My summer of 1972 was spent in northern Québec. In the fall I picked up CF-YWY in Thunder Bay for a moose hunt. It was going to be held at a fly-in hunt camp on St. Ignace Island, west of Rossport. Orville Wieben of Superior Airways had gotten his moose in a row and had obtained a somewhat lengthy approval from the Ministry of Natural Resources for the 14-day hunt.
Wieben’s hunt on St. Ignace Island had been advertised as a helicopter moose hunt. It had been sold to wealthy American hunters at sports shows south of the border. Canadians need not apply. The majority of the hunters who showed up were from Detroit and Chicago. They had paid big bucks to be flown by fixed-wing out to the island and the main hunt camp. Set up around the hunt camp were a number of blinds to accommodate the hunting parties. Each of the blinds had a landing pad for the helicopter.
In the morning I would fly the parties out to the blinds. Later in the day, around noon or 1 p.m. I’d fly a high circuit to check on the sites. If a hunter had acquired a moose, he would put out a flag to let me know, and I would land, load up the cargo racks and then fly back to the base camp, making however many trips were needed. Late in the afternoon I returned to the blinds to retrieve the hunters and anything they might have shot in the p.m.
I saw plenty of moose on those airborne trips back and forth to the blinds, but whether the hunters were sleeping or not paying attention, I have no idea. In some cases there was the occasional moose right next to a blind, just waiting to be taken, but I never said a word. Nor did I point out any of the animals. The hunters had paid all that money, and they sat comfortably in a blind, never leaving, waiting for something to cross in front of them. I couldn’t believe it.
The local press was playing up the fact that the hunt was being done by helicopter. Although we had a game warden come on-site several times, as is typical of the press, no one bothered to print the facts. Rumours of massive moose kills from the air circulated freely in the local towns. Fortunately, I was on an island. I think if I wasn’t I’d have been shot down by the locals and burned at the moose stake.
Rumours ran rampant that we had been shooting moose like ducks in a barrel, entirely inconsistent with the actual results of the hunt. At the conclusion of it all, after 14 days, among 47 hunters, seven moose were bagged and tagged. None had been shot from the air. That didn’t stop local speculation in Nipigon, Rossport and Thunder Bay concerning the legality of the hunt, however.
In 1998 roughly 15 per cent of St. Ignace Island was consumed by a forest fire that was allowed to burn unchecked.
The toll helicopter flying took on relationships was horrendous back then, and it probably still is to this day. I managed to get to a phone once while I was on this job, so of course I called my girlfriend. I was pretty serious about our relationship, and thought perhaps that I might like to eventually settle down with her. That wasn’t to be when she told me during that call that she had had enough and was going her separate way.
I always thought she made the right decision.
The fall months in Canada outside of the major metropolitan areas can be considered to be prime hunting season. Waterfowl and four-footed animals make up the bulk of what hunters go in search of when things are going well. From time to time, a case of mistaken identity will occur and someone will get shot.
That’s what happened in the fall of 1972 near Minnitaki in northwestern Ontario. I got a call around noon that someone in a hunting party had been injured by friendly fire. I made arrangements with one of the clinics to provide a doctor, and we flew out to the site, retrieved the man and flew him to the local hospital. I later learned that he would be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.
I’ve not been a fan of hunting since then, although I did target shoot for many years.