabbits, and neighbors helped out the first winter by giving us moose meat. We managed to eke out a residing. It was all arduous work, day in and outing, dragging myself off to mattress when darkish obtained right here and crawling out at daylight to begin one different day. Nevertheless a minimal of my infants and I had one factor to eat. 

Then, in July of 1929, our meals gave out. I couldn’t carry myself to go deeper in debt to my neighbors, and in desperation I decided on the out-of-season moose hunt. With the few odds and ends we had left, we could make out on moose meat until the yard stuff started to ripen.

We hadn’t gone far up the Stuart throughout the cranky dugout sooner than I began to see moose tracks alongside shore and worn moose paths fundamental proper right down to the river. Then we rounded a bend, and an infinite cow moose was standing out on a grassy stage, dunking her ungainly head and creating with mouthfuls of weeds. 

I didn’t must kill a cow and presumably depart a calf to starve, nevertheless I don’t assume I was ever additional tempted in my life than I was correct then. That massive animal meant meat enough to ultimate us the rest of the summer season season, and by canning it I’ll maintain every pound from spoiling. I paddled quietly ahead, whispering warnings to the kids to sit nonetheless and maintain quiet. The nearer I acquired, the additional I wanted that moose. She lastly observed us and appeared our method whereas I wrestled with my conscience. 

I’ll certainly not know what the top consequence would have been, for regarding the time I was getting near enough to shoot, Olive let loose a squeal of pure delight, and I observed a bit of bit red-brown calf elevate up out of the tall grass. That settled it. 

The kids all talked immediately, and the cow grunted to her teen and waded out, capable of swim the river. We had been solely 200 toes away at the moment, and quickly she decided she didn’t like us there. Her ears went once more, the hair on her shoulders stood up, and her grunts took on a extremely unfriendly tone. I caught my paddle into the mud and waited, questioning merely what I’d do if she obtained right here for us. 

There was no probability I’ll maneuver that cumbersome dugout out of her method. Nevertheless I quieted the kids with a sharp warning, and after a minute the cow led her calf into deep water they often struck out for the choice facet of the river. I sighed with help as soon as they waded ashore and walked up a moose path out of sight. 

old magazine images of moose, kids, and dog
The author’s canoe frightened this youthful bull from his feeding throughout the shallows; daughter Vala and her brother Louis pose by their cabin throughout the spring of 1932; Louis and Chum play in a cleared area of the homestead. Outdoors Life

A half mile farther up the river we landed. I took Louis piggyback and carried my gun, and the 4 of us walked very quietly over a grassy stage the place I believed moose could also be feeding. We didn’t see any, and now the kids began to complain that they’d been getting horrible hungry. I was hungry, too. We sat down on the monetary establishment to leisure, and I observed an outstanding rainbow trout swimming in shallow water. 

I on a regular basis carried just some flies and fishhooks in my hatband, and I tied a fly to a measurement of string and threw it out, using the string as a handline. The trout took the fly on regarding the fifth toss, and I hauled it in. I fished a bit of bit longer and caught two pikeminnow, and we hit once more to the canoe. 

I constructed a hearth and broiled the rainbow and one in all many pikeminnow on sticks. The kids divided the trout, and I ate the pikeminnow. As a rule pikeminnow have a muddy style, and I had truly caught these two for pet meals. Nevertheless that one tasted all correct to me. 

Barely farther up the Stuart, we obtained right here on two yearling mule deer with stubby spikes of antlers throughout the velvet. They watched us from a cut back monetary establishment nevertheless spooked and disappeared into the comb rapidly after I observed them. Barely later the equivalent issue occurred with two bull moose. They observed us and ran into the willows whereas I was reaching for my gun. I was so dissatisfied and discouraged I wanted to bawl. 

That made 4 moose we had seen, counting the calf, with out getting a shot, and I decided that killing one was going to be quite rather a lot harder than I had thought. And my arms had been so drained from paddling the heavy dugout that they felt capable of drop out of the sockets. 

I had launched a .22 alongside, along with the .30/30, and a short while after that I used it to shoot a grouse that was watching us from the monetary establishment.

