Shotglasses

The cabin is also refuge to shot glasses from all around the world.  We have a traditional camp song which we chant on special occasions (toasts, birthdays, weddings, hunts or the fact that it’s Tuesday are all special occasions for us).

We have a very strict policy that hunting and drinking are never to be combined – once the guns are put away shot glasses (and liquids to pour inside them) appear from all corners of the globe.  We have drank elixirs from the middle east, potions from South America, tonics from Easter Europe and mysterious drinks from places yet to be named.  I’m not sure where it all comes from – but it all goes into these glasses and none are immune (though portions may be moderated for the faint of heart!)

Shotglasses October

Shotglasses October

As a bonus to today’s post is the following shot (it is not Southern nor is it in any way comforting):

The small contents remaining in that bottle are enough to twist the brim of 6 or 8 peoples hats.  It is a form of bathtub moonshine that we trade for in the middle of the forest with an other camp.  Trade of commodities such as this are somewhat commonplace – homemade moonshine, maple syrup and commercial sweets are not uncommon.  Our neighbours are our friends and we share tradition (and libation) with them commonly.

I love plates and dishes at cottages

Is there anything better than a hodgepodge of plates in a cottage?

I love plates and dishes at cottages October

I love plates and dishes at cottages October

I love the apparent random collections of plates that fill a cabin.  What appears to be a series of random glassware is often anything but.  We have plates that are collected from years of potlucks, drop-ins, forgotten leave behinds and good will donations from visitors and members of our cabin.

Many of the plates in our cabin have been around for it’s entire history – which reminds me of the infamous winter of 1969 and my father’s first visit to the cabin that spring (I was born 4 years later).

The drive to the cabin was very different in the 1960s and 1970s.  The road was tricky (at best) and could take up to 5 hours to travel about 10 kilometres from pavement.  The drive was conducted by tractor, jeep or land rover and included a scary drive up steep incline which also functioned as a torrent creek.  Getting to the cabin in the winter was not an option.

A quick drive to the cabin in the mid spring revealed disaster – a heavy load of snow had caused the roof to collapse.  All four walls were laying on the ground and the roof was on the floor of the cabin.  A series of phone calls made there way to my father who was part of the rebuilding crew who stayed in tents and raised the roof again.

The remarkable part of this story is that none of the windows (or plates) were broken.  It was as if a giant had lifted the roof, gently rested each wall on the ground and placed the roof on the floor.  A single pane of glass was broken (in a cabinet if I recall correctly).  A large sliding door, all windows and some of these plates survived.

The reality of the story is fascinating, if not remarkable.  The massive amount of snow which crippled the roof was the same thing that saved the glass – when the walls gave way they were stopped from crashing to the ground by massive snow banks which slowly placed the roof n the floor as they melted over weeks.  It would make for stunning time-lapse photography!

We posted a similar post recently on coffee cups – see that here.

Update on Shaeffer

Today marks the last day of mouse hunting in our region of Southern Ontario.  Posts will return to normal shortly.  J

We brought our puppy home at the start of September – a 10 pound Hungarian Viszla.  His name is Shaffer and he’s been a lot of fun (and a lot of work!).  There are no regrets and we can’t imagine our lives without him these days.

Vizsla’s are Hungarian Bird Hunting Dogs.  There are reports of them hunting moose and deer as well – for now he’s simply happy being a puppy and we are thrilled with that.  I would rather have an awesome companion dog who is a poor hunter than a marginal companion and great hunter.  While hunting is important to us, it’s a relatively small part of our lives.

Shaffer came to visit the cabin for his first time on Thanksgiving weekend.  He’s fun to have in our every day lives and seems to really enjoy us – being at the cabin was a new level of fun for this little dude.  We could be much more carefree with him at the cabin and he followed us until he couldn’t and then sprinted for his bed at the food of the fireplace.

We thought we’d share a few pics of his growth and will share periodic updates as he learns to become a hunter.  If he doesn’t, we’ll save his progress for Facebook and be just as happy!  For now, he looks like an eager woodsman – already excited to smell a moose print or point at birds in the park.

The following pics are a series from his first visit to Shaeffers pond (he is named after the pond, not the other way around).

