After being unable to cross the border into Canada for 2 years due to Covid-19, we were thrilled to get back to our special place! We were very concerned that the old logging road would be closed after 2 years of no use. John and Jim Cunningham joined Fred Bouwman and I on a scouting mission to see if our larger group can return in May 2022. We took a little time to hunt for grouse with tremendous success and spent the rest of the time removing downed trees and clearing the road.
The first challenge was getting across the border. Canada opened access to fully vaccinated Americans on August 9, but the US had not allowed Canadians to cross the border.
We each completed the ArriveCAN app within 72 hours of our planned border crossing time. Scanned in our passport, pictures of our Covid vaccination records and had to develop a quarantine plan with an address where we could stay (used our hotel, since there is no address for our camp in the bush). We also had to have a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours and have the results back before crossing the border (Jim did the test twice just to make sure he had the correct test). This was tricky for John, since he flew to Texas on Friday, so he had to get the test in Texas. Fred had to go to Iron River Michigan for his test and then got back up to have the lab correct the time on the test to ensure it was within the 72 hour window.
Monday September 27, 2021
Jim & John drove up from Iowa, I picked up Fred in Eagle River WI. Beautiful fall day to travel with the leaves changing and sunny skies. With no Canadians and few Americans crossing the border, there was almost no traffic between Grand Maris and the border. We met at the Grand Portage Casino gas station to get our stories straight before crossing the border together. No vehicles at the border crossing. The border officer was chatty, seemed just happy to talk to someone. We went inside to declare our firearms and had 4 officers helping us with our paperwork and to take our $25 registration fee. No other vehicles came through during our 20 minutes in the office. We were warned that we may be subject to random Covid testing at the Border – all 4 of us were given at home Covid test kits – not very random!
We stopped at D&R Sports to get our hunting licenses – excellent service. They told us that grouse numbers were very high this year. Stopped at the Beer Store before checking into the hotel. The hotel required proof of vaccination and we had to complete a Covid screening form before checking in. The dinning room also required proof of vaccination.
The “random” at home Covid test kits required getting on-line, setting up an account and having a tele health visit with a nurse to walk through the testing procedure, including setting a timer for 15 seconds with a pipe cleaner up your nose! We could finally relax in the courtyard.
Tuesday September 28, 2021
Up and on the road early. Jim & John picked up coffee and breakfast sandwiches at Tim Horton’s. Hwy 527 was very quiet – only 2 logging trucks. Hwy 811 was in great shape, smooth and not real dusty. As we turned off the highway, I had John & Jim go first to have the best chance to see wildlife. John’s first bird was a beautiful ruffed grouse.
Jim got his first bird, a Spruce Grouse.
After getting the first 5 birds, I rode with John to get into the fun.
Water levels were down, so the wet spots on the road at the beaver dam and the old culvert were no problem to drive through. The lake behind the beaver dam was beautiful!
The road was clear until the turn off to the Italian Camp. We stopped at the Sandy camp to unload the 6-wheeler and drop the trailer. We loaded the 6-wheeler with various “Tools of Destruction” chain saws, trimmers, clippers and reciprocating saws. We started south on the last 6.3 miles to our bridge camp. The first 2 miles were not bad, perhaps the moose hunters kept it open. The next 4+ miles had some bad stretches where the bushes were overgrown across the road and a few bigger trees that had been uprooted by a storm.
We made quick work of the bigger downed trees, but trimming the overgrown shrubs was time consuming. We were thrilled to get back to our bridge camp! Cheers!
Our bridge camp and landing was just as we left it. We were pleased, but somewhat surprised that our camp was not very overgrown after 2 years of no use.
It was a good time and place for John to clean the 7 birds.
We worked our way back to the sandy camp, clearing more trees and bushes that were close to the road. We did stop to enjoy the spectacular fall colors in the late afternoon sun.
We setup camp at the big sandy area.
We hunted for awhile and picked up 3 more grouse.
Jim started a campfire and we got ready for dinner.
As we were planning the menu, the guys were giving me a hard time about the lack of salad on the menu. I replied with this sign:
Linda coached me through the shopping process in the produce area and we brought a salad tray along with a nice salad. It was a big hit as we were getting ready for dinner.
With 12 fresh grouse breasts on ice, we decided to change the menu and cook up some fresh grouse for dinner. The ruffed grouse meat is white and delicate like chicken. The spruce grouse meat is reddish. Both are tasty! Jim wrapped the grouse breasts with bacon and fried them in a cast iron pan. We added cream of mushroom soup and extra mushrooms. I cooked up a side of red beans and rice. A meal fit for a king!
With very fully bellies and clear skies, we watched the stars and satellites around the campfire. A good day!
Wednesday September 29, 2021
On a crisp morning, we were up early to get coffee started and then we were off to hunt.
We split up to hunt different areas and picked up several grouse. Fred had a hardy breakfast of biscuits and gravy waiting upon our return.
We started the work day by investigating the new camp on Italian lake. A boat near a landing with a dock and a rope to hold on to down the steep bank. Someone had built a small structure wrapped in tarps and a strange area with tarps on the ground held down with buckets of sand.
Next we scouted the east access to the lake. With a dry summer and low lake levels, the path to the lake was pretty easy to walk. It is obvious that no ATVs had driven down this trail. The Italians had thrown down some boards to cover the bad spots. The lake was calm and beautiful! They still had a boat in the water and two other boasts on shore, although one was under a fallen tree.
The Italian Camp was the same as I remember, except they built a gazebo type structure, with drink holders in each corner.
After exploring some less than desirable options, we decided to spend the rest of the day clearing the 6.3 miles to our bridge camp. We spent a lot of time clearing the overgrown brush on the sides of the road. Here is a before and after look at our work.
We cut out all of the worst places before heading back to camp and a cold Blue . John went hunting as the sun set on a beautiful evening. He came out of the woods excited saying “I love Grouse hunting!”
John brought halibut steaks from his trip to Alaska in July. Pared with steak tenderloins to make a tremendous “Surf and Turf” dinner.
We spent the evening telling stories and enjoyed cold Blue around the campfire long into the evening.
Thursday September 30, 2021
Up early (considering how late we stayed up) to enjoy a cup of coffee before we split up to hunt again.
I have always wanted to check out Scottie Lake, named in May of 1983 following the birth of my oldest son. Scott’s godfather, Mark Cunningham, christened the lake when we first portaged our canoe back to this lake just a few weeks after he was born. By the time I took my 2 boys, Scott and Andrew to Canada in 1998, the logging company had filled in the Scottie Creek valley, put in the road and had a camp along Scottie Lake. I thought there might be a clearing along the lake, filled with grouse, so I first explored Scottie creek, but it was completely overgrown. I also found the north end of the lake only fit for the moose trail, which I followed.
I left Scottie Lake empty handed, but John and Jim had great hunting – 8 more birds!
Fred made nice egg McMuffin sandwiches with sausage and cheese. John cleaned the birds and we broke camp. We saw a couple birds on the way out, but missed both, leaving our total at 27 with only 32 shots!
Both trucks picked up sticks from the washout that were jammed under the trucks and had to be pulled out. Hwy 811 was dusty after several dry sunny days. We made it across the US border without incident. The border patrol officer was unusually chatty, not many vehicles crossing the border. We filled our gas tanks at Ryden’s and said goodbye to the Cunningham men. They drove all the way home to Iowa (with a quick stop at the Owatonna KC Hall). Fred and I made it to Silver Bay before getting home on Friday. The trees were at or near peak color on the North shore of Lake Superior and in the UP. A successful trip and beautiful drive home!