This is our 5th year of writing about hunting; if you’re new to our posts on the subject, here’s a few things you should know. 1) There will be no gory photos (if we change this decision in the future you will have ample warning before scrolling to see them). 2) We eat everything we hunt; in years that our cabin doesn’t kill animals, we eat far less meat (and already live on a meat-reduced diet). 3) If you’re looking for the basics of where to start or how I’ve decided to do this (even after years of living as a near-vegetarian), my article An Introduction To Hunting in Ontario (Moose, Deer and Birds; Confessions of a one-time “Vegetarian” is a great place to start. 4) This series will run through Friday. You can find this years series here.
Friday, October 18th
I’m back! It’s been three or four years since I’ve arrived for moose hunting on the Friday night instead of Saturday afternoon. Recent years have kept me away until the Saturday because of annual work event. The agenda changed this year so I got to come into camp on Friday instead of Saturday.
And I’m so happy!
Arriving Friday night means I am greeted by all the retired guys (who head into camp on Wednesday or Thursday). It’s the calm before the storm; a chance to absorb the woods and get some quality time in before the chaos of a full camp takes over. This year is bound to be less chaotic; like many of the hunt camps in Ontario, our members are getting older and the nights are getting quieter. At 40 years old, I’m still one of the ‘young guys.’
I’ve hunted with most of these guys (on and off) for 25 years. I’ve spent more than 7 months combined time with them – 7 months away from their kids (unless they hunt with us too) and spouses. I don’t speak to most of them a lot through the year but they are close friends – men you great with a burley hug and that leave you with a bit of an empty spot when they leave you.
Being a hunter means that I have friends – close friends – who are in a very different age range than I am. Some of my close friends are more than twice my age (which wasn’t so unusual at 20 but becomes mathematically challenging as I continue to accumulate birthdays). The unusual pace of friendship (10 remote days locked into a cabin together and then months of not talking), makes the savage effects of time really easy to see. Without going into details that the guys would feel uncomfortable with, several are struggling with major illness, many can’t physically do what they used to and some have been sidelined due to injuries (including a fully dislocated ankle) that didn’t seem to happen when we were all younger.One of the camps not far from us has lost 50% (2 of 4) of it’s hunters this year as their members endure life-altering (at best) surgeries during or just before the hunt. The two guys are friends of mine; I only found out about one of them after arriving at camp. He’s relatively young (in his 60s), is a man I’ve known for more than 20 years, consider a good friend and it looks like I’ll never see him again.
Hunting is often confused as being a synonym for killing. Killing is a part of hunting, but it’s a small part of why I do it. The very real bonds and life lessons, such as coping with age and being slapped with the mortality of my friends (and myself) are far more compelling reasons that draw me to the forest. I suppose a golf trip might due the same but there’s something about the isolation, trusting one another with our lives (which you must if you’re going to enter the woods together with loaded firearms), the activity and result (we attempt to nurture each others family with our harvest) that make these guys my second family.
My friend Aaron is joining us for his first year. He was a friend of a friend who we would have met without WellPreserved but our site accelerated the process. New guys come as guests (often attending a work weekend or deer hunt before moose hunting) and get to know they guys and decide if they want to join our camp. They are put on a waiting list and if they decide to join, the members will vote on accepting them (or not). There’s no ‘real’ criteria other than a ‘no asshole’ rule and a few people have failed to make the grade in the past.
Aaron is the first friend I’ve brought as a guest. I wasn’t prepared to feel pressure but feel a small amount of discomfort and hope that he has a good week and enjoys the guys – and vice versa.
I recently traded my truck keys for a set of car keys. This is the first year, in as long as I can remember, that I wasn’t able to drive the entire way into camp. Dana dropped me off at work at 6:00AM (so she could keep the car) and Aaron picked me up at 5:00. We took out time and ended up in Huntsville before 8:00PM. We did a few errands and drove to the edge of the forest by 9:00. Aaron parked his mini-van at a friends house and started to load his ATV for the trip into camp as I walked into the woods where Dad had left his 4-wheeler for me to drive in.
Our cabin is about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) down a logging road from where we left the van. We loaded up all the gear we could, left the rest of it in the locked van and steered our bikes into the dark forest.
Less than 2 kilometers into the drive I noticed a black animal running towards me. I remember being briefly scared before rationalizing that it would surely turn away from the bike and then being intensely scared as the black blur continued to charge my open vehicle. It’s moments like these that your brain isn’t fully functioning; I had no idea what kind of monster was charging me until it’s second or third bark. I realized that a logger (who was working in the dark) had brought his dog into the forest and was able to harmlessly accelerate past the ‘monster’ with a nervous laugh.
