Salt of the Earth
By: Gord Follett
I have no idea who coined the phrase “Salt of the Earth,” a term often used in Newfoundland and Labrador when referring to good, genuine people. But I do have a fairly decent idea who – or at least what type of person – the creator had in mind.
Cliff Doran of Trepassey on Newfoundland’s charming Southern Shore is one of those who truly thrives on helping people, whether they be family, friends or strangers. In fact, it’s not uncommon – a regular occurrence, actually – for the 58-year-old Cape Race lighthouse keeper to invite tourists in for a full-course turkey dinner or whatever else he may have in the oven or on the stove “at the Cape.” If it’s there, it’s yours. Simple as that. (He’s quite the cook as well, by the way.) When he’s home during his month-on-month-off shift, the door to his humble “cabin-type” dwelling is always open “to anybody and everybody.”
In recent years he’s probably best known for his amazing wildlife and scenic photos in and around his beloved hometown. His pictures have graced several covers and “inside” pages of the Sportsman magazine since 2015. Rarely does a day go by between July and October when he doesn’t post a few fresh wildlife shots. A resident of nearby Biscay Bay, Ronnie Ryan, jokingly told me two years ago that the fur on moose around Trepassey “is a bit lighter in colour” than that of animals in other parts of the province.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because of the flash from Cliff’s camera,” he laughed.
It came as no surprise that Cliff, or Clifford, as some call him, politely offered to show me around his particular section of Moose Management Area (MMA) 36 when he learned I had an either-sex licence for the 2018 season. And to say he was instrumental in my success just four days into the hunt would certainly be an understatement.
Although we’ve been social media “friends” for three years and had numerous telephone conversations, I never actually met and shook the man’s hand until a week prior to the season opening, when long-time buddy Sean Kearsey and I embarked on the two-hour jaunt from Mount Pearl to do some scouting, become a little more acquainted with the area and perhaps even get a head start on footage for the Newfoundland Sportsman TV Show that host Dwight Blackwood and I were planning from my hunt.
Just thirty-minutes into that exploration, as we rounded a turn on the “old sod farm road” in St. Shotts, a rather large, healthy-looking six-point bull was stood among a patch of stunted trees and bushes, staring at us from 150 metres. I filmed and Cliff took a few still shots before we moved 50-60 metres closer. The bull remained virtually motionless, and as I crept a little closer, to our complete surprise a cow stood up in front of him. The medium-sized female attempted to move on, but the rutting bull kept trying to corral her, until both trotted off at a steady pace – taking turns chasing one another, it seemed – and disappeared into a wooded area.
The Man himself, Cliff Doran with Gord. All smiles after a successful hunt and an exciting kill.
The very moose Gord shot, mere moments before she met her demise on St. Shott’s Road.
“Now that would be a fine animal and opportunity for me on opening day,” I said to Cliff and Sean.
“Yessir,” Sean added. “That would be a gift, for sure.”
A week later, on “hunting season eve,” as many call it, Dwight, Wilf Lundrigan and I checked into Trepassey’s magnificent Edge of Avalon Inn, where we would relax and lay our heads each night after the day’s hunt, as well as enjoy delicious home-cooked meals on days when our hunting travels didn’t take us too far inland.
The sod farm in St. Shotts, from where we could glass great distances in all directions, would be our destination by daybreak on Day 1. We managed to spot four animals that morning, but none were close enough to consider chambering a round.
Back to “The Edge” we headed lunch hour for a fish ‘n’ chips to rival any other in the province, before hooking up to the trailer and taking our “brand-spanker” Yamaha quads – Dwight’s a 700 Grizzly with a passenger seat for Wilf, and mine a 700 Kodiak – as far as Cliff’s, at what’s known as Shoal Point on the western side of the bay. From there we headed north to a marsh surrounded by hills and trees, an area referred to as “Debbie Poors Ponds,” where countless animals have been harvested over the years.
We would not be adding to that total on this day, however. Despite ideal weather, being on what appeared to be ultimate moose grounds and calling for three hours, nary a sight nor sound of Alces alces did we see or hear.
“You’re welcome to come back to my place for a bite to eat,” Cliff offered.
That “bite to eat” turned out to be an early Thanksgiving turkey dinner, with all the fixins, of course. He was doing this – and much more during the week – strictly as a friend, not as a paid guide or outfitter.
We were also invited to his sister Linda’s home for similar feasts on a couple of occasions during our relatively short stay, while several other residents of St. Shotts and Trepassey, such as Mark Pennell, Roy Finlay and Cliff’s neighbour Dorothy, offered everything from cabins, parking spaces and details on recent moose sightings, to shed parties and lugging.
It truly was one of those excursions where getting our moose was a bonus. It is for this reason – I am so extremely proud to say – that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are known as the most welcoming and generous people on the planet. You can have unlimited riches elsewhere if you like, but I’ll take this rugged land of beauty and its people over material things any day.
