E-text prepared by Joseph Gray
Woodcraft is dedicated to the Grand Army of "Outers," as a pocket volume of reference on woodcraft.
For brick and mortar breed filth and crime, With a pulse of evil that throbs and beats; And men are withered before their prime By the curse paved in with the lanes and streets.
And lungs are poisoned and shoulders bowed, In the smothering reek of mill and mine; And death stalks in on the struggling crowd— But he shuns the shadow of oak and pine.
CHAPTER I Overwork And Recreation—Outing And Outers—How To Do It, And Why They Miss It
IT does not need that Herbert Spencer should cross the ocean to tell us that we are an over-worked nation; that our hair turns gray ten years earlier than the Englishman's; or, "that we have had somewhat too much of the gospel of work," and, "it is time to preach the gospel of relaxation." It is all true. But we work harder, accomplish more in a given time and last quite as long as slower races. As to the gray hair— perhaps gray hair is better than none; and it is a fact that the average Briton becomes bald as early as the American turns gray. There is, however, a sad significance in his words when he says: "In every circle I have met men who had themselves suffered from nervous collapse due to stress of business, or named friends who had either killed themselves by overwork, or had been permanently incapacitated, or had wasted long periods in endeavors to recover health." Too true. And it is the constant strain, without let-up or relaxation, that, in nine cases out of ten, snaps the cord and ends in what the doctors call "nervous prostration"—something akin to paralysis—from which the sufferer seldom wholly recovers.
Mr. Spencer quotes that quaint old chronicler, Froissart, as saying, "The English take their pleasures sadly, after their fashion"; and thinks if he lived now, he would say of Americans, "they take their pleasures hurriedly, after their fashion." Perhaps.
It is an age of hurry and worry. Anything slower than steam is apt to "get left." Fortunes are quickly made and freely spent. Nearly all busy, hard-worked Americans have an intuitive sense of the need that exists for at least one period of rest and relaxation during each year and all—or nearly all—are willing to pay liberally, too liberally in fact, for anything that conduces to rest, recreation and sport. I am sorry to say that we mostly get swindled. As an average, the summer outer who goes to forest, lake or stream for health and sport, gets about ten cents' worth for a dollar of outlay. A majority will admit— to themselves at least—that after a month's vacation, they return to work with an inward consciousness of being somewhat disappointed and beaten. We are free with our money when we have it. We are known throughout the civilized world for our lavishness in paying for our pleasures; but it humiliates us to know we have been beaten, and this is what the most of us know at the end of a summer vacation. To the man of millions it makes little difference. He is able to pay liberally for boats, buckboards and "body service," if he chooses to spend a summer in the North Woods. He has no need to study the questions of lightness and economy in a Forest and Stream outing. Let his guides take care of him; and unto them and the landlords he will give freely of his substance.
I do not write for him and can do him little good. But there are hundreds of thousands of practical, useful men, many of them far from being rich; mechanics, artists, writers, merchants, clerks, business men—workers, so to speak—who sorely need and well deserve a season of rest and relaxation at least once a year. To these and for these, I write.
Perhaps more than fifty years of devotion to "woodcraft" may enable me to give a few useful hints and suggestions to those whose dreams, during the close season of work, are of camp-life by flood, field and forest.
I have found that nearly all who have a real love of nature and out-of-door camp-life, spend a good deal of time and talk in planning future trips, or discussing the trips and pleasures gone by, but still dear to memory.
When the mountain streams are frozen and the Nor'land winds are out; when the winter winds are drifting the bitter sleet and snow; when winter rains are making out-of-door life unendurable; when season, weather and law combine to make it "close time" for beast, bird and man, it is well that a few congenial spirits should, at some favorite trysting place, gather around the glowing stove and exchange yarns, opinions and experiences. Perhaps no two will exactly agree on the best ground for an outing...or half a dozen other points that may be discussed. But one thing all admit. Each and every one has gone to his chosen ground with too much impedimenta, too much duffle; and nearly all have used boats at least twice as heavy as they need to have been. The temptation to buy this or that bit of indispensable camp-kit has been too strong and we have gone to the blessed woods, handicapped with a load fit for a pack-mule. This is not how to do it.
Go light; the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest material for health, comfort and enjoyment.
Of course, if you intend to have a permanent camp and can reach it by boat or wagon, lightness is not so important, though even in that case it is well to guard against taking a lot of stuff that is likely to prove of more weight than worth—only to leave it behind when you come out.
As to clothing for the woods, a good deal of nonsense has been written about "strong, coarse woolen clothes." You do not want coarse woolen clothes. Fine woolen cassimere of medium thickness for coat, vest and pantaloons, with no cotton lining. Color, slate gray or dead-leaf (either is good). Two soft, thick woolen shirts; two pairs of fine, but substantial, woolen drawers; two pairs of strong woolen socks or stockings; these are what you need and all you need in the way of clothing for the woods, excepting hat and boots, or gaiters. Boots are best—providing you do not let yourself be inveigled into wearing a pair of long-legged heavy boots with thick soles, as has been often advised by writers who knew no better. Heavy, long legged boots are a weary, tiresome incumbrance on a hard tramp through rough woods. Even moccasins are better. Gaiters, all sorts of high shoes, in fact, are too bothersome about fastening and unfastening. Light boots are best. Not thin, unserviceable affairs, but light as to actual weight. The following hints will give an idea for the best footgear for the woods; let them be single soled, single backs and single fronts, except light, short foot-linings. Back of solid "country kip"; fronts of substantial French calf; heel one inch high, with steel nails; countered outside; straps narrow, of fine French calf put on "astraddle," and set down to the top of the back. The out-sole stout, Spanish oak and pegged rather than sewed, although either is good. They will weigh considerably less than half as much as the clumsy, costly boots usually recommended for the woods; and the added comfort must be tested to be understood.
The hat should be fine, soft felt with moderately low crown and wide brim; color to match the clothing.
The proper covering for head and feet is no slight affair and will be found worth some attention. Be careful that the boots are not too tight, or the hat too loose. The above rig will give the tourist one shirt, one pair of drawers and a pair of socks to carry as extra clothing. A soft, warm blanket-bag, open at the ends and just long enough to cover the sleeper, with an oblong square of waterproofed cotton cloth 6x8 feet, will give warmth and shelter by night and will weigh together five or six pounds. This, with the extra clothing, will make about eight pounds of dry goods to pack over carries, which is enough. Probably, also, it will be found little enough for comfort.
During a canoe cruise across the Northern Wilderness in the late summer, I met many parties at different points in the woods and the amount of unnecessary duffle with which they encumbered themselves was simply appalling. Why a shrewd business man, who goes through with a guide and makes a forest hotel his camping ground nearly every night, should handicap himself with a five-peck pack basket full of gray woolen and gum blankets, extra clothing, pots, pans and kettles, with a 9 pound 10-bore and two rods—yes, and an extra pair of heavy boots hanging astride of the gun-well, it is one of the things I shall never understand. My own load, including canoe, extra clothing, blanket-bag, two days' rations, pocket-axe, rod and knapsack, never exceeded 26 pounds; and I went prepared to camp out any and every night.
People who contemplate an outing in the woods are pretty apt to commence preparations a long way ahead and to pick up many trifling articles that suggest themselves as useful and handy in camp; all well enough in their way, but making at least a too heavy load. It is better to commence by studying to ascertain just how light one can go through without especial discomfort. A good plan is to think over the trip during leisure hours and make out a list of indispensable articles, securing them beforehand and have them stowed in handy fashion, so that nothing needful may be missing just when and where it cannot be procured. The list will be longer than one would think, but need not be cumbersome or heavy. As I am usually credited with making a cruise or a long woods tramp with exceptionally light duffle, I will give a list of the articles I take along—going on foot over carries or through the woods.
CHAPTER II Knapsack, Hatchet, Knives, Tinware, Fishing Tackle, Rods, Ditty-bag
THE clothing, blanket-bag and shelter-cloth are all that need be described in that line. The next articles that I look after are knapsack (or pack basket), rod with reel, lines, flies, hooks and all my fishing gear, pocket-axe, knives and tinware. Firstly, the knapsack; as you are apt to carry it a great many miles, it is well to have it right and easy-fitting at the start. Don't be induced to carry a pack basket. I am aware that it is in high favor all through the Northern Wilderness and is also much used in other localities where guides and sportsmen most do congregate. But I do not like it. I admit that it will carry a loaf of bread, with tea, sugar, etc., without jamming; that bottles, crockery and other fragile duffle is safer from breakage than in an oil-cloth knapsack. But it is by no means waterproof in a rain or a splashing head sea, is more than twice as heavy—always growing heavier as it gets wetter—and I had rather have bread, tea, sugar, etc., a little jammed than water-soaked. Also, it may be remarked that man is a vertebrate animal and ought to respect his backbone. The loaded pack basket on a heavy carry never fails to get in on the most vulnerable knob of the human vertebrae. The knapsack sits easy and does not chafe. The one shown in the engraving is of good form; and the original—which I have carried for years—is satisfactory in every respect. It holds over half a bushel, carries blanket-bag, shelter-tent, hatchet, ditty-bag, tinware, fishing tackle, clothes and two days' rations. It weighs, empty, just twelve ounces.
The hatchet and knives shown in the engraving will be found to fill the bill satisfactorily so far as cutlery may be required. Each is good and useful of its kind, the hatchet especially, being the best model I have ever found for a "double-barreled" pocket-axe.
