Published Stories

Unpublished Stories

Other Resources

Contact Us

2900 words
8 pix & negs
R.F. Sanderson
134 W. 70th St.
N.Y. 23 N.Y.

Big Freeze Bucks

           A last minute hunt to the north country on the verge of the big freeze results in a race between two hunters after bucks on bad snow conditions far from civilizations and old man thermometer who tried his best to ice-bind the wilderness lakes before Dave, Louie and Tom could get out with their canoes

Big Freeze Bucks
Thomas J. Sanderson

           “Mighty late in the season for a water trip,” Louie observed, shaking his head skeptically. “ The big freeze’ll come any day now. November twenty- fourth - that’s late for these parts of Ontario.” Motioning us to wait, he disappeared into the cabin where his good wife was baking bread.

           Dave and I waited impatiently, wondering if our get-your-gun-and-go trip, which had begun only yesterday, was to end today in ignoble defeat without even an attempt to get back into the wilderness. It was 1945, and the first fall we had been able to get away on a wilderness-hunting trip since before the war. I had my gear strewn around the living room only three days earlier when Dave walked in, and next morning we were on the road nursing a thin set of retreads up through Wisconsin and Minnesota, stopping only to target the guns in an old gravel pit, and across the border to Kenora and east on the wilderness highway.

           “The best trips often result from the most troublesome beginnings,” remarked Dave philosophically, lighting his briar

           Inside we could see Louie conferring with his wife. “This’ll make history,” I remarked dryly, “if a hunting trip in doubt actually materializes after a woman is taken into counsel on it.”

           Just then Louie came out “Okay,” he said. “We gonna leave tomorrow. Early.” The he disappeared down the path toward the lake to make ready his big freight canoe.

           “History has just been made,” announced Dave, and I was too satisfied over the outcome to take offense.
           * * * * * * * * *

           Early next morning our two canoes bobbed off into the swells of Eagle Lake, piled high amidships with tarp-covered duffel, provisions, and drums of gasoline for the little outboards. Our course lay to the southeastern tip of Eagle Lake, and beyond into a lonesome bush country where we were to be the first and only hunting party of the season. After long absence during the war, it was great to be back in the clean air and pure water of the North Country.

           Rounding a point of the rocky, pine grown shoreline, we nosed out into the main stretch where the rollers were higher, the wind stronger. Halfway across the open water my motor began to overheat badly and smoke. Louie steered his big canoe up alongside and Dave threw me a towrope, which pulled me across into a sheltered passage beyond where I was able to fix a malfunctioning spring in the water pump. A lesson about equipment unused for four long years!

           Behind schedule because of the repair stop, we did not stop for lunch. The late afternoon shadows met us well down the southeast fingers of the lake, in the narrow channel island passages where our bow ripples, spreading out over the still water, shook the mirrored tree images like a gentle wind.

           In one of these channels we met a lone Indian trapper paddling out with a canoe load of furs. We told him where we planned to go. “Much game,” he said. “But big ice, him come soon. Little ice here now,” he warned.

           At Four Forks, about fifty miles from our starting point, dusk had overtaken us. A half hour later, fearing that we might lose our way in the night, we made an improvised camp on a small knoll

           Next morning we opened the tent flap on a light new snow covering the old. We piled out in a hurry only to be disappointed. The new snow was not deep enough to keep the old hard snow from crunching as we walked. Back here in the wilds where there are no other hunters to keep the game moving, the best hunting method is to slip slowly through the woods on the alert. With present snow conditions this was impossible and to a large extent we would be obliged to use less effective methods. Leaving our camp standing, we started out for Ingolls Lake, portaging around a small waterfall enroute. Several miles up the west shore we entered Clearwater Creek, winding back into the bush through swampy land. In the soft bottom mud were many tracks of deer and moose. Where an old overgrown logging road crossed the creek, the tracks of seven moose lay fresh in the mud.

