MY FIRST SHOT AT A BUCK. -- HUNTING AND SHOOTING PARTIES. -- DESTRUCTIVENESS OF WOLVES. -- LOSS OF MY FLOCKS. -- COWARDICE OF THE WOLF. -- THE LADY AND HER PET. -- COLONEL CRAWFORD'S ADVENTURE. -- INGENIOUS TRICK OF AN AMERICAN TRAPPER. -- A DISAGREEABLE ADVENTURE. -- HOW TO POISON WOLVES. -- A STERN CHASE.
MY father-in-law had a large field of fall wheat, upon which, during the night, the deer were very fond of grazing. Just before dark, the herd used to make their appearance, and we tried repeatedly to get a shot at them, but in vain. At the least noise, or if they winded us, up went their tails, and they were off in an instant. I was determined, however, not to be so continually balked. I had observed, by the tracks, the direction they took in their way to the field; so, an hour before their usual time of coming, I sallied out, and concealed myself in the top of an old fallen tree which lay a few feet from the ground, and about twenty yards from a path which I suspected had been beaten by the deer, going backwards and forwards to the field.
The place I had selected to watch for them was an old settlement duty-road, which had been cut out some years before, but was now partially grown up again with a second growth of timber and underbrush. Having seated myself very snugly, I took out of my pocket a volume of Shakespeare to pass away the time. I had not been half-an-hour so employed, before my attention was suddenly aroused by hearing a stick break near me, when upon looking up I beheld the head and horns of a large buck projecting from behind a thicket of trees. He appeared to be in a listening attitude, so I durst not stir till he should have lowered his head, as I knew the least movement then would make him start off in an instant. Luckily, however, the wind was blowing from his direction to mine. Presently, he walked into the open space; and whilst I was cautiously raising my gun, he disappeared beneath the brow of a small hill; but almost immediately, from the inequality of the ground, his head and shoulders again became visible. On this, I instantly fired.
Astonished and mortified was I, when I saw him scamper off with his tail up, as if nothing had happened. Still, I was sure I must have hit him, as he was not forty yards from where I sat, his broadside being towards me. So I followed the track for about two hundred yards, but without seeing any blood; and was in the act of turning back, concluding, that as he had hoisted his tail, I had missed him altogether. Indeed, I had often heard, that if they show the white feather, as putting up their tail is called by Canadian sportsmen--they are not hit. This, however, is a mistake; for, in the act of turning round to retrace my steps, I saw a small drop of blood upon a dry leaf. I now felt quite certain that I had struck him. On proceeding a few yards further, I saw several large splashes of blood. There was now no room left for doubt; and, in another minute I was standing beside the first buck I had ever killed. On opening him, I found I had put a ball and five buck-shot into him, which had entered just behind the fore-shoulder; and though two of these shots had lodged in the lungs, he had, notwithstanding this, continued to run on the full jump, more than two hundred yards.
Not long after this adventure, my brother-in-law shot a deer through the heart, which ran full a hundred yards before he dropped.
Two or three years after, in the township of Douro, where I now reside, I was walking down to the saw-mill about half a mile from my house, with my American rifle in my hand, when, on coming close to the river, I saw a large buck swimming down the middle of the stream near the mill-dam. I ran down to the spot as fast as I could, for I expected he would land on the opposite shore, at the corner of the dam. The surmise proved to be correct. He was in the act of climbing up the bank when I fired, and he fell back into the river. Recovering himself, however, he scrambled out and made off. I crossed the bridge and went round to the spot where he landed, and followed on the track.
While in chase I was joined by an old hunter, who had been out since day-light, still-hunting (deer-stalking); so he agreed to go with me and examine the track, which we followed for about half a mile without seeing any blood. But at last we came to a place where the buck had stood and pawed up the ground. My companion, remarking upon the circumstance, said--
"He was quite satisfied the fellow was hit; and you will find," added he, "if we get him, that he is hit on the top of the back, and that is the reason there is no blood to be seen."
The track led us round nearly in a circle; for we came back to the river within a few yards of where I had fired at the buck. My companion now suggested that we should recross the river and follow up the stream on the opposite bank. "For," said he, "we shall probably find him on one of the islands opposite your house."
