Heading north again to Foster’s End on Mason Lake -- A Wild Side column
I write this with great anticipation. Poised this evening with my gun sighted in, gear packed, food procured, ham and apple pie baked and chili simmered, I’m ready to leave in the morning to go north to a traditional deer hunting camp.
A few weeks ago, Ed Hall called from Georgia inviting me to return to Foster’s End on Mason Lake. Ed is the late Bruce Foster’s nephew. He’s a veteran of many years in the Army and hunting at Foster’s End.
The Foster family and friends from River Falls have hunted at Foster’s End on Mason Lake since 1920. It’s located near the Flambeau River south of Highway 70 near Oxbo, Wis., northeast of Ladysmith. The woods there have grown back since the logging days in the late 1800s and some areas have been logged twice. Blowdowns, logging, trail construction, deer browsing and re-growth have changed the woods over time.
The size of the deer herd has changed considerably from year to year. We took many deer from there in the 1990s. Wolves have increased since then and the deer herd has decreased. Few antlerless tags were available in Sawyer County this year, so it will be a "bucks only" hunt for us this time.
It’s been seven years since I went deer hunting at Foster’s End. Bruce Foster passed away in March 2007. We hunted there that fall but it just wasn’t the same without Bruce -- the camp master, sharpshooter, wise guy and "Band Leader of Rampant Foolishness." I hunted for several years with others from River Falls west of Cushing along the St. Croix, but I missed the woods and terrain along the Flambeau. Deer hunting around home the last few years has been productive but it just isn’t like deer camp up north.
During a pre-camp meeting at my shop this week, we leafed through a box of photo albums from previous hunts at Foster’s End with pictures of five generations of hunters. The albums recount stories of members of River Falls families named Foster, Pechacek, Kordosky, Cudd, Chinnock, White, Zender, Kulstad, Baker, Kusilek and Chapman, with old cars, prize bucks and black bears. It used to be quite an expedition to get up there from River Falls in the 1920s, so hunters went there and stayed for weeks at a time. The more recent albums show much younger-looking members of our hunting crew.
Those old-time hunters were tough. They wore high lace-up leather boots, wool long underwear, wool pants, wool shirts and suspenders. No fleece and Gore-Tex for them. They stayed in a small log cabin, cooked on the wood-fired stove and got their water from the lake.
We will stay in the relative luxury of the newer Foster cabin with a big wood heating stove, a modern propane cooking stove and propane lamps. A toilet seat that warms up quickly is a great improvement to the outhouse.
This year just four of us ‘old timers’ will hunt opening weekend at Foster’s End. Dennis Anderson and Ken Hensel of River Falls, Ed Hall of Augusta, Georgia and I will gather in the cabin on Friday night over chili, under a picture of the late Camp Master Bruce Foster. There will be over 100 years of deer hunting experience there,
most of it gained in the woods along the Flambeau River. This will be my 37th year of deer hunting there. Friends from the Steenberg family deer camp by Oxbo will visit to trade practical jokes and hunting stories.
After an early breakfast on Saturday morning we will hike out in the dark, stand at prominent points in the big woods south of the cabin. We will meet for lunch at a ski trail shelter near the old Schreimer’s Logging Camp on a bend in the Flambeau River and warm up by a fire. Some of us may go to the Oxbo Resort to watch the Badgers game on Saturday afternoon and the Packers game on Sunday evening. We will eat well and sleep soundly after days in the woods.
Hunting in those beautiful woods of maple ridges, balsam thickets, big white pines, hemlocks, cedar swamps and rough terrain is a treat. We may shoot a buck but I will be happy to be attentive in the forest all day looking for deer and listening to the ravens.