And just here let me digress for a little chat on the indispensable hatchet; for it is the most difficult piece of camp kit to obtain in perfection of which I have any knowledge. Before I was a dozen years old I came to realize that a light hatchet was a sine qua non in woodcraft and I also found it a most difficult thing to get. I tried shingling hatchets, lathing hatchets and the small hatchets to be found in country hardware stores, but none of them were satisfactory. I had quite a number made by blacksmiths who professed skill in making edged tools and these were the worst of all, being like nothing on the earth or under it—murderous-looking, clumsy and all too heavy, with no balance or proportion. I had hunted twelve years before I caught up with the pocket-axe I was looking for. It was made in Rochester, by a surgical instrument maker named Bushnell. It cost time and money to get it. I worked one rainy Saturday fashioning the pattern in wood. Spoiled a day going to Rochester, waited a day for the blade, paid $3.00 for it and lost a day coming home. Boat fare $1.00 and expenses $2.00, besides three days lost time, with another rainy Sunday for making leather sheath and hickory handle.
My witty friends, always willing to help me out in figuring the cost of my hunting and fishing gear, made the following business-like estimate, which they placed where I would be certain to see it the first thing in the morning. Premising that of the five who assisted in that little joke, all stronger, bigger fellows than myself, four have gone "where they never see the sun," I will copy the statement as it stands today, on paper yellow with age. For I have kept it over forty years.
Then they raised a horse laugh and the cost of that hatchet became a standing joke and a slur on my "business ability." What aggravated me most was, that the rascals were not so far out in their calculation. And was I so far wrong? That hatchet was my favorite for nearly thirty years. It has been "upset" twice by skilled workmen; and, if my friend Bero has not lost it, is still in service.
Would I have gone without it any year for one or two dollars? But I prefer the double blade. I want one thick, stunt edge for knots, deers' bones, etc. and a fine, keen edge for cutting clear timber.
A word as to knife, or knives. These are of prime necessity and should be of the best, both as to shape and temper. The "bowies" and "hunting knives" usually kept on sale, are thick, clumsy affairs, with a sort of ridge along the middle of the blade, murderous-looking, but of little use; rather fitted to adorn a dime novel or the belt of "Billy the Kid," than the outfit of the hunter. The one shown in the cut is thin in the blade and handy for skinning, cutting meat, or eating with. The strong double-bladed pocket knife is the best model I have yet found and, in connection with the sheath knife, is all sufficient for camp use. It is not necessary to take table cutlery into the woods. A good fork may be improvised from a beech or birch stick; and the half of a fresh-water mussel shell, with a split stick by way of handle, makes an excellent spoon.
My entire outfit for cooking and eating dishes comprises five pieces of tinware. This is when stopping in a permanent camp. When cruising and tramping, I take just two pieces in the knapsack.
I get a skillful tinsmith to make one dish as follows: Six inches on bottom, 6 3/4 inches on top, side 2 inches high. The bottom is of the heaviest tin procurable, the sides of lighter tin and seamed to be watertight without solder. The top simply turned, without wire. The second dish to be made the same, but small enough to nest in the first and also to fit into it when inverted as a cover. Two other dishes made from common pressed tinware, with the tops cut off and turned, also without wire. They are fitted so that they all nest, taking no more room than the largest dish alone and each of the three smaller dishes makes a perfect cover for the next larger. The other piece is a tin camp-kettle, also of the heaviest tin and seamed watertight. It holds two quarts and the other dishes nest in it perfectly, so that when packed the whole takes just as much room as the kettle alone. I should mention that the strong ears are set below the rim of the kettle and the bale falls outside, so, as none of the dishes have any handle, there are no aggravating "stickouts" to wear and abrade. The snug affair weighs, all told, two pounds. I have met parties in the North Woods whose one frying pan weighed more—with its handle three feet long. However did they get through the brush with such a culinary terror?
It is only when I go into a very accessible camp that I take so much as five pieces of tinware along. I once made a ten days' tramp through an unbroken wilderness on foot and all the dish I took was a ten-cent tin; it was enough. I believe I will tell the story of that tramp before I get through. For I saw more game in the ten days than I ever saw before or since in a season; and I am told that the whole region is now a thrifty farming country, with the deer nearly all gone. They were plenty enough thirty-nine years ago this very month.
I feel more diffidence in speaking of rods than of any other matter connected with outdoor sports. The number and variety of rods and makers; the enthusiasm of trout and fly "cranks"; the fact that angling does not take precedence of all other sports with me, with the humiliating confession that I am not above bucktail spinners, worms and sinkers, minnow tails and white grubs—this and these constrain me to be brief.
But, as I have been a fisher all my life, from my pinhook days to the present time; as I have run the list pretty well up, from brook minnows to 100 pound albacores, I may be pardoned for a few remarks on the rod and the use thereof.
A rod may be a very high-toned, high-priced aesthetic plaything, costing $50 to $75, or it may be a rod. A serviceable and splendidly balanced rod can be obtained from first class makers for less money. By all means let the man of money indulge his fancy for the most costly rod that can be procured. He might do worse. A practical every day sportsman whose income is limited will find that a more modest product will drop his flies on the water quite as attractively to Salmo fontinalis. My little 8 1/2 foot, 4 1/2 ounce split bamboo which the editor of Forest and Stream had made for me cost $10.00. I have given it hard usage and at times large trout have tested it severely, but it has never failed me. The dimensions of my second rod are 9 1/2 feet long and 5 ounces in weight. This rod will handle the bucktail spinners which I use for trout and bass, when other things have failed. I used a rod of this description for several summers both in Adirondack and western waters. It had a hand-made reel seat, agate first guide, was satisfactory in every respect and I could see in balance, action and appearance no superiority in a rod costing $25.00, which one of my friends sported. Charles Dudley Warner, who writes charmingly of woods life, has the following in regard to trout fishing, which is so neatly humorous that it will bear repeating:
"It is well known that no person who regards his reputation will ever kill a trout with anything but a fly. It requires some training on the part of the trout to take to this method. The uncultivated trout in unfrequented waters prefers the bait; and the rural people, whose sole object in going a-fishing appears to be to catch fish, indulge them in their primitive state for the worm. No sportsman, however, will use anything but a fly except he happens to be alone." Speaking of rods, he says:
"The rod is a bamboo weighing seven ounces, which has to be spliced with a winding of silk thread every time it is used. This is a tedious process; but, by fastening the joints in this way, a uniform spring is secured in the rod. No one devoted to high art would think of using a socket joint."
One summer during a seven weeks' tour in the Northern Wilderness, my only rod was a 7 1/2 foot Henshall. It came to hand with two bait-tips only; but I added a fly-tip and it made an excellent "general fishing rod." With it I could handle a large bass or pickerel; it was a capital bait-rod for brook trout; as fly-rod it has pleased me well enough. It is likely to go with me again. For reel casting, the 5 1/2 foot rod is handier. But it is not yet decided which is best and I leave every man his own opinion. Only, I think one rod enough, but have always had more.
And don't neglect to take what sailors call a "ditty-bag." This may be a little sack of chamois leather about 4 inches wide by 6 inches in length. Mine is before me as I write. Emptying the contents, I find it inventories as follows: A dozen hooks, running in size from small minnow hooks to large Limericks; four lines of six yards each, varying from the finest to a size sufficient for a ten-pound fish; three darning needles and a few common sewing needles; a dozen buttons; sewing silk; thread and a small ball of strong yarn for darning socks; sticking salve; a bit of shoemaker's wax; beeswax; sinkers and a very fine file for sharpening hooks. The ditty-bag weighs, with contents, 2 1/2 ounces; and it goes in a small buckskin bullet pouch, which I wear almost as constantly as my hat. The pouch has a sheath strongly sewed on the back side of it, where the light hunting knife is always at hand, and it also carries a two-ounce vial of fly medicine, a vial of "pain killer," and two or three gangs of hooks on brass wire snells—of which, more in another place. I can always go down into that pouch for a waterproof match safe, strings, compass, bits of linen and scarlet flannel (for frogging), copper tacks and other light duffle. It is about as handy a piece of woods-kit as I carry.
I hope no aesthetic devotee of the fly-rod will lay down the book in disgust when I confess to a weakness for frogging. I admit that it is not high-toned sport; and yet I have got a good deal of amusement out of it. The persistence with which a large batrachian will snap at a bit of red flannel after being several times hooked on the same lure and the comical way in which he will scuttle off with a quick succession of short jumps after each release; the cheerful manner in which, after each bout, he will tune up his deep, bass pipe—ready for another greedy snap at an ibis fly or red rag is rather funny. And his hind legs, rolled in meal and nicely browned, are preferable to trout or venison.
CHAPTER III Getting Lost—Camping Out—Roughing It Or Smoothing It—Insects—Camps, And How To Make Them
WITH a large majority of prospective tourists and outers, "camping out" is a leading factor in the summer vacation. And during the long winter months they are prone to collect in little knots and talk much of camps, fishing, hunting and "roughing it." The last phrase is very popular and always cropping out in the talks on matters pertaining to a vacation in the woods. I dislike the phrase. We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities; in shops, offices, stores, banks anywhere that we may be placed—with the necessity always present of being on time and up to our work; of providing for the dependent ones; of keeping up, catching up, or getting left. "Alas for the lifelong battle, whose bravest slogan is bread."
