Gramps (far left front row) was a German immigrant born in 1910 and the youngest of ten children.

Dreher Family circa 1920

Gramps on the stump

He and his hunting partners built a small log hunting shack deep in the Cloquet Valley State Forest in 1946 and now that he is gone, my brother and I hold it as one of our most prized possessions.

The Shack 1946

The Original Crew circa 1967

When I was growing up he would pick my brother and I up after he had hunted for a week and we would head to the shack. I can still remember running to the front room window to see if he had “the big one” strapped to the top of his old car.

As we’d drive north on highway 4 he’d tell us stories of the recent hunt and the anticipation of the next few days would almost be unbearable. The tunnel of snow-covered pines loomed from the darkness when he’d turn west off highway 4 and down the gravel logging road. The tall white pines seemed huge to me but must have paled in comparison to the ones that belonged to he enormous stumps left by loggers many years before.

When we’d make the final turn off the logging road and down the old two-rut road I knew I was in “the boonies” and the shack was not far. I’d open the door to the shack and let the distinctive sounds and smells fill my senses; the hissing light of the Coleman lanterns and the smells of birch smoke and kerosene. We’d usually sit down to a dinner of Grandma’s tater tot hot dish and homemade bread and talk about the next day’s plan.

I can still remember how happy I was to be spending time with Gramps and how I never tired of hearing the same hunting stories over and over – like how they used to hunt out of the old saw filers cabin and eat just beans for a week, or the time it was so cold he warmed his hands inside the buck he’d just shot.

Saw Filers Cabin circa 1930

Old Man Schwartz

After dinner we’d play a few hands of Kings in the Corner and then climb into our bunks and listen to a Bulldog hockey game. Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night and listen to the wolves howling on the old railroad spur – probably telling the pack they’d found a nice gut pile.

Cards at deer camp circa 1980

“Daylight in the swamp” was always the first thing I heard in the morning when Gramps would wake us up. He always woke up early and stoked the wood stove to take off the morning chill and made us bacon and eggs. The morning sunlight made a heavenly site as it streamed in the windows and attempted to penetrate the bacon haze. Gramps usually just carried his small hatchet on these hunting weekends and let my brother and I carry his two rifles. I usually carried the Model 94 with iron sites and my older brother got the 30-06 with the scope. These weekends were less about hard core hunting and more about teaching us about scrapes and rubs, how to use the wind (which was good because we smelled like bacon), and where deer liked to bed down.

Bacon Haze

Learning the ropes

He also taught us that we were stewards of the land and how precious our little piece of solitude was. Gramps passed away in 1999, just five months after I had returned from a ten year air force tour. I never did get to hunt with him again or share the stories of the bucks my brother and I have since gotten. He would have been proud that my first buck was harvested with his old Model 94 and that my brother’s was taken with his 30-06.

Me with 8pt buck - 2001

Brian's first buck - 1999

I have two children now that are growing up to enjoy our trips to the shack as much as I did and I find myself teaching them the same lessons Gramps taught me. Sometimes in the early mornings as the first rays of light shine through the windows and I listen close enough I can still hear Gramps say “Daylight in the swamp”.

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