15 December 2013

Day Five - Fight to Survive

I did not wake up hours before dawn, in fact I didn't wake until nearly seven, and then I did not want to move. Between the chest pain and the stiffness it took real effort to roll out of that warm bag. Took longer than usual to get into my wool and boots as well.

When I opened the tent I was shocked at the amount of snow and how heavy it was falling and that put a sense of urgency in my step. My original plan was hunt all day, come back break camp and ride out. The extra snow now put us well over twelve inches and falling fast. While my wheeler is good to about eighteen to twenty inches I didn't know how well it would do with all the weight I had on it. I was torn on what to do, the hunter in me said 'fresh tracking snow let's go', while the prudent side said 'you better think about this'.

I decided to compromise. I would break camp and load up, haul it back to the truck and then hunt from there back towards the lake. The truck can handle snow better as I've got it set up for that but there was also the consideration of about a thousand pounds being towed behind it between gear, wheeler, and trailer. Still I couldn't bring myself to just leave right then.

This was very nearly the worst mistake I've made in the woods.

I was in a hurry so didn't bother with pics of breaking camp, the wheeler did okay on the six mile ride but I did have to use the winch several times. This should have been a warning sign but I didn't heed it.

As soon as I got to the truck and hitched up I pulled the snowshoes, strapped up and started walking towards the lake hoping perhaps that I'd catch a wolf crossing and get a shot.

Visibility was virtually zero and that was when the wind wasn't blowing frozen projectiles into my eyes. Going was hard, it's been a year since I was on a set of shoes and I'd just had four hard days of walking and running and sloshing through snow not to mention how my chest felt. Breathing hard on icy wind with smoke damaged lungs isn't easy, in fact as I reflect on it, it was really a pretty stupid thing to be doing.

I fought my way into the spruce and firs for cover, here the wind was far less of a hindrance and after a while it seemed the snow slack off.

Back trail looking at my snowshoe tracks.

My favorite snowshoes are the of the Huron style, sometimes called Michigan or Algonquin, these are Faber's Sport model though I've forgone the traditional leather bindings. I installed a custom set of modern bindings because I find them infinitely better and easier to use. They also provide a 'claw' on the bottom for hillsides, inclines and descents. I do think there is much to be found in traditional style snowshoes, they're the only style that can keep my two hundred and twenty pound frame from sinking overly deep into the snow. Modern shoes simply do not have enough flotation for me.

Some time ago I came up with what I think is a damn nifty clothing system for heavy snow traveling on foot. I'm a big fan of wool clothing, my base layers are all lightweight fine merino wool. I use a mix of both Kuiu and First Lite and can't decide which I like more, both have served me for a couple years now and they've become the best base layering system I have used.

For this trip I elected to use heavy twenty six ounce wool trousers over which I wear a set of Filson Single Tin Husky Chaps. These are their tin cloth waxed canvas chaps and they shed snow incredibly well. This translates to the wool not getting heavier from being wet with snow and helps protect the wool. They don't add much in the way of weight and for the protection and versatility they provide they are very much worth it. In essence the way I use them you could say they're serving the same purpose as a set of gaiters, only mine are better than mid thigh in height. This set up is still whisper-wool quiet while making a water proof exterior.

Had I had this set up in place on day two I doubt I'd have been affected by the fall through the ice at all. The snow then wasn't deep though and I was using a pair of Kuiu Yukon gaiters which I cannot say enough good things about.

I know there are modern clothing equivalents to wool but none have given me all aspects that wool does. Some are better in some categories but they always seem to come up short as a total package.

The Lucky 1-2 Sutlery hat did a fine job of heaping snow off my head and shoulders and out of my face unless I was walking right into the wind. I wear a 274g/m weight Kuiu beanie under this that provides most of the warmth and covers my ears, the hat provides the rest of the protection. On less cold and less windy days a 185 gram merino wool beanie suffices. While the fur and wool bomber hat still has a place I've found the LRRP hat and beanie combo to be superior for most of my hunting.

More of the scenery from inside the spruce and fir cover. It is what I call a Siren's Snow,  there is such beauty in it that I sometimes get caught up in the surreal nature of it, but the beauty hides a a deadly dangerous side. Everything is harder to do in the cold and even more so in heavy snow. Travel is more arduous and time consuming, it hides hazards one should avoid.

I broke out of the cover and made a little head way but the snow was returning with a vengeance.

I was getting rather concerned. If this stuff didn't let up there was a chance I could get snowed in, stuck in the back country about fourteen miles from the nearest winter maintained road.

I'd hunted hard, pushed my body to the wall and now I stood in the maw of what was an intensifying storm. I didn't agonize over the decision, I just made it, discretion being the better part of valor. I started for the truck thinking about how I felt physically and emotionally. I wasn't beaten but I was battered. I was frustrated yet uplifted, I'd seen wondrous things and fed a wilderness buffet to my soul, while tired I felt energized.

In the five days I'd not seen any sign of a wolf kill, found no remains or any sign that they'd found food. This doesn't mean they hadn't eaten, I did not cover all of their ground obviously but I did cover a good bit of it and I'd found no sign that they'd eaten.

I had hunted the wolf on his ground, his terms, I'd put everything I had into it. I'd used my experience and got myself close on the second day but that was the last I'd seen of them. I'd pushed as hard as I could and yet I had come up short,  in the world of fur and fang and hunting for your dinner there is no trophy for just showing up, there is no reward for mere participation, there are no guarantees. You throw down and go all in, you don't let up or give in regardless of pain and exhaustion or discomfort, and even then there is no promise of success. For all of man's prowess in technological advancements, in gear and weapons, here a man is still de-elevated and at best only slightly less than equal to his quarry, in most cases much more than only slightly less.