As for the few fortunate ones who have no call to take a hand in any strife or struggle, who not only have all the time there is, but a great deal that they cannot dispose of with any satisfaction to themselves or anybody else—I am not writing for them; but only to those of the world's workers who go, or would like to go, every summer to the woods. And to these I would say, don't rough it; make it as smooth, as restful and pleasurable as you can.
To this end you need pleasant days and peaceful nights. You cannot afford to be tormented and poisoned by insects, nor kept awake at night by cold and damp, nor to exhaust your strength by hard tramps and heavy loads. Take it easy and always keep cool. Nine men out of ten, on finding themselves lost in the woods, fly into a panic and quarrel with the compass. Never do that. The compass is always right, or nearly so. It is not many years since an able-bodied man—sportsman of course—lost his way in the North Woods and took fright, as might be expected. He was well armed and well found for a week in the woods. What ought to have been only an interesting adventure, became a tragedy. He tore through thickets and swamps in his senseless panic, until he dropped and died through fright, hunger and exhaustion.
A well authenticated story is told of a guide in the Oswegatchie region, who perished in the same way. Guides are not infallible; I have known more than one to get lost. Wherefore, should you be tramping through a pathless forest on a cloudy day, and should the sun suddenly break from under a cloud in the northwest about noon, don't be scared. The last day is not at hand and the planets have not become mixed; only, you are turned. You have gradually swung around, until you are facing northwest when you meant to travel south. It has a muddling effect on the mind—this getting lost in the woods. But, if you can collect and arrange your gray brain matter and suppress all panicky feeling, it is easily got along with. For instance; it is morally certain that you commenced swinging to southwest, then west, to northwest. Had you kept on until you were heading directly north, you could rectify your course simply by following a true south course. But, as you have varied three-eighths of the circle, set your compass and travel by it to the southeast, until, in your judgment, you have about made up the deviation; then go straight south and you will not be far wrong. Carry the compass in your hand and look at it every few minutes; for the tendency to swerve from a straight course when a man is once lost—and nearly always to the right—is a thing past understanding.
As regards poisonous insects, it may be said that, to the man with clean, bleached, tender skin, they are, at the start, an unendurable torment. No one can enjoy life with a smarting, burning, swollen face, while the attacks on every exposed inch of skin are persistent and constant. I have seen a young man after two days' exposure to these pests come out of the woods with one eye entirely closed and the brow hanging over it like a clam shell, while face and hands were almost hideous from inflammation and puffiness. The St. Regis and St. Francis Indians, although born and reared in the woods, by no means make light of the black fly.
It took the man who could shoot Phantom Falls to find out, "Its bite is not severe, nor is it ordinarily poisonous. There may be an occasional exception to this rule; but beside the bite of the mosquito, it is comparatively mild and harmless." And again: "Gnats...in my way of thinking, are much worse than the black fly or mosquito." So says Murray. Our observations differ. A thousand mosquitoes and as many gnats can bite me without leaving a mark, or having any effect save the pain of the bite while they are at work. But each bite of the black fly makes a separate and distinct boil, that will not heal and be well in two months.
While fishing for brook trout in July last, I ran into a swarm of them on Moose River and got badly bitten. I had carelessly left my medicine behind. On the first of October the bites had not ceased to be painful, and it was three months before they disappeared entirely. Frank Forester says, in his Fish and Fishing, page 371, that he has never fished for the red-fleshed trout of Hamilton county, "being deterred therefrom by dread of that curse of the summer angler, the black fly, which is to me especially venomous."
"Adirondack Murray" gives extended directions for beating these little pests by the use of buckskin gloves with chamois gauntlets, Swiss mull, fine muslin, etc. Then he advises a mixture of sweet oil and tar, which is to be applied to face and hands; and he adds that it is easily washed off, leaving the skin soft and smooth as an infant's; all of which is true. But, more than forty years' experience in the woods has taught me that the following recipe is infallible anywhere that sancudos, moquims, or our own poisonous insects do most abound.
It was published in Forest and Stream in the summer of 1880 and again in '83. It has been pretty widely quoted and adopted and I have never known it to fail: Three ounces pine tar, two ounces castor oil, one ounce pennyroyal oil. Simmer all together over a slow fire and bottle for use. You will hardly need more than a two-ounce vial full in a season. One ounce has lasted me six weeks in the woods. Rub it in thoroughly and liberally at first, and after you have established a good glaze, a little replenishing from day to day will be sufficient. And don't fool with soap and towels where insects are plenty. A good safe coat of this varnish grows better the longer it is kept on—and it is cleanly and wholesome. If you get your face and hands crocky or smutty about the campfire, wet the corner of your handkerchief and rub it off, not forgetting to apply the varnish at once, wherever you have cleaned it off. Last summer I carried a cake of soap and a towel in my knapsack through the North Woods for a seven weeks' tour and never used either a single time. When I had established a good glaze on the skin, it was too valuable to be sacrificed for any weak whim connected with soap and water. When I struck a woodland hotel, I found soap and towels plenty enough. I found the mixture gave one's face the ruddy tanned look supposed to be indicative of health and hard muscle. A thorough ablution in the public wash basin reduced the color, but left the skin very soft and smooth; in fact, as a lotion for the skin it is excellent. It is a soothing and healing application for poisonous bites already received.
I have given some space to the insect question, but no more than it deserves or requires. The venomous little wretches are quite important enough to spoil many a well planned trip to the woods and it is best to beat them from the start. You will find that immunity from insects and a comfortable camp are the two first and most indispensable requisites of an outing in the woods.
And just here I will briefly tell how a young friend of mine went to the woods, some twenty-five years ago. He was a bank clerk and a good fellow withal, with a leaning toward camp-life.
For months, whenever we met, he would introduce his favorite topics, fishing, camping out, etc. At last in the hottest of the hot months, the time came. He put in an appearance with a fighting cut on his hair, a little stiff straw hat and a soft skin, bleached by long confinement in a close office. I thought he looked a little tender; but he was sanguine. He could rough it, could sleep on the bare ground with the root of a tree for a pillow; as for mosquitoes and punkies, he never minded them.
We went in a party of five—two old hunters and three youngsters, the latter all enthusiasm and pluck—at first. Toward the last end of a heavy eight-mile tramp, they grew silent and slapped and scratched nervously. Arriving at the camping spot, they worked fairly well, but were evidently weakening a little. By the time we were ready to turn in they were reduced pretty well to silence and suffering—especially the bank clerk, Jean L. The punkies were eager for his tender skin and they were rank poison to him. He muffled his head in a blanket and tried to sleep, but it was only a partial success. When, by suffocating himself, he obtained a little relief from insect bites, there were stubs and knotty roots continually poking themselves among his ribs, or digging into his backbone.
I have often had occasion to observe that stubs, roots and small stones, etc., have a perverse tendency to abrade the anatomy of people unused to the woods. Mr. C.D. Warner has noticed the same thing, I believe.
On the whole, Jean and the other youngsters behaved very well. Although they turned out in the morning with red, swollen faces and half closed eyes, they all went trouting and caught about 150 small trout between them. They did their level bravest to make a jolly thing of it; but Jean's attempt to watch a deerlick resulted in a wetting through the sudden advent of a shower; and the shower drove about all the punkies and mosquitoes in the neighborhood under our roof for shelter. I never saw them more plentiful or worse. Jean gave in and varnished his pelt thoroughly with my "punkie dope," as he called it; but, too late: the mischief was done. And the second trial was worse to those youngsters than the first. More insects. More stubs and knots. Owing to these little annoyances, they arrived at home several days before their friends expected them—leaving enough rations in camp to last Old Sile and the writer a full week. And the moral of it is, if they had fitted themselves for the the woods before going there, the trip would have been a pleasure instead of a misery.
One other little annoyance I will mention, as a common occurrence among those who camp out; this is the lack of a pillow. I suppose I have camped fifty times with people, who, on turning in, were squirming around for a long time, trying to get a rest for the head. Boots are the most common resort. But, when you place a boot-leg—or two of them—under your head, they collapse and make a headrest less than half an inch thick. Just why it never occurs to people that a stuffing of moss, leaves, or hemlock browse, would fill out the boot-leg and make a passable pillow, is another conundrum I cannot answer. But there is another and better way of making a pillow for camp use, which I will describe further on.
And now I wish to devote some space to one of the most important adjuncts of woodcraft, i.e., camps; how to make them and how to make them comfortable. There are camps and camps. There are camps in the North Woods that are really fine villas, costing thousands of dollars and there are log-houses and shanties and bark camps and A tents and walled tents, shelter-tents and shanty-tents. But, I assume that the camp best fitted to the wants of the average outer is the one that combines the essentials of dryness, lightness, portability, cheapness and is easily and quickly put up. Another essential is, that it must admit of a bright fire in front by night or day. I will give short descriptions of the forest shelters (camps) I have found handiest and most useful.
Firstly, I will mention a sort of camp that was described in a sportsman's paper and has since been largely quoted and used. It is made by fastening a horizontal pole to a couple of contiguous trees and then putting on a heavy covering of hemlock boughs, shingling them with the tips downward, of course. A fire is to be made at the roots of one of the trees. This, with plenty of boughs, may be made to stand a pretty stiff rain; but it is only a damp arbor, and no camp, properly speaking. A forest camp should always admit of a bright fire in front, with a lean-to or shed roof overhead, to reflect the fire heat on the bedding below. Any camp that falls short of this, lacks the requirements of warmth, brightness and healthfulness. This is why I discard all close, canvas tents.
