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Cabins through family hunting memories: A dark, well-swept place

A spartan cabin at R. B. Winter State Park.
Credit: Dale Bowman

MIFFLINBURG, Pa. — A wooden picnic table anchored the cabin porch. Inside the lone door of the cabin, it was just as spartan: a plank table with two wooden benches, two wooden bunk beds and some wooden shelves. A broom leaned in the corner.

Tucked into mountainside trees at R.B. Winter State Park, the cabin was a dark, well-swept place. Memories weren’t as tidy.

The week after Thanksgiving, I drove to the central Pennsylvania mountains to hunt deer and black bear with my dad and younger brother. Our oldest brother joined us for a couple of days.

I’ve hunted with my dad for 49 years, and cabins underlie the memories, especially for deer hunting. The spartan nature of cabins adds to the feel of a getaway.

Make no mistake, it is easier to talk about cabins than to admit my dad is old. It was probably the last time he shouldered a gun in the woods.

In recent years, I’ve gone east more often, trying to soak up final times. Because I didn’t want to think about what my dad’s age meant, I remembered cabins.

My first deer cabin was centered around my maternal uncles. My dad and I helped build it in the Allegheny Plateau. Two uncles respected my card-playing enough to get me in the men’s game, a rite of passage, as a teenager.

Later, my dad and I (then my younger brother) hunted from a couple of cabins associated with other church members.

The one constant in nearly all deer cabins was a lack of civilized facilities. Some outhouses were so bad that going outside and using snowy leaves was preferable.

Then came a stretch where my dad, my younger brother and I bought a long-term lease on a cabin in a state forest. We called it Schwarz Bar Hutte for the black bear my dad and I saw just before he signed the lease.

By cabin standards, it was a palace. It didn’t have running water, but it had an indoor toilet. A year-round spring was outside the back door. As much as we loved it, life moved on. I lived in Chicago and my younger brother in Boston. We sold our lease.

Then we went back to renting cabins. If our late sister or other women came along, we found more proper cottages with basic amenities: running water, toilets, no mice gnawing through the night. Cabin dynamics change with women around.

Spartan interior of a cabin at R. B. Winter State Park.
Credit: Dale Bowman

We often rented R.B. Winter cabins. Considering it was late fall, the one this year was special because hot showers and flush toilets were only 300 feet away.

Our hunting wasn’t as good, though my younger brother let a young black bear pass 30 feet away in thick laurel.

‘‘I couldn’t shoot it,’’ he said.

I was the lone one to see deer, jumping some at a seep in an impenetrable rhododendron thicket. They were more startled than I was.

The final morning, my dad actually loaded his rifle and sat near the road. He seemed quite happy in the sun.

The final night, as I climbed out of Paddy Mountain and my dad came down from our old cabin, the idea of crockpot chili didn’t work. I had cell reception and ordered a large pizza. It was ready by the time we reached town, and my dad was all for it.

Times change.

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Leroy Bowman sitting on Paddy Mountain on what was likely his last hunt.
Credit: Dale Bowman