New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Lumber Camp Life, and Game-Wardens Poaching Moose

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Andrew Adams traveled around New Brunswick in the 1870’s. He was mostly interested in studying the flora and fauna, but his book, Field and Forest Rambles with Notes and Observations on the Natural History of Eastern Canada (London, 1873), touched on other matters as well. Following is his description of a lumber camp, and of the unscrupulous hunting practices of a pair of game Wardens.


Moose Hunters, c 1866

From the McCord Museum


Lumber Camp Life, and Game-Wardens Poaching Moose

During March, when alternate thaws and frosty nights prevail, I started for the wilderness with a woodman well versed in his craft. Although not a hunter in the proper sense of the term, he was known far and wide as a famous moose slayer,—that is, instead of gun or rifle he preferred his axe, with which he had felled many a helpless moose when struggling through the hard frozen snow. Having placed our necessaries on a small hand-sleigh, we pushed through the forest by devious pathways, and arrived at a wood camp, after a fatiguing march of upwards of twelve miles on snow shoes. It is a common remark that the climate of the forest in winter is far healthier than the open country, and no doubt such is the case, for the reason that the extremes of cold are not intensified by wind. Thus often when sleighing over a bleak country, with a north-wester blowing fiercely, when the horses look as if dusted over with chalk, and our furs and whiskers are thickly powdered, we experience a delightful change the moment the woods come between us and the piercing blasts. The log or lumber camps are all constructed on much the same model, being composed of pine trunks placed lengthwise, one above the other, with a sloping roof covered over with pine boughs and a thick layer of snow. The fire is in the centre, whilst, around it, the inmates lie on pallets made of the soft twigs of the spruce with their feet inwards, all well wrapped in rugs and blankets. Excepting weekly changes of under-clothing, no doffing of outer garments takes places at bedtime, and the modes and means of ablution are neither effective nor ample, but, on the contrary, primitive in the extreme, as are many other domestic and household arrangements of these hardy and hospitable foresters. Nevertheless the comfort of the log hut is much beyond what we might expect to find in the depths of the primeval forest; and although every available space is occupied at night, there is no impurity of the atmosphere, as an enormous log fire is kept burning constantly, the apartment being thus freely ventilated through the large smoke flue of the roof.

The diet of the lumberman during the five or six months he is occupied in felling trees in the wilderness consists of occasional fresh animal food, conveyed through the forest, frozen, and on sleighs; or now and then a moose that may have unfortunately yarded in the vicinity; but the chief fare is salted pork, bread, potatoes, beans, with tea and sugar, to the total exclusion of spirituous liquors of every description. The result is, what with temperate habits, and exhilarating, healthy outdoor occupations, there are created as fine specimens of humanity as ever wielded axe or poll. Being away from the temptations of the towns, their simple fare and life have taught them, with the rigours of the climate, to make kindly welcome whatever forest wanderer happens to enter the wicket of the log hut; and I must say, who have more than once been indebted to their kindness, that nowhere is hospitality more genuine than around the log fire of the lumberman.

After building the camp, the next course pursued is the clearing of lanes in the direction of the banks of streams, where the logs are piled up to await the great thaws of spring, when they are floated to the main rivers. The vast accumulations of snow in the woods turn many of these insignificant brooks into torrents, which are further swollen by means of dams so constructed as to be rapidly opened out when the lumber tumbled into the bed of the watercourse is borne down in a furious rush to the river of which it is an influent. This, called “stream driving,” is the finale of the winter’s work, the financial success of which is dependent altogether on the continuance and extent of the thaws. Sometimes when the latter are gradual, more than half of the timber is left in the forest until the following year, and of course the market is influenced accordingly. I do not know a more exciting scene of its kind than to stand and watch a party of these stalwart woodmen, with their long iron-shod poles, jumping from log to log with amazing agility, now balanced on the readily yielding timber, now, with acrobatic dexterity, leaping from one log to another among the noise and clamour of exulting voices, and the fouling and jamming of one log on the other as they crash along the devious windings of the surging torrent.