The simplest and most primitive of all camps is the "Indian camp." It is easily and quickly made, is warm and comfortable and stands a pretty heavy rain when properly put up. This is how it is made: Let us say you are out and have slightly missed your way. The coming gloom warns you that night is shutting down. You are no tenderfoot. You know that a place of rest is essential to health and comfort through the long, cold November night. You dive down the first little hollow until you strike a rill of water, for water is a prime necessity. As you draw your hatchet you take in the whole situation at a glance. The little stream is gurgling downward in a half choked frozen way. There is a huge sodden hemlock lying across it. One clip of the hatchet shows it will peel. There is plenty of smaller timber standing around; long, slim poles, with a tuft of foliage on top. Five minutes suffice to drop one of these, cut a twelve-foot pole from it, sharpen the pole at each end, jam one end into the ground and the other into the rough back of a scraggy hemlock and there is your ridge pole. Now go—with your hatchet—for the bushiest and most promising young hemlocks within reach. Drop them and draw them to camp rapidly. Next, you need a fire. There are fifty hard, resinous limbs sticking up from the prone hemlock; lop off a few of these and split the largest into match timber; reduce the splinters to shavings, scrape the wet leaves from your prospective fireplace and strike a match on the balloon part of your trousers. If you are a woodsman you will strike but one. Feed the fire slowly at first; it will gain fast. When you have a blaze ten feet high, look at your watch. It is 6 P.M. You don't want to turn in before 10 o'clock and you have four hours to kill before bedtime. Now, tackle the old hemlock; take off every dry limb and then peel the bark and bring it to camp. You will find this takes an hour or more.
Next, strip every limb from your young hemlocks and shingle them onto your ridge pole. This will make a sort of bear den, very well calculated to give you a comfortable night's rest. The bright fire will soon dry the ground that is to be your bed and you will have plenty of time to drop another small hemlock and make a bed of browse a foot thick. You do it. Then you make your pillow. Now, this pillow is essential to comfort and very simple. It is half a yard of muslin, sewed up as a bag and filled with moss or hemlock browse. You can empty it and put it in your pocket, where it takes up about as much room as a handkerchief. You have other little muslin bags—an' you be wise. One holds a couple of ounces of good tea; another, sugar; another is kept to put your loose duffle in: money, match safe, pocket-knife. You have a pat of butter and a bit of pork, with a liberal slice of brown bread; and before turning in you make a cup of tea, broil a slice of pork and indulge in a lunch.
Ten o'clock comes. The time has not passed tediously. You are warm, dry and well-fed. Your old friends, the owls, come near the fire-light and salute you with their strange wild notes; a distant fox sets up for himself with his odd, barking cry and you turn in. Not ready to sleep just yet.
But you drop off; and it is two bells in the morning watch when you waken with a sense of chill and darkness. The fire has burned low and snow is falling. The owls have left and a deep silence broods over the cold, still forest. You rouse the fire and, as the bright light shines to the furthest recesses of your forest den, get out the little pipe and reduce a bit of navy plug to its lowest denomination. The smoke curls lazily upward; the fire makes you warm and drowsy and again you lie down—to again awaken with a sense of chilliness—to find the fire burned low and daylight breaking. You have slept better than you would in your own room at home. You have slept in an "Indian camp."
You have also learned the difference between such a simple shelter and an open air bivouac under a tree or beside an old log.
Another easily made and very comfortable camp is the "brush shanty," as it is usually called in Northern Pennsylvania. The frame for such a shanty is a cross-pole resting on two crotches about six feet high and enough straight poles to make a foundation for the thatch. The poles are laid about six inches apart, one end on the ground, the other on the cross-pole, and at a pretty sharp angle. The thatch is made of the fan-like boughs cut from the thrifty young hemlock and are to be laid bottom upward and feather end down. Commence to lay them from the ground and work up to the cross-pole, shingling them carefully as you go. If the thatch be laid a foot in thickness and well done, the shanty will stand a pretty heavy rain—better than the average bark roof, which is only rainproof in dry weather.
A bark camp, however, may be a very neat sylvan affair, provided you are camping where spruce or balsam fir may be easily reached, and in the hot months when bark will "peel"; and you have a day in which to work at a camp. The best bark camps I have ever seen are in the Adirondacks. Some of them are rather elaborate in construction, requiring two or more days' hard labor by a couple of guides. When the stay is to be a long one and the camp permanent, perhaps it will pay.
As good a camp as I have ever tried—perhaps the best—is the "shanty-tent" shown in the illustration. It is easily put up, is comfortable, neat and absolutely rain-proof. Of course, it may be of any required size; but, for a party of two, the following dimensions and directions will be found all sufficient:
Firstly, the roof. This is merely a sheet of strong cotton cloth 9 feet long by 4 or 4 1/2 feet in width. The sides, of the same material, to be 4 1/2 feet deep at front and 2 feet deep at the back. This gives 7 feet along the edge of the roof, leaving 2 feet for turning down at the back end of the shanty. It will be seen that the sides must be "cut bias," to compensate for the angle of the roof, otherwise the shanty will not be square and shipshape when put up. Allowing for waste in cutting, it takes nearly 3 yards of cloth for each side. The only labor required in making, is to cut the sides to the proper shape and stitch them to the roof. No buttons, strings, or loops. The cloth does not even require hemming. It does, however, need a little waterproofing; for which the following receipt will answer very well and add little or nothing to the weight: To 10 quarts of water add 10 ounces of lime and 4 ounces of alum; let it stand until clear; fold the cloth snugly and put it in another vessel, pour the solution on it, let it soak for 12 hours; then rinse in luke-warm rain water, stretch and dry in the sun and the shanty-tent is ready for use.
To put it up properly, make a neat frame as follows: Two strong stakes or posts for the front, driven firmly in the ground 4 feet apart; at a distance of 6 feet 10 inches from these, drive two other posts—these to be 4 feet apart—for back end of shanty. The front posts to be 4 1/2 feet high, the back rests only two feet. The former also to incline a little toward each other above, so as to measure from outside of posts, just 4 feet at top. This gives a little more width at front end of shanty, adding space and warmth. No crotches are used in putting up the shanty-tent. Each of the four posts is fitted on the top to receive a flat-ended cross-pole and admit of nailing. When the posts are squarely ranged and driven, select two straight, hardwood rods, 2 inches in diameter and 7 feet in length—or a little more. Flatten the ends carefully and truly, lay them alongside on top from post to post and fasten them with a light nail at each end. Now, select two more straight rods of the same size, but a little over 4 feet in length; flatten the ends of these as you did the others, lay them crosswise from side to side and lapping the ends of the other rods; fasten them solidly by driving a sixpenny nail through the ends and into the posts and you have a square frame 7x4 feet. But it is not yet complete. Three light rods are needed for rafters. These are to be placed lengthwise of the roof at equal distances apart and nailed or tied to keep them in place. Then take two straight poles a little over 7 feet long and some 3 inches in diameter. These are to be accurately flattened at the ends and nailed to the bottom of the posts, snug to the ground, on outside of posts. A foot-log and head-log are indispensable. These should be about 5 inches in diameter and of a length to just reach from outside to outside of posts. They should be squared at ends and the foot-log placed against the front post, outside and held firmly in place by two wooden pins. The head-log is fastened the same way, except that it goes against the inside of the back posts; and the frame is complete. Round off all sharp angles or corners with knife and hatchet and proceed to spread and fasten the cloth. Lay the roof on evenly and tack it truly to the front cross-rod, using about a dozen six-ounce tacks. Stretch the cloth to its bearings and tack it at the back end in the same manner. Stretch it sidewise and tack the sides to the side poles, fore and aft. Tack front and back ends of sides to the front and back posts. Bring down the 2 foot flap of roof at back end of shanty; stretch and tack it snugly to the back posts—and your sylvan house is done. It is rain-proof, wind-proof, warm and comfortable. The foot and head logs define the limits of your forest dwelling; within which you may pile fragrant hemlock browse as thick as you please and renew it from day to day. It is the perfect camp.
You may put it up with less care and labor and make it do very well. But I have tried to explain how to do it in the best manner; to make it all sufficient for an entire season. And it takes longer to tell it on paper than to do it.
When I go to the woods with a partner and we arrive at our camping ground, I like him to get his fishing rig together and start out for a half day's exercise with his favorite flies, leaving me to make the camp according to my own notions of woodcraft. If he will come back about dusk with a few pounds of trout, I will have a pleasant camp and a bright fire for him. And if he has enjoyed wading an icy stream more than I have making the camp—he has had a good day.
Perhaps it may not be out of place to say that the camp, made as above, calls for fifteen bits of timber, posts, rods, etc., a few shingle nails and some sixpenny wrought nails, with a paper of six-ounce tacks. Nails and tacks will weigh about five ounces and are always useful. In tacking the cloth, turn the raw edge in until you have four thicknesses, as a single thickness is apt to tear. If you desire to strike camp, it takes about ten minutes to draw and save all the nails and tacks, fold the cloth smoothly and deposit the whole in your knapsack. If you wish to get up a shelter-tent on fifteen minutes' notice, cut and sharpen a twelve-foot pole as for the Indian camp, stick one end in the ground, the other in the rough bark of a large tree—hemlock is best—hang the cloth on the pole, fasten the sides to rods and the rods to the ground with inverted crotches, and your shelter-tent is ready for you to creep under.
