Sunday, December 25, 2016

It just didn't seem possible

Jimmy Duck with a hunter couple, about 1970
When I was 20 years old my dad sent me one late October day on what would become an almost unbelievable adventure.
Guide Stanley Paishk and his hunter had shot a moose back on Thief Lake, the first lake west of Trout Bay. We didn't call it Thief Lake back then; in fact, I don't know where that name eventually would come from. We called it Skinny Lake because the lake was unnamed on the map and we could call it anything we wanted. It was long and skinny so there you have it. The problem was it wasn't quite long enough. It was too short for a floatplane to take off, at least one loaded with a big bull moose. 
Although we had made a trail from Trout Bay to Skinny years earlier in order to access our sometimes-outpost camp on McIntosh Lake, that trail was more than two miles long, way too far to carry out a moose. However, it was only about two hundred yards from Skinny to McIntosh which was plenty big enough for a floatplane.
Stanley and his hunter had started out from camp that morning. They had taken their boat to the end of Trout Bay, walked over the trail, got into the canoe that was cached at Skinny and had just started to paddle when they encountered the big bull. The canoe flipped when the hunter pulled the trigger. When he and Stanley discovered they were only in about three feet of water the hunter just stood in the lake and emptied his gun at the moose which was quickly retreating back into the bush. They righted the canoe, pushed it to shore and went after the animal. As you can imagine the hunter by this point was pretty rattled. He took several wild shots at the disappearing moose and actually ran out of shells. Although the moose was still on its feet, it appeared finished. So Stanley and the hunter got back in the canoe and made the reverse trip all the way back to camp to get help -- and more shells. They reached the lodge about noon and told their exciting story.
My dad decided to send me and guide Jimmy Duck back with them. He also used our old walkie-talkie-type radio telephone to call Ontario Central Airlines in town and scheduled a Norseman to fly back to McIntosh and pick up the moose. We just had to find the moose, kill it if it wasn't already dead, lug it out to Skinny, take it by canoe to the portage between Skinny and McIntosh, carry it over the trail and meet the plane which was scheduled to land on McIntosh at 4 p.m. We had less than four hours to pull this off.
We reached Skinny about 1:30 p.m. and found the moose, dead, by 2. Jimmy was an expert when it came to butchering moose so we all just helped. He quickly had it gutted, quartered and ready to carry the 100 yards or so to Skinny. Stanley was young and skinny and couldn't carry much. His hunter was older and out of shape and couldn't carry much either. So Stanley and the hunter together carried one quarter between them.
I was willing to take a full quarter. I grabbed one of the big shoulders and asked Jimmy to help me get it on my back because I couldn't lift it off the ground by myself.
"Maybe I show you how to carry moose," he said with a laugh.
 Jimmy cut a two-inch strip of hide loose from the quarter, leaving it attached at both ends to the meat. The two of us got the quarter up on a windfall and I knelt underneath and took this tump line across my forehead. Jimmy had cut the strip so expertly that the center of mass was exactly over my shoulders.  To my amazement I could walk away with the leg that probably weighed 230 pounds, even though I myself only weighed about 180.
By the time I reached the canoe my thigh muscles were burning and near collapse. I flipped off the quarter only to find Jimmy right behind me. He had somehow gotten the other front quarter up by himself. We went back for the remaining hind quarter and Jimmy carried that. The hunter and Stanley took the giant head which still its massive antlers attached.
It was now 3 p.m.
The canoe was a 17-foot aluminum model, about 20 years old and a non-descript brand. It probably had come from Eaton's catalog. We put two of the giant quarters into the vessel. Stanley took the bow seat and Jimmy the stern. There were about five inches of freeboard on the sides of the canoe.
"You want to take those two over to the portage and come back for the rest?" I asked, looking at my watch. No way were we going to be on time for the plane, I realized. "The hunter and I can start walking along the shore."
"Yes," said Jimmy but then didn't move a muscle.
"Maybe, we put in another quarter," he said after a moment.
There were now four inches of freeboard.
I thought I knew what Jimmy was thinking.
"I get it. You'll take those three quarters and then come back alone for the last quarter plus me and the hunter. Right?"
"Yes," Jimmy said but then didn't move.
"Maybe we take another quarter," he chuckled. "And the head too."
We put it in the canoe which was now absolutely heaped with moose meat. The antlers stuck out more than a foot on either side. The gunwales of the canoe were three inches from the lake level. It was also now 3:15 p.m.
"Maybe we take the hunter too," said Jimmy. We all broke out laughing at the joke.
The canoe didn't move.
"You can sit on the moose behind Stanley," said Jimmy to the hunter.
"Really?" said the man.
He got in and there were less than two inches of freeboard.
"You sit on the moose in front of me," Jimmy said, looking at me.
"This just can't be possible," I said but did as I was told.
Both the hunter and I straddled big pieces of meat and held onto the canoe's gunwales which were now almost even with the lake.
Jimmy and Stanley started to paddle. The vessel was so overloaded and so tippy that they couldn't stretch out their arms to take a stroke. Instead they paddled just by moving their wrists.
If anyone had sneezed or even moved his head sideways we would have spilled. No one said a word. We just remained focused on the portage dead ahead.
We got there at about 3:45 and ever-so-carefully got out.
The canoe had just carried a very large bull moose and four adult men! The moose might have weighed 800 pounds. The men totaled about the same. Sixteen hundred pounds in a tiny canoe! By comparison today's modern fishing boats, like the Lunds we use at camp which are 16 feet long, five feet wide and with about two feet of freeboard amidships are rated to carry just 750 pounds. We had taken twice that weight in a craft perhaps one-quarter as big.
I ended up carrying two quarters over the last trail and Jimmy did the same. We were about 15 minutes late but then so was the plane. It took the meat and headed back to town.
Jimmy, Stanley, the hunter and I got back to camp at dark.
There is a postscript to this story.
About a week later Brenda and I were driving back to school for the winter semester when I had several attacks of chest pain so severe I had to pull over to the side of the road. I made it to our apartment and saw the doctor immediately.
After several days of tests he asked, "Are you a weight lifter or something? You seem to have ripped the muscles in your diaphragm as if you had lifted something extremely heavy."
Everything eventually healed up on its own.

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1 comment:

Kim Gross said...

Kind of reminds me of a Harbach Lake story. That one didn't end up quite as well, but at least there were no injuries!