My friends Dave and Kristen Olesen, and their girls, Liv and Annika, live near the Hoarfrost River at the northeastern tip of Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Dave, formerly of Ely and a graduate of Northland College at Ashland, has been living at the Hoarfrost for 25 years now, carving out a life close to the land. Dog mushing is a way of life for the Olesen family. The whole family runs dogs and have competed in dogsled races. Dave has completed Alaska’s Iditarod a number of times.
The family’s nearest neighbors are at an Indian reserve, Lutsel K’e, about 60 miles away by boat or plane.
The Olesens used to shoot caribou and moose for much of their meat supply, but in recent years, the caribou no longer migrate near their cabin. That means moose hunting has become much more important to them.
Here’s an excerpt from Dave’s Oct. 3 blog post:
“It is autumn, and moose hunting season, and around here that has become a bigger deal than ever. From a practical standpoint nowadays moose are the most reliable and attainable large meat animal in the neighborhood. Used to be, twenty years ago, that moose were nice to have but the caribou were the real focus of meat-gathering. I miss those days.
“Also, in those days, it seemed easier to focus on my moose hunting —to decide, about September 21 (since we don’t have a freezer big enough to stow a moose it has to be cold enough weather for hanging until freeze up) that it was time to start and just get with the program: early morning after morning, out in the boat; down to the old burn east of here; walk, stand, sit, sip cocoa or coffee; try a few amateurish moose bellows and grunts; listen. Go back home.
Eventually that routine, based more on persistence and stubbornness than any real proficiency, resulted in success. There is one place down that way where I could stand right now today and throw a stone to the precise patch of ground where each of six moose fell dead over the years. That includes one that I didn’t kill, a mature bull killed by a big pack of wolves —but that is another story. That one square mile or so was moose central those years, and we counted on it.”
A few days ago, Dave filed a moose-hunting progress report by e-mail:
“Shot a young bull moose the morning of the (Oct.) 18th. Liv and I had been inbound from town, by plane, the evening before, just at dusk. She has an eagle’s eye and she spotted it. It was too late in the day to do anything except note it. It was about 3 miles west of us in a narrow bay along the shore. I don’t usually hunt in that direction for a variety of reasons.
“Next morning woke to a cold drizzle and grey water flecked with whitecaps. I dutifully set off, with not a shred of optimism, almost immediately took a bad fall on slimy rocks while hauling the boat up, and then began very slowly to ease into hunting mode. My mood brightened. The drizzle continued. I arced up onto some high ground overlooking the little bay, and lo and behold he was just stepping cautiously out from the edge of the alders maybe a half mile from me. A long time to wait and watch, and move a little at a time, with the wind wrong and the little shallow bay between us. Finally I had arrived across from him, and it was clear that the moment had come. Luckily he went down and that was that. We are all very very happy. I find it more thought provoking than it ever was many years ago, pulling the trigger and ending that life.”
Later, he added:
“I landed the boat and went ahead on foot, feeling more at ease and in tune with each step. Some mornings of hunting are like that, especially after 25 years and about 33 moose. I stand out there and think about all the things I should be doing at home, and why aren’t there more moose around and why humans developed agriculture and domesticated animals… And other days it’s just magic, and a privilege, moose or no moose. Snuck up on a red fox this fall, so I felt proud of myself that I was being so quiet. Or maybe he was deaf and partially blind… He was intent on hunting a vole, I think, and was essentially playing the same game as I was. Listen, move a little, listen again.”
Dave and Kristen are good friends. I’ve visited their homestead many years ago, and Dave and I made a couple of dogsled trips. Dave and Kristen have managed to raise their girls in a lifestyle that not many people experience anymore. I’m happy they have meat.