The above description of the shanty-tent may seem a trifle elaborate, but I hope it is plain. The affair weighs just three pounds and it takes a skillful woodsman about three hours of easy work to put it in the shape described. Leaving out some of the work and only aiming to get it up in square shape as quickly as possible, I can put it up in an hour. The shanty as it should be, is shown in the illustration very fairly. And the shape of the cloth when spread out, is shown in the diagram. On the whole, it is the best form of close-side tent I have found. It admits of a bright fire in front, without which a forest camp is just no camp at all to me. I have suffered enough in close, dark, cheerless, damp tents.
More than thirty years ago I became disgusted with the clumsy, awkward, comfortless affairs that, under many different forms, went under the name of camps. Gradually I came to make a study of "camping out." It would take too much time and space, should I undertake to describe all the different styles and forms I have tried. But I will mention a few of the best and worst.
The old Down East "coal cabin" embodied the principle of the Indian camp. The frame was simply two strong crotches set firmly in the ground at a distance of eight feet apart and interlocking at top. These supported a stiff ridge-pole fifteen feet long, the small end sharpened and set in the ground. Refuse boards, shooks, stakes, etc., were placed thickly from the ridge-pole to the ground; a thick layer of straw was laid over these and the whole was covered a foot thick with earth and sods, well beaten down. A stone wall five feet high at back and sides made a most excellent fireplace; and these cabins were weather-proof and warm, even in zero weather. But they were too cumbersome and included too much labor for the ordinary hunter and angler. Also, they were open to the objection, that while wide enough in front, they ran down to a dismal, cold peak at the far end. Remembering, however, the many pleasant winter nights I had passed with the coal-burners, I bought a supply of oil-cloth and rigged it on the same principle. It was a partial success and I used it for one season. But that cold, peaked, dark space was always back of my head and it seemed like an iceberg. It was in vain that I tied a handkerchief about my head, or drew a stockingleg over it. That miserable, icy angle was always there. And it would only shelter one man anyhow. When winter drove me out of the woods I gave it to an enthusiastic young friend, bought some more oil-cloth and commenced a shanty-tent that was meant to be perfect. A good many leisure hours were spent in cutting and sewing that shanty, which proved rather a success. It afforded a perfect shelter for a space 7x4 feet, but was a trifle heavy to pack and the glazing began to crack and peel off in a short time. I made another and larger one of stout drilling, soaked in lime-water and alum; and this was all that could be asked when put up properly on a frame. But, the sides and ends being sewed to the roof made it unhandy to use as a shelter, when shelter was needed on short notice. So I ripped the back ends of the sides loose from the flap, leaving it, when spread out, as shown in the diagram. This was better; when it was necessary to make some sort of shelter in short order, it could be done with a single pole as used in the Indian camp, laying the tent across the pole and using a few tacks to keep it in place at sides and center. This can be done in ten minutes and makes a shelter-tent that will turn a heavy rain for hours.
On the whole, for all kinds of weather, the shanty-tent is perhaps the best style of camp to be had at equal expense and trouble.
For a summer camp, however, I have finally come to prefer the simple lean-to or shed roof. It is the lightest, simplest and cheapest of all cloth devices for camping out and I have found it sufficient for all weathers from June until the fall of the leaves. It is only a sheet of strong cotton cloth 9x7 feet and soaked in lime and alum-water as the other. The only labor in making it is sewing two breadths of sheeting together. It needs no hemming, binding, loops or buttons, but is to be stretched on a frame as described for the brush shanty and held in place with tacks. The one I have used for two seasons cost sixty cents and weighs 2 1/4 pounds. It makes a good shelter for a party of three; and if it be found a little too breezy for cool nights, a sufficient windbreak can be made by driving light stakes at the sides and weaving in a siding of hemlock boughs.
Lastly, whatever cloth structure you may elect to use for a camp, do not fail to cover the roof with a screen of green boughs before building your campfire. Because there will usually be one fellow in camp who has a penchant for feeding the fire with old mulchy deadwood and brush, for the fun of watching the blaze and the sparks that are prone to fly upward; forgetting that the blazing cinders are also prone to drop downward on the roof of the tent, burning holes in it.
I have spoken of some of the best camps I know. The worst ones are the A and wall tents, with all closed camps in which one is required to seclude himself through the hours of sleep in damp and darkness, utterly cut off from the cheerful, healthful light and warmth of the campfire.
CHAPTER IV Campfires And Their Importance—The Wasteful Wrong Way They Are Usually Made, And The Right Way To Make Them
HARDLY second in importance to a warm, dry camp, is the campfire. In point of fact, the warmth, dryness and healthfulness of a forest camp are mainly dependent on the way the fire is managed and kept up. No asthmatic or consumptive patient ever regained health by dwelling in a close, damp tent. I once camped for a week in a wall tent, with a Philadelphia party, and in cold weather. We had a little sheet iron fiend, called a camp-stove. When well fed with bark, knots and chips, it would get red hot and, heaven knows, give out heat enough. By the time we were sound asleep, it would subside; and we would presently awake with chattering teeth to kindle her up again, take a smoke and a nip, turn in for another nap—to awaken again half frozen. It was a poor substitute for the open camp and bright fire. An experience of fifty years convinces me that a large percentage of the benefit obtained by invalids from camp life is attributable to the open camp and well-managed campfire. And the latter is usually handled in a way that is too sad, too wasteful; in short, badly botched. For instance:
It happened in the summer of '81 that I was making a canoe trip in the Northern Wilderness, and as Raquette Lake is the largest and about the most interesting lake in the North Woods, I spent about a week paddling, fishing, etc. I made my headquarters at Ed Bennett's woodland hostelry, "Under the Hemlocks." As the hotel was filled with men, women and crying children, bitten to agony by punkies and mosquitoes, I chose to spread my blanket in a well-made bark shanty, which a signboard in black and white said was the "Guides' Camp."
And this camp was a very popular institution. Here it was that every evening, when night had settled down on forest and lake, the guests of the hotel would gather to lounge on the bed of fresh balsam browse, chat, sing and enjoy the huge campfire.
No woodland hotel will long remain popular that does not keep up a bright, cheery, out o'door fire. And the fun of it—to an old woodsman—is in noting how like a lot of school children they all act about the fire. Ed Bennett had a man, a North Woods trapper, in his employ, whose chief business was to furnish plenty of wood for the guides' camp and start a good fire every evening by sundown. As it grew dark and the blaze shone high and bright, the guests would begin to straggle in; and every man, woman and child seemed to view it as a religious duty to pause by the fire and add a stick or two, before passing into camp. The wood was thrown on endwise, crosswise, or any way, so that it would burn, precisely as a crowd of boys make a bonfire on the village green. The object being, apparently, to get rid of the wood in the shortest possible time.
When the fire burnt low, toward midnight, the guests would saunter off to the hotel; and the guides, who had been waiting impatiently, would organize what was left of the fire, roll themselves in their blankets and turn in. I suggested to the trapper that he and I make one fire as it should be and maybe they would follow suit—which would save half the fuel, with a better fire. But he said, "No; they like to build bonfires and Ed can stand the wood, because it is best to let them have their own way. Time seems to hang heavy on their hands—and they pay well." Summer boarders, tourists and sportsmen, are not the only men who know how to build a campfire all wrong.
When I first came to Northern Pennsylvania, thirty-five years ago, I found game fairly abundant; and, as I wanted to learn the country where deer most abounded, I naturally cottoned to the local hunters. Good fellows enough, and conceited, as all local hunters and anglers are apt to be. Strong, good hunters and axe-men, to the manner born and prone to look on any outsider as a tenderfoot. Their mode of building campfires was a constant vexation to me. They made it a point to always have a heavy sharp axe in camp, and toward night some sturdy chopper would cut eight or ten logs as heavy as the whole party could lug to camp with hand-spikes. The size of the logs was proportioned to the muscular force in camp. If there was a party of six or eight, the logs would be twice as heavy as when we were three or four. Just at dark, there would be a log heap built in front of the camp, well chinked with bark, knots and small sticks; and, for the next two hours, one could hardly get at the fire to light a pipe. But the fire was sure though slow. By 10 or 11 P.M. it would work its way to the front and the camp would be warm and light. The party would turn in and deep sleep would fall on a lot of tired hunters—for two or three hours. By which time some fellow near the middle was sure to throw his blanket off with a spiteful jerk and dash out of camp with, "Holly Moses! I can't stand this; it's an oven."
Another Snorer (partially waking).—"N-r-r-rm, gu-r-r, ugh. Can't you—deaden—fire—a little?"
First Speaker.—"Deaden hell. If you want the fire deadened, get up and help throw off some of these logs."
Another (in coldest corner of shanty)—"What's 'er matter with a-you fellows? Better dig out—an' cool off in the snow. Shanty's comfor'ble enough."
His minority report goes unheeded. The camp is roasted out. Strong hands and hand-spikes pry a couple of glowing logs from the front and replace them with two cold, green logs; the camp cools off and the party takes to blankets once more—to turn out again at 5 A.M. and inaugurate breakfast.
The fire is not in favorable shape for culinary operations, the heat is mainly on the back side, just where it isn't wanted. The few places level enough to set a pot or pan are too hot; and, in short, where there is any fire, there is too much. One man sees, with intense disgust, the nozzle of his coffeepot drop into the fire. He makes a rash grab to save his coffee and gets away—with the handle, which hangs on just enough to upset the pot.
