The camp specialty is duck, served on the wing
Dennis Anderson, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Last update: October 21, 2005 at 6:40 PM
CUMBERLAND HOUSE, Saskatchewan - The camp where I hunted moose is not a moose hunting camp, but a duck hunting camp.
Called Niska Camp ("Niska" is Cree for "goose"), the outfit is owned by Murdoch and Terry Carriere of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Murdoch, who is Metis, or of Cree and white lineage, grew up in these parts, nomadic with his parents throughout much of the year. Some months they fished, other months they hunted or trapped.
I first visited the camp many years ago, invited by Joel Bennett, a friend from the Twin Cities who has traveled to Niska Camp in October for nearly 20 years.
In time, because I occasionally saw moose while duck hunting, I inquired about the prospects of hunting moose in the area with my bow. Murdoch's head guide, Glenn McKenzie, has hunted moose since he was a kid and was game for the adventure.
Consequently, in recent visits to Niska Camp I've morphed from a duck hunter, generally, to a moose hunter -- realizing all along there are better places to hunt moose but not better people to hunt them with.
On our hunts, Glenn does all of the calling. Using only his mouth, as generations of his people have done before him, he issues various bull, cow and calf calls in attempts to draw bulls -- sometimes very angry bulls -- to within bow range.
In our party this year at Niska Camp, in addition to Joel and me, were Joel's son, Andy, of South St. Paul, Doug Lassey, who lives near Hastings, and Steve Vilks of Stillwater. Also in camp was a Florida man and his two grown sons.
Each day while I hunted moose, Steve, Andy, Doug and Joel hunted ducks -- an undertaking made more difficult this fall by the vast amounts of rain the area has received in recent months.
So much rain fell this summer that for the first time in history, Cumberland House was evacuated because of flooding. The heavy rains were a plus, however, in southern Saskatchewan, where ducks and water could be seen everywhere, presaging, perhaps, a tremendous migration through the Dakotas and perhaps Minnesota.
This is how a day in the life at Niska Camp unfolded during our recent visit:
• About 5:30 in the morning, one of the Cree guides came into the two guest cabins and started fires in the barrel stoves. The cabins have beds for about six hunters. A wood stove is in the front and back of each cabin.
• The camp, which can be reached only by water, has a generator, and lights came on in the cabins between 5:30 and 6.
• The camp sits on the banks of the Mossy River, which flows into the Saskatchewan River a few miles downstream. At that confluence, vast marshes sprawl, and traditionally ducks are hunted in and among these marshes.
• Upon arising, hunters shuffle to the cabin that serves as the eating area/lodge/autumn home of the Carrieres. Terry Carriere has toast, coffee and juice prepared and thermoses of coffee for hunters to take to their blinds.
• Hunters quickly eat, feed their dogs and pull on waders. Usually it's quite cold, in the range of 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and a lot of clothing is required. This includes snowmobile masks for boat rides. Such masks are especially important for hunters who ride in one of the camp's three airboats.
• Hunters usually are placed alone in the marsh and sometimes, if they desire, in pairs. They hunt from sunup until 10:30-11 a.m., usually standing on pallets to keep them (mostly) out of the water. Then they are picked up by the guides and returned to camp for a combination breakfast and lunch.
• The Saskatchewan limit is eight ducks daily. Hunters who get their birds in the morning can fish for walleyes, read or otherwise relax the rest of the day. Those who don't shoot their limits in the morning go out again in the late afternoon and hunt until sunset.
• Hunters shot their limits of ducks perhaps 60 percent of the time, down from previous years because of the high water, which scattered the birds. Gadwall, widgeon and mallards made up most of the bag.
• Dinner is served about 8 p.m., and most everyone is asleep an hour later.
Five days of this routine, and most people have had all the fun they can handle.
When in Canada, become the moose
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
Last update: October 23, 2005 at 6:49 AM
CUMBERLAND HOUSE, Saskatchewan - Glenn and I pulled into camp in our boat. This was at noon, and following us in a short while was a boat from the camp upriver.
The boat from the camp upriver was heavy in front, spraying foam on both sides of the bow.
Glenn didn't say anything. He didn't have to. The other camp had rifle hunters in it, and the boat was heavy in the bow because it was carrying a moose.
The spray from the bow said as much.
I picked up my arrows and my bow and my pack and walked in the direction of my cabin.
The cabin was one of four small, wood-frame structures that face the Mossy River, which ties into the Saskatchewan River a few miles downstream. The structures make up Niska Camp, "Niska" being Cree for goose.
I wasn't hunting geese. I was hunting moose with my bow, and now at noon, with only an evening and a morning remaining to hunt, the rifle hunter from the other camp and his guide pulled even with us briefly in the Mossy River's strong current.
Then they continued their slow progress upriver.
The rifle hunter had killed a good bull. Its antlers rose above the gunwales of the aluminum boat majestically.
Soon, the boat and the rifle hunter, his guide and the dead moose slipped from sight around a bend in the river.
• • •
Before this hunt, I had last seen Glenn a few years ago, in January. The temperature was minus-44 degrees.
Murdoch Carriere, who owns Niska Camp, and his brother, Solomon, and I had just ridden 40 miles north of Niska Camp on snowmobiles to a trapper's shack. This was at 9 at night, and while Solomon started a wood fire in the shack, Murdoch wanted to visit Glenn, who was staying the winter with friends in another shack nearby.
