To avoid an Utter Disaster in the wild this hunting season: BRING ENOUGH TENT

The Wild Life #7

On the crisp, fall morning of October 9, 2011, I crossed over the Oregon-Idaho border, heading for the Bruneau-Jarbridge Rivers Wilderness Area in the Owyhee’s of southwestern Idaho, and what I had convinced myself was going to be a date with destiny…the hunt of a lifetime, harvesting a once-in-a-lifetime trophy mule deer buck. Only 48 hours later I would find myself traveling back out on this very same road, fleeing the utter disaster my wilderness hunt had become after my tent failed in a raging two-day thunder and lightning rainstorm. But I digress. Let’s start this episode out with a little history lesson first, and then we can get down to the sordid details of why it has taken me four long years of hunting the wilds of Idaho to learn the invaluable lesson of  why hunters should always “bring enough tent” with them.

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It has never ceased to amaze me how we go through life with the idioms and sayings that we all grew up with, but never knowing anything about their origins. You know, like “when hell freezes over,” “fish or cut bait,” and “an utter disaster.” And then one day, right out of the blue, there’s an explanation for one of them staring you right in the face. Shortly after I had crossed the border that morning into Idaho, I saw a historical road sign and immediately pulled over, because I am a total sucker for historical road signs here in the West. But as I read the title of this one, “The Utter Disaster,” my jaw dropped, and I was mesmerized as I read the account of the wagon train massacre of the Elijah P. Utter party which had taken place on this very patch of sagebrush, and sand in the year 1860.

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On September 9 and 10 of that year, forty-four members in this party, who were headed to Oregon on the South Alternate of the Oregon trail with oxen and wagons, were attacked by Indians. Six men, two women, and three children were killed, and twenty-five, to thirty Indians also perished. The surviving wagon train members fled into the hills, largely unarmed, and without provisions.  The first attack occurred on the high ground just west of Castle Creek when the Indians attempted to stampede the stock. The strong position of the hurriedly circled wagons and the distribution of food to the Indians discouraged additional aggression. The train was allowed to continue on toward the Snake River where the emigrants intended to fill their water barrels. The train kept to the high ground but was attacked again while passing down to Henderson Flat. The wagons were circled and the fight continued into the next day. Forty-five days later, only fifteen, barely alive survivors were rescued by the Army. Hence the ingrained-in-our society saying, “an utter disaster.” So now you know.

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My own personal utter disaster began later that same morning in 2011 when I left the pavement, and began a bone-jarring, axle bending, rock-and-roll ride on a 14 mile long rutted cattle trail across the desert to the Bruneau River Canyon, which took me four hours to complete. This was literally the roughest ride of my life, and I actually thought my 1999 Ford Explorer was simply going to disassemble, somewhere along the way. But somehow, it didn’t, and somehow I made it. I had no cell phone service, and there wasn’t another hunter or camp to bee seen anywhere in this eerily quiet, solemn, and spooky landscape. I set up my little Coleman dome tent (Yes, the same infamous “Death Bowl” tent from The Wild Life #6) and put up my 10′ X 10′ Quik Shade sun canopy. I got a fire started, made some dinner, and then went to bed. Opening morning dawned cool and sunny, and I was literally hunting once I had taken just a few steps away from my camp. That morning, I saw Rocky Mountain sheep, antelope, and dizzying scenic vistas in the deep-cut rock canyon of the river, and out across the endless sagebrush plains. But I didn’t see any deer, and very few deer tracks. But the real trouble with my week-long hunt to be, began around noon that first day, when the sky turned inky black, a breeze began to stir, and rain swept in across the sagebrush horizon like some misplaced tropical monsoon. I tried to hunt after lunch, but in between bouts of intermittent squalls, followed by golden rainbows, followed by more rain, I put my rifle away in my rig, and concentrated on just trying to survive. By three p.m. that afternoon, I was literally holding onto the side poles of my Quik Shade, trying to keep its air filled canopy from lifting off the ground like a Sikorsky helicopter, while I watched my little Coleman tent eventually pull its stakes and go flip flopping across the sagebrush flat like a tumbleweed. To say that I spent a hellish night in that devastated, and rain drenched camp would be an understatement. The next morning, not interested in practically having to tread water any longer, or in possibly becoming a human lightning rod, and despite a report from my weather radio that the storm system was expected to move through the area in “one or two days,” I packed up, and was out of there. I relocated my camp some 60 miles to the west in the Silver City area, where I spent the rest of my hunt, mostly dry, and even managed to harvest a nice little 2 point.

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In 2012 I returned to The Gem State to hunt mulies again, this time to Atlanta, Idaho “Gateway To The Sawtooths” and I was now outfitted with a nylon Kelty 8-man “Mountaineering Tent.” Roomy, and spacious, this tent provided me with some really awesome accommodations in the 70 degree summer-like weather of the early part of the season, and had lots of storage room for all of my gear. And it performed admirably…right up to the evening when a wind storm ripped through the Atlanta Valley, and the campground I was staying in just outside of the tiny town, snapping several of its fiberglass frame poles, and collapsing the tent down around me like a deflated hot air balloon.

