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 with Rob Miskosky

Hunting Camps

We watched him work his way slowly towards us. He’d turned out from where an old but meticulously clean hunting camp sat and he was now about to greet us. We were enjoying a sandwich on the tailgate of my truck, parked just a short distance in on an old cutline that may have once been a road.

“You are from the regulation,” he said to me with a deep, possibly Austrian accent upon his arrival.

“You are Moshky, from the regulation,” he reaffirmed, more to himself than to me.

I shot a quick glance at my son Dakota. He smiled at me, finding humour in the new pronunciation of our last name.

“Miskosky,” I said to the elderly gent standing before us.

He had a .22 slung over his shoulder and he carried a walking stick. He also wore a small backpack.

“No, Moshky,” he said.

And then recognizing his error he said, “How you say it?”

“Miss-caw-skee,” I said slowly. Fame certainly hadn’t caught up to me yet.

We started in on conversation and I soon learned he was from Edmonton. He had been traveling to this location north of Calling Lake “every weekend for more than twenty years” with the same destination in mind each time—the hunting camp just up the trail.

Built in 1989, it was little more than a well-planned shelter beside what he said was at one time a gravel pit that was now filled with water. A small dock just a few feet from the camp and a crude raft allowed for a swim during the summer in the pit’s clear water. He was hunting grouse and collecting mushrooms, something that interested me but obviously he was much more observant than I was—he picked some meadow mushrooms from right under my feet as we stood there.

Later, after he had pointed us in the direction of his treestand, he invited us into his camp, a camp he was quite proud of. He had a couple grouse and a big pot full of freshly picked and cleaned Aspen bolete mushrooms and a boiling pot of tea. We learned his name was Zach and he showed us around his camp explaining this and that. He was proud of his setup, and rightly so, it was a good one.

Our encounter with Zach got me thinking about hunting camps and how hunters are so proud of their setups. It reminded me of my favourite camp, long ago vanished due to the efforts of logging.

“The Shack”, as it was known, was built sometime around the summer of 1991. It was little more than a thought that turned out to be an adventure and then a book full of great memories. At the time I was a pipefitter working in a fabrication facility who couldn’t wait for weekends to get in the bush. I had convinced my apprentice, Joe Bilodeau, to help me in building the “Shack”. Not that it was really a shack, there were no plywood walls, just insulated tarps draped over a roughly hewn 12-foot by 16-foot frame made up of deadfall. Joe and I worked hard for a couple of days building the Shack’s frame, kicking up a dirt floor and draping over the tarps. The tarps were removable but for one reason or another they were never taken down—the Shack, in essence, was little more than a wall tent with insulated tarping.

In time the Shack earned a wood stove, a table and chairs, a kitchen counter and four bunks built from forest materials. The first wood stove that went into the shack was much too large. The insulated tarps held their heat well and the Shack was uncomfortably hot. That stove was soon retired and a smaller air-tight went in that helped but the Shack could never be considered a cold place.

R.J. at the “Shack” the morning after the heavy snowfall that left us walking out.
However, I do remember waking one late October morning in a shiver. The previous night the Shack had been its typical warm self but that morning it was unusually cold. Myself and then hunting partner, Rod Mason, affectionately known as “RJ”, pushed open the tarp door to a winter wonderland. Throughout the night the temperature had dropped dramatically and nearly two feet of snow had fallen, stranding us at the Shack.

Back then our means of transportation was a couple of 185cc Honda trikes that didn’t do well in deep snow. RJ, who my dad referred to as the Absentminded Professor, tried to build a front ski for one of the trikes in order to get us out. After repeated failure we decided we had little choice but to walk out the several long miles to where the truck was parked. With a deer hung in camp and no way to get it out, we deboned the animal and packed it neatly in a cooler, secured the top and made the trek out.

Later that winter my dad and I snowshoed in to the Shack in extremely cold conditions to retrieve the left behind deer. With the thermometer pushing -30 we donned backpacks and pulled a sled behind us and made it to the Shack in snow so deep that when one of us would tangle up in our snowshoes and fall over, we would completely vanish from sight.

We made it though, got the little air-tight fired up and soon were basking in the warmth of the Shack. Later that night, we suddenly woke to a loud crash! Jumping out of our bunks in startled confusion in the dark, we soon realized the roof had caved in on us. The heat inside the Shack had caused the snow on the roof to start melting. And the weight of the melting snow on the roof was too much for the deadfall rafters that held the heavy tarps. We propped up the roof as best we could and spent the rest of the night sleeping with one eye open. The next day we hauled out the deer.

The last known photo of the “Shack” before she was left for good in the middle of a cutblock.

Over the years the Shack provided me and those who hunted from it with many fond memories that will never be forgotten. I often pull out my old photo album and relive some of the adventures—there were so many I could write a book about the Shack and the people who hunted there because it truly was a wondrous place.

But as always good things come to an end. RJ, who spent more time at the Shack than anybody recently passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease at a mere 47-years of age. RJ never shot an animal at the Shack because for him the Shack was a place to enjoy life; hunting was merely an activity that accompanied it.

The Shack has also passed on.

For one reason or another she was left standing by the loggers who removed the forest that stood around her for so many years. I’m sure she would be little more than a pile of rubble today, but the memories she provided will last for many years to come.

There are many moments during a hunting season that leave us with great memories of the particular hunt we were on—from sharing stories around a warm campfire to cajoling with our hunting partners, hunting always leaves us wanting more. But the hunting camp is where stories are born, adventure takes place, and memories are made. ■

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