"Old Al," who is frying a slice of pork over a bed of coals that would melt a gun barrel, starts a hoarse laugh, that is cut short by a blue flash and an explosion of pork fat, which nearly blinds him. And the writer, taking in these mishaps in the very spirit of fun and frolic, is suddenly sobered and silenced by seeing his venison steak drop from the end of the "frizzling stick," and disappear between two glowing logs. The party manages, however, to get off on the hunt at daylight, with full stomachs; and perhaps the hearty fun and laughter more than compensate for these little mishaps.
This is a digression. But I am led to it by the recollection of many nights spent in camps and around campfires, pretty much as described above. I can smile today at the remembrance of the calm, superior way in which the old hunters of that day would look down on me, as from the upper branches of a tall hemlock, when I ventured to suggest that a better fire could be made with half the fuel and less than half the labor. They would kindly remark, "Oh, you are a Boston boy. You are used to paying $8.00 a cord for wood. We have no call to save wood here. We can afford to burn it by the acre." Which was more true than logical. Most of these men had commenced life with a stern declaration of war against the forest; and, although the men usually won at last, the battle was a long and hard one. Small wonder that they came to look upon a forest tree as a natural enemy. The campfire question came to a crisis, however, with two or three of these old settlers. And, as the story well illustrates my point, I will venture to tell it.
It was in the "dark days before Christmas" that a party of four started from W., bound for a camp on Second Fork, in the deepest part of the wilderness that lies between Wellsboro and the Block House. The party consisted of Sile J., Old Al, Eli J. and the writer. The two first were gray-haired men, the others past thirty; all the same, they called us "the boys." The weather was not inviting and there was small danger of our camp being invaded by summer outers or tenderfeet. It cost twelve miles of hard travel to reach that camp; and, though we started at daylight, it was past noon when we arrived. The first seven miles could be made on wheels, the balance by hard tramping. The road was execrable; no one cared to ride; but it was necessary to have our loads carried as far as possible. The clearings looked dreary enough and the woods forbidding to a degree, but our old camp was the picture of desolation. There was six inches of damp snow on the leafless brush roof, the blackened brands of our last fire were sticking their charred ends out of the snow, the hemlocks were bending sadly under their loads of wet snow and the entire surroundings had a cold, cheerless, slushy look, very little like the ideal hunter's camp. We placed our knapsacks in the shanty, Eli got out his nail hatchet, I drew my little pocket-axe and we proceeded to start a fire, while the two older men went up stream a few rods to unearth a full-grown axe and a bottle of old rye, which they had cached under a log three months before. They never fooled with pocket-axes. They were gone so long that we sauntered up the band, thinking it might be the rye that detained them. We found them with their coats off, working like beavers, each with a stout, sharpened stick. There had been an October freshet and a flood-jam at the bend had sent the mad stream over its banks, washing the log out of position and piling a gravel bar two feet deep over the spot where the axe and flask should have been. About the only thing left to do was to cut a couple of stout sticks, organize a mining company, limited and go in; which they did. Sile was drifting into the side of the sandbar savagely, trying to strike the axe-helve and Old Al was sinking numberless miniature shafts from the surface in a vain attempt to strike whisky. The company failed in about half an hour. Sile resumed his coat and sat down on a log—which was one of his best holds, by the way. He looked at Al; Al looked at him; then both looked at us and Sile remarked that, if one of the boys wanted to go out to the clearings and "borry" an axe and come back in the morning, he thought the others could pick up wood enough to tough it out one night. Of course nobody could stay in an open winter camp without an axe.
It was my time to come to the front. I said: "You two just go at the camp; clean the snow off and slick up the inside. Put my shelter-cloth with Eli's and cover the roof with them; and if you don't have just as good a fire tonight as you ever had, you can tie me to a beech and leave me here. Come on, Eli." And Eli did come on. And this is how we did it: We first felled a thrifty butternut tree ten inches in diameter, cut off three lengths at five feet each and carried them to camp. These were the back logs. Two stout stakes were driven at the back of the fire and the logs, on top of each other, were laid firmly against the stakes. The latter were slanted a little back and the largest log placed at bottom, the smallest on top, to prevent tipping forward. A couple of short, thick sticks were laid with the ends against the bottom log by way of fire dogs; a fore stick, five feet long and five inches in diameter; a well built pyramid of bark, knots and small logs completed the campfire, which sent a pleasant glow of warmth and heat to the furthest corner of the shanty. For "night-wood," we cut a dozen birch and ash poles from four to six inches across, trimmed them to the tips and dragged them to camp. Then we denuded a dry hemlock of its bark; and, by the aid of ten foot poles, flattened at one end, packed the bark to camp. We had a bright, cheery fire from the early evening until morning, and four tired hunters never slept more soundly.
We stayed in that camp a week; and, though the weather was rough and cold, the little pocket-axes kept us well in firewood. We selected butternut for backlogs, because, when green, it burns very slowly and lasts a long time. And we dragged our smaller wood to camp in lengths of twenty to thirty feet, because it was easier to lay them on the fire and burn them in two than to cut them shorter with light hatchets. With a heavy axe, we should have cut them to lengths of five or six feet.
Our luck, I may mention, was good—as good as we desired. Not that four smallish deer are anything to brag about for a week's hunt by four men and two dogs. I have known a pot-hunter to kill nine in a single day. But we had enough.
As it was, we were obliged to "double trip it" in order to get our deer and duffle down to "Babb's." And we gave away more than half our venison. For the rest, the illustration shows the campfire—all but the fire—as it should be made.
CHAPTER V Fishing, With And Without Flies—Some Tackle And Lures—Discursive Remarks On The Gentle Art—The Headlight—Frogging
THERE is probably no subject connected with outdoor sport so thoroughly and exhaustively written up as Fly-fishing and all that pertains thereto. Fly-fishing for speckled trout always, and deservedly, takes the lead. Bass fishing usually comes next, though some writers accord second place to the lake trout, salmon trout or land-locked salmon. The mascalonge, as a game fish, is scarcely behind the small-mouthed bass and is certainly more gamy than the lake trout. The large-mouthed bass and pickerel are usually ranked about with the yellow perch, I don't know why: they are certainly gamy enough. Perhaps it is because they do not leap out of water when hooked. Both are good on the table.
A dozen able and interesting authors have written books wherein trout, flies and fly-fishing are treated in a manner that leaves an old backwoodsman little to say. Rods, reels, casting lines, flies and fish are described and descanted on in a way and in a language, the reading whereof reduces me to temporary insanity. And yet I seem to recollect some bygone incidents concerning fish and fishing. I have a well-defined notion that I once stood on Flat Rock, in Big Pine Creek and caught over 350 fine trout in a short day's fishing. Also that many times I left home on a bright May or June morning, walked eight miles, caught a twelve-pound creel of trout and walked home before bedtime.
I remember that once, in Michigan, on the advice of local fishermen, I dragged a spoon around High Bank Lake two days, with little result save half a dozen blisters on my hands; and that on the next morning, taking a long tamarack pole and my own way of fishing, I caught, before 10 A.M., fifty pounds of bass and pickerel, weighing from two to ten pounds each.
Gibson, whose spoon, line and skiff I had been using and who was the fishing oracle of that region, could hardly believe his eyes. I kept that country inn, and the neighborhood as well, supplied with fish for the next two weeks.
It is truth to say that I have never struck salt or fresh waters, where edible fish were at all plentiful, without being able to take, in some way, all that I needed. Notably and preferably with the fly if that might be; if not, then with worms, grubs, minnows, grasshoppers, crickets, or any sort of doodle bug their highnesses might affect. When a plump, two-pound trout refuses to eat a tinseled, feathered fraud, I am not the man to refuse him something more edible.
That I may not be misunderstood, let me say that I recognized the speckled brook trout as the very emperor of all game fish, and angling for him with the fly as the neatest, most fascinating sport attainable by the angler. But there are thousands of outers who, from choice or necessity, take their summer vacations where Salmo fontinalis is not to be had. They would prefer him, either on the leader or the table; but he is not there; "And a man has got a stomach and we live by what we eat."
Wherefore, they go a-fishing for other fish. So that they are successful and sufficiently fed, the difference is not so material. I have enjoyed myself hugely catching catties on a dark night from a skiff with a hand-line.
I can add nothing in a scientific way to the literature of fly-fishing; but I can give a few hints that may be conducive to practical success, as well with trout as with less noble fish, In fly-fishing, one serviceable four-ounce rod is enough; and a plain click reel, of small size, is just as satisfactory as a more costly affair. Twenty yards of tapered, waterproof line, with a six-foot leader, and a cost of two flies, complete the rig, and will be found sufficient. In common with most fly-fishers, I have mostly thrown a cast of three flies, but have found two just as effective, and handier.
We all carry too many flies, Some of my friends have more than sixty dozen and will never use a tenth of them. In the summer of '88, finding I had more than seemed needful, I left all but four dozen behind me. I wet only fifteen of them in a seven weeks' outing. And they filled the bill. I have no time or space for a dissertation on the hundreds of different flies made and sold at the present day. Abler pens have done that. I will, however, name a few that I have found good in widely different localities, i.e., the Northern Wilderness of New York and the upper waters of Northern Pennsylvania. For the Northern Wilderness: Scarlet ibis, split ibis, Romeyn, white-winged coachman, royal coachman, red hackle, red-bodied ashy and gray-bodied ashy. The ashies were good for black bass also. For Northern Pennsylvania: Queen of the waters, professor, red fox, coachman, black may, white-winged coachman, wasp, brown hackle, Seth Green. Ibis flies are worthless here. Using the dark flies in bright water and clear weather and the brighter colors for evening, the list was long enough.
