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Handbook to Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba
The Game Fields of the West by P. J. Turner, Esq.

Secretary Manitoba Game Protection Association.

IN this age of huge enterprise and great achievement, not many of those whose daily life draws them ever deeper into the meshes of the complex net of modem commercialism, ever pause in all seriousness to view the outside world. An age of tireless ambition and splendid attainment goes on apace ; but in the great centres of population the tramp of feet and clatter of wheels, the clang of warning bells, the heavy monotone of ceaseless traffic, the smoke and dust and grime have blotted out from the lives of many that supreme exhilaration of soul and body, that sense of freedom and unrestraint, to be found only in the breadth and sweep of the great out-doors.

There are granted to us in this life many opportunities for honest diversion and pursuit other than in the incessant struggle for material gain and to draw the best from the world in all that makes for moral and physical uplift we must at times turn our steps far from the noisy street'. The lover of the country, the sportsman, the naturalist, in fact all wholesome-minded citizens, irrespective of professional or commercial pursuit, know the supreme content attainable from close mental and bodily intimacy with the out-door world. Words fail to plead the fascinations of the wilds. The charm and beauty of the autumn season; the grandeur and sense of freedom; the clear blue skies; the winds playing and whispering through the nodding flowers and grassy bi!lows; the shrieking winter storms; the glory of the break of day as the shadows slink away and the sun steals mysteriously across the open; the beauty of its close as the shadows creep back, the day slips away and the star-lit night comes on—in such elements do we find that “something” which we call the Spirit of the West.

In emerging from the obscurity of pioneer days, in hewing from the primeval forests her first rude clearings, in sowing the seeds of settlement across her wide untimbered prairies, and in planting on river, lake and plain the foundations for great cities, the Canadian West has maintained in her making a wonderous wealth of wilderness and rural beauty. The pen can here commit to paper only fragmentary pictures of this Last Great West—a land the very atmosphere of which must be breathed to be rightly understood. And only in brief form can we review amidst its natural environments, that great game heritage so essentially a feature of the Western wilds.

When the rugged shore lines of primitive America first loomed before the roving adventurers of the Old World, and the eager crews scrambled up the lonely cliffs where wilderness and ocean met, the country fairly teemed with wild life. Innumerable 5 deer roamed through the forests where now the great business centres of modem America palpitate with the thousands of this heterogeneous race; on the open plateaus stretching inland from the Alleghany Mountains, where wealthy country mansions now nestle amidst the conventional luxuries of their well-kept estates, the mighty bison raised his shaggy head to stare and wonder at these strange intruders. When the gallant explorers of New France first ascended the St. Lawrence River, now the main artery of the Dominion’s commerce, they found the wapiti living where to-day the very mention of its name arouses only a blank stare among the traditional country folk. The Puritan of later date, if hungry, shouldered his gun and disappeared beyond the clearing to return shortly with a fat turkey. Along the country of the present eastern States, the heath hen, prototype of the western “chicken,” rose in coveys before the traveller’s approach; and twice a year from north to south and east to west, the sky was darkened with myriad hosts of pigeons bound to and from their northern breeding grounds. The bison soon turned his bowed head westward, never to return, and massing :n his fabled herds beyond the Mississippi, began his brief struggle for existence against the advancing hordes of Europe. The wapiti or elk was assailed on all sides and driven to the wildest comers of the West. The turkey now lingers apprehensively in the scattered brushlands of his last retreats; the heath-hen has long since ceased to sound her booming call across the uplands; and the pigeon has become a mere memory of the past.

Moving rapidly from east to west this stupendous-elimination of wild life in America has been both melancholy and relentless, yet with few exceptions the finest game animals and birds of the northern continent still find room and tolerable protection in the Great North-West. The bison will never again roam at’ large over the huge prairie ocean as in bygone days. Empire-building has been of far greater importance than the preservation of a million or so of wild cattle; but for long years to come the moose and wapiti, caribou, prong-buck, deer, mountain sheep and goat, and all the long list of feathered game will here survive civilization’s encroachment if but reasonably protected.

