Maine North Woods Tent Camp: October’s Last Two Weeks
The autumn foliage was disappearing each day as wind and rain took their toll on the leaves and the grasses and underbrush were turning yellow brown. The hardwoods were graying up on the mountain slopes as the leaves vacanted the branches by the minute. With the underbrush thinning, it made for better rabbit spotting vision as they try to sneak by the hunter. Their ears were turning white and their feet are white as they change for the upcoming snow cover.
Partridges were gorging on the clover and green leaves of strawberries. They know that soon all will be buried deep within snow and only the alder buds and yellow birch seeds will be their fare throughout the long winter. The small little fins along their toes are growing larger each day. Soon they will be along each toe making their feet act as snowshoes to support them come this winter.
The tents were nestled snuggly in the secure spot at the base of Big Spencer Mountain. The mountain could be seen clearly as one left the tent with gray hardwoods near the green spruce adding dimension to the scene.
Our second week hunters departed and we were waiting for the third week hunters. Two of them showed later in the afternoon — Larry Marvill and Steve Wilbur from Massachusetts. This will be their second season with us. On Sunday, their third partner, Allen Newell, arrived to join us and this would be his first adventure at the tent. Jeff Ridley and George Faria were supposed to attend but couldn’t make it at the last minute.
Buck McKay, Rusty Carr and Neil would also be us. Of course, yours truly would make up the seventh member of this third week’s hunting group. It seems strange to make meals for such a small group but the meals remained basically on a smaller scale.
Our schedule would consist of birding in the morning on the four-wheelers and pickups and in the afternoon the Beagles would be hunt for snowshoe rabbits. And then later in afternoon more bird hunting would take place until dark. The evening meals were prepared for the hungry hunters when they returned. Birds were plentiful along with many rabbits. Nice, steady runs were enjoyed with enough shooting to satisfy the gunners in the group.
Buck and I hunted in the Kidney Pond area and had quite a bit of success taking partridge. On the way back, we always seem to get a few late graveling partridge which made for great anticipation as we drove along for camp. After supper, some had a “toddy” or two to relax tired bones and then conversations would start discussing the day’s hunts or reliving some events. With the woodstove stoked to capacity, most crawled into sleeping bags with a sigh. The first one asleep misses out on the serenades of the different tones of snoring that tired bodies can emit. As the day ends and the night begins at the camp, an owl can be heard hooting for the ones who remain awake along with distant howls from coyotes on the mountain. Whimpers from the tethered hounds can be heard as they, too, hear the howl of the coyotes. Living in a tent in the forest adds a dimension to the adventure that can be described but is actually best experienced.
One of the highlights of this third week is when the Eagle Beagles arrived from New York. Although they stay in a cabin eight miles away, they visit often throughout the week. These rabbit hunters go by the handles of “the Eagle” Konstantinos Kourisiaris and “Eagle, Jr.” Chris Demos, and Fotios AK 47. They are a hard rabbit and bird hunters who hit the woods early morning and don’t come in until dark. Their appreciation of this North Country shows in their conversations at the tent. The vastness of the area and all the covers they hunt are not taken for granted.
This year one of the Eagle’s 11 year old Beagles didn’t come in after a hunt after running one of those long running hares. Concern for this hound showed in the way they looked for him. When darkness arrived, Eagle, Jr. drove to our camp to inform me of the situation. Knowing how Eagle loved this hound, I made some coffee and food and headed to the area where they had been hunting. I just missed them for they had headed back to camp but not before Eagle had left his hunting coat under a fir tree.
On arrival at his cabin, Eagle was feeling down and he thought the hound had probably died because he didn’t come in after all the calling. Meantime, Eagle Jr. and Chris left the cabin and drove off and later they arrived with the Beagle in tow. He had come back to the blanket.
They visited a veterinarian the next day and tests were performed which showed a weak heart but the old hound would survive but had to be retired. Eagle and his companions were relived to have their faithful companion back in camp. These houndsmen have a loyalty and love for their dogs which makes one proud to be associated with them. The one week that Eagle’s Beagles are here passes too quickly and goodbyes are always a sad departure. These hunters are more than friends — they are my brothers of the Northland.
At the tent, the hunters were enjoying great rabbit hunts and getting quite a number of partridge. Buck McKay reluctantly packed up and headed home saying that one week here was not enough. Next year, he plans for a two week stay. Larry, Steve and Alan also packed up to start the long trip back to Massachusetts. All had a great week living from the tent and hunting in these north woods. Sunday afternoon brought the arrival of Tommy Danko from Rhode Island. He is a longtime friend and hunting companion and veteran of many years at the tent. This week’s occupants would be a very small group: Neil McKay, Tommy, Rusty Carr and myself. My daughter Sue would join us in the latter part of the week. The cooking chores were so small that I felt guilty not having to make large meals but it gave me more hunting time which was great. Warren Carr made a day trip with a companion Carl Bultra and had a pleasant day hunting together with old friends.
Word arrived that we were in for some northwest winds so ropes and stakes were checked and tightened. We had the tents tied down so they looked like a big spider web along their sides. It was suggested we name the tent site “Windy Hollow,” as the first gales started at sundown and progressively blew stronger as nightfall came. I knew what was ahead for the ropes would have to be checked throughout the evening. This is one of the drawbacks of this camping in the wild in a large tent. The gales could be heard coming long before they hit the tent. They were generated with some strong 45 to 50 mile an hour gusts. There would be lulls in between the onslaughts of hammering gusts. It would give a false sense of subsiding then the freight train noise and the flapping of the billowing tent would begin again. We were all veterans of these windy nights as we lay in our bunks. We knew the tent was secured which gave us a comforting feeling. It gives one a sense of satisfaction that we can withstand what nature throws at us for past experiences have prepared us for what all could happen.
Tom, Rusty, Neil and I enjoyed hunting for birds and rabbits with Neil’s hounds. It was a laid back week of pure relaxation doing whatever we wanted. If we wanted to take a nap, go for a hunt or just sit in the kitchen tent drinking coffee, we were able to do so.
Sue arrived with news of a northeast snow storm coming. Sue knew I generally broke camp on the day I planned and was apprehensive if I would wait until Sunday. I surprised her and said, “Sue, we break camp Saturday to beat the storm.” If we were staying for another week, the storm wouldn’t be a problem for we had a good supply of wood and plenty of food. We would have been right at home having experienced these snowstorms before.
Saturday began sunny and bright with a calm before the storm. Breaking camp is quite a chore. The tents were good and dry and they were loaded with the rest of the gear on my truck and trailer, another truck and the smaller one of Warren’s. Rusty Carr and Warren are always there to help with this chore every year. Rusty Carr was with me all four weeks. He is a major helper in assisting me every way possible to run this outfit smoothly. Neil and Sue are a major help, too, and Sue’s bakery skills are appreciated by all hunters who eat her pastries and biscuits.
As it was time to say our goodbyes to our tent camp area and head home, another year of memories had been made. Hopefully with the good Lord willing and if the creek doesn’t rise, we will all meet here again next year.
By Matt Curry, 395A Back Belmont Road, Belmont, ME 04952