ROBERT, MAX, AND SAM BRETON
These are my three grandsons, who (along with their cousin, Rick’s son Justin) represent the fourth generation of Breton hunters in the Gatineau Hills. In 2006, Robert is 15 years old, Max is 14, and Sam is 9. They have spent as much time with us as we could manage, including five years living near us, in Low, Quebec. From the time they were tiny, they have heard the stories, learned to count pins, and played at hunting. They have always participated in hunting season. When they were small, they would come up for weekends, and we took them out with us on runs that they could manage, as soon as they were able to hike. By the time each was six years old, they had been to the top of The Big Ridge. After deer season, we would spend weekends hunting partridge and rabbits. Robert is a great shot, with a cool head and steady hand. Max has an eagle eye—he can spot the head of a partridge peeking through brown leaves under a spruce. Sam has a dead eye with his b.b. gun, and wants to know when he can take his hunter safety course.
All three boys are at ease walking the bush. When they were very young, they would come back with treasures—some real nice deer poop in their pockets, or a handful each of deer and rabbit poop, so they could show me they knew the difference. Long ago, they could tell a really big buck track from the track of a more ordinary size deer. In early spring, when the deer come out in the fields, we drive the back roads and count the sightings. They don’t worry about counting on the way back the same deer they’ve counted on the way out.
Each of the boys is very different, and each has his own stories. When the Quebec Government instituted a new hunting rule, permitting young hunters to shoot on a parent’s license, Robert and Max were old enough. In 2004, Robert became the youngest Breton to get his buck, a beautiful eight-pinner. He held that title for one year, until Max got his own eight-pinner, in 2005.
Sam has done as well, in his own young way. Early in the fall of 2005, Sam and I were driving home and saw a doe and her big fawn up close to the fence, only 30 or 40 feet from the road. We stopped to watch them, and they just watched us, back. Sam had his b.b. gun with him. He told me he wanted to shoot those deer. I said it was ok to try, but to aim for the flank, where he wouldn’t hurt them. Sam slowly eased his way out the car door, took aim and fired. The doe jumped up in the air—he had hit her on the rump. But the two deer stayed right there. Sam pumped his gun, aimed and fired again, and the fawn jumped straight over her mother. They took off, while Sam climbed back into the car. When I congratulated him, he told me very seriously that he knew he had to aim high, because they were so far away.
I have spent the last 15 years trying to ensure that “my boys” learn as their father did. They hunt with care and respect for the land, the wildlife, and for their fellow hunters. During the hunt they show discipline, teamwork, woodsmanship, and self-reliance. I am proud of them. Over the last forty years, the area open to us for hunting has become more and more restricted. Where my Dad, brothers and I ranged over 30,000 acres, now we have access to less than 2,500 acres. I hope that Rick’s son, and my grandsons, will not completely lose out on this wonderful heritage.
Tyler is Bob’s stepson, seven years old. He is a big kid, strong, smart and observant. Tyler likes to come to Venosta, though he isn’t sure he wants to become a hunter. He enjoys the walks, the woods, and the excitement. He likes being around the hunters, listening to the stories, and laughing at all the goings-on.
Justin is Rick’s son: at fourteen, he’s a tall drink of water—slim, but tough. Justin is a most interesting kid, probably destined to develop into a true Renaissance Man—he is interested in everything, and does just about everything. He takes lessons in piano, singing and judo. He swims like a fish, plays center for his football team, and wins public speaking contests at school. He put the run on a couple of bullies, and sang at his grandmother’s funeral.
Justin loves to come to Venosta with his dad, practicing shooting and hanging out at “Rick’s Café” on the 100 Acres. It’s a little pre-fab, about 8 x 16 feet, and the day they painted the inside, Justin told us they had painted the kitchen, living room and bedroom, all in one day. Whenever he comes up during hunting season, he walks the woods with his dad, and never tires. He’s been present for some exciting runs that resulted in bagging some good bucks.
CHARLIE AND THE BOYS
Charlie was a beagle who had no idea that he was a dog. He loved comfort, and socializing with people. During hunting season, when we would hang out in the evenings, Charlie would decide he was a lap dog—perching on one lap and then another, following the conversation like a kid, looking from face to face. He was a special pal to Sam, Max and Robert. He just loved those boys, and they loved him. Max and Robert saved Charlie’s life, twice.
The first time that dog got into trouble, he took on a groundhog and lost:
Our house is built on an acre or so, about halfway up the side of a big rock hill. Whoever built it really wanted to live here—they had to carve out the lot, bulldoze a steep driveway, and then truck in enough loads of fill to make space for the garden, septic bed, and parking. The edge of the driveway drops away fairly steeply to the dirt road, below. That cliff is apparently perfect for a giant groundhog’s tunnels. That beast dug up and ate the roots of all the Asiatic lilies we planted, nipped off newly-sprouted sunflower and broccoli plants, and routinely strolled through the garden at sunset, checking out new growth. I didn’t want to shoot the thing, on the theory that it was here, first. We spread dog hair around the garden, sprinkled plants with baby powder, and set a radio tuned to a “talk” station right outside the hole—nothing worked. So we encouraged Charlie to chase it at every opportunity, hoping that it would look for a quieter neighbourhood.
One summer afternoon, the boys raced into the house, yelling that Charlie was in trouble. Bob (the boys’ Dad) and I went outside, and the boys said that Charlie had chased the groundhog right into its hole, and got stuck. Bob and I slid down the steep incline, until we were even with the groundhog’s entrance. It was a really big hole, straight into the hillside underneath some rocks. Bob bent over and took a look, then he looked at me and shook his head. I told the boys to move away, go back toward the house, so if that groundhog came out at us they wouldn’t be in harm’s way. What Bob had seen was Charlie’s back legs and body, lying still. That huge groundhog was on top of his head and chest, smothering him. Bob reached in and grabbed hold of Charlie’s leg, and dragged him out. The groundhog stayed in the hole, and Charlie was lying still. Bob smacked him on the ribs a couple of times, and Charlie sat up, shook his head, and wobbled out of there. We blocked up that hole, knowing that the groundhog would have another way out. We couldn’t take a chance on Charlie going back in there.
The second time the boys saved Charlie’s life was during the very next winter. On a cold December Sunday, when Max and Robert were nine and ten years old, we decided to explore the back roads. Of course, Charlie went along for the drive. The boys wanted to check out a beaver dam, so we stopped at the edge of the swamp. While I stayed in the jeep, listening to a football game on the radio, the boys took Charlie and walked up to the beaver dam. They were picking their way across it when Charlie decided to try out the ice. The water at that point was about five feet deep. Max told it this way:
“I heard crackling, and then the ice gave way and Charlie went down into the water. I yelled to Robert to run to the jeep and get Grampa, and I tried to spot Charlie. It seemed like forever, and then I could see him, but he didn’t come back up in the hole. He was stuck under the ice. I was really scared. I thought he was going to drown. I couldn’t go out on the ice, it wouldn’t hold me. I looked around, and saw a long branch on the ground. It was really heavy, but I dragged it over and swung it over the ice where Charlie was. I dropped it down, and it broke through the ice. Then I had to move it around and get the end of it under Charlie, and I used it to lift him out of the water. I dragged him over to the side, and he was just lying there. Grampa and Robert came running over, and I was crying because I thought Charlie was dead. Then all of a sudden he coughed and puked and then he stood up and he was ok. We brought him home and wrapped him up in a blanket and he went to sleep on the couch. Grampa told me I was a hero.”