Still, Le Roi de l'Anticosti was bored. So in one sweeping stroke he imported 100 pairs of whitetail deer, not to mention elk, moose, caribou, black bear, fox, beaver, rabbit, mink, otter and a musk ox. This last-mentioned individual wandered off into the brush and has not checked in since. The elk and caribou did not take hold (nor did 100 reindeer which were introduced later by the Canadian government). But all the others thrived, and the deer began a population explosion that still goes on. There now are about 50,000 deer on Anticosti and, despite the fact that each year some 2,000 are killed either for meat or sport, the herd continues to increase. There has never been a year, according to island game officials, when the normal winter loss of deer has not far exceeded the numbers killed by humans in the fall. Charlie McCormick, chief warden for Anticosti, says: "Every deer hunter who has ever come to Anticosti has filled his bag. There are no exceptions." It is possible that the last person who failed to fill his limit was old man Menier himself.
Part of the reason for this superfluity of deer is the fact that they have no natural enemies on Anticosti. Dogs are not permitted on the island and never have been. Black bear and red fox have been known to kill deer, but in such small numbers as to have no discernible effect on the herd. The only functioning predator, then, is man, and he is restricted to 7% of the island, serviced by 1,400 miles of logging road. The remaining 3,000-odd square miles are a sort of natural refuge for wildlife.
To be sure, mere numbers of deer do not guarantee good deer hunting. The sportsman does not want to act out his primordial hunting drive in a place where the deer go in the tank in an early round and thus take all the fun out of the hunt. Since man is their only real enemy, Anticosti deer have learned to concentrate their attention, at least during the season, on avoiding any contact with Homo sapiens. Hunters are advised to have a fast-handling gun and a good scope, since the 100- or 150-yard shot is the average during the season. But the main difference between Anticosti hunting and most deer hunting is that the hunter will get a plethora of shots at fine specimens. A day's hunting in season will turn up glimpses of 50 or 60 deer. The hunter soon finds himself seeking out prize animals instead of simply trying to butcher an animal, any animal. And beyond all these considerations, there is a delight in being on Anticosti, just in being there, because of the nature of the place.
Anticosti, in prehistoric times, was under water. Marine organisms, falling in layers atop each other, formed the limestone base. The waters receded and the island was exposed. On the highest parts of the island one still finds sea-shell fossils. A plant took hold and began laying down a footing for other plants, and one day a tree seed wafted over from the mainland and found enough nourishment to sprout, and in turn laid down its own humus, until the Anticosti of today was formed: a broad base of limestone of various ages topped by a thin layer of humus soil supporting mosses, lichens, sedge grass, thistle grass, ferns and trees, many of which meet an early end because they topple in the loose footing during the wild winters, when winds up to 115 mph blow across the island. One result of such a growth pattern is a tough, springy soil, entwined with roots and thick moss carpets, a soil that seems to push back as one walks on it. (Anticosti deer, like all whitetail deer, move in short steps and big leaps, but because of the unusual soil the Anticosti whitetails seem to jump record distances. Such records must be marked with an asterisk.) This sort of soil is spongelike; Anticosti always seems wet, and it takes 23 rivers and innumerable streams to drain the island. The soil is also dark and rich, so rich that it imparts a yellowish-red tint to some of the rivers, and dandelions grow five feet tall. Thistles and daisies stand as high as men, and trees like balsam, white and black spruce, birch, poplar and tamarack grow in profusion. Quebec's Consolidated Paper Corporation Limited, which bought the island from the Menier heirs for a paltry $6 million in 1925, cuts the island's wood for its mills on the mainland and has made about as much dent in the forests as the hunters have made in the deer herds. Indeed, the deer probably are harder on the tree farming than the paper company is. Each spring, when the snow is still down and the supply of browse gets short, the deer nibble the life out of sprouting balsams and chew away the tender tops of other young trees.
The present-day Roi de l'Anticosti is a young French-Canadian named Louis Letourneau, who runs the island for the paper company with a velvet hand. L�tourneau's favorite winter sport finds him patrolling the snowfields in his snowmobile, looking for the biggest buck he can find. The animal sighted, Letourneau gives chase and with a blood-curdling cry jumps from the snowmobile onto the back of the terrified buck. And then what does this savage man do? "I geeve 'eem a pat and let 'eem go," says L�tourneau.
Consolidated's lumberjacks fell the trees far back in the woods, and truck drivers load the wood and drive it pell-mell to Port Menier, where it is dumped into the bay for transshipment by boat. Then the truck drivers jump into their big camions and roar back to the camp for more wood. They are paid by the cord-mile, and they laugh at the signs all along the dirt roads which announce: Vitesse Maximum: 40 Milles. The result is that quite a few deer are hit and killed, and then a new cycle of nature begins. The first to arrive at the course are the ravens, clucking and chattering among themselves as they rip slivers of meat out of the dead animal. Then come the foxes: red, silver and cross foxes, digging in at the deer's soft hindquarters and eating their way right up through the entrails and actually disappearing into the inside of the body. Side by side, ravens and foxes, usually the unfriendliest of creatures, enjoy the feast. Once in a while a bald eagle will drop in (but it is more its style to grab small salmon out of the rivers with its talons, fly them to prodigious heights and drop them on rocks, swooping down to reclaim the meal and gorge for hours). When the ravens and the foxes are sated, they stumble off and leave the crumbs for the Canada jays, popularly known as whisky jacks, who have been policing the area for years. The whole process, from the death of the deer to the last morsel for the last whisky jack, takes about eight hours, and then nothing is left of the deer but bones.