Acting on his suggestion, we retraced our steps, and found, as he had predicted, that the buck, after taking the water, had swum up the river and taken refuge on the west side of the lower island. We saw him standing near the edge of the water, partially hidden by the trunk of a fallen pine, when we both fired our rifles at the same instant. This did not, however, drop him, for he bounded across the island, and took the opposite channel in gallant style.
As the distance from which we fired was less than a hundred yards, we concluded that one of us at least had hit him. Reinforced by my old hound Towler, who, attracted by the firing, had joined us, we recrossed the river, and put the dog on the track. Towler was in high spirits, and soon made the wood ring with music pleasant to the hunter's ear.
We momentarily expected to see our quarry again take the water; but from the continued howling of the hound in the same spot, I began to think the buck was standing at bay, which was really the case; for on my near approach he was busily employed with his head down, keeping off old Towler by making sudden plunges at him every now and then. The moment he saw me, he made a rush for the river, but as he passed me on the full bound, I fired at his fore-shoulder; and though he still continued his course to the river, I knew by the jet of blood which followed my shot that his fate was sealed. Near the river he made a sudden turn, striking his head against a hemlock tree, and at the same instant a shot from my companion stretched him lifeless on the ground. And thus concluded an exciting chase of more than two hours.
This was the largest buck I ever killed, for he weighed, after he was skinned and dressed, two hundred and thirty pounds. We found that four out of the five shots had hit him. The last shot I fired, cut away the small end of his heart, though he actually managed to run thirty or forty paces afterwards.
Deer-hunting is a very exciting sport; but I prefer still-hunting (or deer-stalling, as it is called in the Highlands of Scotland) to driving them into the lakes and rivers with hounds.
The deer are not now nearly so numerous as they formerly were. Civilization has driven them back into the unsurveyed lands or less populated townships. To give my readers some idea how plentiful these wild denizens of the forest were, some years since, I need only mention that a Trapper with whom I was acquainted, and four of his companions, passed my house on a small raft, on which lay the carcasses of thirty-two deer--the trophies of a fortnight's chase near Stony Lake. The greater number of these were fine bucks.
I once had seventeen deer hanging up in my barn at one time--the produce of three days' sport, out of which I had the good fortune to kill seven. Parties are now made yearly every October to Stony Lake, Deer Bay, or the River Trent. I do not know anything more pleasant than these excursions, especially if you have agreeable companions, a warm camp, and plenty to eat and drink. Indeed, poor hunters must they be who cannot furnish their camp-larder with wild-ducks and venison. This is one of the great charms of a Canadian life, particularly to young sportsmen from the mother-country, who require here neither license nor qualification to enable them to follow their game; but may rove about in chase of deer, or other game, at will.
The greatest enemy the deer has to contend with is the wolf. In the spring of the year, when the snow is in the woods, and a crust is formed on the surface, the deer are unable to travel any distance, the snow not being sufficiently hard to bear their weight. Consequently, great numbers of them are destroyed by their more nimble adversaries, who from their lighter make and rounder-shaped feet, are able to run on the top of the crust, which gives the deer but little chance of escape.
The wolves commonly hunt in packs, and generally at night. The deer, when pursued, always make straight for the water, which, if they succeed in reaching it, saves them for that time.
When the wolves reach the shore and find their prey gone, they utter the most diabolical yells. One night I was awakened by a pack of these rascals, who were in chase of a deer. They ran through my wood-yard within sixty feet of the house in full chorus. I think I never heard in the stillness of the night a more wild and unearthly din.
For some years, till the country became more settled, I was obliged to shut up my sheep at night for fear of these prowling wretches. The first flock I ever had were all killed by these thieves. One night I was awakened by my dog barking furiously, and from the manner in which he kept rushing against the door I was sure some wild animals were about the premises. At first I thought it was useless to get up; for the night was dark, and I knew the sheep were housed. However, the increased fury of my dog Grouse, who seemed intent on getting into the house, as if he were frightened, obliged me to dress and turn out. On my opening the door, Grouse rushed in looking dreadfully scared, so with a lantern in one hand and a gun in the other, I marched towards the sheep-pen, the door of which not having been securely fastened by my lad, I found open, and six sheep out, and for these I now commenced a cautious search.
About twenty yards from the pen, I found one of my best sheep lying on the grass with his throat cut very scientifically just behind the ear. A few paces further on, I found another, and so on, till five were forthcoming. The sixth I did not get till the morning, which was the only one that escaped the teeth of the marauders. It seems that my appearance with the light drove the wolves from their prey.