Update on Shaeffer October

Update on Shaeffer October

We found hail on the way back to the cabin – he wasn`t as excited:

And less we leave it on a sad note, he did later come back out and find a stick:

Hallowe’en is coming….

A quick post for a rainy friday! It’s officially a week before Hallowe’en eve! What are you wearing? Where are you going? Does sending your kids out into the neighbourhood for candy freak you out (hey, most of us survived it, i know!). If it does, or if you’re just looking for something DIFFERENT to do this year…our friends at Kawartha Ecological Growers are having a whole day/evening/into the night of Hallowe’en activities at Grassroot Organics’ Farm! It’s a great opportunity for the kids (and adults!) to spend the day at a working farm…participate in all kinds of activities and chow down on some great local food prepared by talented people. [Read more...]

Country Roads – preserving tradition and geography

This post was written more than a week before it appears on the site.  It is posting on a Friday and by the time it is read our hunting fortunes will largely be written for the year 2009.  If we are hunting today, it’s getting desperate and the mood is diminishing.

Some of the men will have had to return to their families and our numbers are dwindling.  We’re, in part, missing home (but won’t admit it to each other) and wondering if we are coming home on Saturday or Sunday.  If no animals are down, we will hunt to the bitter end this year.

There’s also a small glimmer of doubt in your mind as to what you hope for.  Coming home empty handed is disappointing – harvesting an animal at the last minute of the last day is a whole lot of work with less people than is actually ideal.  It’s a tough day and one that can end with an empty feeling – months of work with little to show for it.

I recently mentioned that a successful run was seeing animals – and this stays true.  It will be every bit a great week regardless of what fills our freezers.  There is however something bigger that tugs at my ears – eating naturally harvested meat over potentially genetically modified and industrialized food is something that feels more and more necessary to me.  I eat far less meat than I used to but am very hopeful to provide and have an alternative for the coming months.

Hunting hard on a Friday is not a tradition that excites most of our members!

Having said that, I thought today’s post could reflect on an element related to hunting (and thus the food of my family) that fascinates many who come to visit our land during non-hunting months – the roads of our forefathers.

Our cabin sits on 200 acres and is nestled on the border of two townships (Bethune and Lake of Bays).  We are 15 kilometres from pavement and access the cabin by pickup truck or ATV.  Most of the roads have been selectively logged (i.e. not clear cut) over the last several years and the managed forest has helped much of the local wildlife.  Imagine the buffet of leaves, shoots and nuts that are left behind for bears, moose and deer when a tree is selectively harvested!  Fallen trees also provide obstacles that the long legs of moose and deer can avoid while slowing down their predators (including us humans).

Logging is not new to our area – signs exist of more than 100 years of historical logging in our forests.  Just last year we found an old piece of a harness that would be used by horses to haul logs through the woods.  I have met and still know men who harvested the forest using horses before the automation of mechanical monsters.

If you walk our forest with an open eye and a calm focus, you will find logging roads in a variety of ages and stages.  Some of these roads date back to the history of logging in the area and you can imagine the horses pulling stubborn timbers through the cold of winter with loggers working in conditions we can’t possibly imagine.

This is “Wolf Road”:

Country Roads   preserving tradition and geography October

Country Roads   preserving tradition and geography October

Wolf Road was an abandoned logging trail when the founders of our camp began hunting it in the 1960s.  It has not been logged since the 1940s or 50s (at the latest) and is a trail that I have known my entire life – I have early memories from the late 1970s of this road.

We named it Wolf Road as it was the location of the first animal killed at our camp (wolf hunting was legal back then).  It is a winding path that crosses our land before turning through a set of hardwoods on Crown (Government) Land.

The road is more than a kilometre from end-to-end.  There are parts that you could cross without knowing that you are on a road at all.  You can see a hundred yards in some places while being able to see 15-20 feet in others.

My father and many of the “elders” of our camp know 10s (if not, hundreds) of roads like this.  Most don’t have names and most are walked by 0-3 people per year.  It amazes me to hear my Dad and other woodsmen discuss a long solo journey through t he depths of the woods.  It goes something like this:

See anything?

Everything I looked at.  You?

