I should write this down. It happened a long time ago, but I will do my best to remember the details.
I was about 17, and it was about 1969. With David Seversen and Tom Trynon, I went skiing on the border lakes. It was a more wild place then – than it is today. Tom had discovered a trail on an old map to a deserted ranger cabin half way between Nina Moose River and Little Indian Sioux River, north off the Echo Trail. It was deep winter, and while not spectacularly cold, there was plenty of snow.
The trail was more in Tom’s mind than visible to the naked eye, but according to the map it went due north, and we just followed the compass.
Tom and David were a little older than I, and had modern gear. I had old wooden downhill skis, a feather military sleeping bag – that you could get for about $5 at a military surplus store in those days, a wool mackinaw, and one of my dad’s old Duluth packs.
I had a Stevens double 16 gauge shotgun for rabbits, and we had some ice fishing gear.
I don’t remember too much about the trip in. Skiing is hard work, and you keep plenty warm. I do remember coming to a large hill that we had to ski down. At the bottom of the hill was a large free standing rock, big as a house. Tom skied down the hill, and I believe to the left of the rock, where he disappeared from view. I went next, and when I got around the rock, I saw Tom laying on the ground and a very large bull moose standing over him – looking very startled.
Moose are strange that way. They have very expressive faces – for something so odd looking. The moose looked at Tom like, “Well, I never!” Then, it gave a snort of disgust and walked off to the west, long legs churning up the snow. I’m not sure Dave even saw the moose.
To the best of my memory, Tom didn’t hit the moose, he just aborted his ski run when he saw he was headed for it, and ended up at its feet.
We never did find the cabin. At some point, we figured we should have found it by now (we didn’t go far enough) and decided it must have been burnt. We decided we would go east and hit Lake Agnes for some fishing.
After about a mile, we came on a lake. I said, “It’s Nina Moose.” Nina Moose is the lake south of Agnes. Nina is Ojibwe for “little” and Moose is Ojibwe for “Moose.” Tom insisted it was Agnes, but I was right. I’d grown up there.
It began to snow, soft, fluffy, huge flaked snow. Tom and Dave cut a hole to fish. I went hunting along the shore and got a snowshoe hare. In the thickly falling snow, every sound was deadened. The report of the gun was so muffled my compatriots couldn’t hear the sound at a 1/4 mile.
We skied to the north end of Nina Moose where there is a flat sand beach, just west of the river inlet, and put up our tent.
Map of Nina Moose Lake
The only thing I remember about our evening meal is – we had coffee. We must have eaten the hare, but I don’t remember anything about it. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker at that age, but I remember the warmth of the cup on my hands. It felt good. It felt right.
The tent was one of those little pup type nylon tents. I’d probably gathered some boughs (I usually do). We must have all been a bit skinnier back then as I don’t remember feeling crowded with the three of us in the tent.
I woke first and got out of the tent. It had snowed all night and the tent was covered with several inches. I was digging through the snow that covered the previous night’s fire ring and I’d found the coffee pot when I noticed a deer coming across the lake south of us, about 50 yards away. The deer was heading from west to east across the lake, and seemed oblivious to our presence. Dave was next out of the tent and said (softly), “A deer.” We stood very still and watched the deer, fairly close, and I remember wondering if it would spot us and run. About that time, a white timber wolf, one of the few I’ve ever seen, jumped up from the snow in the middle of the lake and grabbed the deer. The deer, with the wolf attached, ran about 30 or 40 feet. Within that time, a split second, the wolf had the deer dis-embowled. The rest of the wolf pack ran from the woods on the eastern shore and converged on the deer. The whole episode took seconds.
The other wolves were various shades of grey and brown, with a few white splotches thrown in. The wolf we’d first seen was the only one that was pure white.
About this time, Tom emerged from the tent. He yelled, “Hey, a wolf.” The wolves, suddenly aware of our presence, all looked at us. I remember suddenly becoming aware that we were many miles from any other humans, confronting wild wolves who’d just shown their ability to rip an animal to pieces in seconds, and our only gun was deep in the tent under my sleeping bag and unloaded.
The white wolf looked very disgusted – showed his teeth in a grimace. Finally, after what seemed hours, but was actually just a few seconds, he turned his head and with the pack headed for the eastern shore. Wolves feared humans more back then.
We made a fire and set our kettle to melt snow for coffee, Dave and I exclaiming at the ease and speed of the attack. Tom, who’d never seen the deer, didn’t believe there’d been a deer at all. Thought we were making it up (Tom was like that). We walked out to the deer, mainly to prove its existence to Tom.
I remember that the slice along the deer’s flank looked like it had been done with a knife – engendering a healthy respect within me for the power of a wolf’s jaw.
The sign in the snow was clear. There were no tracks visible leading to where the white wolf had lain in ambush. The white wolf, probably aware of this particular deer’s habits, had hid during the night, in the snow, and waited, covered in snow, for the deer to approach.
While the deer was disembowled, there was little damage to the meat. I began cutting out the back straps – much to the dismay of my partners – who were both city bred. I insisted on venison for breakfast, and after cooking up backstrap steaks, they both agreed it doesn’t get any better.