In Hot Pursuit - Late Winter Into Early Spring

It's A Wonderful Time Of Year... Or Is It?

It's that time of year again. The snows of winter are slowly melting as the river ice buckles under the rays of the spring sun. Geese fly overhead, northbound for nesting grounds above the arctic circle, honking to mark both the passage of winter and miles traveled. It's the time of year when nature replenishes itself, and the very animals we have hunted produce offspring that will grow, to be admired and hunted anew. It's stupendous, isn't it?

Or, is it?

Spring signals the end of hunting seasons here in Scandinavia. The season ends to allow the pregnant females time to give birth and raise their cubs, unmolested by hounds and bait hunters. I understand it. I even approve in an “I-see-the-sense-of-it” kind of way. However, the truth is, I don't like it. I go morosely through my spring routine, dutifully cleaning and oiling my guns, polishing away the grime and scuffs from a season of abuse in the forest. I leave the oil slick in the barrels as I pack them away for the next five months. I empty my hunting jacket of empty shell casings and the occasional miscellaneous surprise. “It's either jerky or something that fell in my pocket while gutting that last deer,” I tell my wife.

My hounds pace restlessly in their kennels. Dog houses take a beating in the spring. Finely trained hounds need an outlet for their energy and even 3-4 mile bike rides every other day is a poor substitute for 6-7 hours of hunting four days a week. Their boredom is channeled into destructive pursuits, such as destroying dog houses. I usually start building a new dog house in the spring that will replace the pile of wood chips that's left at the end of the summer.

So yes, while spring is a time of rebirth and replenishment, it is also a time of stress, depression (according to me), and destruction (according to the dogs).

Usually, during the hunting season, I can have my Russian Hound, Buzz, together with me loose and he will stay by my side as long as he doesn't have the GPS collar on. He is a perfect canine good citizen without a GPS collar. With a GPS collar on, he switches into work mode and disappears—his bawl the last thing I hear disappearing over the lip of the valley. About two weeks after the season ends every year, I watch him spending more and more time testing the breeze with his nose as he looks longingly into the forest. Since bear hunting in Sweden is a shorter season, and we don't have lions here, I run the dogs on foxes as well to keep them sharp and in shape.

A few evenings ago, I opened the kitchen door to let him out one last time before bed. I was horrified (he was delighted) to see a red fox staring back at us in the pale glow of the porch light. Buzz reacted first, and mere inches separated them as they left the yard for the forest. I heard him catch up to the fox once. After a brief brawl, they disappeared, out of sight and out of hearing.

I know this particular fox well. He has a slightly crooked right front foot; it is ever so slightly pigeon-toed. We have run him several times and have never gotten him to go to ground. Once, he hurled himself off a cliff to get away from Buzz. I went to the bottom of the cliff the next day to find him, assuming he was dead and wanting to give him the warrior's burial he deserved, only to find a Wile E Coyote-esque hole in the snow and his tracks leading away. Buzz and I had run this fox enough that I was fairly certain where they would eventually end up. There was nothing else for it but to strap on some snowshoes and start walking. My bed and warm wife would have to wait.

First, I snowshoed up and over the valley rim and stopped to listen. The wind was blowing through the spruce, but I thought I could hear Buzz way off to the left. I started walking as the temperatures dropped and it started to snow. I was well-clothed and had fresh batteries in my head lamp but it was still quickly becoming unpleasant to be out. I walked for several miles following their tracks. I reached a hunting cabin that I knew the foxes frequented as it was not uncommon to find gut piles, garbage, and hot dog packages in the immediate vicinity. I could see that Buzz and the fox had passed the cabin and continued down the logging road that leads from the cabin farther into the mountains.

The wind picked up as I snowshoed. An hour later, the tracks indicated that Buzz and the crooked footed fox were still running hard, still headed higher into the alpine terrain. I knew of a den about 10 miles from where I stood, and the thought that they were headed there started to creep into my mind.

To my immense relief, rather than turning right and continuing towards the middle of the plateau, the fox followed a small feature in the terrain and swung left into the trees again. Their trail headed towards the hunting cabin again, and about the time I got there, my wife called to tell me that Buzz had just walked in the front door.

 “Is he ok?” I asked.

“He's fine, already asleep on the couch.” she replied.

I still had a several mile snowshoe back to the house. Punctuated by muttered curses, I started walking again. I was relieved that he was safe and that he hadn't gone farther into the mountains, disappointment that he had lost the fox, and green envy that he was warm on the couch while I was still freezing my trigger finger off. I followed their tracks all the way down. The fox had gone to the steepest part of the valley wall and climbed down. Buzz had clearly paced back and forth at the edge, as the snow was worn down and scattered, before giving up and heading for couch country.

I got home half frozen and hungry as the clock on the coffee maker blinked 1:34 a.m. Buzz had the decency to get up and greet me, but not before stretching and yawning luxuriously. I fed the ungrateful wretch and crawled into bed, still half frozen and bone tired.

As I drifted off to sleep, a depressing thought struck me: “I can't believe it's five months until I can do this again.” 

Happy late winter/spring! It's only 219,002 minutes until the next season starts.