Life In and Around the Hunting Cabins
A Typical Hunting trip
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As we pass around the Island you will see several isolated cabins in the marshes and
on water. Many of these cabins were originally established as watch house for
the remote oyster grounds around the Island. Today however they are typically used
as hunting cabins and recreational facilities. The following is a description of
a typical hunting trip to one of these cabins.
The trip would start on the morning of the Friday, after Thanksgiving,
by going to the grocery store
for the food, ice and water. These items were loaded into the boats with the
hunting gear, stools, heating
and gasoline. After launching and with good weather you could pull into the
dock at the
cabin in about a half an hour.
Arriving at the cabin the provisions were unloaded
and the bunks were made up. The first order of business was filling the oil tank
and starting the oil burner for some heat. Next the propane tank was connected to
the main for the gas lights and the stove. Then a pot of soup, which had been prepared
at home was put on the oil burner to simmer and a pot of coffee was started. A pot of coffee was kept ever ready on top of the oil
heater. Plans were then made for supper with perhaps a chicken being put into the
oven. Then there would be a short discussion about the pending hunt and each
group of hunters would sail to their respective blinds and set out their stools. The
image on the lower left is the view from a blind over the stools.
After returning to the cabin, dressing appropriately for the hunt, gathering
and shells and filling the thermos you set out for the evening hunt. You would remain in the blind until sunset which is the end of the hunting day, taking
those birds as circumstance and the law allowed. You would need a dog or boat to recover
those birds which the wind and current caused to drift away from the shore, otherwise picking them up at
the water's edge. It was very important that the fallen birds were recovered quickly; otherwise
you would find nothing remained but the outer shell of the former bird as the gulls would have picked
It is interesting to note that the ducks become much more active shortly after
sunset which is after the close of the legal hunting day. As you were returning
to the cabin, in those waning hours of daylight, you would probably see more
ducks than you had seen all day.
from the hunt the game was tagged with each hunter's name. This was to minimize the
difficulties that might be encountered with game wardens about individual bag
limits. Back at the cabin the hunt was discussed and stories, comparing the present to the past,
Then the vegetables, potatoes, biscuits and more coffee were
prepared for supper to
accompany the chicken which had been in the oven awaiting our return. The
table was set and the meal eaten over conversation about previous trips and the
oft repeated tales of past shared experiences. These stories, which tended to get
better with each telling always, had at least an element of truth buried in
them. They were an important part of the trip as they provided each of us with a
connection both to the group and our past. Then after
dinner, the dishes, pots, pans and cooking areas were cleaned up. In the
photograph of the dishes being done on the left you will notice a gas light
above the sink. Gas lights were the primary light source. The
water used for the cleanup came from a cistern which collected the runoff from the roof. Because of the bird
droppings and a variety of other interesting and wiggly items, the cistern water was only used for only cleaning; you
potable water with you. In a similar vein sanitary issues were handled
portable facilities with the waste being returned to Chincoteague
for proper disposal. This was a change from bygone days where things followed a
natural course of events.
After supper and the cleanup, contact with the outside world was usual.
Prior to cell phones urgent communications were by CB radio which had all the
aspects of a party line. Prior to that, you had to send a message with someone
going back home. Meanwhile after the table had been cleared, someone would start
playing solitaire. This was a signal that "the game was afoot." The
next couple of hours would involve conversation, playing cards, or
cleaning of shotguns. The salt air and water formed a very corrosive environment
and firearms not attended to promptly would have suffered the effects of corrosion
quickly. Later in the evening "Herb" would make some popcorn on the stove and
add just a hint of Old Bay seasoning.
Herb Daisey is
a well known Island decoy carver. Sometimes he would bring freshly carved decoys
on the trip so they could be "shot over" or actually used as working decoys. I
was personally never allowed to shoot over Herb's decoys as I had in the past,
unable to distinguish a real duck from a decoy,
shot the occasional stool. That revelation gives rise to a whole host of other
questions which I prefer not address here. Also the trips expenses were then distributed among the group. In later years the possibility of television did exist
if the generator worked, we had gasoline and the antenna had not blown down in
storm. Then the day was over with an early turn in as the
following morning you wanted to
be in your blind at least an hour prior to sunrise.
Upon rising before first light, the coffee was put on. Stepping outside to sample the weather, preparations were
made for the morning hunt. For those that had blinds which
did not require boat
access the walk across the marsh
would then begin.
Hopefully there was enough moonlight available to allow you to carefully pick your way along
the edge of the marsh avoiding the occasional hole, easier done when
the marsh was not flooded. After arriving at your blind and laying out your
shells, gun and a thermos of coffee you sat, waited, and listened. I do not have
the skills necessary to adequately describe the experience as the sun slowly lit up the
marsh and water around your blind, or the feel of the breeze as it shifts as the
marsh and water were warmed or the smell of the salt air as it mixed with
fragrance of the marsh. If you haven't experienced it, it is
hard to appreciate, and if you have, no description I can give it will do it justice.
