By Floyd Spracklin
Special to The Labradorian
LABRADOR — We know that between 1100 and 1400 AD the Thule, ancestors of the present-day Labrador Inuit, began arriving in Labrador where they still ply their traditional ways of subsistence living.
We also know that goose hunting has a 2,000 plus year-old history with its North American roots in the southwestern Indigenous people. When settlers from the Old World began arriving in the new one in the 1600s, it really took flight.
In late fall and before winter freeze-up, Labrador Canada Geese and other migratory birds leave for the northern and southern USA and even to Mexico where food is more readily available in a friendlier snow and ice free-environment.
This year the geese began trickling into the Hopedale area as early as late April to early May to signal the arrival of another spring. The geese are back to re-start their reproduction cycle, raise and train their young goslings, and once again migrate south as another certain winter returns later this year.
Decoys to lure geese to an unsuspecting hunter were originally made of cattails, or bulrushes as we know them in Canada. By the 1800s, the already established immigrants had begun using wood to carve migratory bird shapes. Because of its softness and ease of access, the wood of choice was pine, but whatever it was had to be durable enough to last through several seasons of unpredictable weather conditions.
In the 21st century, decoys are now available in all sorts of standing, resting, feeding, challenging, or floating positions to lure the birds into a false sense of security. Present day decoys are much more light-weight than their wooden ancestors. They vary from plastic, polyethylene, and polymer to rubber blends of real-life decoys. Other fancier ones are the long lasting and lighter weight, folding, collapsible as well as goose Tyvek flags which in moderate winds imitate geese landing in a safe zone.
Essence of culture
The Inuit of Labrador have lived for thousands of years at one with their surroundings. They have moved all the way from stone and bone to the modern-day technology of guns and snowmobiles. However, hunting and harvesting remain the very essence of their culture.
For all Indigenous people, store-bought food is more expensive and less nutritious than the all-natural bounty of the land and sea. The Inuit have been able to maintain a natural balance by harvesting only what they need and what reliable Mother Nature can withstand and replace in a natural balance. In other words, one kilogram per day per Inuk will not cause any upset.
A prime example of such activity is the annual egging or collecting of duck, goose, and gull eggs. Once eggs have been removed from the nests, the female quickly replaces the missing ones. Eric Abel of Hopedale says his first time egging was probably when he was in diapers.
“Everyone who enjoys going-off takes the entire family. That’s just the way it is,” Abel proudly says. “You gotta love being out on The Land and just seeing all the wildlife.”
Way of life
Hunting isn’t prosecuted for the sport of it. It is a way of life. Young hunters learn from their elders. They see it as a way of maintaining a mental and physical state of well-being and a way of preserving tradition. The Inuit usually hunt with family or friends, so to be invited on a hunt means you are counted as a friend.
When LIA Beneficiary Ross Flowers isn’t making igloos, wooding (cutting firewood), ice-fishing, setting a salmon/char net, moose hunting, carving stone, seal hunting, feeding and running his team of huskies, and crafting Inuit drums, in his spare time at spring, you will find him goose hunting. May month is designated as migratory bird hunting season for Labrador Inuit Lands Claims beneficiaries.
During this time up to and including the end of the month, the Nunatsiavut Government recommends for conservation reasons that beneficiaries only harvest four Canada Geese and eight freshwater ducks/divers. Hunters are reminded these suggested limits are in keeping with the fact that this is the migrating and mating season.
Robert Ruark (1915-1965), American writer and columnist, in his book, “The Old Man and the Boy” wrote, “The old man used to say that the best part of hunting and fishing was the thinking about going and the talking about it after you got back.”
There’s probably a lot of truth in this for the Inuit hunters as stories are a big part of their culture.
Somewhere many kilometers south of Hopedale, Ross Flowers sets up to wait. The sixty-three-year-old has been goose hunting or waiting for 45 years. His first time was with his father. His wife, Lise, or a friend or two sometimes join him for company.
Flowers’s more memorable stories of goose hunting are the ones that have some measure of success to them.
“Patience pays off,” he says.
Fourteen hours in a cold blind covered in camo cloth, decoys positioned, and often dozing off while waiting for a fly past. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why it’s called hunting and not catching.
Flowers says, “The hardest part of goose hunting for me is the money involved in buying cartridges and gas.” Everything else is relatively easy.
The icing on the cake was getting a fresh goose for Sunday dinner and especially Mother’s Day this year.
“The best way I like it is roasted with homemade stuffing, a bit of salt, and veggies,” he said. “Some good.”
Flowers says some years the going is good and some years it’s harder.
“May month can be tricky,” he noted. “After the middle of the month, the ice can be dangerous. It all depends on the weather.”
In the end, it’s all worth it. Flowers and his wife now turn their hands to their homemade smoker where several char that Lise recently caught through the ice in Nain are being smoked using local blackberry bushes and sods to create their own traditionally smoked Arctic char.
“I never did like those store-bought electric ones,” he said. “They don’t cure the char; they cook it.”
The wooding has been done for the coming fall and winter. Now that goose hunting has finished, Flowers attention is on smoking Arctic char, drum-making, and preparing for the summer and fall fishery out of Mary’s Harbour with his wife and son, Ryan.
And then the cycle of life starts all over, in tune with Nature.