Bow hunter Jamie Constable just got a buck and ate roasted deer heart with three “huntress” friends on Haida Gwaii.
But what she remembers best is the shot she didn’t take.
Canoeing to a small island off Moresby one early morning last week, Constable and her friends saw a deer scatter off the beach.
They landed, and she led the way up an old road overgrown with alders. The woods were carpeted in moss, and distracting chanterelles.
All of a sudden, a small doe came up about 30 yards ahead, just in range.
“Sure enough, the buck came up,” says Constable.
“I drew my bow, and I sat there waiting for him to move just a hair, because he was behind a fallen log.”
But the buck didn’t move an inch. Constable froze.
“We were locking eyes and I realized I couldn’t take the shot,” she said.
“I had to release my draw and just stand there.”
“That’s part of hunting, too.”
The week-long hunting trip that Constable joined with fellow huntresses Celine Trojand, Elissa Marcus, and Tiffany Pretty was a pilot skill-sharing exercise for women hunters who are just getting their bearings.
Trojand came up with the idea while sitting on a friend’s deck in Queen Charlotte. Although she lives in Victoria, Trojand has visited the islands a couple times a year since 2011, and had already done some great deer-hunting here.
But she had also had hunting trips with guys that were not so great.
“Unless you have a boyfriend or brother or uncle or grandpa or dad who are hunters and willing to take you out, it’s pretty hard to learn,” she said, especially when it comes to planning an extended trip for deer or larger game.
Trojand decided to organize a deer hunt and skill-share with a group of women, plus any islanders who wanted to teach them about hunting, butchery, skinning, and local plants.
“Haida Gwaii is a cool place to do that for a whole bunch of reasons,” she said, including the fact the deer here are small, easy to approach, and there are few predators around.
Last May, Trojand spent a couple weeks on island gathering tips and meeting local people who wanted to help out. She organized a plant walk with Sarah Stevenson, and a visit to Ruth Wheadon and Barry Windecker’s Baru Farm for a lesson in butchering deer.
When they arrived for a week-long trip that included water-access hunts off Moresby and Graham Islands, Trojand learned another lesson early — plan for cancelled ferries. A delayed sailing meant they had to bow out on a community dinner.
While Constable, Trojand, and Pretty had all hunted before, for Elissa Marcus of Terrace the trip was her first time out, and she didn’t plan to shoot.
“At first I just wanted to see if I would like it,” she said, and also how she might feel about calling, killing and field-dressing a deer.
“I just expected to be so gory,” she added, laughing. “I don’t know why, movies maybe?”
But even butchering the two deer the group caught at Baru Farm, Marcus was fine, and fascinated.
“It just brings you so much closer to life,” she said.
Trojand said even with the cancelled ferry, the first trip was a success, and several islands women expressed interest in joining a future one. Anyone interested in joining or helping out can call 250-686-2438 for more info.
She has promised a bottle of Scotch to whoever comes up with a good name for the skill-share — Constable is so far keen on ‘Haida Gwaii Huntresses,’ but the jury’s out.
“We’re really grateful,” she said. “We had a really good experience and hope that we can keep coming back.”