Over the north-eastern half of Manitoba and out beyond the Saskatchewan country there lies in marked contrast to the Great Prairie of the Canadian West, which sweeps from the Red River to the foothills of the Rockies, a vast, thinly-settled forest. Here, far from the steel-shod roads of commerce and the little frontier-towns, lies the wilderness; and though showing the ravages of forest fires and the bite of the woodman’s axe, it still defies the destroyer’s hand and holds aloof the persistent tread of settlement. Here in one of the finest game-lands of modern time the mighty moose and lordly wapiti still live and thrive. Across the huge prairie ocean of the West so recently the pasture land of countless herds of buffalo, where innumerable towns have risen as tho’ by magic above the ruin of trading post and Indian camp, and where thousands of home-seekers have flocked in the feverish race-movement from the East, leagues upon leagues of rolling prairie as virginal and wild as ever filled the human vision yet remain, where the fleet-footed prong-buck or antelope lives as in the frontier days. Far away in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, where the sun-kissed fields of perpetual snow lie above the timber belts on the shoulders of the continent, and where the mountain streams trickle down the long defiles to surge eastward in majestic rivers to the plains, midst wild sanctuaries of crag and ledge, dwell flocks of mountain sheep and goats. Westward from the Great Lakes and northward across Keewatin and Mackenzie to the barren Lands, lies the home of the caribou, and everywhere throughout the length and breadth of the West are scattered tracts of forest, marshland and prairie, so prolific of wild life as to baffle description.

The vast, natural range of the moose occupies the forest regions of the northerly half of North-America from coast to coast, with the chief exceptions of portions of British Columbia and most of the country contiguous to Hudson Bay. Assisted, not only by its superior cunning and capabilities of self-protection, but by the impenetrable nature of its forest home this giant deer can be said to have held its own against the white man’s lust for killing. But next to the bison, the wapiti has suffered more than any American big game, and though it once roamed from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from New Mexico to the valley of the Saskatchewan, the most easterly portion of its range now lies in Manitoba, where with the exception of north-western Wyoming it is probably more plentiful than in any other part of the continent.

In the woods of Maine and New Brunswick, the moose is hunted in a manner planned to ensure the taking of either trophies or venison with the least possible exertion upon the hunter’s part; and to be successful the hunter requires no knowledge of the animal nor need he move himself to unusual exertion, other than to shoot at the right spot when the guide has “called” the quarry within easy range. But in penetrating the forests of the North-West, the hunter meets with the grandest and wildest conditions of the hunt and must depend for success almost entirely upon his own skill and endurance. Here in the sublimity of the winter forest the chase narrows down to tracking or stalking and even though no more than a fleeting glance of moose be seen in a day’s tramp, Nature will simply reward him who loves her for her own sake rather than for a set of antlers on the wall. Penetrate the timbered country almost where you will and you will find moose tracks leading seductively away into the forest aisles. Here you will find nature running riot in a bewildering chaos of muskeg and ridge, rock and swamp—in summer an endless sea of green, palpitating with wild life: in winter a huge, frozen solitude. Tangles of forest growth hedge you in on all sides. Deep-furrowed heaps of storm-tossed trunks lie piled in countless confusions of decay, while from the tangled roots and wreckage underneath the young straight-stemmed forest of second growth springs up. Or where the forest fire has swept along bare, sullen wastes of blackened tamaracs rear their branchless tops above the swamps. Here and there between the dense belts of forest lie broad, parklike ridges, over which the jack-pines grow planted and spaced off by Nature’s hand with wonderful exactness. Groves of poplar and birch, hazel and willow thickets, tamarac and cedar swamps spread away in endless succession towards the barren tundras of the North. Such is a rough description of the moose country of the West. When winter has tightened the forest land beneath a rigid grip of snow and ice, the camp is made. Robbed of the charm of other seasons the frozen wilds yet have a beauty of their own and the very spirit of the West instils the hunt. The impulse to move on and into the heart of the whitened world stirs stout hearts and limbs to tireless action. The strange traceries of the wood’s creatures in the snow; the frost-tanged air; the long and patient stalk; the exultant kill and at last the ruddy glow and comfort of the little camp—from such features of the hunt do we reap for future years a harvest of pleasant memories from the past.

Though found in Manitoba and less frequently across the northern portions of Saskatchewan and Alberta, the wapiti is of necessity more fastidious in its choice of surroundings and more local in its distribution than the moose. Though most of the herds now existing are found in mountains or hill-country, it roamed freely over the Western plains ere it was forced to seek refuge in the wildest and most inaccessible retreats. Owing to its gregarious habits and the comparatively open character of much of its Western range, it had little to protect it against the ruthless warfare waged upon it in the winning of the West; and to the fact that it will adapt itself and thrive under widely different conditions, can thanks alone be given that it has not followed in the bison' s wake. It is the most imposing, the stateliest, and the grandest type of all the antlered tribes on the earth and like a defeated remnant of a once powerful clan, it has chosen from its former range of half a continent the wildest, pine-clad mountains and lofty uplands in which to face the final tragedy which would forever seal its •doom. The moose loves the lower levels of the dank, marsh-strewn forest wherein to glean his fare of willow browse and water-growths, but the royal wapiti seems to revel in the grandest scenery Nature has to offer'. Where the giant Redwood and Douglas firs deluge the rolling bases of the Rockies in perpetual gloom, or where the rugged, brush-clad hills of Manitoba rise in majestic skylines from the plains, the wapiti has found the last wild strong-holds of his race.

