Sunday, November 3, 2013

Game Warden Files--Hunting Camp Stories

There is a great tradition in New York's Adirondack Mountains. Hunting camps dot the land. Some are wall tents put up deep in the Forest Preserve, under permit from the local Forest Rangers. Others are more permanent structures on private lands, often amid the large tracts of land owned by one of the large timber or paper companies. Regardless of the location, most are populated by great sportsmen who truly love the outdoors and do almost everything by the book. We try to keep our eyes on all of them, but some go unchecked for a number a years.

One opening day the weather was miserable--it poured! A fair number of the hunters were out in the morning; but many, after coming in for lunch, just hung by the wood stove drinking adult beverages and playing cards. I decided it would be good day to pay some camp calls and have some friendly chats.

It had really been a good day, I'd spoken to a bunch of good guys, picked up some information about some illegal, or at least questionable activity and considered that I'd accomplished quite a bit for the way the weather was. All was going well and I stopped at one last camp. The door was well around the back with no windows showing between where I parked and the entrance. There was a good amount of loud and raucous laughter coming from inside and I guessed that the day had been spent with copious amounts of alcohol. When I knocked on the door, the laughter stopped for a minute and one loud voice called out "ENCON, DRAG YOUR A$$!"  The laughter resumed, with even more enthusiasm...until the door swung open and there was an EnCon Officer....  Dead Silence...  I gave the man at the door a smile and he laughed nervously, then apologized, then stated to receive abuse from the others in the camp.

There were no violations, but were they among the most surprised men I'd ever seen.  I suspect that there's now a window on the side of that camp so they can see who is coming to the door.

Deer camps are a great tradition.  Some hunters would do about anything to spend a week or two in camp with their friends.  For many it's the tradition of their grandfathers and in some cases even great-grandfathers. I have seen four generations around a camp table for dinners, and even joined in on a few of those meals. It's a cherished part of their lives. One man got to spend some time in camp in a way that few, if any, have ever done.

Between the Indian Lake and Inlet NY is a piece of ground called the Moose River Plains.  It's a beautiful piece of country and is accessible by a well maintained gravel road.  In the deer season, several groups of hunters regularly set up permitted camps for the duration of the season near that roadway. One late October night as a freak storm came through the area dumping upwards of two feet snow through the plains, one member of a camp sat back after a good dinner, grabbed his chest...and died.  He was among his dearest friends, but they could do nothing for him, he was gone.  Though they were able to make some contact with authorities, the weather had so badly compromised the road and had brought down so many trees that no one could get in for nearly 36 hours.  So, that hunter beat the odds.  He got to spend not only his last hours in hunting camp; but even got to stay around after he was gone.

Working with some Forest Rangers, several other ECOs and I worked our way into the plains and checked on all the parties in there. We got the coroner and a Deputy Sheriff into the camp where the hunter had died. The hunting party had reverently placed their friend in the covered bed of a pickup truck and waited for our arrival.  If I recall correctly, the sentiment was that "he would have wanted to go that way."  

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