Some fresh sign – looked like a young bull.  I followed her west along the upper timber trail before he lost me in the dirty swamp down there.

The big one or the small one?

Right between the two.

You mean near the big oak standing by itself?

No, closer to the little set of birch trees.

Oh.

There are a tonne of these landmarks that are passed from story-to-story, man to man.  Barry’s Bay.  Shaffer’s Pond.  Water by the Old Mans Home.  Jacklin’s Field.  The Murray Bush.  All of these are made up names that are shared by our small community.  The Raft Creek Camp (which is not actually on Raft Creek).  The Princess Bridge (which is not actually a bridge).  The Frenchmens (which never had a French person in it).  Ponderosa.  The Flat Rock.  The other flat rock.  They all form part of our heritage and come directly from the tales of our forefathers and mothers.  Some of these places have been seen by less than 100 people in 100 years.

I remember walking through the woods about 5 years ago.  I was 2 or 3 kilometres away from the nearest human and at least that far from the nearest road.  I was stunned when I happened on an ancient foundation of a long ago house.  It looked like a square wall made of stones – about 8 feet by 10 feet, complete with door way.  It had been reduced to rubble and was far removed from any noticeable trail or road.  It was however, clear, that this was a forgotten home to someone.

I scampered to my Father and our friend Darryl (also a veteran woodsman).  I mentioned what I had found.  They both smiled wryly – both knew that it was there and instantly knew where I had been.

I remember feeling like I had joined some kind of club – only I hadn’t.  After all, Darryl and Paul could bring you back to that spot, I can only try to remember.

Well Preserved is about food – it is also about preserving the things that form our connections with it.  I often wonder what would happen if we stopped hunting.  Would these places be remembered?  Would the names we attach disappear into the ethos?  Would this part of history be simply forgotten?  Would they be replaced by names that other camps associated with them?

For today, I hope you enjoy some of the pictures of Wolf Road – it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

It`s a bird…a plane… No! It`s a moose!

We evaluate a successful hunting session (known as a “run”) by a criteria that many may be surprised at.  It’s a simple quantitative measure and is the response to a single question.

“What did you see?”

An unsuccessful hunt always has the same answer – a game we’ve played for as long as I remember.  The answer is, “Everything I looked at.”  It’s the answer you hear after most hunts – and the question you ask of all 13 guys when you meet up again.  It’s a repeated pattern and a game you lose if you forget and simply answer, “Nothing.”

Eager hunters will often answer the question with what they heard as opposed to what they saw – I suppose substituting one sense for another has to count for something.  “Saw nothing but I heard a few promising cracks over that way…”  Hunting is for eternal optimists – 14 men working together for weeks for an end goal that happens in seconds.

A successful hunt, for us, is someone seeing an animal.  Shooting is a distant second place.  We saw more than 20 deer during moose hunting last year and had a single peak at a moose.  We saw many moose 2 weeks later in deer season and didn’t see a deer.  We can’t control what’s in there – working together to accurately predict where an animal might be and getting to see it in nature is a moment of great enjoyment.

I accept that it’s difficult for many to accept that Hunters actually respect (and many adore or love) the animals they chase.  Some will never accept that this can be true – and perhaps they are correct.  I am not the authority on the subject – merely an eye witness.  I don’t imagine that the pig farmer looks at his or her piglets and dreams of their demise.  Same with the meat farmer.  Same with many of the hunters I know.  The moment of harvest is bittersweet and offers a debt of guilt to it’s perpetrator.

The amount of guilt/ reflection taken on by each is different individual by individual but it is rarely a light moment of unconsciousness.  It is a moment that makes me very conscious of what I consume, what I waste and of the greater impact I have on the world around me.

We were at the cabin during Canadian Thanksgiving when we went for a ride on the ATVs.  My Parents rode on a bike ahead of us, Dana, Shaffer (the puppy) and I were behind.  I noticed my Dad’s machine lurch to a quick stop when I rounded a corner.  He jumped off motioning into the woods.  I scanned the woods with open sockets until I found the apple of his eye and here she stood:

It`s a bird...a plane... No!  It`s a moose! October

It`s a bird...a plane... No!  It`s a moose! October

This is a young adult female moose (called a “cow).  She is 1.5–2 years old (approximate) and is now on her own.  She was on the road when my Father turned a bend – she quickly trotted into the forest until she considered herself to be a safe distance from him.  She watched us for a few minutes (while not entirely uncommon, this is not a frequent behavior either) before darting into the woods.  We stood, excited, happy, smiling.  It was thrilling to have Dana and my Mother there to experience it with us.  It was a great moment and was great to watch her trot away (almost silently) into the woods behind.