Not so long ago but that many can recall the time, the wapiti was to be met with almost anywhere in the wooded tracts of the Canadian West. In the Turtle Mountains and the Cypress Hills along the American boundary, in the foothills of Alberta, and through the cotton-wood belts of the western river-bottoms it was plentiful up to the late ‘70’s. But it is now only to be found in several localities along the northern outskirts of its former range. In the wild area between Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba it is plentiful; over the hills of the Riding and Duck Mountains in north-western Manitoba large scattered herds still roam; and across northern Saskatchewan and Alberta and into the valleys of the Rockies small numbers wander restlessly back and forth.

All that has been written and told of the far-famed stag-hunting of the Scottish Highlands or of the wild adventure of moose-hunting in the American forest, can not excel in point of interest or adventure the elements which surround the hunting of this noble deer. Then one may stumble upon it at times under circumstances sweet to the meat-hunter’s heart; but under normal conditions no game the world over is more worthy of the practiced skill of the clean-minded sportsman. Now a frequenter of uplands and timbered ridges it leads the hunter into the midst of the wildest comers of the West and extols a tribute of unfaltering perseverance and wood-craft from him who would follow it unaided into its wild retreats.

In the wooded regions of the North-West frequented by sportsmen probably more uncertainty attaches to the hunting of the caribou than to that of any other deer In the fur country of the far North the barren ground caribou presents an almost ridiculously easy object of pursuit during its bi-annual migrations to and from the bare coast-lines of its Arctic home; but the larger woodland caribou of lower latitudes is an almost constant sojourner of the great moss-grown muskegs and is more difficult of pursuit and approach. From Newfoundland to Alaska the caribou, or American reindeer, is found in an almost hopeless diversity of species; but much as the individuals from one locality may differ in weight, color and character of antlers, from those of another, there seems little necessity to sub-divide them beyond the two general types. In Western Canada the woodland caribou is found in the low, coniferous regions of the Lake of the Woods, thence northward beyond Lake Winnipeg, where its range gradually overlaps that of the barren ground species, and westward into British Columbia. In comparison to other deer it possesses a strange perversity of character and habits. Its favorite food consists of the dry, astringent mosses that clothe the muskegs and festoon the trees; with its razor-edged hoofs and slithering gait it is at ease upon the barest ice; hair covers its broad, bovine muzzle; and the female annually grows a set of antlers. Ever restless and on the alert the caribou of Manitoba and New Ontario is no easy prey for the most seasoned hunter; and as it rarely stays long in one locality but continually moves in small travelling herds from one treeless savanna to another, it is exceedingly difficult to overtake. On the mountain sides it is more easily approached by stalking, and as the traveller proceeds northward he will find it correspondingly easier to bring to his rifle.

Across the plains from Montana to the valley of the Battle River and from the Elbow of the Saskatchewan to the foothills of the mountains the antelope or American prong-buck, is still tolerably plentiful. Barring the buffalo, no animal claimed more attention from those whose fortunes led them hither in the frontier days; and upon this fleet-footed dweller of the open wastes the traveller of the early West relied much for his dady fare. It has long since ceased to provide a staple necessity, but it still clings tenaciously to the treeless slopes of the open country and with surprising resourcefulness continues to elude civilization’s intrusion. Though it has learned many of the white hunter’s ways and the possibilities of the modern rifle, the mode of hunting it has changed little with the lapse of time. Riding away from the last vestige of settlement the hunter scans the sky-lines and valleys before him till a band of antelope appear in the far distance. Then begins a long and not always successful stalk under the cover • of surrounding crests and coulees and as the location of the animals is approached the hunter dismounts and stealing cautiously to the top of a commanding rise prepares to open fire on the unsuspecting herd just beyond. But to his dismay he will more often reach his point of vantage only to catch a fading vision of his intended quarry as the herd goes sailing away beyond the succeeding hill tops. Returning to his pony he resumes the hunt, working over the long rises and depressions of undulating pasture, often following the old, deep-cut buffalo trails which wind away towards the distant lakes and watered hollows in the plains. Perhaps he may come unexpectedly over the brow of a hill and get an unlooked-for shot at the fleeing form of some old buck, who, wandering off alone, has loitered here to enjoy a quiet siesta on a sunny slope; or again sighting a distant band he may repeat the long, circuitous stalk with happier results. Such hunting carries the rider into the very heart of the Western plains. Some would say that imagination could not picture a more dreary aspect of land and sky; but others recognize a peculiar attraction and charm in this naked space and immensity which rolls away into the blue distances like the halted upheaval of an ocean.