At the commencement of the open season and until the young maple leaves are half grown, bait will be found far more successful than the fly. At this time the trout are pretty evenly distributed along lake shores and streams, choosing to lie quietly in rather deep pools and avoiding swift water. A few may rise to the fly in a logy, indifferent way; but the best way to take them is bait-fishing with well-cleansed angle-worms or white grubs, the latter being the best bait I have ever tried. They take the bait sluggishly at this season, but, on feeling the hook, wake up to their normal activity and fight gamely to the last. When young, newborn insects begin to drop freely on the water about the 20th of May, trout leave the pools and take to the riffles. And from this time until the latter part of June the fly-fisherman is in his glory. It may be true that the skillful bait-fisherman will rather beat his creel. He cares not for that. He can take enough; and he had rather take ten trout with the fly, than a score with bait. As for the man who goes a-fishing simply to catch fish, the fly-fisher does not recognize him as an angler at all.
When the sun is hot and the weather grows warm, trout leave the ripples and take to cold springs and spring-holes; the largest fish, of course, monopolizing the deepest and coolest places, while the smaller ones hover around, or content themselves with shallower water. As the weather gets hotter, the fly-fishing falls off badly. A few trout of four to eight ounces in weight may still be raised, but the larger ones are lying on the bottom and are not to be fooled with feathers. They will take a tempting bait when held before their noses—sometimes; at other times, not. As to raising them with a fly—as well attempt to raise a sick Indian with the temperance pledge. And yet, they may be taken in bright daylight by a ruse that I learned long ago, of a youngster less than half my age, a little, freckled, thin-visaged young man, whose health was evidently affected by a daily struggle with a pair of tow-colored side whiskers and a light mustache. There was hardly enough of the whole affair to make a door mat for a bee hive. But he seemed so proud of the plant, that I forebore to rig him. He was better than he looked—as often happens. The landlord said, "He brings in large trout every day, when our best fly-fishermen fail." One night, around an outdoor fire, we got acquainted and I found him a witty, pleasant companion. Before turning in I ventured to ask him how he succeeded in taking large trout, while the experts only caught small ones, or failed altogether.
"Go with me tomorrow morning to a spring-hole three miles up the river and I'll show you," he said.
Of course, we went. He, rowing a light skiff and I paddling a still lighter canoe. The spring-hole was in a narrow bay that set back from the river and at the mouth of a cold, clear brook; it was ten to twelve feet deep and at the lower end a large balsam had fallen in with the top in just the right place for getting away with large fish, or tangling lines and leaders. We moored some twenty feet above the spring-hole and commenced fishing, I with my favorite cast of flies, my friend with the tail of a minnow, He caught a 1 1/2 pound trout almost at the outset, but I got no rise; did not expect it. Then I went above, where the water was shallower and raised a couple of half-pounders, but could get no more, I thought he had better go to the hotel with what he had, but my friend said "wait"; he went ashore and picked up a long pole with a bushy tip; it had evidently been used before. Dropping down to the spring-hole, he thrust the tip to the bottom and slashed it around in a way to scare and scatter every trout within a hundred feet.
"And what does all that mean?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "every trout will be back in less than an hour; and when they first come back, they take the bait greedily. Better take off your leader and try bait."
Which I did. Dropping our hooks to the bottom, we waited some twenty minutes, when he had a bite, and having strong tackle, soon took in a trout that turned the scale at 2 1/4 pounds. Then my turn came and I saved one weighing 1 1/2 pounds. He caught another of 1 1/4 pounds and I took one of 1 pound. Then they ceased biting altogether.
"And now," said my friend, "if you will work your canoe carefully around to that old balsam top and get the light where you can see the bottom, you may see some large trout."
I did as directed, and making a telescope of my hand, looked intently for the bottom of the spring-hole. At first I could see nothing but water; then I made out some dead sticks and finally began to dimly trace the outlines of large fish. There they were, more than forty of them, lying quietly on the bottom like suckers, but genuine brook trout, every one of them.
"This," said he, "makes the fifth time I have brushed them out of here and I have never missed taking from two to five large trout. I have two other places where I always get one or two, but this is the best."
At the hotel we found two fly-fishers who had been out all the morning. They each had three or four small trout. During the next week we worked the spring-holes daily in the same way and always with success. I have also had good success by building a bright fire on the bank and fishing a spring-hole by the light—a mode of fishing especially successful with catties and perch.
A bright, bull's-eye headlight, strapped on a stiff hat, so that the light can be thrown where it is wanted, is an excellent device for night fishing. And during the heated term, when fish are slow and sluggish, I have found the following plan works well: Bake a hard, well salted, water Johnnycake, break it into pieces the size at a hen's egg and drop the pieces into a spring-hole. This calls a host of minnows and the larger fish follow the minnows. It will prove more successful on perch, catties, chubs, etc., than on trout, however. By this plan, I have kept a camp of five men well supplied with fish when their best flies failed—as they mostly do in very hot weather.
Fishing for mascalonge, pickerel and bass, is quite another thing, though by many valued as a sport scarcely inferior to fly-fishing for trout. I claim no especial skill with the fly-rod. It is a good day when I get my tail fly more than fifteen yards beyond the reel, with any degree of accuracy.
My success lies mainly with the tribes of Esox and Micropterus. Among these, I have seldom or never failed during the last thirty-six years, when the water was free of ice; and I have had just as good luck when big-mouthed bass and pickerel were in the "off season," as at any time. For in many waters there comes a time—in late August and September when neither bass nor pickerel will notice the spoon, be it handled never so wisely. Even the mascalonge looks on the flashing cheat with indifference; though a very hungry specimen may occasionally immolate himself. It was at such a season that I fished High Bank Lake—as before mentioned—catching from twenty to fifty pounds of fine fish every morning for nearly two weeks, after the best local fishermen had assured me that not a decent sized fish could be taken at that season. Perhaps a brief description of the modes and means that have proved invariably successful for many years may afford a few useful hints, even to old anglers.
To begin with, I utterly discard all modern "gangs" and "trains," carrying from seven to thirteen hooks each. They are all too small and all too many; better calculated to scratch and tear, than to catch and hold, Three hooks are enough at the end of any line and better than more. These should be fined or honed to a perfect point and the abrupt part of the barb filed down one-half. All hooks, as usually made, have twice as much barb as they should have; and the sharp bend of the barb prevents the entering of the hook in hard bony structures, wherefore the fish only stays hooked so long as there is a taut pull on the line. A little loosening of the line and shake of the head sets him free. But no fish can shake out a hook well sunken in mouth or gills, though two-thirds of the barb be filed away.
For mascalonge or pickerel I invariably use wire snells made as follows: Lay off four or more strands of fine brass wire 13 inches long; turn one end of the wires smoothly over a No. 1 iron wire and work the ends in between the strands below. Now, with a pair of pincers hold the ends, and using No. 1 as a handle, twist the ends and body of the snell firmly together; this gives the loop; next, twist the snell evenly and strongly from end to end. Wax the end of the snell thoroughly for two or three inches and wax the tapers of two strong Sproat or O'Shaughnessy hooks and wind the lower hook on with strong, waxed silk, to the end of the taper; then lay the second hook at right angles with the first and one inch above it; wind this as the other and then fasten a third and smaller hook above that for a lip hook. This gives the snell about one foot in length, with the two lower hooks standing at right angles, one above the other and a third and smaller hook in line with the second.
The bait is the element of success; it is made as follows: Slice off a clean, white pork rind, four or five inches long by an inch and a half wide; lay it on a board and with a sharp knife cut it as nearly to the shape of a frog as your ingenuity permits. Prick a slight gash in the head to admit the lip hook, which should be an inch and a half above the second one and see that the back of the bait rests securely in the barb of the middle hook.
Use a stout bait-rod and a strong line. Fish from a boat, with a second man to handle the oars, if convenient. Let the oarsman lay the boat ten feet inside the edge of the lily-pads and make your cast, say, with thirty feet of line; land the bait neatly to the right, at the edge of the lily-pads, let it sink a few inches, and then with the tip well lowered, bring the bait around on a slight curve by a quick succession of draws, with a momentary pause between each; the object being to imitate as nearly as possible a swimming frog. If this be neatly done and if the bait be made as it should be, at every short halt the legs will spread naturally and the imitation is perfect enough to deceive the most experienced bass or pickerel. When half a dozen casts to right and left have been made without success, it is best to move on, still keeping inside and casting outside the lily-pads.
A pickerel of three pounds or more will take in all three hooks at the first snap; and, as he closes his mouth tightly and starts for the bottom, strike quickly, but not too hard, and let the boatman put you out into deep water at once, where you are safe from the strong roots of the yellow lily.
It is logically certain your fish is well hooked. You cannot pull two strong, sharp hooks through that tightly closed mouth without fastening at least one of them where it will do most good. Oftener both will catch and it frequently happens that one hook will catch each lip, holding the mouth nearly closed and shortening the struggles of a large fish very materially. On taking off a fish and before casting again, see that the two lower hooks stand at right angles. If they have got turned in the struggle you can turn them at any angle you like; the twisted wire is stiff enough to hold them in place. Every angler knows the bold, determined manner in which the mascalonge strikes his prey. He will take in bait and hooks at the first dash, and if the rod be held stiffly usually hooks himself. Barring large trout, he is the king of game fish. The big-mouthed bass is less savage in his attacks, but is a free biter. He is apt to come up behind and seize the bait about two-thirds of its length, turn and bore down for the bottom. He will mostly take in the lower hooks however, and is certain to get fastened. His large mouth is excellent for retaining the hook. As for the small-mouthed (Micropterus dolomieu, if you want to be scientific), I have found him more capricious than any game fish on the list. One day he will take only dobsons, or crawfish; the next, he may prefer minnows, and again, he will rise to the fly or a bucktail spinner.