Murdoch and I knocked on the door of Glenn's shack.
Outside was a frozen wolf carcass, awkwardly postured. Inside was a barrel stove with a good fire.
Glenn doesn't say much, and he didn't say much that night.
"You want some tea?" he asked.
In winter Glenn and his friends fish all day, their bare hands pulling walleyes, northerns and other fish from nets strung under the ice.
Every other night, one of them runs a snowmobile pulling a sled load of fish 40 miles to the nearest village.
"No, no tea."
I had hunted moose twice before with Glenn. But we had never killed a moose together, though each time we had walked and walked, me carrying my bow and quiver, and the aspens all colored in autumn.
Glenn would call moose as his father did, and his father before him, using only his mouth.
Sometimes he mimicked cows. Sometimes calves. Sometimes, when we thought we were near a bull, he barked a challenge call.
Come fight me! the call shouted. Fight me because I am in your back yard and I am bigger than you and I want all of the cow moose in this area and you are not big enough or tough enough to stop me!
Once a few years ago, Glenn called this way. We were deep in the woods, in an opening of savannah grass. The grass was about knee high, and I had bushwhacked my way into thick willows, standing about 10 feet from the grass at the edge of the savannah.
Glenn called for about a half-hour. He stood downwind from me, and the idea was for a bull to come to his call and come past me as he did.
Any shot I would get would be 15 feet or shorter.
Glenn had a hunter once who missed five shots from 7 feet, slinging the arrows above the moose, below him and in front of him. But never into the heart and lungs.
"The moose, when he comes, will be big and angry," Glenn warned.
Just as Glenn was about to stop calling, a bull appeared, on a path that would take him just feet from me.
The bull came closer, and I drew back.
I drew back and waited, but the moose knew something was up, and when he was about 20 feet from me he left the trail, angling through the aspen directly toward me.
Then he stopped.
I had my bow drawn but was not turned toward him. And anyway the moose and I were separated by a tangle of willow and aspen and underbrush.
I could hold the bow no longer at full draw, and I let it down.
The moose turned and broke his own trail through the aspen and willow.
Months after that, when Murdoch and I had awakened Glenn at his winter fishing camp, and after Glenn had offered us tea, and we, the three of us, were sitting in the small cabin talking and laughing, Glenn said:
"Are you coming to hunt moose with me again?"
So it was a few days ago that I again traveled to Niska Camp, to hunt moose with Glenn.
Some friends were along with me and they hunted ducks. I wanted to hunt ducks also. But I wanted more to have a moose come to Glenn's call.
I wanted also to draw back my bow and send an arrow flying.
Mostly I wanted to see if I could hold the arrow steady if the bull, angry, came within a few feet of me.
• • •
Glenn and one or two of the other Cree men had gone upriver to see the bull the rifle hunter had killed.
The rifle hunter and his guide had caught the bull in shallow water, eating, and that was that. You can' t shoot a moose in deep water because you can't handle the carcass in deep water. But in shallow water you can shoot a bull and quarter it. Or you can let the bull see you and head for higher ground. And if you're good with a rifle, or even if you're not so good, you can shoot the bull then.
Glenn reported the bull was maybe about 54 inches, and that it had been beaten up severely. That meant there was another bull in the area, maybe even a better bull.
That afternoon we left camp at 3. The routine was the same. We ran down the Mossy River, across the lake, tied up the boat and started hiking.
We hiked a long way. All the time Glenn carried a moose antler.
As Glenn walked, he became a moose, and I practiced becoming a moose with him.
Grunting to a cadence Glenn knew intuitively resembled the grunts of a walking moose, and brushing the antler against trees, he walked defiantly into what he hoped was a moose's lair.
Hear us coming and grunt back to us.
But there were no moose that night. I had brought a cow moose decoy with me, and we placed it many times in the low spots we hunted; watery places where muck oozed over the tops of our boots.
Sometimes in those swamps we flushed a woodcock. Sometimes a grouse. But no moose.
So dark was it later when we reached the lake shoreline that the boat was imperceptible against the water.
And it was cold.
I cased the bow.
Glenn started the motor.
We had one more morning to kill a moose.
• • •
When we awoke, the wind had changed and clouds had moved in and the north country was about to show just how intemperate it can be in October.
The other hunters left in the dark to look for ducks. Glenn and I also pushed our boat from shore in the dark.
In my pack I had a small thermos of coffee, also some cookies, and Glenn had coffee in his pack.
Later in the morning, after we had hiked and called and hiked some more, we broke for coffee. Glenn squatted as he does, drinking his coffee, and I stood.
We didn't say much.
Had I asked, he would have told me about the time this past winter when he was running fish at night alone from his fishing camp to the town where the fish are sold.
His snowmobile broke down and the snow was knee-deep and he walked 15 miles in the dark.
But he would tell me that only if I asked. Otherwise it wasn't necessarily important, or even interesting. It was just part of his life, and his life was a compilation of events, all involving him and moose or deer or fish or canoes or ice covering rivers in winter or ice going out in spring.
Glenn wanted a moose for me more than I wanted a moose.
But I'm not sure he considered it a failure that we didn't kill a moose.
A moose left standing is not necessarily a bad thing.
Some nights I dream of a moose coming to Glenn's call.
But I never dream the part about whether I hold my bow and my arrow steady when the bull is feet from me, angry.
I never dream that part.