Of all American deer the white-tail is the least effected by settlement and the most general in its distribution. It is by nature a frequenter of tangled brush lands and wooded valleys and strange to say, it is more often met with in the belts of wild, scrub-country bordering on the settlements than in the deep forests frequented by the caribou or moose. It responds readily to protective measures, adapting its ways, like the stag of England and Scotland to semi-domestication if necessary, and thus it is to-day the typical big game of Eastern Canada and the southern and eastern States. It flourishes under a host of different names from Mexico to Manitoba and from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains. It is the “red deer” of the lower Canadian and Ontario woods, the “Virginia deer” of the eastern South, the “jumping deer” of Manitoba and the Canadian West, and elsewhere the bearer of almost endless misnomers fashioned from the whims and fancies of its pursuers Thousands upon thousands of white-tails annually fall to the rifle in the older hunting grounds of Canada and the States, but in the North-West where larger or more valued game demands the hunter’s attention it is little sought for, and in Manitoba at least is rapidly increasing The favorite mode of hunting it in Eastern Canada and the States is by hounding, the dogs doing the actual hunting while the shooter takes his stand on some likely run way and by dint of patience and indifferent sportsmanship awaits results. In the West hounds are rarely if ever employed, and never legally, and much the same rules must be followed in pursuing it as in moose or elk hunting. No deer is more secretive and graceful in its movements than the little whitetail, no game knows better how to tangle and elude the hunter, and by doubling and circling back and forth in a small area of brushland, no animal will leave a trail so intricate and confusing by which to baffle its pursuers.

The mule-deer or black-tail is typically a deer of the West and like the wapiti has rapidly disappeared from many localities, owing to the open character of its haunts. It shuns the low-lying valleys and thickets in preference for broken and exposed hill country or mountain sides, and being sometimes curious to a fault upon the approach of danger, and unable to employ the scanty growth? of its favorite uplands in eluding detection, it often presents a comparatively easy mark to the practiced rifle-shot. Through the Canadian West the name “jumping deer’’ is commonly applied to it also, and with more reason as its stiff-legged and almost awkward motions when running bear rude contrast to the white-tail’s symmetrical leaps and bounds. It is widely distributed over various portions of the West and across the mountains to the Pacific Coast. The hunter who picks up the black-tail’s track on a clear morning in early winter and hopes ere night-fall to bring it to bay must be keenly alert and ready to act quickly in spite of the animal’s shortcomings in habits and surroundings. In most cases he will be led away over bare hill tops, through gullies and broken- ground, out across park-like expanses and occasionally into brush-checked creek-bottoms; and when least expected the erect ears and antlers will suddenly appear before him either outlined in bold relief upon some rising knoll or blended in a patch of grey and brown amidst the tangled woods. Then must the eye and finger act together in ready aim, for with the first mis-directed shot the deer has vanished and the disappointed hunter relinquishes the chase ravenously hungry and exhilerated from the hunt, but minus other reward for his long and tedious tramp.

To seek the wild creatures of the mountain tops the hunter leaves the great alluvial plains, passes the intervening foothills, plunges into the depths of canyons and timbered valleys, and after days of toil toward the pinnacles of the continent, assails a land of sky and glacier far above the world. Here from the wing-point of the eagle the eye falls upon a thousand varied scenes staged in terrible immensity and chaotic grandeur; and here on the rugged back-bone of the West where the foot of man but seldom treads, are found the dizzy pastures of the mountain sheep and goat.

As compared with tne Rocky Mountain big-horn, the mountain goat is a dweller in the most exposed and unprotected elevations. In places where no other creature may follow and at which man might well shudder in the bare thought of reaching, the white goat of the Rockies is as much at ease as the seafowl on her wind-swept crags. Along the narrowest of overhanging ledges where the smallest crevices or irregularities in the mountain sides often afford the only footholds, it will pass with sure-footed precision, cropping the protruding tufts of vegetation as it goes. Rarely does this uncouth denizen of the mountain tops descend to the timber belts or valleys, but contented and at home it dwells amidst the wide snow-capped slopes and frowning cliffs, serenely oblivious of the world beneath.

