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Deer hunting ceremonies continue at Foster's End without the master

One of the oldest deer hunting traditions in Wisconsin continued this year at Foster's End, a camp at the end of Snuss Boulevard at the south end of Mason Lake near the Flambeau River.

It just wasn't the same without Bruce Foster.

We held our pre-camp meeting at Johnnie's Bar instead of Bruce's dog grooming shop behind Lund's Hardware.

We didn't awaken to loud John Phillips Sousa music at 5 a.m. on opening morning of hunting. Bruce wasn't there to be Master of Ceremonies, General of the Hunt, Morale Officer and Fountain of Foolishness.

Four generations of men from River Falls have hunted at Foster's End. In the early 1920s, the Foster brothers Earl, Art, Joel, Harry, Bert, and cousin Ken White, started going up to the Flambeau country to hunt. It took them a day or two to get there over bad roads.

They camped in tents for weeks at a time, hunting deer, bear, grouse and ducks. They bought a logged over 50-acre parcel for back taxes in about 1930.

Art Foster and Fred Chinnock built a dugout cabin of tamarack logs with a tin roof overlooking Mason Lake. Many from River Falls have hunted at Foster's End, including members of the Foster, Kordesky, Pechacek, Chinnock, White, Cudd, Kulstad, Zinder, and Baker families.

Bruce did a lot to keep the deer camp tradition going. He started hunting at Foster's End as a boy in the 1940s. He started a hunting camp log as a teenager, interviewed the older hunters, wrote narratives about the annual deer hunts, and assembled logbooks with photos.

It's fun to look over the photos and stories from previous years.

Bruce showed me around the woods south of Foster's End before deer hunting in 1979 and I have hunted there every year since. He introduced many young people to hunting at Foster's End, including members of our Boy Scout troop.

The original dugout cabin has been fixed up and is still used as a bunkhouse.

In 1968, the Fosters bought a cabin from a small resort at the outlet of Mason Lake and moved it to the camp complete, down to the silverware.

In 1978 the Joel Foster family corporation was formed and assumed ownership of Foster's End.

Today there are about 35 stockholders in the corporation, related by blood or marriage to Judge Joel Foster, founder of River Falls.

The "new" log cabin served as the main lodge for many years until it burned down accidentally in 2002. Bruce Foster, Mike Foster and his son Jason Foster of Ridgeland, along with many helping hands, built a big new cabin at Foster's End in 2003.

Since the 1930s much of the area around Foster's End has been purchased by the state and is now the Flambeau State Forest.

Fifteen years ago the forest was a beautiful mix of hemlock groves, sugar maple, yellow birch and white ash on the ridges, and cedar swamp, balsam thickets, and tamarack bogs in the low areas. A magnificent stand of old white pines remains at the site of Schreimer's logging camp on a bend in the Flambeau River to the south of Foster's End.

The terrain is hilly with glacial kettles, knobs, lakes, bogs and Mason Creek flowing through a deep ravine to the Flambeau River. The ground is rough with tree-throw holes and dirt piles.

Blowdowns in the early 1980s, on Labor Day 2002 when Ladysmith was flattened, in 2005, and again last summer, left trees piled like jackstraws on the ground. Some parts of the woods look like a war zone. Not even deer, much less hunters, can make their way through the densest blowdown areas. Some selective logging has recently opened up some of the maple ridge areas which are growing up in "dog hair" maple saplings and aspen. A big clearcut was logged last year south of Mason Creek.

The deer herd in the Flambeau State Forest has varied greatly over the years, influenced by the changing forest, the return of wolves and by hunting pressure. Deer density there is low compared to the farmland and woodlots around River Falls. The hilly terrain, blowdowns, dense balsam thickets, cedar swamps, and remote character of the Flambeau River area makes the hunting challenging.

Hunters this year included the new camp boss Bill Smith and his son Jesse Smith, Ken Hensel, Dennis Anderson and me, all from River Falls; Mike Foster of Ridgeland, Ken Schreiber of Osseo and camp cook extraordinaire Tom Chenoweth from Roseville, Minn.

The ongoing series of practical jokes and visits with the Steenberg family deer camp at Oxbo continued. They wrapped the whole yard at Foster's End with CAUTION tape and hung a stuffed scarecrow hunter in the outhouse before we arrived. Bill Smith and the Steenbergs hung a big sign on the cabin, "Let the Foolishness Begin" in the tradition of Bruce Foster's Behavior Modification Center.

Traditions continued with steaks cooked by Ken Hensel over a maple fire on Saturday night and ham with redeye gravy by Bill Smith on Sunday. We toasted Bruce's memory and told lots of Foster stories.

We broke tradition by getting skunked hunting. That hasn't happened for about 10 years.

I'm sure that Bruce wanted us to keep hunting at Foster's End, to be safe and to have fun. We all miss his enthusiasm and the privilege of dragging deer for him.

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