I had about given up all hope of getting a moose and was ready to point out once more for the prolonged paddle dwelling after I observed what appeared identical to the once more of 1, standing just about submerged throughout the shade of some cottonwoods up ahead. 

I shushed the kids and eased the canoe on for a larger look, and constructive enough, I was a youthful bull, almost certainly a yearling. Solely a dandy measurement for what I wanted. 

He was feeding, pulling up weeds from the underside and putting his head totally beneath each time he went down for a mouthful. I paddled as shut as I dared, and warned Olive and Vala to put their fingers over their ears and maintain down as little as they could, for I wanted to shoot over their heads. 

I put the doorway bead of the Winchester merely behind his shoulder, on the prime of the water, and when he raised his head I let him have it. He went down with an essential splash, and I suggested the kids they could elevate up and look. 

Thankfully for us, the youthful bull did not die instantly there in deep, muddy water. I don’t perceive how I’d ever have gotten him ashore for dressing. After I acquired shut with the dugout he was attempting to tug himself out on the monetary establishment. My shot had broken his once more. I crowded him with the canoe, feeling sorry for him the entire whereas, and as rapidly as I had him all the best way wherein on dry land I accomplished him with a head shot. 

The bull, combating mad by now, obtained right here for the canoe, throwing his head this way and that. I was scared stiff, for I couldn’t swim a stroke and neither I’ll Olive. I knew that one blow from the moose’s antlers would roll the dugout over like a pulpwood bolt. 

I had on a regular basis hated to kill one thing, and by that time I was close to tears. Then I observed Olive leaning in the direction of a tree, crying her coronary coronary heart out, and Vala and Louis with their faces all screwed up in tears, and I felt worse than ever. Nevertheless I reminded myself that it wanted to be completed to feed the children, and I wiped my eyes and outlined to them as most interesting I’ll. About that time a porcupine obtained right here waddling alongside, and that took their minds off the moose. 

Dressing a moose, even a yearling bull, isn’t any pleasurable. I went at it now, and it was about as arduous a job as I had ever tackled. The kids tried to help nevertheless solely succeeded in getting in the best way wherein. And whereas I labored, I couldn’t help worrying about my out-of-season kill. What would happen if I had been came across? Would the game warden be as understanding as I hoped?

WHEN THE JOB was completed, I constructed a small fireside to boil the partridge I’d shot and a few gadgets of moose meat for our supper, giving Louis the broth in his bottle. I felt increased after I ate, and I loaded the meat into the dugout and started dwelling. However it certainly was full darkish now, and I was so drained that I rapidly decided to not go on.

We went ashore, unfold out a little bit of canvas, half beneath and half over us, and tried to sleep. The mosquitoes wouldn’t permit us to, and I lastly gave up. I sat over the children the rest of the evening time, switching mosquitoes off with a willow division. Daylight befell 4 o’clock, and we acquired on the best way wherein. 

I’ll all the time keep in mind that early-morning journey once more to our place. My fingers had been black with mosquitoes all the method, and the torment was just about an extreme quantity of. Joel Hammond, a neighbor, had given me some flour he’d made by grinding his private wheat in a hand mill, and the very very first thing I did was assemble a hearth and make a batch of scorching muffins. The flour was coarse and kind of dusty, nevertheless with moose steak and greens fried in moose fat, these muffins made an precise good meal. Then I went to work canning meat. 

That was the one moose I ever killed out of season. When looking out season rolled spherical that fall I acquired a homesteader’s free permit and went after our winter’s present of meat. It obtained right here even harder that time.

The first one I tried for I wounded with a shot that might want to have cut back by means of the tip of his lungs. He acquired away in thick brush, and I took our canine Chum and adopted him. Chum drove him once more into the river, and he swam all through and stood wheezing and coughing on the choice facet, too far off for me to utilize my solely remaining shell on him. Chum swam the river in pursuit, and started to fight him in shallow water. 

One different neighbor, Ross Finley, who lived on the quarter half subsequent to ours, heard me shoot and obtained right here as a lot as assist. He loaded Olive and me into our dugout, and we paddled all through to the place the canine was badgering the moose. After we acquired shut, Finley used my ultimate shell nevertheless missed. 

