Hide dried first by stretching on the circular inside of teepee-thus drying by the heat of the fire alight on the ground in the centre of the interior ; skin then rubbed with brain (or soap) and worked clean of all flesh, fat, etc. ; a little water is applied during process of rubbing, but skin never allowed to become very-moist. Inside skin soft and flexible when finished, and the outside hairs, untouched.
Caribou-hide is best (thickest) in spring, and no good in mid-winter (being then thin). The hair, apparently, feeds on, and derives nutriment from the skin, for when the hair is long in winter the skin is thin, and in the spring when the hair is new and short, the skin is thick and at its best.
Before leaving this subject I will endeavour to tell of a few experiences of photographing Caribou : experiences that were not very successful, because of the action of intense cold on the focal-plane shutter, but which give considerable detail of Caribou habits and winter hunting.
It was with old Philip Merasty, a halfbreed, and Eaglefoot, a Chipewyan, that I made my most determined attempt to photograph Caribou; and the last attempt I made, since cold and unsuitable apparatus completely baulked me from further effort.
Philip, without knowing it, was, like many an Indian, an unread wilderness naturalist. The clouds, the water, the fish, the land-the forests, the birds, the animals-all in his country he had studied for a lifetime, and, at ripe old age, he was full of wisdom of the wild. He had watched me skin and label specimens, watched my manoeuvres to take wild-life photographs, watched my making pencil sketches; and in time had proved himself a staunch confederate in assisting my researches.
Eaglefoot, perhaps, had equal knowledge, but he was silent, almost, as the snow. Half a dozen words with Philip in the morning would decide a day's plans, and half a dozen sentences over the camp-fire at night record all the day had accomplished. But he was a splendid hunter and traveller, and a hard worker if there was work to do.
Neither of those Indians had ever seen a camera before they saw this one of mine, and to allow them to look through the view-finder or focusing screen afforded them great astonishment and delight, when they beheld the miniature pictures in the glass. It seemed to them witchcraft. They expressed the same excited astonishment in looking through field-glasses.
With those two Indians, and food, sleeping bags, and two dog-trains, we one day set out from my cabin to travel and camp on Caribou ground. And the days that followed I here record from the simple pages of my diary-written at the glowing log-fire o' nights, where comfort was before one, and cruel, hungry cold a yard beyond the camp circle. . . .
Philip and Eaglefoot outside my cabin at daylight (8 o'clock). I joined them in a moment, and we sped merrily away in a northerly direction over well-packed lake surface : the dogs fresh, and the sled-bells tinkling cheerfully.
Soon after starting Philip looked gravely into the even-toned, grey sky and prophesied that wind would rise, while to me the sky in that phase was unreadable. In a few hours wind did rise- keen north wind.
On the trail outward Philip looked at his trap line ; traps set for Fox, Marten, and Mink, but none contained quarry. I came on a few Spruce Grouse, while halted, and while Philip was examining a Fox set, I, to Eaglefoot's astonishment, shot one with my catapult. He had never seen my " noiseless gun" before, and picked up the dead bird to examine it and reassure himself that I really had struck it to death.
Proceeding we travelled north up a long inlet bay to the north-east of Fort Du Brochet, thence over one long portage, and then through four small lakes and on to a big irregularly shaped lake named Sand Lake.
At first fire the sled-bells were removed from the dog-harness, for they are never used when serious hunting begins; obviously because of the sound.
Soon after first fire (three hours out-the first rest for dogs, and fire for a drink of hot tea), on entering Sand Lake, twelve Caribou were sighted, but they were, a moment later, disturbed by an Indian, who appeared ahead and gave chase. Before long, however, they doubled back towards our party, and Philip shot once without effect. When nearing the end of the north bay of this lake, about forty Caribou were sighted. At once the dogs were run into forest ambush, and we waited in hiding for the oncoming animals. Ultimately I succeeded in making four exposures of a few of those Caribou, but the main herd went away north-east. When there was no longer prospect of obtaining further photographs of this lot, Philip and Eaglefoot fired on them at long range, but neither brought any down. A little later a young buck, which had become separated from the main herd, came back past us, and this I shot for the night's dog-feed.
At the narrows between Sand Lake and the nameless lake beyond it, Philip and Eaglefoot chose a base camp, and the sleds were run into cover on a well-timbered low point of land. We were in good Caribou country, and it was intended to spend some time here and prepare unobtrusively to influence the direction of Caribou travel, so that they might come to pass before the camera.
Our procedure was this: to cut from the forest on the shores armfuls of spruce boughs and lay them, at widely spaced intervals, on the white lake surface of the upper lake to form a thin boundary line. This fence was laid after the tracks on the forested shores had been examined, and the wind considered, and Philip and Eaglefoot had decided that Caribou would possibly come from the west on the morrow. Where Caribou were expected to come on to the lake from the forest a few boughs were placed very close to shore, so that when our quarry stepped on to the lake the strange objects would not be observed until the animals looked back or tried to return by the path they had come. As will be seen shortly, Caribou will not pass near any suspicious-looking object. Along both shores the fence was carried out, making short cuts across the bays ; and after the shores were laid the slim enclosure was completed by running a line of boughs from shore to shore across the centre of the lake.