Sorry… I tend to get a little carried away and emotional when praising our fine people. This is supposed to be a moose hunting story, after all, so let’s get on with it…
A rough five-kilometre ride near Northwest Trepassey River to Grinder’s Hill was next on the list, with successful hunters we passed along the way reporting seeing 14-15 animals the previous evening.
Although we couldn’t see it, Cliff had a bull responding to his calls and moving from south to east inside the woods in the valley below us early Monday morning. I grabbed my shooting stick and inserted the magazine while Dwight locked the video camera on the tripod. Barely a sound could be heard from either one of us as we waited for the animal to emerge from the final patch of trees. Hearts were pounding in anticipation… until Dwight whispered to get my attention and pointed to the bright sun, which had crept over the hills and was shining directly into the camera.
“I can’t see a friggin’ thing,” he whispered. “Everything (in the viewfinder) is just white.”
Because we try to get as much of our hunt on film as possible, particularly the actual kill, we were left with no choice but to move and hope the bull would follow our calls in another direction – any direction besides the one from which he was coming – but it was not to be. It was just another of many drawbacks to “hunting with a camera” that we’ve experienced over the years.
Although we saw about a dozen moose in the distance during our first three days, including a massive bull with a “high” rack of at least three feet, it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that I finally got to fire at an animal. It was the longest shot I’d ever attempted, and if not for the confidence I gained by “testing” this new Browning rifle a few days earlier, I probably wouldn’t even have considered firing from such a distance. To be completely honest, I was just as surprised as my hunting buddies and onlookers when I fired.
It was a rather cool six degrees with cloudy skies and light winds as we followed Cliff and friend Perry Petley along the road from St. Shotts around 7:45 a.m., after failing to spot an animal in the sod farm area after daybreak.
It is worth noting here that while we “lucked into” ideal weather conditions during the majority of our hunt, this tranquil community is actually listed with Guinness World Records as being the “foggiest.”
A few kilometers from town as we headed for Cape Pine Road, I noticed a vehicle slowly heading towards us, then stop as Cliff’s SUV approached. At first I figured one of the residents just wanted to chat, but then I saw driver George Hewitt point to a pair of cows a couple hundred metres off the pavement. We pulled to the shoulder of the road, as did a number of other vehicles, and Dwight readied the camera and tripod while I got the rifle and shooting stick ready.
All the commotion that we were creating, however, caused the two-year-old animals to bolt across the road into thick woods along a large boggy area.
I believe an expletive or two may have escaped from my lips at this point, while Dwight let loose with a mouthful to match a drunken sailor, after so much effort over the previous three days and then having to watch such a glorious opportunity slip away.
Next thing, Cliff and Perry jumped into his car and headed about 400 metres back towards town. Trusting his judgment, we followed, then exited our vehicle.
“They may come out over there,” Cliff said, pointing towards the far side of the bog near the edge of the treeline.
We paced back and forth along the shoulder of the road for a minute or two until Perry announced, “over there… end of the bog.”
I slipped the magazine back into the magnificent work of craftsmanship I was carrying – also known as a Browning Hells Canyon, .300 Win-Mag – and proceeded down over the embankment onto a piece of hard ground leading to the marsh, readied my shooting stick, then chambered a 180-grain Hornady round.
As I glanced back to get the thumbs-up signal from Dwight that he was recording, I noticed parked vehicles and drivers covering a 100-metre stretch of road.
“Oh good God!” I said to myself. “As if I didn’t already feel enough pressure…”
As I turned back and peered through the Vortex Viper scope, trying to steady the crosshairs on an animal which was not quite broadside and standing some 365 yards away, I quickly shook off the stress by telling myself, “if I miss, I miss; no big deal.”
The first shot struck the animal, but she didn’t go down. Instead, she turned and moved 30-40 feet closer to the trees, then stopped broadside. I fired again; this time a double-lung hit. Just a few seconds later, down she went.
Cheers erupted from the road and there were many handshakes and compliments from the viewing audience when I climbed back up. Dwight seemed particularly delighted, as not only did we have our moose, but we had a great show in the can as well.
“I didn’t think you were gonna shoot from there,” he admitted. “I figured you’d walk part-way across the bog to get a bit closer and then line her up. Dandy shot, buddy! Dandy shot!”
Adrenaline was still running through my body at a fair pace and we were facing the camera doing a “talk piece” about going back to The Edge for our quads when Roy Finlay of St. Shotts, whom we’d never met before, said he’d “be back in a few minutes” with his machine and a trailer “to haul out that moose for ya.”
He proceeded to do not only that, but had the animal paunched and quartered while we were still filming and taking photos.
Will I be applying for the Southern Shore next time I’m due a licence?
All things considered, I think that’s a pretty safe bet.
While most of us believe there are still far too many licences issued – 1,400 – for this area and would like to see additional cutbacks in the coming seasons, I certainly wouldn’t mind having to wait an extra year for an Area 36 set of tags
Shortly after arriving home Thursday afternoon, my wife asked, “so, if you were staying in this lovely, clean hotel that you keep praising, where did you hang and skin your moose?”
In Cliff’s shed, of course.