The howl of a wolf which is often glamorized, usually translated as majestic, free, the sound of the wilderness and so on. While these terms are used most commonly in the description I'll give you a hunter's interpretation of a howling wolf. While I know wolves howl to find one another, to signal one another, as a reaction to certain events and to trigger certain behavior, these are the reasons they do it, but I think there is something else in there.

When I heard the wolves early on I only heard 'hear I am'. As I walked out I thought about this  and now I do not just hear, 'here I am'. Now I hear the hunter and the lament for prey not found, for foul winds and deep snow, for lonely night trails and frigid temperatures. I hear a hunter hunting and in that howl it can be found why we as well as they hunt.

I have not changed my mind on the hunting of wolves and I will continue to hunt them should I be able to do so. I have learned from  them and I'm sure they've learned from me. In the end we are in fact two predators in a food chain, I've chosen to live within that chain and not separate from it.

I suppose this is somewhat anticlimactic for there is no wolf. There is no fine fur to cement the memory of my effort and this wild place. Yet there is more than that, there is still a fire in my chest and wonder, wonder of the hunt and the wild and the adventure. 

I was both happy and sad for a multitude of reasons when the truck came into view about an hour before dark.


The Battle Begins.

With fourteen miles to go in this I didn't waste any time getting going.

As feared the trailer and the weight added a problem. The wind wasn't helping as it was causing snow to drift to un-drivable depths across the road periodically. When I hit these I had to break out the shovel and remove the snow from the beginning to the end of the drift otherwise the trailer would get hung up and then the truck.

The snow was really coming down now and night had fallen, I'd gotten about half way to the service road and that had taken nearly three hours. I was soaked from the sweat and the snow, I couldn't stop coughing, I was really sucking wind at this point and I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't very concerned.

There was nothing to do really but just do it and do it I did. I finally made it to the service road around midnight and started the slow drive from there back to the lodge. I pulled into my drive way at in the wee hours of the morning.

The storm would continue for another three days and the final tally was over three feet of snow with drifts in excess of seven and eight feet.

As of today, 15 December, the Minnesota DNR Wolf harvest update shows the following;

There are still ten harvests available in my region, and over forty remaining in the Northwest. There's still the late season deer archery season, small game running well into next year, not to mention trapping and ice fishing. I've still got some good winter in front of me,

I know I will wonder on the days that I will spend hunting, fishing, trapping, what the wolves are doing in the Valley of the Beaver...

P.S Thank You(s)

I really appreciate all of the kind words and encouragement that I have received from everyone. It means a lot when I get to realize that there are still like minded and kind individuals in the world that take the time to say so, and that understand some of the peculiar ways I think.


  1. Thanks for sharing your great story. I´ve learned a lot! I´m glad you´ve made it and gone back "safe and sound." All the best wishes,

    Forest Turtle

  2. Just read your last post and I had to sit back and let it sink in a little first. Then I read it again and I do believe you made a good call by ending it. I'd say you have been pushing your luck though, and got away with it. I also think that there are no winners in this tale and no second places either.
    You took something with you out of there that I believe will prove invaluable in your future years as a man, as a hunter, as a human being.
    Bless you and a safe return on your future adventures, brother.

  3. This has been absolutely outstanding! While I'm sorry that the account has ended, I want to thank you sincerely for sharing the experiences, thoughts and struggles! I enjoy your blog a great deal, and would love to share a campfire with you someday.

  4. Sir,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.


  5. Really cool story. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about you're experience.

  6. Very well written account of a great hunt

  7. True American badass...great story my friend.

  8. Wonderful adventure, well written and told. I really enjoyed tagging along... I even got a little cold at one point in the story and had to get up and put on a sweater...

  9. A great adventure and well told. Perhaps another chapter in this story is still to be written? I hope so.

  10. Outstanding story Grouch and prudence won out in the end. Thanks for the storytelling, the philosophy and the pictures.

  11. Beautifully written... I can only dream of having such an experience. Take care of yourself and keep writing! ~ April B.

  12. Like minded tip of the hat to you sir. What a trip.. Hopefully in the future you'll be wearing a wolf skin on the trail of it's progeny. On a side note, my parents live in northeast california and a collared wolf made it's way from Idaho/Oregon to within 60 miles of their secluded Sierra Nevada homestead two years ago.. and last week my mom was coming down the driveway and saw "a large coyote running toward the hay barn through the woods.." I stopped by a few nights later and trailed for sign, and saw a large gate sunk into the deep snow that didn't match a coyotes tight trot, their golden lab nor my english setter.. perhaps they've returned to my homeland. I told them it was just a fox in hopes I could see it before my pops lays lead to it on his sunrise vigils from their bedroom overlooking the large meadow. Wish the snow was shallow and soft so I could get a good track, but I'll have to wish for now. They did find the first wolverine in California since dog knows when three years ago about 15 miles from there, so who knows.

    What a hunt bud, what a hunt. It's good to know your place in a world filled with distractions keeping most from it.

  13. I had hoped for you that you would have gotten the black wolf. What an incredible story of hunting and endurance. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks Aggie, hows your deer season turning out?

    2. Didn't get one but, but thankfully someone shot an extra one so we still had meat for the freezer.