We had not long settled down into the ways of our good friends in the camp before a hard frost set in at night, and enabled us to run with ease on snow shoes. One afternoon after a toilsome day’s wandering over the forest in quest of whatever natural objects might turn up, I returned to the hut to find my moose-slaying friend expatiating to the numerous inmates on his hunting exploits in the district some years before, and how, between axe and gun, he and several companions slew no less than twenty elks in the course of a few weeks. I had scarcely finished expostulating with him on the cruelty and illegality of destroying the hinds then, when they are heavy with calf, when suddenly the little wicket opened, and there crawled into the hut two stalwart settlers, accompanied by several dogs. “Halloo!” exclaimed my companion, “here come the moose wardens!” “Why” addressing one of them, “you, surely, of all men, are not bound on moose hunting now?” It was the case, however, for although appointed conservators of the moose by the magistrate of the district, they had travelled upwards of fourteen miles in order to secure three moose, which had been seen for some time within a short distance of our camp, and having observed us pass their settlement they imagined we had heard of the deer, and were hurrying to the spot. My guide, already disposed to consider me absurdly scrupulous as regards the two points on which I utterly dissented from him, with reference to the mode and time he selected for hunting, became, now that the poachers arrived, more encouraged than before, so, after some hesitation, I promised to accompany the party, but only as a spectator. Accordingly, on the following morning all sallied forth on snow shoes, and dispersed over the forest in quest of footprints, which were soon discovered, when men and dogs followed them up as fast as the nature of the ground would permit. On looking closely at the tracks I found that three moose had passed only a few days previously, and, as usual, in “single file,” treading as near as possible in each other’s footsteps. “Our start” was, assuredly, a strange one; the uncouth, bearded backwoodsmen in fur caps, and dressed in grey homespun, looked perfectly equal to the occasion, whilst ten or a dozen dogs, picked up at various farms on the way, presented a heterogeneous collection of mongrels, which barked and yelped around us in perfect ignorance of the work they were about to engage in, save a large-boned bull-mastiff, which, we were informed, seldom missed his hold of the muzzle of the animal. Each of the so-called wardens carried a gun and axe, whilst my henchman stuck to his faithful weapon, and laughingly remarked to a brawny blacksmith that however much the latter might trust to a musket, it was his belief that if he did not in the excitement of the moment either shoot himself or a neighbour he would most assuredly miss his mark, and we shall see anon that this surmise was not far from proving correct. Having witnessed the hounds “turned off,” and all speeding along the moose tracks, I struck across to an alder swamp for the purpose of examining the nature of the food on which the animal browses at this season, nor had I gone far before footprints and large hollows where the herd had lain showed I was in one of their yards, on the confines of a large barren, overgrown with moosewood, aspen, poplars, and alder bushes, which they had cropped and barked, many of the saplings having become stunted in growth by depredations of former years. Looking northwards, the eye ranged over a vast tract where once a stately pine forest grew, now overspread by deciduous leaved trees, with only here and there a solitary spruce or pine which had not yet attained the height of the old charred and black mast-like forms of its predecessors, towering many feet above it, although nearly half a century had passed since they were destroyed in the frightful conflagration known as the great Miramichi fire, that desolated the major half of the central and northern portions of the province.

On surveying the enormous tract demolished by the fiery hurricane, I was reminded of the remarks made by an old man on the previous night;— how, at the time referred to, he and his wife, having an infant at her breast only a week old were driven from their little clearing in the forest, with nothing beyond the clothes on their backs;— how they wandered about for hours, not knowing whither they were going, half stifled by smoke, when night came on, and hearing a disturbance in the wood close by, stumbled against their only horse, and before knowing it found themselves within a stone’s throw of the home they had abandoned in the morning, whilst the crackling of the fire and red-hot ashes raged on every side;— how on the following morning, as they sought to escape by forest paths, the frightened moose, caribou, bears, lynxes, etc., and partridges, were constantly hurrying past, and how on their arrival at the banks of the Miramichi, two of the former nearly ran over them on their way towards the river, into which they dashed and swam to the opposite bank. The desolation worked by the fire on the above occasion was marvelous; so changed were the physical features of the country that the narrator, when he returned to his farm soon afterwards, was at first unable to identify his property, until absolutely at the door of the dwelling, which owing to a swamp on one side and a large tract of clearing on the other, had been saved from the general destruction which overtook everything in any way combustible.