           In the afternoon we took up stands. Dave selected a well-used trail along the creek, while I took up a blind some distance away where I could watch a good slash. Before long the wind turned erratic, spoiling my best chances. Once toward dark I caught the faint flicker of three deer tails back in the woods, and in the deep dusk several dark objects moved along the edge of the slash about two hundred yards away, too indistinct to see well. Later I walked over and in guttering match light examined three sets of moose tracks, one set showing the fetlock imprints of a large bull.

           The next day we decided to drive several points along the lake, but our party of three was too small for success. One time a big buck escaped us by taking to water off a point and swimming the lake. With my binoculars I could make out a good rack.

           Sunday hunting, on the Sabbath, being prohibited in Ontario, we decided to move camp nearer to our hunting territory, to which we were commuting daily and arriving home at very late hours. Leaving the big tent and large canoe, we loaded our tarps, sleeping bags and provisions into the small canoe, made the trip and portage to set up a new camp across the lake from the creek where we had first hunted. The new location was on high ground, near balsam for bedding and jack pine for firewood.

           Early Monday I spotted two deer feeding far down the lake in a narrows where marsh grass grew abundantly on a small area. After a long paddle and a difficult walk we circled around to a high hill behind their position. However when we arrived only one deer was visible and it was a doe. While Dave and I were allowed a doe between us, we had agreed to shoot only bucks.

           Crossing the lake to the creek, we set out to follow it up, the snow being in general very unsatisfactory for land hunting. Soon it was noon, and we stopped on a large granite surface to eat lunch. As we ate, a small group of “Whiskey jacks”, a localism for the Canada jay bird, assembled around us, flitting curiously in the low trees.

           “See how tame they are?” Louie asked, feeding one of the bolder birds bread from his hand as it half flew, half perched on his fingers. “That’s good luck!”

           “Not superstitious, are you, Louie?” I kidded

           “Nope - but everybody knows whiskey jacks are good luck, if you’re friends with them. They’re the spirits of dead lumberjacks, come back to life. So nobody ever sees their nests. One fellow offered $1,000 to see a nest, but nobody could find one for him.”

           Up the creek about an hour farther we heard a splashing ahead around a bend. As we slipped up, Dave sighted game first and opened fire with his 30-30 Winchester.

           WHAM! The first shot went just over the buck’s back. The second shot, so close after the first as to get mixed in the echo, hit a dull thud.

           The big buck leaped high, switched ends, ran about twenty feet and fell dead. The second bullet had been a heart shot. He was a nice six pointer. As we neared the canoe, carrying the buck on a pole, we heard a deer in the water by the lake, but the fading twilight was too dim to see it.

           At flapjacks the next morning Louie opined that the creek needed a rest, and suggested that we hunt the other shore of the lake. The first hour we saw enough game to be greatly encouraged. A buck swam across the narrows a half-mile above us, and a short way down the lake Louie spotted a moose nose sticking out of the woods. Later two cow moose came out in the open and we stalked to within sixty-five yards of them before they walked off.

           Dave stopped at the mouth of a creek where the game trail was packed four inches deep. I went on to a point where I could watch a long section of shoreline, most all of which my .270 with a scope could effectively guard. About dark a deer came out on the next point, but I was unable to see horns. As it bounded off, loud shots indicated it had been a buck.

           While we were gone the canoe had become covered with a heavy frost. The temperature was well below freezing and both Dave and I had felt the cold considerably that day. A nasty wind had risen in the afternoon and the sky was clouding oddly. That night around the fire, after we had eaten, Louie warned, “We’ll have to get out of here soon.”

           Louie did not sleep too well that night. A very conscientious guide he was, and feeling that the trip was drawing to a close, he worried because I had not yet gotten a shot, although both Dave and I realized the lack of greater success was due to noisy snow conditions. In his sleep, Louie tossed and muttered, “I can see his horns for sure now,” and later on, “I don’t know where they are.”

           The weather in the morning was foul and we decided to move our camp closer to the main lake, as the narrow waters about our present campsite would be the first to freeze. As we broke camp, a half- rain, half- snow started and I put on a parka to keep my woolen hunting clothes dry. Beyond our abandoned campsite a few miles we stopped to hunt a likely creek mouth and here we first discovered that the half- rain was softening the crunchy snow so that by afternoon the “crunch” might be out of it and we would be able to move about noiselessly.

