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Wild Side: Another deer hunt at Foster's End

The Foster deer camp near the Flambeau River in 1924. Earl Foster is the guy on the right. Note the nice buck hanging from the pole on the left. Photo is from the late Bruce Foster's deer hunting archives.

The usual suspects gathered at Foster's End on Mason Lake near the Flambeau River before the opening day of gun deer season. A picture of the late Camp Master Bruce Foster was hung in a prominent spot in the cabin.

Camp cooks Bill Smith of River Falls and Tom Chenoweth of Roseville Minn., my nephew Brian Wilcox from Asheville, N.C., and I cleaned out the cabin on Thursday before arrival of the rest of the crew. It seemed that all the flies and Asian ladybugs in northern Wisconsin had gathered to die in the Foster cabin this fall.

Dennis Anderson, Jesse Smith and his son Mason of River Falls, Ken Schreiber of Osseo, Master Sergeant Ed Hall of Augusta, Ga., and his three sons arrived on Friday. Ed's boys Hunter, Joseph and Harry are fourth-generation Foster family deer hunters at the camp. There was over 100 years of deer hunting experience among the hunters gathered at the camp, most of it gained in the woods along the Flambeau River.

On Friday, my brother-in-law Schreiber and I hiked south from the cabin to scout the area where we usually hunt. This year was remarkable in that there was so little deer sign. Wolves had left their scat at a number of places on the old railroad grade trail along the Flambeau River.

The Foster family, people from River Falls and their friends have used Foster's hunting camp since 1920. Since the first logging days, the woods have grown back and some areas have been logged twice. Blowdowns, logging and re-growth have changed the woods over time. The size of the deer herd has changed considerably from year to year.

We leafed through a box of photo albums from previous hunts at Foster's End with pictures of earlier generations at camp. The albums recount stories of members of River Falls families named Foster, Pechacek, Kordosky, Cudd, Chinnock, White, Zender, Kulstad, Baker, Kusilek and Chapman, with old cars, prize bucks and black bears.

It used to be quite an expedition to get up there from River Falls in the 1920's, so hunters went up there and stayed for weeks at a time. The more recent albums show much younger-looking members of our hunting crew.

Those old-time hunters were tough. They wore high lace-up leather boots, wool long underwear, wool pants, wool shirts and suspenders. No fleece and Gore-Tex for them. They stayed in a small log cabin, cooked on the wood-fired cabin heater and got their water from the lake.

We stayed in the relative luxury of the new Foster cabin with a big wood stove, a modern propane cook stove, and this year, a generator with electric lights to supplement the propane lamps. A toilet seat that warms up quickly was a great improvement to the outhouse.

Snow on Saturday afternoon blanketed the woods, piling up on every twig and branch. We stood on stands for much of the morning and then hunted through the best areas where we have taken many deer before. Few deer were sighted and none were shot. We warmed up in the cabin after sunset and devoured some great steaks cooked over a maple fire.

Hunting conditions on Sunday morning were better with some of the snow off the trees and better viewing. There were very few deer in the woods as indicated by a dearth of tracks and beds. We moved a few deer around, but none were taken. We spotted eagles, and osprey, a porcupine, ravens, ruffed grouse, pine squirrels and mergansers. Hunting through those beautiful woods of maple ridges, balsam thickets, big white pines, hemlocks, cedar swamps and rough terrain was a treat.

For the second year in a row, our crew returned home deerless. The Oxbo Resort nearby registered very few deer on opening weekend. Despite the zero harvest, we all had a good hunt, enjoyed the camaraderie and the days in the woods.

Hunters were successful around here. I hunted around home with friends and neighbors and got some venison for the freezer. Hunting the grassland and woodlots around home is fun, but it's a different kind of hunting. It's just not the same as the big woods along the Flambeau River at Foster's End. We'll be back up there again next year.

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