Camp, not cottage

Communing with nature is thirsty work

Amy Gaukel photo

The fall is a special time in Northern Ontario. Days are getting shorter and evenings are cooling. It is a time where hunting and fishing camps come alive with activity. My journey to camp started months ago when planning started. We are headed north. 

My uncle, who has been hunting and fishing his whole life, called last April to help me remember what WMU (Wildlife Management Unit) our camp is in. In Ontario there are close to a 100 WMUs, which help to conserve the animal population through the allocation of “tags.”  In April, we apply for tags and renew licences for the coming fall, crossing our fingers that we are lucky enough to get a tag.  During that chat we talked about how we’d done the previous year. It ended with a promise to call and visit more. 

During the phone call we shared a beer. Mine was a Red Tape Life Story.  His was a Bud Light.  My uncle once told me he looked forward to the days we would share a beer when I was old enough.  I spend time reflecting that both of our beer choices are community based.  He drinks macro beer, as that was what his friends and family have always drank, where I support the locals. As businesses close in Northern Ontario, I see him lean more into supporting craft—lagers still, but supporting the people who sponsor the local teams and give back.

When hunting it is important to wear high visibility clothing. The deer might have an SUV. LEFT: A canoe sits in the bucolic wilderness, waiting to be portaged or paddled. Amy Gaukel photo

Months later, with the vehicle packed, we head to the highway noticing the sugar maples have started to turn bright red in mid-August. My wife and I do this trip multiple times a year as we have a camp in the North where I grew up. The trip to the Soo will take us about six hours. Once we hit Parry Sound the SUVs and electric cars give way to large vehicles pulling boats and ATVs. Trailers are loaded with coolers and gas cans. I giggle. This is normal in Northern Ontario, but closer to Toronto it would be shocking.

Our camp in Northern Ontario is a cottage, however camps can range from cottages with indoor plumbing, electricity, and wifi to sheds completely off the grid, water access, logging road access. We are fortunate to have both. Our hunting camp is off the grid, five hours down a logging road. 

A hunter of some calibre, out standing in his field. Amy Gaukel photo

The last time we visited my family and hunt camp members, we got together on the patio of Outspoken Brewery. It’s a must visit when in the Soo. Menus for the camp are planned, expenses are divided, and dates are picked for the fall journey to hunt camp. Laughing and reliving stories from years of hunts over pints of Deadfall Lagered Ale becomes its own story when we stay all evening and close the patio down. Deadfall Lager is a great beer for the macro crowd. My family just recently commented on how good it was. It pours golden clear, with minor hop florals—exactly what you would expect for a beer to taste like beer.

When we arrive at our base camp, we turn on the power and the BBQ,  prepping for the rest of the journey. On the BBQ, a lake trout caught in Georgian Bay in the past week. We do follow a strict water-on-the-water and beer-on-the-pier rule. Fall fishing will make you never want to put a line in before September, as long as you don’t capsize. The first night in camp, there’s usually a little treat with dinner.

There was a time when Stack Brewing had their bottle caps turned into fishing lures as merch. Stack 4 x4 Belgian Quad is warming me like the fire I am sitting in front of, dark like the nightfall which comes early this time of year. The wife and I aren’t talking much, just taking in what is to come.

Keep your beer under the canoe in order to keep the pine needles out. Photo courtesy of Muskoka Brewing

The sun rises and we are packed and heading up Highway 17. At our turn off, we pass through a provincial park, and then onto Crown land. We are actively hunting now, mostly looking for the partridge, who warm themselves on the side of the road and use the gravel for their gullet. Five hours later and with five partridge in the bag, we hit hunt camp. We unlock, unpack and grab a beer. This will be our home for a week, and we have brought multiple cases of Tread Lightly from Muskoka Brewing, not just for ourselves, but for company.  I love this beer; It is full of contradictions. It is bold and full for a light beer, it tastes and looks macro, but it is craft, and for a family who almost solely shops at the beer store in Ontario, it is available there. Tread Lightly is a great beer to have in the afternoon, since it lets you keep working and moving without feeling weighed down.

We will be up before the sun and out until dark, looking for signs: tracks and rubs. We will walk 10 to 15 kilometres a day in the rain, sleet and blazing sun. Should we be successful in the hunt, that is where the work begins. 

Moose and deer are hundreds of pounds, and usually need a trail blazed to recover them. It’s hours of work. With moose, a recovery usually involves one or two ATVs, strong backs, winches, and sleds. Once the recovery is done, hanging the meat, skinning and cleaning happens, again hours of work. This is precious work, ensuring nothing goes to waste, or that we are careless. We have to be thankful and respectful throughout this process.

Saturday, a week after we went into hunt camp, we’re on our way home. We will make multiple boxes of steaks and sausages, and my wife puts some preserves in for friends and family who were not able to join us. In the years that we were not able to go hunting, those boxes were very appreciated. Once the work is done, we sit down for one last beer and start talking about next year. We pack coolers of our share to take home, wondering how many more fishing days we get in before we pull the boat out, and we start deer hunting.  We also plan a fall feast for our Southern Ontario friends to share the harvest, sitting around the fire with the last Stacked Quad, already thinking of next year.

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