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The hell of it was, I knew  that windstorm was coming, because I’d heard the weather alert broadcast over my weather radio earlier in the day. But I couldn’t be bothered at the time. I was drinking bourbon, and raptly listening to Mitt Romney on the radio kick Barack Obama’s Communist ass all over the place in one of the presidential debates that year. And I was still listening, when the tent collapsed on top of me in one great big nylon ball, rolling me across the ground to the nearby bank of the Boise River where, thank God, the gale abated just long enough for me to fight my way out before dropping like a rock into the rushing water below.

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The next day, I moved my camp into the shelter of some big pines and jerry rigged some makeshift tent poles with trimmed tree branches and paracord, and that night, it snowed. And snowed, and snowed, and snowed. The temperatures, which had been in the 60’s, and 70’s during the day, now plummeted into the mid-teens at night, and with no source of heat available, the plastic jug of milk I had inside the tent for my Cheerios froze into a solid block of ice. The only thing that saved the rest of this utter disaster in the making trip, was the arrival of my brother-in-laws and their friends from Boise a few days later, with two canvas wall tents equipped with woodstoves, and a re-supply of bourbon.

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Determined to finally get it right, I spent that winter researching base camp tents, and in the fall of 2013 I returned to Atlanta, ID with a brand new canvas Kodiak cabin tent, and a Mr. Big Buddy propane heater, because the Kodiak isn’t designed to take a woodstove. Now this, was a tent! Enamored with all of it’s elbow room (it accommodated a Queen size Coleman air bed for crying out loud!) its high ceiling (I am six-foot two) and it’s ability to absolutely defeat every single drop of rain and flake of snow which fell on it, I ultimately overlooked some of the tent’s bad qualities…for my purposes.

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Don’t get me wrong, Kodiak makes a fantastic canvas tent. But don’t ever try to set one of these up by yourself because it is an absolute bitch. The instructions clearly state, that it takes two people to set this model up, and they are right! Like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway, with his imaginary soccer ball friend Wilson, I enlisted the help of my camp stepladder, which I named Eric, to help me put this damned tent up. All of the poles for the Kodiak are steel, and they are heavy. Very, very, heavy.  As I would lift one canvas wall side of fitted poles, while Eric “held” up the opposite side, Eric’s side would more often than not come crashing to the ground, resulting in utter disaster, utter frustration, and in me having to open another beer. I am a solo hunter; always the first one to arrive in deer camp, and the last to leave, so besides Eric, there is never anyone around to help me with the erection. Of the tent, I mean.

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The first year I had the Kodiak, it took me and Eric four hours to put it up, and last year, it took three and a half hours! Coupled with the fact that the Mr. Big Buddy started breaking down on me for some unknown reason last season, causing me to have to disassemble in it the frigid cold to get it working again, and the fact that hauling it’s 30 gallon propane tank (which is the size of a small refrigerator) 1,250 miles round trip to Idaho is a major hassle, the Kodiak Cabin tent went the way of it’s two predecessors this summer. That is, it went to Craigslist heaven.

Ahh, but this season, things are going to be different! And I’m not just saying that to make myself feel better, either, after having just spent fourteen hundred bucks on another brand new canvas tent, and a woodstove. Even more intense research on the internet this past winter, resulted in me finally, I believe, finding the solution to my tent problem, after I discovered a man named Rich Tuck and his Wall Tent Shop located in Moscow, Idaho. Rich not only owns the shop, which carries just about every type of canvas wall tents and woodstoves available on the market today, he is also the inventor and designer of some of them, including the Selkirk Spike Tent, and the Wilderness Stove, and I purchased both of them.

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My rugged, waterproof Selkirk canvas tent is a cavernous 12′ X 12′, and has lightweight aluminum poles which will allow me to erect the tent by myself, and the airtight Wilderness stove, when dampered down before going to bed, will burn all night long. No more waking up with hypothermia in a freezing cold tent, or having to make my morning bowl of Cheerios with the aid of an ice pick. And no more cursing at poor Eric, when he drops a heavy steel tent pole on my foot! In other words, no more deer camp utter disasters. The choice of the right tent for your hunting camp needs to be based on practicality, functionality, comfortability, and the environment you are going to be living and hunting in. I have a feeling that life is going to be better than ever in the wilds of Idaho for me this fall, so I would like to raise a glass and make a toast to better days, and nights in Big Buck country! Or, even a can, if that’s all you’ve got! Nostrovia!

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The Wall Tent Shop can be found at: http://www.walltentshop.com/

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2 thoughts on “To avoid an Utter Disaster in the wild this hunting season: BRING ENOUGH TENT

  1. Amazing read! I am sure this year will be an amazing hunt! I hope that one day I too will find a good friend like Eric!! Kudos to no more frozen Cheerios!

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  2. Oh, yeah, this season is going to be awesome, Josh! But you’d better kill something this year so I can get it on camera, because if you don’t I’m afraid I am going to have to ask you to do a strip tease on the last night in camp because I am NOT going home empty handed. I have a movie to make. And as far as meeting “the one”: never give up on love, Josh. One day, when you least expect it, you will turn around, and there she..or he..will be, the stepladder of your dreams! Ready for you to climb on board.

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