Luckily for me, the weather was cold, my sheep fat, and well-butchered, as far as bleeding was concerned, so that I was no great loser, except by having a rather larger supply of mutton at one time than was quite convenient for the housekeeping department.
About eleven or twelve years since, I lost in one season a flock of sheep by the wolves. This misfortune occurred, unluckily for me, in the hottest month of the Canadian year, July. I had not housed my sheep, because I found that, in very sultry weather, during the fly-season, they would not feed in the day-time, but would creep under the fences and into the Bush for shade. I, therefore, thought it best to risk losing some, than to spoil the whole flock; for I knew the only time they would graze was during the night, or very early in the morning. Consequently, for three or four years previously, I had allowed them to run at large during the summer months.
One morning, I observed from the veranda in front of my house, a sheep, which was standing on the opposite bank of the river. As I knew there was no farm within two or three miles of the river in that direction, I thought I would go over in a canoe, and see what brought it there. I had not gone half way to the river when I discovered the mangled carcass of one of my own sheep, and on further search found ten more, lying, half-devoured, in different directions--the murder was now out. The sheep I had seen on the opposite shore was one of my own, which had taken to the water, and had thus escaped the fangs of the wolves. I saw two more of my luckless flock on a shoal more than a mile down the river, which--less fortunate than their companion--had been swept down by the current and drowned. Exactly a week afterwards, I had a similar number destroyed by the wolves. As far as I was personally concerned, I may say that they were a total loss; for the weather was too hot to keep the meat any length of time, so I gave the greater part of the mutton to my neighbours. Since that time, I have had better luck, not having lost any part of my flock, although I have invariably left my sheep abroad during the night.
Notwithstanding his ravenous propensities and cruel disposition, the wolf is a very cowardly animal in his solitary state. Indeed, it is only when he hunts in a pack, that he becomes formidable to man. Nature has, in some measure, checked his evil disposition, by rendering him timid. If he falls into a snare, he never attempts to get out of the scrape; but crouches in a corner, awaiting his fate, without the least intention of displaying any pluck to the trapper.
That the cowardice of the wolf is very great, the following anecdote will sufficiently prove.
My wife's youngest sister had a pet-sheep that she had brought up from a lamb, and to which she was much attached. One afternoon she was going down to the spring for a pitcher of water, when she saw a large dog--as she thought--worrying her sheep, upon which, being naturally courageous, she picked up a large stick and struck the beast two or three strokes with all her strength, thus compelling him to drop her favorite. This, however, he did very reluctantly, turning his head at the same time, and showing his teeth with a most diabolical snarl. She saw at once, when he faced her, by his pricked ears, high cheek-bones, long bushy-tail, and gaunt figure, that her antagonist was a wolf. Nothing daunted, she again bravely attacked him; for he seemed determined, in spite of her valiant opposition, to have her pet, which he again attacked. She boldly beat him off the second time; following him down the creek, thrashing him and calling for aid with all her might; when, fortunately, one of her brothers, attracted by her cries, ran down with the dogs and his gun, but was not in time for a shot; for when the felon wolf saw the reinforcement, he scampered off with all his speed.
There are few dogs bred in the Canadas fit to cope with the wolf; indeed, they seem in general to have a great dread of him.
Colonel Crawford, a gentleman with whom I am well-acquainted, for he was many years one of my nearest and best neighbours, was one day partridge-shooting, near Buckhorn Mills, in the township of Harvey, when his sporting-dog, which had been ranging the bush a little in advance, came running towards him, yelping in a most piteous manner, followed by a large wolf. So intent was the beast on his prey, that he did not perceive the gallant colonel, who met his advance with both barrels, which stopped his earthly career, and rescued poor Carlo from his impending fate. The colonel was very proud of this exploit, both because he had killed so large an animal with partridge-shot and had saved his dog at the same time.
According to an act of the Provincial Parliament, six dollars must be paid by the county treasurer for every wolf-certificate, signed by a magistrate. No certificate now will be granted, unless the scalp of the animal is produced, which is then taken possession of by the magistrate. This precaution is absolutely necessary; for, previously to this arrangement, it was found that double the number of wolves were killed, or, rather twice the number of scalps were brought in--one wolf often furnishing two pates--a curious feature in Natural History.
