After years of enduring my absences during bird-hunting season, my wife, Caryl, decided that owning a grouse camp was a better alternative. So in 1976 we bought a 190-acre abandoned farm in Pine County, where land was cheap and slowly reverting back to grouse and woodcock habitat.
The farm had been owned by a man whose mail-order bride’s stay was short. For 50 years he worked the farm alone — clearing the land, creating stone walls at the field edges and tending to livestock. He lived there another 10 years while nature reclaimed the land. We felt his sprit was still there for several years, until we finally proved our worth as caretakers.
We restored the abandoned farmhouse, complete with 1920s furniture. The morning hunts were the best. Days would start by kindling the wood-burning kitchen range, taking the chill off while simultaneously perking coffee and cooking eggs before the hunt.
The most memorable hunt involved an October snowfall. With the leaves gone, the trees always looked forlorn and melancholy, but the snowfall cheered the atmosphere. It was beautiful as the snowfall was gentle and my footsteps were muffled. Surprisingly, my party flushed a total of 28 grouse that day and I was able to shoot several.
As we walked across the last field, a rivulet of water was leaking under my hunting coat when I spotted the chimney smoke, beckoning me with its anticipated warmth. Snow collected on the dogs’ backs. Before reaching the house, honking Canada geese flew over us, disappearing into the gray sky. That scene will remain as an “end-of-the-season” memory.
We were always thrilled with the wild sounds of spring — the chorus of singing frogs, the yelping coyotes and the whistling wings of the courting male woodcock spiraling into the darkening sky. We heard the rolling drumbeat that the male ruffed grouse created by flapping his wings on a drumming log. The sound rose slowly in a crescendo, fell to a faint beat, then silence. These inherent patterns of behavior, which perpetuated these wonderful citizens of the former farm, were part of the continuous cycle of life.
Ultimately, the grouse population declined, the dogs died or got old and a windstorm damaged the habitat so we found a lake place that the whole family enjoys much more — something I should have realized 15 years earlier. But having a hunting camp was a dream fulfilled, and there are no regrets.
SEND US YOUR HUNTING SHACKS! Cabin Country is celebrating your beloved hunting shacks through the fall. Please send your photos and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit online at www.startribune.com/hideouts. Come wintertime, we'll turn our attention to ice-fishing houses.