Michigan’s Historic Tradition…

I’m old enough to remember a number of deer camps from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Called camps or shacks many proved rustic; some were plush. All served the same purpose…men getting together to enjoy the hunt.

One form of shack, cabin, or hunting camp not quickly brought to mind was the field tent complete with barrel wood stove. I remember one instance setting up camp at Jewel Lake in northern Lower Michigan. Temperatures were normal for November firearms deer season opener. Once dawn broke, it wasn’t hard to notice the temperature had drastically dropped; the entire lake was iced-over and that old barrel stove was cherry red and dancing!

Another instance occurred during a hunt at a rented cabin near Crystal Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The roof was bad and the hunters hoped it wouldn’t rain. The cabin was little more than a converted chicken coop. Primitive? Beyond rustic?

Years later I was invited to a hundred year old log cabin deer camp in Menominee County, in the mid-section of the U.P.

Chinking was nearly non-existent. Later I discovered this situation allowed a pine snake or two to enter the cabin during hibernation. One was even found in a guy’s bunk. Pine snakes can range in size over six feet in length, are thick bodied, and are constrictors.

Huron Mountain Club:

Strictly established for the rich and famous, the Huron Mountain Club’s roots go far back in time to the l880s when Marquette industrialist, John Longyear with the assistance of Cyrus McCormick (farm implement company) and Fred Miller (Miller Brewing Company) set aside a huge tract of pristine forested land complete with exclusive hunting and fishing rights. Known as the Huron Mountain Club, membership was open to no more than 50 members. Today, many club families date back to that original roster and enjoy the spectacular scenery provided by towering pines, mountains and clear blue lakes stretching over 25,000 acres where roads dead end at security check stops and fences surround the club’s perimeter, patrolled to keep trespassers and poachers to a minimum.

During Fred Bear’s heyday of bowhunting, the club turned down his membership application.

The Huron Mountain Club is in existence today. Strict membership guidelines remain.

Blaney Rod & Gun Club:

Good times rolled at Blaney each and every deer season. Blaney Rod & Gun Club represents a private sportsman’s retreat popular with wealthy hunters and anglers from l9l6 through the l960s. An offshoot of the club was the once famous Blaney Park Resort, established in l927. The club was located near Gould City between Lake Michigan and US-2 in the mid-section of Michigan’s, Upper Peninsula.

During the early years, most club members hunted with rifles and shotguns; however, a small band of bow hunters annually trekked north to Blaney for deer season. Among them was Fred Bear, Michigan’s Henry Ford of modern archery.

The club and resort took in over 32,000 acres…11,000 of which were designated as a hunting and fishing paradise. During hunting season, club members stayed in rustic cabins but took their meals at the luxurious and comfortable Blaney Lodge. Guides took deer hunters to their deer blinds. When a member scored, guides tracked, field-dressed, and dragged the buck back to camp.

Fred Bear made multiple hunting trips to the Club and shot his first bow-killed buck there in l935. That event began his legendary bowhunting career. Two years prior, Bear had shot a record whitetail buck at Blaney; that deer dressed out at 285 pounds.

Grousehaven Hunt Club:

Grousehaven is gone today; land donated to the State of Michigan, managed by the Department of Natural Resources, turned into hunting, fishing, canoeing, hiking areas for the general public. Today, it is part of the State Rifle River Recreation Area.

It was located southeast of Rose City, in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. Grousehaven was a popular rich man’s retreat during the l940s. It encompassed approximately 3,000 acres and was owned by Bill Boyer, a retired General Motors executive. Bear Archery would lease it for a month during deer hunting season as their hunting camp. It was a beautiful place to hunt for the land held a heavy concentration of deer as well as grouse, wild turkeys and squirrels.

The private hideaway’s guest list was impressive; Arthur Godfry, John Mitchell, Joe Engel, Bill France, General Curtis LeMay. Occasionally, Bear included several of his employees and salesman for opening day of rifle season. In l979, Fred’s group did well having harvested a dozen whitetail bucks; Fred scored first with a nice 4-point.

A Look at Old Depression Era Huntin’ Shacks…The Way it Was…

Recently I talked with Bill Bjork, author of “The Camps U.P. North.” He brought some old time camp photos for me to choose for this article. Many of the turn-of-the-century hunting “shacks” (as they were so termed from this era) were beyond primitive, yet held everything isolated campers required; a water source, grazing land if horse and wagon brought hunters in, outhouse, and a cabin built from what was at hand with door facing south to obtain the most sunlight. The interesting thing about these huntin’ shacks was that they were not just used for hunting deer; oftentimes, they were occupied by unemployed men with no place to live. Doors of camps were left unlocked. Men would stay, hunt for their vittles, chop wood to keep the fire going, play cards…it was a way of Depression life.

Bjork told me about two camps detailed in his book. Camp North Star was shown on old area maps as lying on the west bank of the Boyce about two miles above the fork where Clark Creek enters. Camps dotted the area, but Camp North Star was located closest to the Huron Mountain Club where wealthy men hunted whitetails for sport.