The bull, combating mad by now, obtained right here for the canoe, throwing his head this way and that. I was scared stiff, for I couldn’t swim a stroke and neither I’ll Olive. I knew that one blow from the moose’s antlers would roll the dugout over like a pulpwood bolt. 

I had the bow paddle, and I moved pretty fast, nevertheless at that the moose didn’t miss us by a foot as I swung the canoe away from him. He was in deep water now, and Chum was driving on his shoulders and biting behind his neck. The canine took the bull’s consideration for a second or two, and I reached down and grabbed Finley’s .22, which was lying throughout the bottom of the dugout. 

I shot the moose correct on the butt of the ear, with the gun just about touching him. He sank quietly out of sight, leaving Chum floating throughout the water. The canine was so worn out from the ruckus that we needed to help him ashore. 

We tried arduous to seek out the ineffective moose. Nevertheless the current had carried it downriver, and it was days sooner than we found it. The carcass was lying in shallow water on the mouth of a creek, the meat spoiled. 

There have been heaps additional spherical, nonetheless. We could hear them combating at evening time, grunting and snorting, and customarily their horns would battle with a noise as loud as an ax hitting a gap log. Throughout the early mornings I observed as many as 5 at one time alongside the weedy river shore. I waited and picked the one I wanted, and that time I killed him with no trouble. 

The Stuart was full of geese and geese that fall, and there have been grouse in all places I went throughout the woods. I had a great deal of ammunition for the .22 and on a regular basis just some .30/30 shells spherical. I canned all of the issues I killed and never nervous a couple of meat shortage. Life was beginning to form itself out. 

Quite a lot of single males obtained right here spherical and tried to shine as a lot as me, nevertheless I wasn’t . All I wanted was to get additional land cleared and buy a cow or two and a gaggle of horses of my very personal. The youthful homestead widow was proving to herself that she could deal with her family and make the grade. 

BUT BEFORE the winter was over I had one different catastrophe. By February most of our meals was gone, except for the canned meat and a few cans of greens. We had used the ultimate of the hand-ground flour that Joel Hammond had given me and had been desperately in need of groceries. I had no money, nevertheless I decided to walk the 27 miles to Vanderhoof, on the Prince George-Prince Rupert railroad, and try and get the offers we might have favored on credit score rating. I knew I’ll pay for them with potatoes the following fall, for by that time I had enough land cleared to develop a a lot larger potato crop than we might have favored for ourselves. 

I left the three children with the George Vinsons, neighbors a mile and a half downriver, and started out on a cold, wintry morning. I had a freeway to adjust to, nevertheless just some teams and sleighs had traveled it, and the strolling was arduous, in deep snow. Two miles out of Vanderhoof I lastly hitched a journey. 

I didn’t have any luck getting credit score rating in the direction of my potato crop. These had been arduous events, and I assume the retailers couldn’t afford rather a lot generosity. I tried first to buy rubbers for myself and the kids. We wished them very badly, they often had been essentially the most inexpensive footgear accessible. Nevertheless the retailer turned me down.

A KINDLY WOMAN who ran a restaurant did successfully by me, nonetheless. She gave me an outstanding dinner, and after I put her down for 50 kilos of potatoes, she merely smiled and shoved a chocolate bar into my pocket. I observed to it that she acquired the potatoes when the time obtained right here, anyway.

One different storekeeper suggested me that he couldn’t let me have points on credit score rating, nevertheless he gave me $2 in cash and suggested me to do the easiest I’ll with it. I knew the place part of it was going for the oatmeal and sugar I had promised Louis and Vala and Olive after I acquired dwelling. Nevertheless I couldn’t see any technique to pay for another meal for myself or a room for the evening time, and I walked spherical Vanderhoof contemplating of how moist and chilly our toes may very well be throughout the slush of the spring thaw. 

I was about as heartbroken as I’ve ever been in my life. 

Lastly I decided to make one different attempt. A couple of of my neighbors on the Stuart River traded at a retailer at Finmoore, 19 miles east of Vanderhoof. I moreover had a buddy there, Mrs. John Holter. I’d stroll the railroad monitor to Finmoore and check out my luck there. On the time I didn’t perceive how far it was, and I anticipated a hike of solely 10 miles or so. 