Many petty frauds of this kind have been brought to light; amongst other cases, that of a magistrate, not a hundred miles from the county town, who forged seventeen wolf certificates, and succeeded in getting the money for them; and, most likely, emboldened by his success, would have continued to drive a flourishing trade, had not his career been suddenly stopped in the following manner.
One of the persons, whose name had been made use of in one or more of the certificates, was congratulated on his recent success. He, however, denied that he had either shot or trapped a wolf during the last year, and declared, "that there must certainly be some mistake." An inquiry was accordingly made, whereupon the whole nefarious transaction was brought to light.
Our magistrate was not long in availing himself of the proximity of the United States; for the next day saw him an inhabitant of the good city of Rochester, in the State of New York, where, I make no doubt, over gin-cocktail, or mint-julep, he entertains the free and enlightened citizens with an account of his adroit manner of "sloping" the British Government. Luckily for Rochester, there are no wolves in that neighbourhood.
A celebrated wolf-trapper, in the township of Smith, once caught a fine she-wolf, big with young. Her fore-paw broken below the knee, was the only injury she had sustained. So he thought, if he could but keep her alive till after her accouchement, he should be able to demand the bounty for every scalp; for he considered that as there was no mention made in the act respecting the size the wolves must be, he might as well have the benefit of that oversight. He put his scheme, accordingly, into effect, and it proved quite successful. Her wolfship in a few days was safely delivered of five fine whelps, whose scalps, with that of their mother, were duly presented to the magistrate. At first he demurred respecting the certificate, but upon referring to the statute, he found there was no provision to meet a case of this kind. He, however, satisfied his moral justice by the reflection, "that if the dam had remained at large a few days longer, and whelped in the Bush, it would have amounted to the same thing, and that, perhaps, many sheep had been saved from the greedy fangs of the growing family, by the ingenious plan of the trapper." It was a clever trick, no doubt--a real Yankee shave; but one for which the sternest moralist can scarcely get up an effective lecture.
The Canadian wolf is not nearly so ferocious as the European animal, nor I believe quite so large. I have heard of very few well-authenticated accounts of persons having been destroyed by these creatures, though I must say I should not like again to be in their vicinity in a dark night, as more than once I have been. I was returning from Whitby after dark, and had just entered the woods, through which my path lay for a full mile and a half. The night being dark, and the road not particularly good, I gave Prince the rein, and allowed him to choose his own pace. Presently, I thought I heard a pattering on the leaves, like the tread of animals, at which sound my horse pricked up his ears, snorted, and shied nearly across the road, so suddenly that I was nearly thrown out of the saddle. Well for me was it, however, that I kept my seat; for instantly such an infernal howling was raised all round me as made my heart leap up to my mouth, and I must candidly own I felt horribly afraid I should fall into the clutches of devouring wolves. My good steed Prince, I fancy, was as scared as myself, for he galloped off, followed by the pack, who fairly made the woods ring with their unearthly yells. They did not chase us far, and ceased howling, having seemingly lost the scent; but in a few minutes a fresh burst in the direction of the lake-shore plainly told me they had regained it, and were on the track of a deer, which most probably had crossed the road at the time when I first heard their chorus. It is not very easy to describe one's feelings on such occasions.
There is something particularly appalling in the full cry of a pack of wolves, especially when alone in the woods, and at night. I have frequently heard them at such times, when camped out on hunting expeditions. However, we mustered strong and were well armed, so we cared little for them or their yells.
The only instance of any one being killed by wolves, to which I can speak with certainty, occurred a few years back in the township of Douro. A young lad of the name of M'Ewen was sent by his father to a shoemaker, one George Disney, for his shoes. The distance was not more than a mile by a path through the woods, and the boy was well acquainted with the road. It appears, he went to Disney's, and waited for his shoes till nearly dark, when he started for home. But nothing more was ever heard or seen of him till the thaw in the spring, although diligent search was made at the time. Owing to a snow-storm which fell the same night, he was lost. It was impossible to follow the boy's tracks, and as a pack of wolves had been heard the same night in the immediate neighbourhood, no doubt was entertained that he had been attacked and eaten by these ravenous monsters. Some bones and pieces of clothing, supposed to have belonged to the unfortunate youth, were the only memorials found of him.
I have heard the old settlers say, that very few instances have occurred like this in their recollection, though from the many persons lost in the woods and never again discovered, it is more than probable that some of them, when weakened by fatigue and hunger and no longer able to defend themselves, may have fallen victims to their insatiable maws.