It proved to be a one -room cabin; similar to most camps built at that time…a lean too bedroom was attached during later years, as camp members increased. Somehow the builders came up with one- inch pine to sheath the roof, gables and make the floor.

As a youngster, Bill Bjork visited the old camp with his father. He said, “Dad pushed the front door open, sunlight flooding across the rotting floor and over the cast iron cook range. …Next to it stood a rusty barrel stove, which provided most of the heat for the old place. In the bedroom a rusted bed frame was slowly sinking through the rotting floor, mice skittering about as I peeked through the open doorway. With little imagination one could visualize a big crew living out here during the winter, trapping and hunting the hills while living off the land.”

Next he spoke about Camp Stag: “In its day, Camp Stag occupied an isolated spot at the base of Devil’s Mountain below Stag Lake (North of Ishpeming in north central Upper Peninsula). The camp is long gone now. …Stag was typical of most camps built out north at the time, though it was even a bit more rustic than most. Supposedly built by Con and Ingwald Steve, Stag served mainly as a deer camp for their family when hunting up near Silver Lake.”

“To reach Camp Stag you had to walk, crossing the second ford on the Mulligan about a mile and a half below the falls, then hike the foot trail paralleling the east side of the river. About ¾ of a mile upstream from the ford the trail turned north, winding through predominantly hardwood forest before it came to Devil’s Mountain. On top the mountain rests Stag Lake, obviously this is where the camp got its name.”

Camps soon sprang up all over the land after the loggers left, many being built from remnants of abandoned lumber camps. Materials were often claimed from the old buildings to construct camps like Stag. Then gradually the forest grew back providing ideal habitat for deer, bear and beaver. Wildlife too, became abundant, attracting hunters and outdoorsmen again to the wilds near Silver Lake, Mulligan Plains and Devils Mountain.”

Traditional Hunt Camps Past to Present…

Michigan holds a strong hunting tradition, especially throughout the North Country; northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula known affectionately as the U.P. Schools were closed opening day of huntin’ season. Men headed north to hunting camps and shacks and that is basically where they stayed for a one or two week hunt…hard hunting during daylight hours from the call of, “Daylight in the swamp!” to the camp cook hitting the “Triangle” for evening chow. Hunters were stump sitters or deerstalkers; deer drives were common. No bait put out to draw in whitetails. No commercial scents employed. If you reeked of camp smells, so be it!

You brought in enough supplies for your stay for there was no corner grocery store just down the road. If you lucked out, maybe a Saturday night meant a trip to the closest bar for a beer. That bar might have been a hefty 30-40 mile drive…back then.

Camps held colorful names like Soupy’s Camp, Big Pine, Buck Haven, Ten-Point Lodge, Silver Springs Deer Camp, Lost Lake Hunt Club, Mike’s Shack, etc. Many held an old wood stove for heat, castoff furnishing from bedsteads to kitchen and main room furniture plus an old cook stove, either kerosene or propane. Nothing fancy. Deer, bear and other mounts graced the walls; each buck rack a little better than the previous one. An old beat up trophy might sit upon a shelf, with first buck hunter to score; name, date, and 12-point rack scribbled on attached masking tape. It was CAMP!

As time progressed, many rustic camps evolved into comfortable lodges or hunt clubs used year-around as Up North retreats for family and friends. Some became “pay to hunt” ventures. Many hold a lodge- look décor.

While changes have occurred, tradition remains. Now it is not uncommon to find three to four generation hunters at “camp.” Years back hunting buddies were basically Uncle Joe, Fat Charlie, Cousin Stan, and maybe a greenhorn kid to tease into manhood. Today, that pretty much remains the same except l0 and 12 year-olds can often be found at camp ready and anxious to bag their first deer. In Michigan you must be 12 to take a deer with a rifle; at age 10 you can harvest a buck or doe with crossbow or traditional archery tackle.

During season I often check Mike’s Huntin’ Shack not far from where I live in Chippewa County at the far eastern end of the U.P. Caleb, a 9-year-old always dressed in camo, reads as he puts it…all “your stuff” (my articles), is third generation camp stock; alongside grandpa Charlie Kujawa and his dad, Jacob Kennedy.

Mike’s Huntin’ Shack has another third generation combo; grandpa Charlie, son Tony, and seven year old grandson Michael. Little Mike and Caleb come to camp full of anticipation of hunts to come. They represent the future of hunting. Make your own hunting tradition…take a kid to camp. As in the past, camps may widely vary from deer shack to hunt camp, to hunt club; but generally speaking it is still tradition that binds them together…the rich and the poor…and their love of the sport.

Further Reading: The Camps U.P. North (A History In The Woods), By William P. Bjork, Birch Tree Enterprises, P Box 460, Brimley, MI 49715 ($10 plus $3 S&H)