On the whole, I have found the pork frog the most successful lure in his case; but the hooks and bait must be arranged differently. Three strands of fine wire will make a snell strong enough and the hooks should be strong, sharp and rather small, the lower hooks placed only half an inch apart and a small lip hook two and a quarter inches above the middle one. As the fork of the bait will not reach the bend of the middle hook, it must be fastened to the snell by a few stitches taken with stout thread and the lower end of the bait should not reach more than a quarter of an inch beyond the bottom of the hook, because the small-mouth has a villainous trick of giving his prey a stern chase, nipping constantly and viciously at the tail, and the above arrangement will be apt to hook him at the first snap. Owing to this trait, some artificial minnows with one or two hooks at the caudal end, are very killing—when he will take them.
Lake, or salmon trout, may be trolled for successfully with the above lure; but I do not much affect fishing for them. Excellent sport may be had with them, however, early in the season, when they are working near the shore, but they soon retire to water from fifty to seventy feet deep and can only be caught by deep trolling or buoy-fishing. I have no fancy for sitting in a slow-moving boat for hours, dragging three or four hundred feet of line in deep water, a four pound sinker tied by six feet of lighter line some twenty feet above the hooks. The sinker is supposed to go bumping along the bottom, while the bait follows three or four feet above it. The drag of the line and the constant joggling of the sinker on rocks and snags, make it difficult to tell when one has a strike—and it is always too long between bites.
Sitting for hours at a baited buoy with a hand-line and without taking a fish, is still worse, as more than once I have been compelled to acknowledge in very weariness of soul. There are enthusiastic anglers, however, whose specialty is trolling for lake trout. A gentleman by the name of Thatcher, who has a fine residence on Raquette Lake—which he calls a camp makes this his leading sport and keeps a log of his fishing, putting nothing on record of less than ten pounds weight. His largest fish was booked at twenty-eight pounds, and he added that a well-conditioned salmon trout was superior to a brook trout on the table; in which I quite agree with him. But he seemed quite disgusted when I ventured to suggest that a well-conditioned cattie or bullhead, caught in the same waters was better than either.
"Do you call the cattie a game fish?" he asked.
Yes; I call any fish a "game fish" that is taken for sport with hook and line. I can no more explain the common prejudice against the catfish and eel than I can tell why an experienced angler should drag a gang of thirteen hooks through the water—ten of them being wane than superfluous. Frank Forester gives five hooks as the number for a trolling gang. We mostly use hooks too small and do not look after points and barbs closely enough. A pair of No. 1 O'Shaughnessy, or 1 1/2 Sproat, or five tapered blackfish hooks, will make a killing rig for small-mouthed bass using No. 4 Sproat for lip hook. Larger hooks are better for the big-mouthed, a four-pound specimen of which will easily take in one's fist. A pair of 5-0 O'Shaughnessy's, or Sproat's will be found none too large; and as for the mascalonge and pickerel, if I must err, let it be on the side of large hooks and strong lines.
It is idle to talk of playing the fish in water where the giving of a few yards insures a hopeless tangle among roots, tree-tops, etc. I was once fishing in Western waters where the pickerel ran very large, and I used a pair of the largest salmon hooks with tackle strong enough to hold a fish of fifteen pounds, without any playing; notwithstanding which, I had five trains of three hooks each taken off in as many days by monster pickerel. An expert mascalonge fisherman—Davis by name—happened to take board at the farm house where I was staying, and he had a notion that he could "beat some of them big fellows;" and he did it; with three large cod hooks, a bit of fine, strong chain, twelve yards of cod-line, an eighteen-foot tamarack pole and a twelve inch sucker for bait. I thought it the most outlandish rig I had ever seen, but went with him in the early gray of the morning to see it tried, just where I had lost my hooks and fish.
Raising the heavy bait in the air, he would give it a whirl to gather headway and launch it forty feet away with a splash that might have been heard thirty rods. It looked more likely to scare than catch, but was a success. At the third or fourth cast we plainly saw a huge pickerel rise, shut his immense mouth over bait, hooks and a few inches of chain, turn lazily and head for the bottom, where Mr. D. let him rest a minute, and then struck steadily but strongly. The subsequent struggle depended largely on main strength, though there was a good deal of skill and cool judgment shown in the handling and landing of the fish. A pickerel of forty pounds or more is not to be snatched out of the water on his first mad rush: something must be yielded—and with no reel there is little chance of giving line. It struck me my friend managed his fish remarkably well, towing him back and forth with a strong pull, never giving him a rest and finally sliding him out on a low muddy bank, as though he were a smooth log. We took him up to the house and tested the size of his mouth by putting a quart cup in it, which went in easily. Then we weighed him and he turned the scales at forty-four pounds. It was some consolation to find three of my hooks sticking in his mouth. Lastly, we had a large section of him stuffed and baked. It was good; but a ten-pound fish would have been better, The moral of all this—if it has any moral—is, use hooks according to the size of fish you expect to catch.
And, when you are in a permanent camp, and fishing is very poor, try frogging. It is not a sport of a high order, though it may be called angling—and it can be made amusing, with hook and line. I have seen educated ladies in the wilderness, fishing for frogs with all eagerness and enthusiasm not surpassed by the most devoted angler with his favorite cast of flies.
There are several modes of taking the festive batrachian. He is speared with a frog-spear; caught under the chin with snatch-hooks; taken with hook and line, or picked up from a canoe with the aid of a headlight, or jack-lamp. The two latter modes are best.
To take him with hook and line: a light rod, six to eight feet of line, a snell of single gut with a 1-0 Sproat or O'Shaughnessy hook and a bit of bright scarlet flannel for bait; this is the rig. To use it, paddle up behind him silently and drop the rag just in front of his nose. He is pretty certain to take it on the instant. Knock him on the head before cutting off his legs. It is unpleasant to see him squirm and hear him cry like a child while you are sawing at his thigh joints.
By far the most effective manner of frogging is by the headlight on dark nights. To do this most successfully, one man in a light canoe, a good headlight and a light, one-handed paddle are the requirements. The frog is easily located, either by his croaking, or by his peculiar shape. Paddle up to him silently and throw the light in his eyes; you may then pick him up as you would a potato. I have known a North Woods guide to pick up a five-quart pail of frogs in an hour, on a dark evening. On the table, frogs' legs are usually conceded first place for delicacy and flavor, For an appetizing breakfast in camp, they have no equal, in my judgment. The high price they bring at the best hotels, and their growing scarcity, attest the value placed on them by men who know how and what to eat. And, not many years ago, an old pork-gobbling backwoodsman threw his frying pan into the river because I had cooked frogs' legs in it. While another, equally intelligent, refused to use my frying pan, because I had cooked eels in it; remarking sententiously, "Eels is snakes, an' I know it."
It may be well, just here and now, to say a word on the importance of the headlight. I know of no more pleasant and satisfactory adjunct of a camp than a good light that can be adjusted to the head, used as a jack in floating, carried in the hand, or fastened up inside the shanty. Once fairly tried, it will never be ignored or forgotten. Not that it will show a deer's head seventeen rods distant with sufficient clearness for a shot—or your sights with distinctness enough to make it. (See Murray's Adirondacks, page 174.)
A headlight that will show a deer plainly at six rods, while lighting the sights of a rifle with clearness, is an exceptionally good light. More deer are killed in floating under than over four rods. There are various styles of headlights, jack-lamps, etc. in use. They are bright, easily adjusted and will show rifle sights, or a deer, up to 100 feet—which is enough. They are also convenient in camp and better than a lantern on a dim forest path.
Before leaving the subject of bait-fishing, I have a point or two I wish to make. I have attempted to explain the frog-bait and the manner of using it, and I shall probably never have occasion to change my belief that it is, all the whole, the most killing lure for the entire tribes of bass and pickerel. There is however, another, which, if properly handled, is almost as good. It is as follows:
Take a bass, pickerel, or yellow perch, of one pound or less; scrape the scales clean on the under side from the caudal fin to a point just forward of the vent.
Next, with a sharp knife, cut up toward the backbone, commencing just behind the vent with a slant toward the tail. Run the knife smoothly along just under the backbone and out through the caudal fin, taking about one-third of the latter and making a clean, white bait, with the anal and part of the caudal by way of fins. It looks very like a white minnow in the water; but is better, in that it is more showy and infinitely tougher. A minnow soon drags to pieces. To use it, two strong hooks are tied on a wire snell at right angles, the upper one an inch above the lower, and the upper hook is passed through the bait, leaving it to draw without turning or spinning. The casting and handling is the same as with the frog-bait and is very killing for bass, pickerel and mascalonge, It is a good lure for salmon trout also; but, for him it was found better to fasten the bait with the lower hook in a way to give it a spinning motion; and this necessitates the use of a swivel, which I do not like; because, "a rope is as strong as its weakest part"; and I have more than once found that weakest part the swivel. If, however, a swivel has been tested by a dead lift of twenty to twenty-five pounds, it will do to trust.