The vast stretches of North American wilderness is home to the forest engineer. In my corner of this beautiful country, thousands of sloughs, creeks, and water-ways, scattered in between the Northern Minnesota Lakes provide a perfect habitat for the industrious beaver. I have discovered one advantage to the many beaver dams in my region when it comes to deer hunting, they offer excellent bridges into remote areas. Most hunters do not make the effort to navigate these crossings. But I enjoy locating the dams on google earth and hiking to them during my spring scouting trips. Accessing these links during bow season opens up miles of intersecting swamp country, and leads to large tracts of back-woods hunting land which are virtually untouched.
On the last day of our 2017 Round Lake Bow Camp I slipped across one of these connections to get into a favorite hunting spot. In the following lines I will re-count the events of that afternoon.
The Woodland Bridge:
After arriving back at the cabin I helped Bill hang the ten point he arrowed that morning. While he was skinning the old buck I had a quick lunch and readied myself for the afternoon hunt. With many possible options I decided to hike over a beaver dam and sit an oak ridge that emptied down to a large slough we call the Hundred Acre Swap.
It was a warm afternoon and there was still a light covering of snow on the ground where the sun had not beaten the first offering of winter back. I kept a watchful eye. After about a mile I stepped off the trail and shifted into a still-hunt mode, working my way a couple hundred yards through low lying timber that gradually rose up to a beautiful point of land the beavers chose as a pinch point for their construction. As I neared the creek I passed a massive Norway Pine that keeps sentinel, and slipped down through the brushy edge of the water flow to the crossing. I paused and took in the amazing view.
The dam had two sections. A wide channel half way through allowed a trickle of water to spill over the structure, eliminating the main passage as an option for navigation. Fifteen feet out a smaller retaining wall provided a ten-inch walk-way to the opposite side. I located a tree limb for balance which the Beavers had discarded and steadied my-self for the tight-rope act. On either side of me was a deep pool of icy darkness that would have made for a chilly swim. I used caution with each step. Once safely across I stopped and looked out over the shimmering lagoon, my gaze fell upon a small island which might serve as an isolated buck sanctuary. I considered how a canoe might serve to access the water-locked haven before I advanced up into the waiting Oaks.
There were fresh deer droppings on the half-melted snow. It was quiet. A light breeze caused the old-growth forest to sway with animation. Occasionally I heard the faint clatter of two bucks sparring, but perhaps it was my mind playing tricks on me. I did not feel alone. Keeping to the shadows, I crept along the base of a hill for several hundred yards. As I crested the rise I spotted an old deer-stand from bygone years. A hunter had deemed this a good spot once, so I hunkered down against a near-by dead fall that gave total sight protection to my left, and a beautiful view of another open hill and ravine in this unique formation of hard-woods and small ridges. My hopes were high. Last season I shot a big buck with my rifle another five hundred yards from where I sat.
Except for the constant thought a rut driven buck could materialize at any moment, the next three hours were uneventful in my wilderness seclusion. No speeding cars, buzzing chainsaws, barking dogs, or rumbling trains. The closest reference to civilization was a distant jet far over-head. The solitude was mesmerizing. Finally, the tree-line and sky began to blend together, I pulled out every minute of daylight until the darkness descended upon me like a soft veil. I reluctantly stood up and hiked back to the beaver dam. The return trip looked different in the twilight. After poking around a few minutes, I found the bright bandana I had left as a marker and found my way down to the water’s edge. The last trace of daylight had faded. I felt small against the gloomy silhouette of trees rising from the swamp grass across the stream. I should have started my return trek earlier. With a narrow band of mud and sticks and a mile of intimidating forest between me and the cabin road, I had to steady my nerves for a moment and embrace the adventure. I started my traverse across the inky waters and used my bow to check each step for firm footing. Light from a rising moon reflected off the glassy surface. A family of beavers announced their protest with loud tail slaps on their wilderness pool. They were not in favor of me using the handy-work as a bridge to my hunting retreat. Half way across I stopped and took in the majesty of creation.
Once I reached the other bank my biggest concern was finding the ribbon of trail which would lead me back to my pick-up. Over shooting the foot-path meant I could possibly wander the impressive section of woods and swamps for the next several hours. I felt confident. I went slow and used my flashlight, a bubble of illumination. I maneuvered my way over logs and around brush, slowed when I approached the area of woods which concealed the sliver of trail, and marked every step with a mental note. There it was, a slight depression in a sea of blackness. Once on the path my heart lifted. I would not get lost now. The trail eluded me a couple of times. I could feel the forest floor change in texture under my boots when I stepped off the corridor. Stopping to regain the path, I continued on. After the foot-trail crossed a small beaver dam at the end of Ruby’s Slough, it widened and my pace quickened. Soon the landmarks became more recognizable and I was back at the road firing up my old jeep.
As I strolled down the driveway our deer camp was lit up with a warm glow which mirrored off the tranquil lake. I stepped through the door and was greeted by comments about a search and rescue party which was almost sent out for me. We laughed. It was good to be back with friends. After re-living the stories of the weekend and making plans for next season it was time to load my gear and say farewell.
I fought through the reluctance of leaving as I drove down the cabin road and my headlamps threw beams of light on familiar sights. The thankfulness of another gathering and the joy of going home to my beloved bride replaced the tinge of sadness at parting the Round Lake Deer Camp.
Beaver crossings can take us into many secret hunting areas. They are bridges to adventure. As you go through life be mind-full of the crossings you may discover which can lead to new and rewarding destinations, and bring adventures you never dreamed of.