Korby's Connections: Lost in the Ditchbanks
February 18, 2022
Have you ever been lost? No, really lost. Lost where your heart and pulse start elevating, you’re perspiring, it’s getting dark, personal fear and anxiety are on the rise. You try to be calm.
Most of the time when I went partridge (ruffed grouse) hunting in Minnesota’s fall season, I either personally knew the planned hunting terrain or had someone accompanying me who was familiar with the landscape.
There are many perfect partridge ecosystems in Carlton and St. Louis counties with thick brush and aspen groves. Minnesota is the largest producing state of ruffed grouse in the United States.
One fall evening in the 1970s, Rick Miller, Moose Pastika and I planned to go grouse hunting after work. Sunlight was already becoming a scarce commodity as the days were getting shorter. We hunted regularly but this usually limited us to weekday hunting in a circle 10-15 miles from Cloquet, our home base.
This particular evening we planned to go to the Ditchbanks west of Cloquet by the Big Lake Golf Course on the Fond du Lac reservation. The weather was fairly comfortable. We had all hunted at the Ditchbanks before. It was a popular spot. Driving my truck on a narrow road, we met the FDL conservation officer. We were friends and he gave us some ideas of how to get to some secluded trails where there were no hunters that particular evening.
My blue Ford F-150 truck with a topper was heavy, but it was only two-wheel drive so it limited where I dared to park. We were, by observing and guessing, a couple of miles off the beaten path. I pulled the truck into a small clearing by the trail where the conservation officer had suggested we go.
All three of us had hunting jackets that we proceeded to put on after we got out in the fresh air and stretched a little. We all carried plenty of shells, some carrying over from year to year because a lot of times we either wouldn’t see partridge or didn’t have a chance to discharge a shot. We all carried compasses and hunting knives. I also had a pack of Diamond Match wax matches that were waterproof. Moose worked at the Cloquet Match Mill.
The logging or auxiliary trail was wide enough so we could all walk side by side. There was thick brush on both sides, excellent partridge terrain.
After walking together for a short while, we realized we had to split up to cover more ground and maybe flush a bird. Rick was assigned to stay on the trail, I went to the left and Moose to the right. From what we could see and tell, the trail looked like it ran relatively straight.
Slowly, I started veering left, away from the main trail but keeping Rick in sight. No partridge flushed so I went south a bit more. At least I thought it was south. After Rick disappeared from view and I couldn’t hear him either, I straightened my bearing. I walked probably another half mile with no wiley birds jumping but also no sign of Rick. Sunset wasn’t too far off so I changed my course and started heading to the right.
At one point, it seemed about the time that Rick or the trail would be coming into view. But the terrain got thicker and there was no sign of either. I picked up my pace and began to perspire. I stopped and tried to hear branches or brush rustling. I kept going to the right but nothing seemed familiar.
I started doubting my bearings. I was getting nervous to say the least. I could visualize the Pine Knot headline: “Search Continues for Lost Cloquet Youth.”
After more walking and not finding anyone, I decided to give a shout. “Rick.” No reply.
I pointed my double-barreled shotgun towards the sky and gave a blast. I faintly heard a questioning statement: “Korbs?” I walked toward the voice although it was backwards of the direction I was heading. Boy was I glad when I came to a slight clearing and saw Rick. Shortly thereafter, Moose emerged from the woods.
“What happened?” I asked. Evidently, the trail abruptly ended. Moose and I must have crisscrossed in front of where Rick stopped and never saw each other. I was so confused that I didn’t even know which way to head on the trail to get back to my truck. It’s amazing how turned around a person can get in a short period of time.
I was only “lost” for probably 30 minutes, but I was tired, ready to start the truck, turn on the lights and heat, and head back to Cloquet. No birds, but still exciting. Glad we were all safe. Go and take kids and grandkids on outdoor adventures, but please, bring a compass, and use it.
Steve Korby’s interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].