“Camp” can mean a lot of things to those of us who hunt and fish. Camp for the day can be as simple as an ice fishing shelter on a Minnesota lake or frozen backwater or a duck blind.

Then again, overnight camp could be a sturdy tent in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a cabin in the woods, a lake-shore spot with every comfort and convenience, or maybe just a tiny spot by a campfire with the whisper of a nearby trout stream lulling friends to sleep.

For me, a favorite camp was an old shack that a bunch of duck hunters leased – along with hunting rights to a backwater area owned by a local farmer.

The “cabin” had once been home for a hired man and was pulled on skids (so I was told) down to “the lake.”

There, as a teenager, I met the old guys. Duck hunters who had seen decades of frosty mornings, sunrises when ice rimmed the lake, who spoke of calling and shooting, dogs, waders and occasional flight days that would take your breath away. They had known several duck camps over the years.

One such fine place to get some sleep before heading to the blind was called the “tarpaper shack.” To hear the old boys talk, it was a cross between the Waldorf-Astoria and the Ritz. An actual photo shows a somewhat humbler abode.

The ramshackle cabin I stayed in housed hunters much later. In my youth, it was a great place to get an education – four small rooms, two packed with simple bunks. Another held the old wood stove and some cast-off couches with walls that featured some amateur taxidermy (a wood duck and a widgeon), a couple big gun racks, shell cases, boots and an old table featuring outdoor magazines.

The last room was the kitchen, which featured a sand-point pitcher pump and a full-size LP stove.

Every morning, you could get anything you wanted for breakfast as long as it was bacon and eggs chased with black coffee. The battered kitchen table saw euchre played with gusto in the evenings. The cabin even featured hot and cold running mice.

Camp was where I heard first-hand tales of memorable days, like the infamous Armistice Day blizzard of 1940. Temperatures dropped from a shirtsleeve 52 degrees at 11 a.m. to the teens in a matter of hours. By the following morning, the mercury stood in the single digits.

Duck hunters died in that raging gale, stranded on islands in the river overnight with no camp to be found. Some froze before morning as wind chills reportedly dropped to -55 degrees.

The old guys told of hunters burning the stocks of their guns to try and keep warm, since wood around them was soaked.

There were also stories of characters that shared duck blinds, old farmers, old shotguns, and old friends. Camp was home to hunters, some big easy-going happy labs, a huge Chesapeake Bay retriever, and an occasional Brittany spaniel.

Most of all, camp was where you went to hook up with a wild world. A place not yet tamed. Camp was a state of mind.

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