The big-horn roams the upper levels where the great slides and glacier beds have seared the mountains and left their time-worn pathways down the rocky wastes, or wandering to the fringes of the stunted forest that struggles upward from the valleys, it seeks protection from the bleak seasons on the heights above. Stouthearted and rugged must be the man who would hunt the big-horn or mountain goat ; and the supreme test of human perseverance will be wrung from him who has set his face to follow amidst the stupendous masses of the Rockies, this most exacting and difficult of big-game hunting in the West.

Far away in the semi-tropical bayous and lagoons bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, where the sun pours out his latent heat amidst the winter clouds, where the dull rumble of the surf along the sand-ribbed beaches lulls to sleep the drowsy world of marsh-strewn waters, there rests in quiet content a vast host of feathered life. One lazy day succeeds another, the sun mounts higher in the heavens, a strange restlessness moves across the waters and lifting with the south winds from the Gulf long streams of noisy wildfowl move across the sky. The winter wanes upon the prairies of the West; with crush and turmoil the rivers break their icy bonds; beneath the crooning winds the tumbled drifts of snow shrink and sink away; little lakes awaken ’midst a thousand widening pools; frogs chant their endless chorus from the sodden fields; and in the silent watches of the night the sound of hurrying wildfowl bound to their northern haunts heralds the coming spring. Day after day and through the frosted nights the winnowing of beating wings goes by, and every lake and lowland marsh and slough stirs from its winter sleep.

To the lover of the wilds the brief buoyancy of spring is only rivalled by the painted witchery of the autumn months. No other time of the year on the Western prairies, is so alluring or so full of nature’s sorceries and attractions as that which follows the fading summer.

It is the season of ripened maturity and when the wild fowl rise from their vast nursery of the north to return to the bays and marshlands of their southern home, the sportsman turns afield with dog and gun. As the Indian summer draws her hectic glow across the dying year and the night-frosts deck the lowlands in their robes of brown, the muffled echoes of the hunt sound far and wide across the prairies. Peculiarly attractive is a morning on the great duck marshes. The first pink flush of dawn creeps up the eastern sky, transforming the cold, limpid waterways to sinuous-colored reaches that interlace in all directions the endless growths of reeds and sedge. To westward the vast levels of marsh lie dark and sullen beneath the lingering coverlet of night; and the morning star low-hung upon the sky, grows pale before approaching day. Preceding the first faint signs of dawn, no sounds seem to mar the expectant silence of the lonely waters; and over the lowlands and marshes there floats a penetrating chill. As the sunrise steals out across the sleeping world of swamp, the sounds of restless wildfowl spread in all directions, and the clammy night-mists lift and vanish from the marshes. A cold breeze springs up, rustling through the withered marsh-growths; ruffling the dormant waters into little waves that lap among the reeds. As the light increases little flocks of ducks speed across the eastern sky, then more flocks, big and small, in lines and clusters, then it seems as if a continuous army of wildfowl streams far and near, and in the thin cold air the booming of the guns rolls back and forth across the marshes.

When the harvest clothes the land in realms of gold the prairie chicken flocks to the stubbles of the West. This is the typical game bird of the open country and is as characteristic of the prairies as the bison formerly was among the animals. It is doubtful if man's fancy could conceive any grander game birds, or game that could give more profound satisfaction in everyway to the lover of dog and gun than the two varieties of grouse commonly called “chicken”. Few game birds the world over can boast of superior beauty. Vigorous and rugged they are fitted to withstand the severest tests of winter, and as they rise in covies from their scanty shelter they offer easy wing shots to any who would seek change and recreation in the wide freedom of the prairies.

Almost endless seem the haunts of small game. We might go on and wander into the brushy uplands of the ruffed grouse, across the soggy snipe marshes, over the low lying beaches where the shore-birds gather, and into a thousand wild comers, replete with life. Such is the outside world, the nation’s playground. By upland and meadow, through. sedge-grown marshes, and into the forest depths the sportsman turns his steps. Here no cares nor worries born of the inner world of toil and strife find place; but round the camp fire and in the hunting lodge are found the truest friends, the most lasting friendships, and above all that splendid freedom and health of outdoor life so essential in the making of the West.

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