It was about darkish after I started. The railroad ties had been crusted with ice, and the strolling was very unhealthy. My clothes had been hardly enough for the chilly evening time, each: denim overalls, males’s work socks, moccasins, and an outdated wool sweater with the elbows out, worn beneath a denim jacket. 

I had certainly not been brave at nighttime, any time or anyplace, and I can’t let what an ordeal that stroll was. All I’ll take into account had been the hobos I had heard tales about, the railroad bums, and I was afraid of every shadow. 

I acquired to the lonely little station at Hulatt, 15 miles from Vanderhoof, at midnight and requested the stationmaster if I’ll leisure until daylight. I lay down on the bottom by the massive potbellied vary. It was warmth and cozy, and I was worn out. I started to drift off to sleep, nevertheless then I began to worry regarding the children and the chance that if I was later in getting dwelling than I had promised, they could come once more to the house and get into trouble starting a hearth. Points had been arduous enough with out having the place burned down. I acquired up and trudged away alongside the monitor as quickly as additional.

A Widowed Homesteader Learns to Hunt Moose, or Die Trying
The Might 1967 cowl featured a painting by Tom Beecham. Outdoors Life

It was 2 o’clock throughout the morning after I reached the Holter place. Mrs. Holter mounted me a sandwich and a cup of scorching milk, and I fell into mattress. She shook me awake at 9 o’clock, as I had suggested her to. These scant seven hours had been the entire sleep I had in extra than 36.

Mrs. Holter loaned me one different $2, and I went to the ultimate retailer and struck it rich. The proprietor, Percy Moore, stared at me in disbelief after I poured out my hard-luck story. 

“You’ve walked from the Stuart River since yesterday morning?” he requested in amazement. “That’s forty-six miles!” 

“No, forty-four,” I corrected him. “I acquired a journey the ultimate two miles into Vanderhoof.” Then I added, “I’ve acquired fourteen additional to walk dwelling sooner than darkish tonight, too.” 

The very very first thing he let me have, on credit score rating, was the three pairs of rubbers we might have favored so desperately. Then he took care of my grocery file. Eight kilos of oatmeal, three of rice, 5 of beans, 5 of sugar and—for a bonus-a three-pound pail of strawberry jam. 

I plodded away from Finmoore at 10 o’clock that morning with just about 30 kilos in a packsack on my once more. 

Three inches of moist snow had fallen that morning, and the 14-mile stroll appeared limitless, each mile longer than the one sooner than. My pack acquired heavier and heavier, and sometime throughout the afternoon I began to stumble and fall. I was so drained by that time, and my once more ached so cruelly from the burden of the pack, that I wanted to lie there throughout the snow and go to sleep.

Nevertheless I knew increased. After each fall, I’d drive myself once more to my toes and stagger on. 

TO THIS DAY I do not know when it was that I reached our place, nonetheless it was prolonged after darkish. Chum met me throughout the yard, and no human being was ever additional glad to fumble on the latch of his private door. 

I slid out of the pack, pulled off my moist moccasins and socks, and rolled into mattress with my clothes on. The very very last thing I keep in mind was calling the canine as a lot as lie at my toes for warmth. The kids awoke me at noon the following day, fed me breakfast, and rubbed a couple of of the soreness out of my swollen legs and toes. 

Subsequent fall, after I harvested my potato crop, I paid off my debt to Percy Moore in full, except for one merchandise. There was no technique to pay him, ever, for his kindness to me after I used to be broke and had three hungry children at dwelling. 

I was to make many additional journeys to Finmoore throughout the years sooner than I left the Stuart, for I did most of my shopping for and promoting at his retailer. And when events acquired increased, he and his partner and daughter Ruth often obtained right here out and bought greens and eggs from me. I keep in mind strolling once more to his place the following yr, carrying six dressed chickens, selling them for 50¢ apiece, spending the money for meals and packing it dwelling. Three {{dollars}} bought pretty a heavy load in nowadays.

This textual content material has been minimally edited to fulfill updated necessities.

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