When we hit the two-thirds mark of our drive in, I pulled to the side. The moon was nearly full and there was a beautiful view of a moon-lit swamp/ lake and Aaron and I had a beer and drank the stars and the sky into every pore of our beings. It was a fantastic moment and one that has been repeated by many f the hunters for decades – this spot is a special place that many of us stop to enjoy on our way into camp.
We arrived at camp around 10:00PM. All of the guys had waited up for us and we shared a few beer with them as we unpacked. Most of the guys went to bed by midnight and I was surprised to be sitting at the table after 2:30 in the morning when the stragglers decided it was time to kill the generator and head to bed.
Saturday, October 19th
I woke up late. The guys let me sleep in past 11:00AM – a rare privilege up here and one that comes with a price; the guys will tease you mercilessly for being lazy – especially if you are one of ‘the young guys.’
Aaron and I hooked the trailer to one of the ATVs and drove back to his mini-van to pick up the rest of our gear. We bundled it all in a tarp as the road was wet and muddy and the day is threatening rain. The drive out was like driving through a cloud – it wasn’t wet enough to consider it raining but your gear was soaked in minutes. Thankfully it’s not terribly cold so the drive was tolerable.
The guys had breakfast before deciding on having a social day. Four of us went to visit a neighboring camp (called “The Ponderosa”) and catch up with the guys over there. It was fun to take Aaron and show him the lay of the land. Ponderosa is about 5 kilometers through tough forest trail from our cabin and has been there for as long as I’ve been coming to our camp (Spikehorn).
The weather didn’t get any better but I decided to drive to yet another neighbor (“Raft Creek”). Their cabin is about 4 or 5 kilometers from our camp as well – but in the other direction. We drove past camp as we headed to Raft Creek.
Part way to Raft Creek, our ATVs caught up to a slow pickup truck meandering up the main road. It pulled over to let us pass and I stopped at the drivers window. I realized that the truck belonged to one of the ‘guys from Raft’ and caught up with two of them for 10 minutes (in the rain). The biggest news was an update on our mutual friend (and their hunter) who was in the Hospital in Sudbury. He’s 61 and the news isn’t good. He’s on life support and can’t survive without it. It’s really tough news to process; it wasn’t expected and happened within the last week.
Standing the rain lost it’s allure so we jumped on our bikes and sped ahead of them, agreeing to meet them at their camp.
We had a good visit at Raft Creek before leaving their camp (with the gift of a small bottle of homemade moonshine) and heading back to ours. That drive would be the coldest I’d be all week – by the time I arrived at camp I needed to huddle near the stove and hang my wet clothes to dry.
Two more hunters arrived later in the day and I went to bed early (before 10:ooPM) to catch up on the deficit of sleep I’d created the evening before.
Sunday, October 20th
As bitter, cold and wet as it was yesterday, it’s sunny today. This is fall in Ontario and that means that you can experience any of the other 3 seasons on any day (and sometimes multiple seasons in the same day). It felt like late summer on Sunday.
There wasn’t a lot of work to be done at camp today. Several guys checked the cameras (they take pictures in the forest when there’s movement to see what animals are around) and practiced shooting while Dad and I went to visit a few other camps further down the road. Despite hunting two weeks a year at the cabin he owns, my Father is a member of another camp and also hunts one-week a year with them. We went to visit their camp, confirm the plans for their hunt and get caught up in general. I don’t know they guys down there as well as Dad does so it was a great opportunity to do so.
Once the visiting was over, I camped in front of the television. I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore (especially up there) but the Sunday before Moose Hunting begins is a lovely time to quietly enjoy a few beer and whatever sporting event (mostly football) is on the tube. As the games drew on I’d get small tasks done (including sharpening knives, choosing gear for the start of the hunt and roasting two pork roasts for dinner). The Sunday before hunt always seems to be a delightfully slow day that gracefully drags on until it’s time to head to bed. It’s almost like a National Holiday and it’s a day I value greatly.
The pork roasts were fantastic! I had brined them for 24 hours in the following solution:
- 4 cups water
- 0.25 cup salt
- 20-30 pepppercorns
- 1 tablespoon garlic salt
I seared them before roasting at 375 and pulled them from the oven at 375. They were juicy and perfectly cooked.
We also had our annual safety and signals meeting. We talk about lots of things, including:
- Our safety policies (which are fiercely strict)
- Review of what tags/ licenses we have
- Review of radio protocol/ signals/ stations
- Assignment of teams (which determine tasks)
- Payment of outstanding fees
- Official camp opening (traditionally in the form of a shooter).
As an added bonus, Ian presented me with kefir grains to ferment milk and offered to show me how to ferment it through the week. I’m looking forward to trying it out!
The night ended around 10:00PM as I snuck off to bed. The alarm was set for 5:00AM (or earlier) and there would be no sleeping in allowed tomorrow!