I was looking through the old camp journals recently, and it reminded me of some of the things that happened in the early days. I founded Camp F-Troop way back in 1986, and my family and friends traveled up to the mountains frequently then. By looking into the journal entries, I can remember and relive five remarkable happenings at camp that first year and realize why we got hooked on the mountains of Warren County right from the start:
One: My brothers Billy and Skip and I all shot bucks on the opening day of rifle season, a hat trick that had never happened before. Since I had just bought the place in November, none of us had time to go up and scout for pre-season sign. So we all showed up at five a.m. at camp and started hiking up the Game Lands fire trail. At the one-half mile point I started climbing up the steep mountainside overlooking the trout stream below the trail, while at the one-mile mark Billy started up, and at the mile and a quarter point, Skip climbed. We each found a boulder, got up on top, and waited, and at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2 p.m. we brought down bucks. And the boulder Billy stumbled upon in the dark those 35 years ago has been used as a hunting stand by an F-Troop hunter every deer season since and has produced 16 nice bucks from 5 different hunters, including one last year.
Two: I caught my first wild native brook trout. We were mostly warm-water fishermen all the days of my youth, although my brothers and I did get up to our Uncle Jack’s Cottage in Venango County once or twice a year to chase stocked trout on crowded streams. But the experience of wandering for miles on public land and fishing open waters in the great outdoors was a startling new adventure, which hooked us from the beginning.
I remember that cool Saturday morning in April, my first trip up Redtail Run, when the little brookie with the salmon-colored fins struck my lure, and I brought him to hand, a small trout maybe seven inches long, but his small size just underscored the fact that he’d been born right there in those cool waters, not raised in a hatchery, and I gazed at him before I carefully placed him back in. I remain fascinated by wild brookies to this day.
Three: I experienced my first (and I hope last) face-to-face encounter with a black timber rattlesnake. It was a hot July day, and I had wandered two miles up Double Run and had just finished a productive morning of trout fishing, when I decided to head back downstream. He came out from behind a hemlock shrub, and I did not see him soon enough, that five-foot-long fearsome-looking reptile that coiled and raised its head up to the level of my belt and began a shrill sizzling rattle to warn me out of its way. I stood there frozen with fear for I don’t know how long, maybe two hours, probably ten seconds, until the animal relaxed it pose slightly, and I took the slowest, most careful step backward of my life, and then another, and then one more. Finally at a safe distance, I took off and ran all the way back to my truck.
Four: I caught my first 20-inch trout, up at the Kinzua Dam tailrace, using a spinning rig and a fathead minnow. It was a beautiful golden-shaded and red-spotted brown trout, and I got him in the eddy just outside the roaring current, took a photo, and released him. I’ve caught several since then, but I’ll never forget my first really big trout.
Five: I spotted my first (and so far, last) cinnamon-phase black bear. I had only vaguely even heard that such rare color-phased bears existed, let alone wandered into my sightline. I had just begun seeing bears on a regular basis in the year since I had founded F-Troop, and now I spotted the most uncommon of Pennsylvania bears. I was deer hunting in the late season, when I caught a reddish-brown glimpse of something moving laterally to my left.
It was the biggest live teddy bear I had ever seen, with a rich reddish-brown coat and a tawny tan muzzle.
I gazed at the beautiful animal and etched its appearance into my memory. Hundreds of interesting adventures and encounters have happened at camp since 1986, but that first year especially provided some memorable ones.
DON FEIGERT is the outdoors writer for The Herald and The Allied News. His latest book, The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, and his earlier books are available by contacting Don at 724-931-1699 or email@example.com. Browse his website at www.donfeigert.com. Or visit Leana’s Books at the mall.