MONTEBELLO, QC, Jul 1, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Too late I realize that I should have gone fishing or toured the on-site fish hatchery. Or maybe gone bear watching, nature hiking, canoeing.
Anything but aiming this Browning 20-calibre rifle, a couple of grand’s worth of firepower, at biodegradable clay pigeons.
The last time I held a firearm was at the height of the Cold War, when being an army cadet was mandatory high school activity. The result of today’s outing turns out pretty much as one might expect under the circumstances. Not pretty. Not pretty at all.
In 90 minutes I hit nary a target.
Fortunately, I’m under expert supervision at Kenauk Nature, awilderness resort that seems big enough, safe enough, for even the most erraticof marksmen. This vast property, four times the size of Manhattan, lies splendidly isolated in the rolling Laurentian foothills half-way between Montreal and Ottawa.
Established as a seignory by French king Louis XIV in 1674, the preserve became part of a private club in the 1930s. Members included royalty, prime ministers and business tycoons. Their mission included conservation.
Today, Kenauk remains 65,000 secluded acres of boreal forest, dotted with 60 lakes, 13 cottages sleeping anywhere from two to 18 guests, and all manner of wildlife: moose and mink, beavers and grouse, endangered Cerulean warblers.
A third of the staff just happens to be biologists or other wildlife specialists, including general manager Bill Nowell, who’s been here three decades.
“Since the 1930s,” he says, “the global long-term vision of this place has been conservation. We have virtually all the species we had 300 years ago. Three hundred years from now, we’ll still have them, hopefully. Sustainability is now maybe a buzz word, but as far back as the 1930s it was what people here believed in.”
That mission remains intact sinceKenaukwas sold last December to a consortium that includes a U.S. timber company, four local families and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Although Kenauk no longer flies the Fairmont flag, as it once did, guests continue to have reciprocal rights with Fairmont’s luxe Chateau Montebello just down the road.
All that is moot, of course, as I try hitting these elusive clay pigeons – which, if truth be told, look more like orange Frisbees than any bird.
Fortunately my guide, Michel Touchette, is a patient man. He needs to be. Up to four-fifths of the folks he guides through the course are novices. Women are often better than men, he says. “The men think they know it all. The women pay attention.” (Youth, who’ve grown up with video games, are also quick learners, he adds.)
I may be a man, but I pay close attention, starting with an introductory briefing inside a cabin built for a movie set – it was Ernest Hemingway’s Wisconsin writing cabin for the 1996 movie Love and War. Given Hemingway’s image as a sportsman, this seems appropriate.
Touchette tells me how to handle the firearm safely and how to aim. “It’s not like a handgun, not like firing at a fixed bullseye,” he says. “You have to follow a moving target along the barrel, keep moving the gun, and fire while you’re still moving it. Don’t stop tracking the target.”
Easier said than done. Out on the course I hit nothing during my tour of the nine stations thoughtfully spread out in the woods. When I get to a station called Springing Teal, I figure my failure is understandable. Springing, I think, can’t mean easy. But when I miss three attempts at the “Rabbit in Slow Motion,” I’m ready to quit. Slow motion, indeed.
But I admit it was fun, and that’s the point, Nowell says. About 80 per cent of first timers come back to the course, he says. “And people who’ve gone to a lot of courses tell us this one is very beautiful, very natural. They like that it’s in the woods, in the wild.”
The sporting clays experience is family friendly, he says. They’ll take kids as young as 13, with adult accompaniment. It’s perfect for serious hunters, too, who want to hone rusty skills right before hunting season.
Which, as it turns out, guests can also do at Kenauk. Packages allow for hunting white-tailed deer or moose, with populations carefully monitored. Guides know the area and can help with either stalking or shooting from stable blinds. There’s even refrigerated storage – useful for those whose shooting prowess is better than mine.
Fishing is also popular. Several lakes are stocked with rainbow, brook and lake trout from Kenauk’s own fish hatchery, which produces up to a half-million fingerlings a year. There are bass and pike, too. Guests can keep their catch from some bodies of water, catch-and-release at others, practice fly-fishing in others still. And Kenauk is one of only a handful of Canadian lodges endorsed for fishing by Orvis, the high-end sporting goods retailer and educator.
Other activities include Land Rover off-road driving courses, which give both novices and seasoned drivers an adrenaline rush as they plow along backcountry trails littered with obstacles; guided bear-watching, in search of rare strains of black bear that are actually reddish-brown or blond; or golfing in a rolling forest setting, on a course designed in 1929 by legendary Stanley Thompson.
And when it comes time to sleep, you’ll be disturbed by nothing more than the rustle of the trees for the chalets, made and furnished of timber from the land itself, are kilometers from each other, tucked beside their own lakes, and accommodating families large and small. They’re off the electrical grid – but with propane and solar power, they’re equipped with the comforts of home.
All the better to dream of the clay pigeon that got away.
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