The smell. Man I loved that smell.
When I was small, my dad left for deer hunting for 2 weeks in November. It was a long trip at the time and 2 weeks made it all worthwhile. When he returned, I remember him coming into my bedroom to tell me he was home. The thing I vividly recall most to this day, is that smell. His clothes smelled of wood smoke and bacon and the musty smell of the woods. I am sure I could smell that scent long before he walked in my room.
Dad was home. I could smell him!
My father loved to hunt. He loved the outdoors, the woods, the wonder of nature. He was a natural woodsman and wanted nothing more than for me to love it as much as he did. I tried to love it, I really did. But it wasn’t really my thing. I would have much preferred to play baseball, hockey, soccer – anything that provided instant gratification and a release for my energy.
In 1955 – coincidentally the year I was born – he and several like minded friends managed to secure a 100 year government lease on hundreds of acres not far from Port Loring and within walking distance of Big Caribou Lake.
On the property sat an old logging cabin, about 3 miles into the dense bush. I’m certain that the word rustic originated from that cabin. About 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, it housed 2 three quarter wide bunk beds stacked on top of one another, on each side of the back of the cabin. Each bunk bed slept 2 people – 8 in total – you better like your bed partner!! Snoring was a feature, not a bug.
There was a pathway between the the beds leading to the back door, which in turn led to a double hole outhouse behind the cabin. I never really understood the concept of a double holer. Why in gawd’s name would 2 people want to sit beside each other and take a dump???
There was no running water and no electricity. A wash basin sat on a shelf near the front of the cabin, surrounded by a curtain which could be pulled to provide privacy for your once a week cleansing. A wood stove took up residence in the middle of the cabin to keep things warm and an old red and green car seat sat at the side of the stove, near the single window.
A makeshift fridge was build out from the side of the cabin across from the car seat, covered in white styrofoam to keep contents as chilly as possible. The cold air from the outside chilled the fridge. There was a trap door under the table to put apples and other supplies where the porcupines could not access.
The pine slab table was about 8 feet long with benches running along it’s length on each side. Propane lanterns provided the only light and a wood fired cooking stove and hot plate provided the only source for cooking. Water was carried in by bucket for cooking, from a stream that ran nearby. The entire cabin was covered in tin – including the roof.
From time to time, other nearby camps would gather together for a mid week shindig, complete with banjos and guitars, singing and of course laughs and story telling. The Preston Camp and the Minchell camp would make the trek through the woods in the dark of night to share in the festivities.
Early on, when the weather was much different than today, all the gear was moved down the lake and through the woods via horse and sled. It was said that 3 inches of blue ice, could sustain a horse and wagon. Later, during my time we moved gear from the Ess Narrows to the Preston Camp by steel boat and transferred the gear to a “red river cart”, for the 3 mile trek into the woods, through swamps and beaver ponds to the camp beckoning us to return.
At the mid point of the hunt, the camp members would walk out on a Saturday night to attend the “hunters ball” in Arnstein – no doubt as much for an opportunity to get cleaned up and experience civilization briefly before another week of hunting.
On breaking camp after the hunt, windows were boarded up to keep bears out and makeshift poles were shoved firmly between the ceiling joists and the floor, to keep the roof from caving in under heavy snow load. We had to prop up a set of bedsprings against the outhouse to keep the porcupines from chewing the wood during the absence.
It was where you went to forget about the comforts of home.
It was under these conditions that I first hunted with my dad in 1972. I was 17 and dad desperately tried to put me in the best spots to have a deer wander out to me, so I could make my first kill. 13 years later, I had yet to see a deer in the wild. I was bored out of my mind. No hydro, no tv, no internet back then. Cards – we played cards. Euchre and storytelling were the primary entertainment, enhanced from time to time by the odd cocktail.
Unlike me, dad was a master deer hunter. He shot over 35 deer over the years. He always wore a wool, red and black plaid coat in the bush. He seemed to be the pied piper of deer hunters. It felt like a foregone conclusion that he would see a deer every time he went out. A deadly accurate shot and an eye and ear tuned keenly to nature was his calling card. He loved to go out on his own around dusk and call in the wolves, just to hear them howl. Sometimes, he would wake us in the middle of the night and say “listen boys. Hear the wolves? Isn’t that the most beautiful sound”?
The cast of characters changed over the years from mostly men my dads age, to a smattering of younger blood with new ideas and different interests. But the outcome never changed for me. From 1972 to 1992, I never saw a deer, let alone take a shot.
I think he was disappointed that I didn’t have the “deer hunting gene” that he did. But I valued the time spent with him, doing something he was passionate about. To this day I find myself telling my sons about their grandfather’s hunting prowess and share his hunting tips that were seemingly lost on me.
I tried to loved it. I really did.
When I teamed up with the Ranger Bay Boys that all changed.