Several plans have been devised by the inhabitants for the destruction of these animals. That most commonly resorted to, and which is considered the least troublesome and the most efficacious, is poison. The best and surest for that purpose is strychnine, one grain of which, if genuine, will kill the largest wolf in Canada. I have used this poison myself, when baiting for foxes. The properest method in the winter-season, is to take a piece of hog's-lard, about the size of a walnut, make a hole in the centre, and insert it carefully with a quill or the point of a small knife, taking care not to spill any on the outside, then to fill up the puncture with some fresh lard.
If you have heard, or have reason to know, that wolves are in the vicinity, your best way is to bait with pieces of carrion of any description. This must be done at some distance from the clearing, or you will be sure to lose your own dogs, or kill those of your neighbours, when you come to lay your poison, which you need not do till you see some of your bait taken, and observe their fresh tracks.
I know a gentleman who had lost an ox, which he had drawn away some distance into the Bush. In a few days, finding the wolves had paid their respects to the carcass, he laid out several poison-balls, and actually killed six of them before the carcass was eaten. The value of the wolves, including their skins and the bounty-money, amounted to forty-four dollars, a nice little sum for a few hours' trouble, not to speak of the satisfaction of having contributed to extirpate this devouring crew. I must, however, caution the uninitiated to be very careful in the use of this deadly poison: indeed it should only be used by the most experienced trappers, and then at some distance from the settlement.
The price of the wolf-skin varies from 5 shillings to 7 shillings, 6 pence, Halifax currency, according to size and quality: they are always in good demand for sleigh-robes.* Those made of this species of fur are considered the most elegant and distingue.
[* Sleigh-robes are commonly made of bear or buffalo skins dressed with the hair on. The most fashionable are racoon or wolf. Several of these skins are sewn together, with the tails of the animals stitched to the bottom of the robe. The inside lining is generally scarlet or purple cloth. A well equipped sleigh should have two robes for each seat, one of which should cover the cushions, and fall gracefully over the back of the seat, whilst the other is drawn over the passengers, and wraps them securely from the cold.]
A perilous adventure once befel my brother-in-law, James. He was a bold brave boy, of ten years old at the time, and was on his return home with a pair of oxen, with which he had been assisting a neighbour residing about six miles from his father's house. His road lay by the river shore, which was dreary enough at the fall of the year and in the evening hour: but the child was fearless, and saw the deepening shades sink into night without experiencing anything like apprehension.
He was trudging on steadily, singing cheerfully as he walked, when a sound came on the night-air that sent a shiver through the young pedestrian's frame--the war-cry of the wolves. At first he hoped he was not the object of pursuit; but the hideous uproar came nearer and nearer, and then he knew that he must instantly adopt some plan for his escape.
His route lay by the river shore, and he could swim well; but the night was dark, and he might be hurried into the rapids; and to be dashed to pieces on the rocks was scarcely less dreadful than to be mangled and devoured by wolves. In this extremity, the child lifted up his brave young heart to God, and resolved to use the only chance left him of escape. So he mounted Buck, the near-ox, making use of his goad, shouting at the same time to the animal, to excite him to his utmost speed.
In most cases, the horned steed would have flung off his rider, and left him for wolves' meat, without hesitation; but Buck set off with the speed of a race-horse, as if fully aware of his young rider's peril. Nor was his companion less tardy. Fast, however, as the trio fled, still faster came upon them the yelling pack behind; and James could ever hear--
"Their long hard gallop which could tire
The hound's deep hate and hunter's fire."
Fortunately for him, old Buck heard it too, and galloped on and on; but still the wolves came neater and nearer. James shouted to keep them off; the oxen almost flying; their chains rattling as they went. This clanking sound, to which the hateful pack were unaccustomed, made them pause whenever they came close upon the oxen, whilst the latter redoubled their speed, till at length these gallant racers left the wolves behind, and finding themselves within a short distance of home, never stopped till they brought the brave little fellow safely to his own door.
He had felt afraid but once; and that was when those dismal yells first broke upon his ear--and never lost his presence of mind. He trusted in God, and used the means within his reach for his preservation, and arrived safe at last.
Few boys would have displayed so much sense and spirit--but the boy is almost always the father of the man; and what James was then, he is now.
Last revised 2005-03-04