When Zac Tait of Wapekeka First Nation moved to Thunder Bay last fall, he was determined to continue the annual tradition of going out on the goose hunt.
After all, the 38-year-old hunted while growing up in Sachigo Lake and it was something he rediscovered more than 10 years ago after living mostly in urban centres such as Thunder Bay, Peterborough, Fort Frances and London, Ont. When he married and moved up to Wapekeka First Nation, Tait decided to reconnect with traditional hunting.
“I had to feed my family,” he said. “My wife likes to eat traditional meat.”
Continuing the traditional hunt while living in the city was something John-Paul Nakochee was also determined to do. The 72-year-old’s oldest memories are of living out in the trapline near Fort Albany First Nation.
“I start remembering when I was 5 being up the river all winter with my parents and uncles,” Nakochee said. “We made a living that way, at that time anyway.”
In 1969, Nakochee moved to Ottawa where he lived for 18 years before moving to the Timmins area, where he still lives today. He learned immediately that hunting would be different in the south. Where the north is isolated with no highways, a smaller population, and land owned by either the reserve or the Crown, you can go hunting almost anywhere, Nakochee said, so long as it is not along a family’s traditional trapline.
But in the south, people are more densely packed and a lot of land is privately owned.
“You can go hunting anywhere that’s Crown land,” Nakochee said. “But you have to be careful of private property.”
Since he belonged to Treaty 9 community, Nakochee said he could legally hunt anywhere that is Crown land within the Treaty 9 area. While Tait is also a member of a Treaty 9 band, the Thunder Bay area is the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation, which is not a signatory to that treaty. So Tait’s first step to hunting in the Thunder Bay area was requesting permission from Fort William.
“I called them and I had to write a letter requesting permission,” Tait said. Weeks later Tait received a letter from the First Nation signed by the chief allowing Tait to go hunting.
It did come with limitations, however.
“There’s no limit on geese,” Tait said. “But I can only shoot one moose and two deer. And I can go fishing too.”
While most non-Native hunters would also apply for a hunting license, Tait and Nakochee could hunt outside of the provincially-regulated hunting seasons so long as they carried one document on them: their status cards.
“Even if you look like an Indian, they (the MNR) don’t go for that,” Nakochee said with a chuckle. “You gotta have your card.”
Nakochee and Tait were also required to earn their Firearms Acquisition Certificate so that they can legally purchase, own and use firearms. They also learned hunting laws that were borne out of safety issues.
For instance, Tait learned you must be completely off the highway to hunt and you cannot shoot in the direction of the road, even with a shotgun.
“So if the geese fly toward the highway, you can’t shoot them,” he said. “It happened a few times.”
When moose hunting in the fall, Nakochee adorns the bright orange jackets to makes him visible to other hunters. He recalled one time driving along the road and seeing movement in the bush. Thinking it might be a moose, he got closer and realized it was a worker.
“That’s why it’s so important,” Nakochee said. “There’s a lot of hunters out there.”
In selecting a hunting spot, Nakochee said he tries to find Crown land to hunt on, but it can be difficult to tell.
“Most of the places are not marked private property,” he said. “That’s where you can get into trouble. If you kill a moose on private property and there’s no mark, then you have a tough time with the MNR.”
Nakochee said he shot a moose that was on someone’s unmarked property and the MNR became involved. Nakochee got off because he was able to prove there was no property marker.
Sometimes, Nakochee goes hunting along a river since the land within 60 feet of each side cannot be owned.
For Tait, he chose to go straight to a property owner to find a hunting spot.
“I was fortunate enough to make friends with a farmer with 100 acres of farmland,” Tait said. He received permission to hunt on the property and the farmer even called all the nearby farmers to inform them of Tait’s presence.
“I always keep in contact with (the farmer), like when I’ll come in to hunt, because he has his neighbours and they have cattle,” Tait said.
The property has a pond at one end, which is where Tait did most of his goose hunting.
Tait however had no decoys to lure in the geese, as they can be expensive and he had left his in Wapekeka.
“I tried using garbage bags one time,” he said with a laugh. But for the most part, he said, he just sat by the pond and lured the geese in with goose calls.
Tait uses a store-bought goose caller to lure in the geese – not because of any regulations but it was a suggestion offered by his fellow hunters back in Wapekeka.
“My goose calling, they say ‘Stop scaring the geese away, you sound like a dog,’” Tait said, laughing.
Tait also does not use a blind but instead hides in the grass by the pond.
“It’s easier to move around,” Tait said, “and I can’t just make a big wood nest and leave it behind.” For next year, he plans on buying a collapsible blind.
The terrain of the south can prove to be a challenge for Nakochee, as it can be difficult to walk around.
“The ground is very very soft, you have to be careful where you walk,” Nakochee said. “You can’t just run all over the place. If you kill a bird, you can’t just run after it. Up north, it’s soft too, but it’s not as dangerous as down here. Down here you have to be careful.”
The type of land around a lake can factor in whether it is be good spot or not.
“Some are just rocks all around,” Nakochee said, noting that it is not like that in the muskeg up north. “In the bottom, there’s no marsh. The birds don’t like to hang around there.”
One of the benefits of hunting near cities that Nakochee and Tait agree on is the accessibility of the hunting spots to their homes.
“I drive home everyday, because there’s a lot of roads,” Nakochee said. It is much easier compared to traveling the river up north to get to his family camp, he said, especially at his age.
Hunting near Thunder Bay allowed Tait to continue to work full-time and not miss any days. He said he would be out at 6 a.m. to hunt for an hour or so, head back to the city for work,
then hunt again in the evenings. On the weekends, he hunted all day.
He also liked the convenience of driving instead of taking a ski-doo or canoe.
“After the drive, I just take a little walk and I’m there,” he said. “And I’m done setting up by the time I get there.” His Wapekeka morning routine consisted of filling his Thermos, but in the city, “I drop by Tim Hortons or Robins,” he said.
This spring, Tait and his friend ended up with about 30 geese hunting on the farmer’s
property. Nakochee said he did not fare as well because he was in British Columbia and North Bay when the geese flew earlier than usual this spring.
In hunting down south, Nakochee advises all hunters to educate themselves on the rules and regulations.
“It takes a while, especially if you don’t ask,” he said. “You can talk to the (MNR) game warden.”
Nakochee said he will continue to go hunting while living in Timmins and hopes to go back on his traditional grounds in the near future.
“It’s very important me,” he said. “It’s who I am.”
Tait described his first hunting experience near Thunder Bay as “awesome.”
“It provides for me and my family and whoever else I share with,” he said. “It keeps my tradition going and I hope my son continues it too – and I have two younger sons who want to go hunting every chance they get.”
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