By Tim H. Martin
Recently, while cleaning out my hunting closet, I found my journal from a black bear camp. It's dated May 1997. The memories of Saskatchewan came flooding back when I opened the first page.
I'd forgotten how much fun this hunting trip was, my first as a Buckmasters employee.
For starters, there was the night a window was left ajar, and our cabin was flooded with buzzing mosquitoes before dawn. I pulled the sleeping bag around my face, leaving only my mouth exposed to the bloodsuckers, and continued sleeping. The next morning, my lips would've made Mick Jagger envious.
Next were details of fishing during the morning hours. We caught pike and walleye in order to kill time before our evening hunts, when bears like to move best. I'd jotted down how surprisingly delicious butter-fried walleye fillets and biscuits are for breakfast.
The journal took me back to other notable sights and sounds. Howling wolves. Northern lights. Fish-snatching eagles. Lonely loons. And, taking a sponge bath by lantern light on the third night of the trip, which was probably the coldest moment of my life.
As I read my entry about seeing a black bear for the first time, I felt a small tinge of adrenaline. I wrote how I'd nearly fallen asleep in the treestand before glancing at a distant treeline. I was shocked into wakefulness at the sight of a large black beast in the aspens below. I recall thinking the bear looked like a huge black Volkswagen Beetle rolling through the forest.
I dropped the bear with one well-placed shot. Reading my journal instantly transported me back to my perch high in that fir tree, exchanging high-fives with videographer, Elliott Allen. Even after 16 years, that outdoor memory is as vivid as any I can recall.
I wrote about the dusty ride on the back of the guide's ATV, and the glee of rolling into camp with a trailer full of black bear. The other hunters were gathered around a roaring campfire, sipping coffee, singing and playing guitars. Men approached from the shadows to shake my hand, and someone handed me a celebratory Labatt Blue, a Canadian lager.
Another wonderful entry was of the supper that night: elk burgers, fried potatoes and an especially savory mushroom and Canadian wild rice casserole, prepared by our pretty and sweet camp cook, Yvonne Peel. She later gave me her recipe, which you'll find to be a keeper.
But my favorite journal entry - one of the dearest moments of my life - was of Dahl Creek Outfitters owner Arnold Holmes. He'd stood in the flickering firelight, clapping to the music and watching the fun with a big smile, when he suddenly stepped forward, waved his hands and stopped the singing hunters in mid-verse.
With a gleam of wisdom and passion in his eye, Arnold paused, and then addressed the group.
"This is it, lads!" Arnold said in a low, emphatic tone, pointing a finger at each member of the circle.
"These are the best times of your lives, right here, right now, in this place. Remember this moment. Remember this moment!"
Arnold, how could I ever forget?
Canadian Bear Camp Mushroom and Wild Rice Casserole
Wild Rice Quick Soak Ingredients and Directions:
• 3/4 cup, wild rice
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 3 cups boiling water
1. Wash wild rice under cold, flowing water.
2. Stir rice into boiling water, cover and parboil for five minutes.
3. Remove from heat and allow rice to soak in the same water, covered, for 45 minutes.
4. Drain, rinse in strainer, then use as directed in remaining recipe.
• 1/4 cup chopped onion
• 1 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
• 4 tbls. butter
• 2 tbls. all purpose flour
• 2 1/2 cup beef broth *May require more
• Salt and pepper to taste
In a pot or Dutch oven, sauté onions and mushrooms in butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Blend in flour, stirring with a wooden spoon to remove flour lumps. Slowly add broth, and simmer until smooth and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and cooked rice. Turn into a buttered, 1-quart casserole, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 370 degrees for about 40 minutes to an hour. Yields 4 servings.
Note: Cooking time and liquid absorption varies for different varieties of wild rice. Check your casserole after 40 minutes of cooking for tenderness; add more broth and extend cooking time if more tenderness is needed.
— Recipe Courtesy of Yvonne Peel, 1997 camp cook for Dahl Creek Outfitters
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