           With this condition, Louie suggested that we hunt a ridge some distance back from the shore. Drying ourselves around a jack pine fire, we discussed strategy, then headed inland where we soon picked up fresh signs. The ridge proved a very abrupt one, the eastern side falling away into almost a cliff.

           After about three miles of slowly working down the ridge, I heard a crackling behind me. Pivoting instantly, I saw two does run. I froze motionless for several minutes. There was no sound but the throb of my pulse in my ears

           Suddenly a patch of gray moved toward me. Through the thick trees a buck was sneaking in from the west, away from Louie and Dave. Head down low, he passed within a hundred feet of me, but I dared not move until he was well by. Drawing a quick breath, I pulled up my .270 and squinted through the scope. The light was very poor and in the snow- rain the front lens had gathered water droplets. I could hardly draw a bead. As a patch of gray moved across the center of the lens, I fired.

           WHAM! The single shot rang out and then all the little echoes went wham-wham-wham back and forth between the valley and the cliff. The buck was down in his tracks. The 130-gram soft nose had struck him squarely in the chest.

           It was not a convenient place to shoot a two hundred pound, eight pointer. For what seemed like hours we hauled him across the rough, rocky terrain. In the end, Dave and I with the deer hit straight for the lakeshore by compass while Louie went back to bring up the canoes. By the time we joined Louie the short day was over and we pitched camp on the spot. The thermometer was dropping rapidly, the precipitation soon ceased then turned to dry snow, and we prepared to keep a fire going all night

           Thoroughly tired from our buck packing, Dave and I slept soundly all night while the thermometer subsided. Just after daylight I was awakened by a loud pounding. Rising on one elbow, I pulled open a flap and saw Louie down at the shore whacking a maple paddle on a layer of newly formed ice, which sheeted the bay. I woke Dave and we held an emergency conference. Icebound!

           From past experience, Louie decided he could break the ice wit his big freight canoe, while I followed with most of the load in mine. Louie would charge the ice at full throttle, sometimes cutting through many feet at a time with the prow iron, other times the canoe would climb up on the ice. Then Louie would reverse, back up, and charge again. In this way we finally reached open water.

           The wind being strong out of the south, we encountered heavier and heavier seas as we cruised northward. In the open stretch the rollers and whitecaps were so high we could only keep going downwind, although our course lay well to the left. The last several miles we idled along at greatly reduced throttle, the chill wind spraying us at every swell, and sharply turning the spray to a coating of ice.

           At the end of the stretch we ducked into a bay for shelter. As usual, Louie had an idea. Although we could not cross to the west in the trough of the swell, if we waited until the wind went down the whole shebang might be frozen over; so, knowing of an old trail from near our camp north to the highway, he volunteered to go on foot to the road where he would hitch a ride home and come back with a dog team and haul the outfit overland to the road.

           Early the next afternoon, Louie arrived with the sled. Loading the small canoe, the bucks and some light duffels on the sled, we were out on the road shortly after dusk and arrived at the settlement very late. Next day we returned for the rest of the outfit and spent a busy time packing for the return trip. Before tying the bucks to the fenders, we weighed them in at slightly over two hundred pounds for one, and about ten pounds less for the other. They made a nice pair.

           Shaking hands with Louie and the others, Dave and I piled into the car.

           “I’ll bet the big freeze had you worried for a while about getting back - we were pretty lucky men!” I bantered as I started the cold motor

           “Not too much,” says Louie, grinning. “Not after those whiskey jacks gave us the good luck sign. After that our luck changed and you both got your bucks, too.” As we drove off, Dave settled back in his seat and wisecracked, “Well, that’s one for the birds,” and I was busy watching the road ahead by looking under the overhanging canoe stern above the hood and between the big bucks on either fender, sped the car off toward Kenorna, Ft. Frances, and warmer country to the south, leaving the country of the big freeze far behind us --- until next fall!

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob