A Test in the Wild: Part 2

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Today I have for you “A Test in the Wild: Part 2” – a true story from one of my readers here Luke Banter. It is an awesome account of his experience “bugging out” to rural Northern Ontario to live off the land for a summer. If this is your first time reading the story you can check out Part 1 here.

I started out from Highway 64 S, and was fortunate that Brad gave me a ride all the way to the end of the service road, SE of where the Highway heads west. Once there, I hiked the approximate 1.5 km to my base camp SE of the twin lakes.

Brad would be coming in by Argo, every Friday by a Ministry trail that came in to about .5 km of my location, north of the twin lakes. If I didn’t hear from him on Friday, then Saturday would be the day and not to worry as something pressing may have came up. I wasn’t really too worried, but it did feel nice to know I had that life line.

It was a Thursday, early morning around 0500hrs when we set out, and I was walking by 0545hrs. The gear was heavy and a little more than I thought it would be, as the trek was tough. I stopped after an hour of walking which put me at about half way I figured, and had a break. The sun wasn’t over the tops of the trees yet. Weather was calling for rain Saturday, which was good news, as it gave me lots of time to set up base camp, do a little scouting, and get my shelter together. After about 15 minutes, I got going again and reached the SE lake of the twin lakes, around 0830hrs (so I may not have been half way) and was pleased with my new home. I decided to set up right at the river leaving the lake that leads to the French River about .4 km away. I would be at the SW corner of the lake on the west side of the wide creek mouth. Nice set of small rapids there.

My cook camp would be south, downwind from my shelter, and along the wide creek about 250ft. This is where I would be cooking and cleaning my food, and bathing. Primary bathroom would be directly west of my base camp, about 60 ft in this nice little spot. Now they refer to the two bodies of water as lakes, but each were a bit bigger then football fields or more. I think of them more as ponds, and fairly deep, at perhaps 25 to 35 ft and teaming with bass, and blue gills, and they will do just fine. The shore’s of the creek and the ponds are built up with large rounded rock faces, and is surrounded with forest. It was really quite nice in that area.

On the first day, I worked on the cook camp, and built a lean-to with a steep overhang. I used boughs to create the roof, and shield the cooking fire to a degree. At only about 3 ft of sitting room it would keep me dry in rainy cooking times. It was facing south and found that the wind came from the north at this location.

Next I worked on my base camp, as I had found a perfect spot in where a rock face came together with an overhang. Two trees nearby became the posts for the shelter. I built the shelter about 3 ft off the ground. It was an amazing location with a view about 60 paces off the pond. The fire would be built on another rock ledge that was also about 3ft high, and 4 ft from the entrance to my shelter. With a rock backing, the heat reflection factor was incredible, and would make good use of the wood I would burn. The canvas tarp would create the roof of my shelter and with enough of a pitch that gave me 6 ft to stand in the first 2 ft into the shelter going back to about 2 ft at the back. I laid a good bunch of boughs over the tarp (enough for the night). I used the plastic sheet to create a barrier under my meadow grass I had down as padding for my bedding area reached back from the front edge about 4 ft to the back. The rain runoff was not going to affect my set up at all except for heavy rain with the fire. I would work on it over the next few days and came up with a good solution.

The rest of the day was spent organizing, gathering fire wood preparing fresh water, securing the food cache up in the trees down at the cook camp which comes with a fail, and a story to be shared.

The first nights supper was made up of rice, and bass. I had made an effort to make a fishing pole, around 1300hrs, and managed a bass, about 8 inches long. It was a good feeling, as it made me think “yes” I will make it!

The next day, I awoke with excitement, and ready to start the day. I have to admit that I took a little bit of time to get to sleep as the night time noises were new here, and the thoughts of bears came to mind. I tuned in my AM/FM radio to see what I could come up with and CBC radio was an option, and suited me just fine. I also knew I would take more time to cut bigger logs for the fire, as I woke up once or twice a little cold, as the dry dead stuff I gathered of course didn’t last long with a breeze blowing over the fire. And I knew it wouldn’t, but it was a quick and easy gather.  Yes, there would be a lot of fine tuning as time went on. I spent a lot of the day cutting firewood, making candles, and this and that, to make life a little more comfortable, and again some fishing, along with gathering some fresh greens.

After the first week I had really established the two camps and everything was going really well. I also had my first run in with big game, and I mean big! It was Friday, and it was the first day that I would go and meet Brad, for my weekly check in. And to tell you the truth I was kind of excited to meet up with him. I think of myself as a bit of a “people person”, and I was excited to tell him about the trip thus far. Now when we were speaking of it at first, I was reluctant to meet every week, as I thought it to be cheating,  but Brad and my father had already spoke, and it was their idea. He had said to me, “Listen, this is no camping trip, this is serious business, you don’t have any payphones out there”. He was right, and understandably this was a “life line” and anything could happen. After all it was the wild.

Now back to the big game. I was rounding the bottom of the “beaver pond”, which for clarification I’ve named the twin lakes and I will get back to that in a second. I had walked over the beaver damn, heard a loud “crunching” over a rock face, covered in thick evergreen. I stopped listened hard, cocked back the hammer on the rifle, and waited. I heard nothing, but an angry chipmunk, in a stand of trees as though I was stepping on his nuts. After a few moments, I walked quietly to the left of the rock face avoiding what might have made the noise. I seen nothing and smiled said out loud “must have been the chipmunk” laughing I walked another few steps. I stopped dead in my tracks as the thicket of evergreens just to the right of me started folding over, with crashing which seemed to deafen me. I was standing beside a very a large birch, which I tucked up behind, just in time to see the entire animal come out. Magnificent I thought, “Where were you last year” I said under my breath. Standing about 8ft tall at the tops of his rack and 6 at his shoulders, a giant bull moose was about 40 ft from me. Weighing in at about 1600lbs, I didn’t step out and introduce myself.

I stood behind that birch tree barley breathing, all though my heart rate had increased dramatically. The bull stood there with scrub brush hanging from his rack, and flies buzzing about him, as he raised his head smelling the air. He knew I was there, and let out a huge snort, as perhaps he didn’t like the smell of me. And to be honest the feeling was mutual, as I gripped the rifle. I knew that at best I would be playing tag around this birch tree and I didn’t want to be “it”. The rifle I was holding 22/410 over and under was only good enough to be a nuisance to him. I stood there for what seemed like the afternoon, when in reality it was 2.5 minutes at best. He lowered his head to the left and with that he jogged off into another stand of trees, and by the sounds of it didn’t stop for some time. Okay so now a little truth – I said to myself, “should have packed more underwear” and continued on my way.

I met Brad on the old Ministry trail to the north of Beaver Pond which I had named it as there was the beaver damn, and a few beavers. My pond to the south was Grassy pond as the entire east side had long reed grass along its banks that met up to the rock shores. At 12 noon on the dot, the first of 3 gun shots sounded, but I was already on the trail. He was to the west of me not far off, and by the time I heard the 3 shots, I was just around the corner and blew my whistle.

I could hear the Argo coming around the corner on the trail to see Brad and his oldest daughter Meagan who was 17. She was a real smart in the outdoors and was just my speed. I had checked her trap lines with her only 6 months ago. “Well hello there” Brad said with a smile, and Meagan got out and punched me in the shoulder, with a big smile. I’ll put it out there, she was very pretty, at the same height as me at 5”8, and could take me in a wrestling match, but of course I wouldn’t ever let her have the chance to prove it (guess she might know now).

Meagan gave me a burlap bag that was 3/4 full  and heavy, and said “ here a little house warming gift, and a little something extra, in case you are as good as I figure, and are half starved” Laughing she gives me a hip check and a shove and says “just kidding”. I will admit I was thrilled to see them. We opened a jar of homemade raspberry jam, and cracked into a loaf of bread from the burlap bag. Linda had made it fresh that morning. Linda was Brad’s wife and come to find out was also going to say good morning. Brad said, “So your mother says she is proud of you, and also says stay safe and healthy, and not to be afraid to come home if it gets too much.” As he sits back a little further on the edge of the, Agro, he also says “she didn’t want me to tell ya, as she was afraid you might not come home, she is gonna kill ya when you get back. And there is also a message from your father, as he wants you to know he finds Lucky’s dog house small, and has begun to build him a bigger one. He says you will know what he means”. I laughed, and explained as we ate the wonderful bread. I also told them about the run in with the bull that morning.

Brad pulled out a portable VHF Realistic 40 ch CB handset. “Now this is a half and half deal, you pay for half and I’m paying the other half. Pay me when ya can, but it is our gift to your mother for now” He ended with a wink and a smile. He turned it on, a turned to channel 14, raised the antenna to around 3ft. I was amazed as he clicked the side and spoke. “Wild Bear to Mama Bear, do you copy?” Linda came through a moment later. “Mama Bear here, read ya loud and clear”. She was a little crackly on our end. “I would assume you have located ‘humming bird’ just fine”. We all laughed hard, with another shove from Meagan. “Please don’t let that name stick” I said begging.  He handed me the radio I called back saying I was fine and well, and thanked her for the care package. After about a half hour more Brad explained that he would not come out every week now, and gave me extra batteries, and said he had left it on and used it, and it will last 2 days left on and with minimal use. If I needed it for emergencies and put it on between 12 and 1230 daily, someone would be around the base unit at home, just to check in. If I couldn’t reach them in an emergency then go to 7 and radio emergency channel.  They went on their way with a hug from Meagan, a firm handshake and hug from Brad. “Be safe ‘Humming Bird’ Meagan playful yelled as they drove west on the trail.

The fact was, Brad never took the money for that radio later on, and said to keep the money, “call it a late birthday present” He said, my father did say he wouldn’t take the money. I walked back with a little more confidence with the radio strapped to my belt, and felt great. Once I got back to camp, I took stock of what was in my house warming gift bag. 2 loaves of fresh bread, 4 jars of jam 2 raspberry and 1 strawberry and 1 blueberry. I ate the rest of the raspberry jam and dove into the strawberry later the next week. There was another plastic sheet 12x 10, I figured, and some venison jerky. Now I kind of felt bad as thought this was cheating with this bag of goodies, but I didn’t feel badly for long. There was also I hand wrote note penciled verbatim from my mother through Linda. I will keep the contents of the letter to myself, although I will share that I cried a little, just a little. (Something in my eye I’d say) Oh and almost forgot the sweetest thing ever, Meagan had put in the bag some black leather. There were two pieces about 14 x 16 inches, enough to make a little game bag or something. It was something else we had in common, as both liked to work with leather (she liked me, almost sure).

The temperature stayed around 25 during the day, and dropped to about 10-12 at night on average so the weather was tolerable. The bugs were really starting to pick up. And was glad I had the repellant. Although I had brought the one bottle of oil, I was concerned at this rate I may not have enough. But in time you kind of get used to them, and after time all the urban smell comes off you, which perhaps helps, I don’t know. I did find the burning of pine kept things at bay, as far as the bugs went, and you should build camp amongst the pines at all possible. It rained for 2 days straight, perhaps the reason for the plastic sheet in the gift bag. It came in handy as I used it to drape in the front of my shelter. And an “ah ha” moment, as the plastic reacted to the fire as a green house, night and day, and kept the inside of the shelter quite comfortable. Although keeping in mind that if you seal up the shelter too much condensation can form, causing some dampness.

Yes the next few weeks went very well, as my 10 snares were producing at least 1 rabbit a night, which was plenty as I was smoking meat every day, with fish in the mix too. I had made a better fishing rod out of a sapling that I think is still in the rafters of my fathers shed (will check on that). I caught a 4 pound Bass one day, I let him go, as I was doing ok for fish. He was a beauty. I really regretted now, not having a camera for some of these moments. (Not like today as the technology is a dream for capturing all the life’s cool moments.) Every day I tried to spend time gathering wild edibles to eat. And as promised every day I checked in for a few minutes. On Saturday afternoons around 1500hrs, I climbed up to the highest point in my area to the west behind my mainstay shelter and spoke to Meagan for about 10-15 minutes, briefly giving a weekly report on my progress. She wanted to come for a visit. So in the third week of July she did just that, for a Friday and Saturday to be home on Sunday.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for part 2! Check in next Thursday when I will share with you the final accounts from his experience. Luke has also been kind enough to provide everyone with his email: lukebanter@gmail.com. If you want to see Luke in action check out his YouTube channel here. I hope you’re enjoying this story as much as I am 🙂

Your survival buddy,

Jake

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