Good Camp, Bad Camp?

Illustration by Gordon Allen

Memories of bird hunting camps linger for years. From five-star lodges to coyote tent camps, I’ve known the good, the bad and the ugly. Years ago, for example, I drove from my native Michigan to hunt woodcock in Louisiana with a local who had wrangled an invitation to visit an honest-to-God duck hunting camp. Tucked away in river-bottom woods near the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge, “camp” was a stupendous log lodge whose walls were festooned with original art worth more than my home. That evening we enjoyed a special dinner of roasted ringneck duck with wild rice and onion pie.

Later our host broke out cigars and made “bogsuckers,” huge martinis stirred by swizzle sticks shaved from twigs and adorned with a single woodcock feather. When talk drifted to woodcock guns, he produced the favorite of his three Parkers: a fitted side-by-side in .410. Engraved by the company artisan, a man in his 80s at the time, the gun’s gold inlay sported a woodcock and a likeness of our host’s long-gone Brittany. Careful not to drool, I admired this dainty gun, gently closing the breech as though it was the clasp to a queen’s necklace.

As the festive evening was closing, a toast to woodcock hunters everywhere ended with a roar of laughter when someone said, “You Yankee woodcock hunters are like hemorrhoids. You can come down as long as you don’t stay . . . and remember to go back up!” Who could forget such a camp?

But even the worst camps can end with the shine of respectability. Consider a spartan camp in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains. I had flown to Elko in September to hunt Himalayan snowcock, released there in the 1960s. Riding sure-footed horses and leading a pack train of mules up into the rugged mountains, seven of us made our rough camp in the dark at 9,800 feet. The tent leaked, and most meals were tin-can fare.

Each morning we climbed another 1,500 feet to the caprock to tiptoe along dangerously narrow goat trails all day. One hunter slipped along a talus, skidded a hundred feet and smashed a finger. Had his pack not snagged on a rock, he might have landed at the bottom of a deep canyon.

A pair of veteran sheep hunters in our group agreed it was the toughest hunt of their lives. We shot a total of two snowcock all week. I ruined a pair of boots and lost eight pounds but left wanting to do it all again. Although I never have, I can’t forget that camp either.

Tom Huggler’s Grouse of North America and A Fall of Woodcock won national acclaim and are now collectible. His Quail Hunting in America (Stackpole) is still in print. A Fall of Woodcock was reprinted recently by Skyhorse Publishing.

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