You could hear the sound of the waves breaking on Assateague's beach a half a mile
away and the
Snow Geese starting to stir just before daylight. Shortly after the first light
started to push the darkness westward the
flying and circling above Assateague. They continued this pattern gradually
gaining more and more altitude while gathering birds to the flock. When the flock
was finally assembled they would start their
journey across the bay and over the blinds to the fields on the mainland.
During their passage more often than not the flocks were well
above shotgun range. The blind pictured here was quite elaborate and not typical. The
majority of the marsh blinds, were rectangular plywood boxes on short poles with a door of sorts and
covered with cedar or other evergreen boughs. The boughs were stuck into the
mud around perimeter and fastened to the sides. Then a bench seat and a shelf for
shells were installed. This particular blind included a
covered and heated room with a shooting porch on two sides.
You would return to the cabin at about 8am or so for breakfast. This meal was
unvaried and included eggs, bacon, sausage and toast. Chef "Ken" would sometimes cook the eggs to order with
omelets not out of the question. However if Chef "Ken" was not
available there was a chance the eggs would be floated on the
left over from the bacon and sausage.
After breakfast and the cleanup, discussions about the weather and the state of
the trip to date continued. It was then custom to retire to the cabin's sitting
room for more conversation and to watch the ducks as they pitched in the stools
you had just left. Truly some of the best hunting was done from the cabins sitting
room. Sitting in a warm room, in a soft chair, with a cup of coffee and looking
out the window after having been out in the cold for 3 hours was very pleasant.
While you couldn't shoot, it was very comfortable and you still had the illusion
of hunting. After watching the ducks fly into the stools some of the hunters,
would succumb to the call and return to the blinds and hunt through the midday. Conventional wisdom was,
however, that midday hunting was not as productive as the morning or evening
hunt. On the other hand those that went out for the midday hunt suggested that the rest of us were
the not genuine article, but simply
a cheap imitation of real hunters.
Prior to leaving for the evening hunt, plans were made for supper. If enough
black duck had been harvested during the previous evenings and morning
hunt they would provide the meal, Chef "Jack" would prepare them. I can say that
the tastiest duck I have ever eaten were prepared in that cabin. He cooked them
in the oven in a large roaster with onions, potatoes, carrots and then made gravy for the
all the social aspects of the different cabins were not created equal, some did provide an excellent opportunity to
introduce your son to the art of hunting. These trips were considered a
rite of passage by many. Pictured to the left is
Captain Dan's nephew, Joe returning from the morning's hunt. On the
father was giving him his first lesson handling a shotgun.
Today, 10 years later, Joe is now able to give his dad some pointers.
The second evening's hunt and after supper activity were similar to the
previous with one exception. On Saturday evening Garrison Keillor's radio
program "A Prairie Home Companion" was sometimes enjoyed after supper, on the
front porch, in the dark. While it may be hard to picture we would sometimes
have 5 or 6 hunters enjoying the stories from Lake Wobegon. His story "Bruno, the
fishing dog" was a favorite. Everyone enjoyed them until the night we heard his
rendition of "The Little Match Girl". That was the end of Garrison Keillor.
You might note at this point there has been no discussion of
bathing. The washing facilities were outside in a shower stall. The stall had a
tank which caught roof water as did the cistern. It was painted black in an
to absorb heat but it was cold and I
know of anyone that used it during the hunting season. When you returned home on
Sunday a good scrubbing was the first item on the agenda.
Arising Sunday morning, if you had not recovered your stools the night before
you went to get them then. The recovery was much easier and faster with two
people in the boat,
particularly if there was any wind to speak of. One person
would position the boat while the other would hook the lead lines. They would be
brought in three or four at a time and then the lines would be wrapped figure eight, neck to tail, to prevent
making a mess in the bottom of the boat. This process would continue until all
the stools were recovered. You would then return for breakfast.
After breakfast the cabin would be cleaned and trash packed
away for the return home. The boats would be loaded and the trip home begun.
Usually the trip was uneventful however occasionally problems would be
encountered. Pictured to the left is a trip during which the bay froze while we
were away. The lead boat being the heaviest would break the ice for the
following ones. On one occasion the ice was too thick to break and the trip home involved
walking down Assateague beach, returning later for the boats. On another
trip the fog was so thick we only had 10 to 15 feet visibility. We traveled for
an hour only to bump up against the same piece of marsh we had been on an hour
previous. Captain Dan, age 9 at the time, was with us. He had a compass on
the handle of a survival knife, which after he mentioned it gave us a course for
home ("and a little child shall lead them"). There is more to that story but you will have
to ask Capt. Dan about it to get "The Rest of the Story". If the wind was hard
from the north or west it was better to make for a landing on the
east side of the Island, on the other hand if it was from the south or east it could
be better to make landing on the western side. If your returning location was
not the same as your departure you had to make arrangements to have your trailer
meet you at the ramp.
This was a fair description of the hunting trips to this particular cabin. It did
not include any discussion about the preceding trip that was necessary to
prepare the blinds and winterize the cabin nor did it include any description
of the summer activities in the cabin. Those are stories for another day.
That's the way it was 50 years ago, that is the way it is today, and
hopefully that's the way it will be 50 years in the future.
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