While contemplating the scene of this terrible fire, suddenly, on my right, there came forth from the forest loud shouts of men and bellowings of dogs. At once divining the cause, I made for the wood with all speed, and had just gained the moose-yard when a female elk came crashing through the cover, and passed within a few yards of me, pursued by the dogs, who, running nimbly on the frozen crust, hung about her flanks, yelping and barking, whilst she was making laborious efforts to escape. Now and then she suddenly sank to the shoulders; again her hind-quarters would almost disappear; sometimes I lost sight of the pursued and pursuers, as the former doubled backwards and forwards in the denser parts of the woods, where the snow was not so heavy as in the barren and along its skirts. Twice or oftener I came within easy shooting distance, and was reproached by my henchman for not firing, and perhaps had I known the sufferings in store for the poor brute I might have been induced then and there to put an end to the chase; but having that morning made a secret vow not to shoot at a hind, I was obdurate. Nor did his request to borrow my gun meet with consent, so shouldering his axe with redoubled energy, Brown pushed forward, and once I saw him raise it, and as suddenly lower the weapon as the animal twisted and turned in a clump of pine saplings. He had, in fact, lost a good chance of braining the moose or breaking its spine, and now, over-excited by the chase and dead-beat by extra exertion, he had no alternative but to give in, whilst the elk and its canine foes pursued their ways through the forest. Being myself fairly out of breath, I hung back also; and as we were both moving leisurely along, there appeared the two wardens, who had lost the tracks in attempting to cut off the animal’s retreat. But now that the hounds were in full cry and the moose well-nigh worn out, it seemed only a matter of time to get up with our quarry; we accordingly followed the footprints, which were painfully distinct from the blood of the wounds inflicted by the dogs, or made by the frozen crust. Here I noticed large gouts where she had halted for a moment, or a gory pit caused by her nose, when in her struggles she had suddenly sunk to the brisket and buried the muzzle, or where mouthfuls of snow had been seized to slake thirst and cool the parched tongue. I must, however, allow that the chase was exciting, and had it been a male moose I should have enjoyed the fun immensely; but considering the circumstances, I could not enter heart and soul into the hunt in the same way as my companions, who, now worked up to the very extreme of venatical frenzy, were madly rushing on regardless of all obstacles.

It is a most perplexing moment to the hunter when, in hot pursuit of his quarry, he happens to strike the tip of the unwieldy snow shoe against a snag, and is sent “a cropper, spread eagle-fashion,” on his face, the long snow shoes standing on end. If inexpert at recovering himself, he may have to roll about for some time before gaining the erect position. Indeed it so happened, for as we sped along in single-file, the two wardens leading, an accident of this nature occurred to the blacksmith, whose gun went off at the same time, lodging its contents close at his companion’s heel!

The number of pursuers was now reduced to Brown and the other moose warden, whilst the son of Vulcan and myself were left breathless in the rear. However, not to be altogether outstripped, we redoubled our efforts once more, and after a series of “trips” arrived at the brink of a stream, when my bailiff companion, without a moment’s hesitation, leaped on the snow-covered ice, and as quickly disappeared up to the armpits—gun and all. Thus reduced to his axe, he struggled on, whilst I cautiously made my way to the opposite side, and in a trice was standing by a thicket of pine trees, where lay the poor moose breathless and exhausted, with the dogs crowding around so closely that the warden was afraid to fire. However the victim was finally dispatched, and the reeking body of a full-grown calf extracted from its carcass, which on being quartered was hidden in the snow, to be conveyed to the settlements as opportunity occurred. So ended this inglorious day’s sport, the first and last of my moose hunting adventures in the spring season. It may be confidently stated, however, as far as this region is concerned, that nine out of twelve elks are killed in the above way.

The instance just narrated is however rather an exception to the rule, in so far that the sport lasted for upwards of an hour and a half; whereas in general, from the deepness of the snow and thickness of the crust, it is seldom that the animal can progress any distance before the bullet or axe are brought to bear on it.

Of course my companions were overjoyed at their success; moreover, not content with the final issue, the hardier of the two backwoodsmen struck off on a fresh trail, having only a crust of bread and a piece of cheese in his pocket. Sleeping out that night, he only returned to the lumber camp on the following evening, when he brought tidings of having slain another hind, which contained two calves! All this he accomplished on the simple fare above mentioned, passing the night on the snow, whilst throughout the day he was constantly on the move, traversing at least some thirty miles of forest. This man furnishes an illustration of the extraordinary powers of endurance of these hardy settlers: having some years previously fallen into the St. John River when crossing on the ice, he swam into open water and finally ashore, where he was picked up, encrusted in ice, and so benumbed that no one expected he would recover.

Of course the legitimate time to hunt the moose is toward the end of summer and in autumn, before the horn drops, when, however, few of the industrious settlers can spare time for such occupations, setting aside the woodcraft necessary in stalking the animal at this season. Although the legislature attempts to put a stop to a wholesale destruction which must sooner or later exterminate the animal, residents in the out-of-the-way places, irrespective of the sport, find, that between the value of the skin and the flesh, a moose at all times is worth killing, and therefore evade the law whenever opportunities occur.


Written by johnwood1946

November 9, 2016 at 8:11 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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