There are other animals. A polar bear has been killed on Anticosti. It dropped in on an ice floe and didn't live to tell the tale. Beavers leave their calling cards in the form of thin circles of bark gnawed from around small trees, and you can tell exactly where their domicile is located in the dam by looking for the puffs of vapor flitting in revealing regularity through a tiny vent into the cold air. Muskrats paddle around nervously, and an occasional imperious mink is seen. Birds are all over; an entry in the logbook of one hunting camp reports the sighting of 51 species, including the ptarmigan, and another entry says succinctly: "Saw one Arctic three-toed woodpecker. Female. V. busy." There are black ducks, Canada geese, teal, plover, herons, fishhawks, kingfishers, crows, owls, and loons that come in three delicious sizes: small, medium and large. "I do not underston eet," says Guide Georges Noel. "The small loon, he still make as many noise as the big one." The biggest of the three loons is an ocean bird; it dives on herring and tomcod by trade, and, loonlike, it stays underwater until you are just about to notify the next of kin. Then it pops up, fat and noisy, riding slightly lower in the water.
Some hunters come to Anticosti, see sights like these and never take a shot. Or they get so absorbed in nature study that when a deer comes along they forget everything they ever knew, like the one who took 17 quick shots at a deer last year, missed with them all and then happily went back to his compulsion of the moment, which was the study of the mushrooms proliferating on the island. It is the opinion of such observers as Guide Noel and Chief Warden McCormick that a sort of temporary insanity frequently comes over the most rational of men when they reach Anticosti, its huge herds of deer and its unexpected wonders. McCormick remembers a hunter who shot a deer, dressed it out and then left it overnight while he dashed off looking for a second deer to fill his bag. When he returned in the morning he found a pile of bones and a belching whisky jack. "Another time a hunter saw three big bucks banging their horns together in a mating fight," says McCormick. "He fired a shot and all three of them went down. He must have hit them right in the horns. So he started going toward them, and one by one they got up and ran off. The hunter stood there without firing a shot, he was so dumfounded." Frequently an Anticosti hunter will see a deer rack pop up in the tall grass, whereupon he will fire a shot and see the deer duck down out of sight. A few seconds later the rack will come up again, and the hunter will shoot again. Then he will walk to the spot and find he has killed two bucks. Such things happen because it is a rare deer hunter who can accustom himself to the idea that he is ever going to see more than one nice rack in any one day (and in some parts of the U.S., in any one season).
The ultimate experience in Through the Looking Glass hunting is the beach stalk (as re-created on the cover), an Anticosti specialty of the house. The best time to begin a beach stalk is about an hour before sundown, when the deer grow bolder. They start to appear along the shoreline and feed on the scrub growth just behind the beach. Now and then one will walk to the water's edge for a helping of kelp. "The deer, he cannot take pills," explains Edmond Dresden, head warden of the Ste. Marie River Camp, "so he eat the seaweed for the vitamins." Theoretically, it should be easy to get a clear shot at a deer on the Anticosti beach, but I didn't find it so. In the first place, the beach is itself a distraction of formidable proportions. It is made up, at the shoreline, of tiny pebbles of limestone, rounded and smoothed by the sea and growing progressively larger as you back away from the water's edge until they are fist-size. Everywhere there is driftwood, from tiny bits and pieces up to whole trees, and all of them polished like the rock in exactly the same cool shade of gray as the limestone. Here is a wrecked dory, done up in the same color; and here is an almost new lobster pot full of kelp; a life preserver still inflated; a green bottle bearing the words " Bacardi Brasil"; and another bottle with a cap that says "Dujardin"; there is the jawbone of a deer, with the teeth intact and sharp; the jaw of a shark; and a larger bone from a whale. Down the beach, terns and plovers are poking at the kelp wrack, and still farther away foxes are scavenging for mussels and tomcod washed up by the tides. My guide and I are walking along the shoreline, our boots slopping through the littoral, when a sea serpent snorts and blows and quickly vanishes below the surface. It is a gray seal, known on Anticosti as the horse-head because it has an elongated head and a body six to nine feet long and weighs up to 800 pounds. There is no limit on the horsehead, because it feeds heavily on salmon, but it does not reappear. Instead, a deer comes into sight 300 yards down the beach. It is a big buck with 10 or 12 points, and it does not see us. "O.K., monsieur," the guide says. But I have hesitated for just a second; the deer's white tail flicks straight up in the classical danger signal, as visible at a distance as a heliograph message from the U.S.S. Forrestal, and then the big animal plunges into a stand of small spruce trees so thick that there doesn't seem to be room for a field mouse. Now we are moving after him and back into the forest, along a rutted path, past uprooted stumps, denuded birch trees, miniature evergreens a foot tall, stands of Christmas trees, larger trees snapped in half by the winter winds, stacks of dead brush, through berry bushes and thorns; across an old tote road with a yellowing cardboard sign advising: Attention au Feu, and on and on stalking the flickering tail of a deer. And suddenly it is evening, and everything has become edges. We come into a clearing, and the guide gestures me to a stop. "There he is, there!" he whispers. A hundred yards away, squarely behind a tree, is the buck. Its face is hidden; its horns are visible on either side of the trunk. Therefore it cannot see us, but neither can we shoot it. There is nothing to hit but rack. And so we stand, and so it stands, and it is almost dark, and finally I click the safety back on the gun and whistle as loudly as I can. Instantly the horns disappear; there is a glimmer of movement, and then that white tail slices the air in a vanishing arc, and the deer is gone in the shadows.
"Monsieur!" says the guide. "Why do you do that?" But he is smiling as he talks. He has been around, and he knows why I did that. Sometimes a man is a raging killer, and sometimes a man knows ultimate grandeur when it smacks him in the face.