An Anecdote by Eric Vance
The great forests of upper Vermont are not called the “Northern Kingdom” for nothing. The vast woods are unbroken but for occasional farms and small towns as far as the eye can’t see in the rolling hilly mountains and valleys – not like the dense briar undergrowth of my native Massachusetts that preclude easy wanderings and hunting on foot. Expansive open hardwood “old growth” broken by huge pine groves allows sportsmen and hikers to cruise uninhibited through some of the most beautiful country in the world. Frequent deadfalls give shelter to deer and other wildlife along the way. This is magnificently punctuated in hunting season by nature’s phenomenal pastoral fall foliage.
Tucked away deep in these ancient hills was our hunting camp on the backside of a set of steep hills accessed by a dirt road off the main drag through a tiny farm town. The road is closed through the heavy winter, and sometimes only passable via four-wheel drive when it is open. The cabin was in the middle of a split in the road where it’s “one way down” and “one way up” a steep section until the roads rejoin on more navigable ground. The cabin itself could handle about 6 – 8 hunters, with sometimes up to 12 – 14 people coming & going through the first two weeks of the Vermont hunting season. The rough bungalow, stilted on one side over the inner hill, had a 1/2-wrap porch, bare stud walls on the inside, a small kitchen/eating area, main room, and loft. Heat was via a giant inefficient wood stove (affectionately nicknamed “Bad Larry” or “the dragon”) that rattled and clanked and showered us with a smoky spark-filled blast when the wind blew strong. Low voltage electrical service, cold running water, and an ancient outhouse completed the scene. A nearby power line conveniently bisects the area, allowing fast and deep acquisition to some heavy country. Although I always take a compass bearing entering unknown territory, a glimpse of the power lines will get you safely out – if you’re lucky!
Over a period of about 5 years I hunted these grounds with my friends. “Team Grizzly” consisted of Butch, Giff, Mike & Jimmy, Pete, Joey, Dave, Tony, Tommy, and Rick. They all had been using the camp for many years before me. Butch was our unspoken “fearless leader” – a large man with a large beard, sometimes referred to as “Griz” for obvious reasons. It was Giff, however, who first invited me to the rustic camp. A short guy with white hair, clear perspective, quick humor and quicker temper describe his immediate impressions on me. I hadn’t known these guys very long, so I was a bit hesitant that I might be intruding on this crowd. Those fears were quickly dissipated as I suffered as much abuse as everyone else to the humor of all in our turn. Following is a summary of highlights of my memories from those years.
My first trip up-country, I hitched a ride with Joey – not knowing how to get there. We pulled in to find Jimmy (Mike’s bigger little brother) sitting at the table grinning with a sandwich in one hand and a beer in the other. With a hearty “Whassssup!” it was game on. Everyone else was in the woods trying their luck, so Joey & I decided to tog up and hit the woods, leaving Jimmy to happily enjoy the privacy of the cabin and keep Bad Larry the dragon fed. We ran a wide parallel up the power lines, agreeing to meet at the top of the hill and regroup if we didn’t push anything between us. This should have been a piece of cake. He took the shallow cut off the power lines while I pushed from deeper in. After a tedious crunch through a vast deadfall, the ground opened up into a giant bowl of open hardwood growth. Absolutely breathtaking – nothing like that in the flat lands of my home grounds. No game here, so I headed up the bowl to meet up with Joey. What should have been a pretty clean shot to the top of the hill had brought me to a pasture far from the power lines! I could see the power lines coming from both directions toward the hill, so splitting the difference, I made a beeline for the hill & Joey best I could. No sooner had I thrown caution to the wind than I jumped a nice fat doe. Do I try for a flank & ambush, or keep heading for Joey? Better head for Joey. No Joey – he’d given up on me. I headed out on my own, quickly finding a long horse trail that brought me to a puddle of a pond that looked like a great place to wait for Bambi. With no action and the shadows growing long, I headed back to camp. I hit the road to camp as Dave, Pete, and Joey were coming up the hill discussing whether or not to mount a search – for me! I popped out of the woods with a grand “ta da!” Met with deserved chastisement, I offered up quick apologies for the scare. They had no idea that I was a fair hand at navigating the woods. So much for first impressions on the hunt!