Shaffer also got into the act.  We walked him over to her tracks – the freshest moose tracks he’d ever seen.  He was beside himself with excitement – smelling, digging and licking at the tracks.  It’s amazing how the instinct of a 12-week old puppy can kick in like this.

Do I wish it had been hunting season?  In part, yes.  But that’s not the overwhelming emotion.  I don’t see a moose as an enemy or soulless product to consume.  The prevalent feeling is one of excitement to interact with nature and to have seen her in her environment.  It’s a feeling that reminds me of going to a fall fair or farm in grade school and seeing cows, pigs and chicks for the first time.

The goal of hunting is, in part, to provide sustenance for myself and my family in a way that I can morally justify.  That’s not the entire goal though and it’s easy to overlook that, even as a hunter.

Signs of whitetail deer near Algonquin Park

We’ve written about moose, bear and wolves – time to give a shout out to one of the fleet-footed friends of the forest – the whitetail deer.

Deer are shy and fast.  The occasional rebel struts proudly past a human – many will dart back and forth and run as fast as you see them.  I recall tracking the signs of a deer as it ran from our hound dog.  Our dog had hopelessly lost the trail of the deer when it navigated towards a fallen tree which formed a 12-15 foot high wall in the forest.  The deer had cleared the height in a  single bound – the dog had been trailing it’s smell and lost the trail at the tree.  By the time we got there, it had long escaped (a feat I admire to this day).

Signs of whitetail deer near Algonquin Park October

I can recall at least 3 separate hunts in 20 years where I have sat for 2+ hours thinking there were no animals nearby before giving up and walking away.  As I moved out of position and away from my watch, a deer bounded up and out of sight in moments.  If you get too close they will sit and wait you out until you are a safe distance away for the deer to make a bolt for it.  I imagine this distance is largely gauged based on the distance an animal running could cover but it has happened to often to discount.

Whitetail deer are proud and light in the woods.  I picture them as the Princes and Princesses of the forest palace.

Signs of whitetail deer near Algonquin Park October

Their tracks are similar to moose – however they are daintier and more reflective of their 150-250 pound frame.  Like moose, the “pointy end” of the track indicates the direction that they are going.

A small track can be 1-2 inches while a large track can be 2.5-3 inches long.  Tracks become exaggerated in soft ground (mud can make a regular track look goliath) while they can leave little-to-no sign on hard and frozen ground.

Friend or Foe – a complex relationship when hunting WITH wolves

There are at least 1 type of wolf in our forests and rumors of others coming.  We are fortunate to be graced by the rare Algonquin red wolf (there are less than 200 estimated to exist in the wild) and, depending on who you listen to, also have sightings of grey wolves.

Nature is confusing things for us in recent years as Coywolves have appeared in southern Ontario (they have roots in Algonquin to the 1920s though are becoming more frequent across the region in recent years).  A Coywolf is a bizarre crossbreed of wolf and coyote – bizarre as wolves are natural predators of the coyote.  The animals have the strength of the wolf and the lack of shyness of a coyote.  There is a lot of unknowns around coywolves and what impact they will have on us and the ecosystems in which they live.

We occasionally see sign of wolves and, when fortunate, they have been known to serenade the entire cabin to sleep (though one has to listen carefully through the rhythm of 13 other snoring men to hear them).

It was only 4 or 5 years ago when we found signs of an entire pack of wolves at the end of our driveway (about 500 yards from where we slept).  The road had been covered in tire tracks from ATVs and trucks when we went to bed – the dawn revealed a patch where all signs of human existence had been trampled by the curious feet of a pack of wolves.  Here’s a track I recently found – it appeared the wolf was tracking a small deer who left a trail in front of it:

As a hunter, a wolf offers an odd paradox.  We compete with each other while largely leaving one another alone – on the surface.  Our relationship runs much deeper than surface however – and it not one that is entirely antagonistic.

Friend or Foe   a complex relationship when hunting WITH wolves October

The most obvious relationship is that one’s success can hinder that of the other – simple explanations like this rarely resolve the complexity that nature offers us.

When we are fortunate to cull an animal in the wild, we “field dress” it.  Field dressing is similar to what you do with a fish that you catch for consumption, often referred to as “cleaning a fish.”  Remnants remain at the spot of the harvest after we leave.  It is not uncommon for all of those remains to be the feast of a pack of wolves in the following 12 hours.

There is a deeper relationship that is difficult for some to accept and I am not a scientist that can prove the claims that I write about below – I accept them as fact because of the evidence (personal observation and in Ministry researched) that the moose population in our area grew consistently for the last 30 years overall – a winter tick infestation in moose in the late 1990s and reports of brainworm in deer and possibly moose have altered that growth pattern and hunting limits are being adjusted to compensate.

I’ll attempt my fairest description of what I believe to be fact and encourage each of you to do your own research and make decisions for yourselves (J).

Let us start with an analogy.  We mentioned that a local vineyard culled up to 30% of its grapes in order to ensure the remaining could be sustained and reach maximum health.  A forest has limited food for each of it’s residents.  In the case of moose and deer, height becomes a factor.  Young animals simply cannot reach as high as adults who eat at all heights.

Hunting limits are set to cull the population to a size of reasonable growth or sustainability (as defined by the ministry).  The theory is the same as the grapes – by culling some of the herd, the health of the remaining will be promoted and encouraged.

Friend or Foe   a complex relationship when hunting WITH wolves October

Responsible hunting is intended, in theory, to keep growth rates in check.  This, when done correctly, has a trickle down effect to the wolves.  If the forest had a swelling of young (possibly weak) moose, wolves would have a buffet-in-the-making.  This could create an abundance of wolves which could lead to problems downstream – i.e. too many wolves and not enough food.  The moose population could then swell until the pendulum came back the other way – this instability could cause the forest greater chaos.

I believe, with all of my heart, that hunting brings stability to the food supply of the wolf and our shared ecosystem.

I am not an expert nor am I trying to convert/ brainwash anyone into this.  There are arguments on all sides of this explosive topic.  I am hoping that these posts are read with an open mind and respectful eye – I do not want to turn this place into an environment of argument and debate but also want to share what I see as very important parts of what we do with others.

Lunch fit for a king (or a hunter)

Monday morning – by the time you read this we will have likely been moving for hours.  The alarm will ring around 4.30AM (way too early to be practical but the energy of the camp will propel the early setting).

There will be coffee and maybe an odd snack.  Focus is sugar, caffeine, warmth and getting ready.  Hunting opens 30 minutes before sunrise and we will be in position long before that.  We want to ensure our best chance of success and that includes getting to where we want to get to before others get there.  We will likely start on crown land and make our way back to our private land later in the week – it is a strategic decision that essentially reserves our land and gives us first access elsewhere.  This is common practice amongst camps which own their own land.

We will huddle onto All Terrain Vehicles (also known as ATVs or 4-wheelers) and head into the darkened morning.  It is typically below freezing and occasionally simply frigid.  Rain, hail or heavy snow are all possible as well.

Each Hunter is assigned a spot and sits there until it is legal to load their rifle and the hunt begins.  The beginning of the hunting season is one of the most anti-climactic moments of the year.  I will quietly load my gun and then resume sitting.  And sitting.  And sitting.

Moose hear and smell very well.  They also can spot movement fairly easily.  This means that hunting is mostly sitting as still as you possibly can without moving, lighting a fire or making noise.  When a twig breaks you must slowly turn your head and avoid any movement that can startle an incoming visitor.

The silent sitting lasts anywhere from 2-4+ hours.  It’s easy at first and becomes more and more difficult with the passage of time.  There are two reasons for this:

    • Lowered Consciousness.  Falling asleep is a cardinal sin.
    • Heightened Consciousness.  Have you ever stared at the sky for a long time at night?  The longer you stare, the more stars you see.  Sitting and listening has a similar cadence – at first there seems to be little interesting to hear.  With time and patience, things become stunningly loud.  A chipmunk sounds like a freight train and a freight train 10 miles away is an invasive neighbour (my return to civilization is often jarring for several days).

A few designated walkers (aptly named “doggers”) walk through the woods after the first 60-90 minutes.  When they complete their walk, the run is over.  It’s not uncommon for us to then face the other direction and repeat the entire process with the doggers coming from a different direction after sitting for an additional 60-90 minutes.

We head to camp midday (depending on the amount of runs this is between 11:00 and 1:00).  Animals don’t tend to move a lot during the day so this is a time for some camp chores and an amazing breakfast for 14:

We’ll feature our cooking setup in a later post but imagine cooking a meal for 14 men who have been outside without food for up to 8 hours!  Miss Manners would gasp if she could see us descend on our meals.

I am not a big fan of breakfast (an exquisite irony for a guy that makes 15-20 batches of jam per year).  I would rather have spaghetti or a cheeseburger at 7:00am instead of an omelette.  When it comes to the hunt, I make a dramatic exception.  I will eat 2-3 dozen of fried eggs, toast, bacon and more through this week.  Breakfast is one of two meals a day that we get in the woods and not something to skimp out on!

Lunch fit for a king (or a hunter) wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting October

After breakfast we are back at it – off into the woods for a hunt that will end around 4:00 or 5:00.  Those who are brave (and warm) will stay out until dark and the cycle will repeat itself until we have success or run out of season to hunt.

What are your favourite breakfast meals to set you up for a long day ahead?

Tracking moose – an introduction to reading the signs

The final day before the hunt – Sunday is a day of recovery from a Saturday party and a day of final preparation and tracking for the start of hunting tomorrow morning.

It’s a day steeped with quiet traditions which appear random from the outside but have been carved from years of tradition.  There is also a slightly nervous anticipation behind the day which is constantly present.  This tension will be higher than normal this year as 12 days of hunting last year ended with nothing for the freezer.

Pork hocks will simmer on the stove, a football game will serenade those interested, others will sight in their rifles and beer will be gently coaxed into waiting throats.  Today is not a party – 4:30 in the morning will come early tomorrow.  There will be a small camp meeting once all members arrive and we will sing our traditional song with a toast to the coming season and to the hunters no longer with us (our departed friends now outnumber those participating).

Many will head into the woods in pairs to look for recent sign.  My parents (and others) have been monitoring the sign of moose for more than a month but this is the day we bear down and cram for the coming week.

Examine the photos below, what can you learn from them?:

Tracking moose   an introduction to reading the signs October

Tracking moose   an introduction to reading the signs October

The freshest is on the bottom – the oldest on the top.  Rain has dated the sign you see at the top (which is anywhere from 3-10 days old) while it has not tainted the bottom tracks (which are a few hours old at the most).  The top one is also deer sign as opposed to Moose (a trick question).

The freshest tracks are easy to spot.  Examine the trail you leave behind in the dirt some time and you’ll learn how to track fairly efficiently.  Freshness is typically indicated by the clear presence of little pieces of dirt resting in the foot print.  These are pieces which fell in place as the foot moved to its next position and have not blown away or been absorbed by moisture into the print.

Tracking is easiest after a light snowfall.  The white carpet makes seeing trails very easy and guarantees freshness.  Truly gifted hunters will see fresh sign and track an animal for a day (or even longer) to it’s resting place – ours is a different system referred to as group hunting that relies on team, knowledge of the animals and working together over individual skill.

Moose live in a relatively small area (I have heard estimated of 3-10 square kilometers) and frequently follow a pattern of moving within that area.  The ability to recognize fresh sign grants us clues to try and predict future movement though is not a guarantee.

Moose have fairly bad eyesight and strong senses of hearing and smell that give them advantages in surviving predators (including humans).  We need to see an animal to harvest it and it’s natural abilities give it a head start in avoiding being seen.

Moose and deer will also swim or walk through creeks to lose wolves or dogs who track primarily based on scent.  This can also be an effective strategy for us humans who avoid swimming in the cold that is Canada in late October and early November.