They say that some men were born way after their time, and I know just the man they were talking about.
The first name that comes to mind when you run into this “mountain man” is “Grizzly Adams” when he is sporting his handlebar mustache and a full beard that he generally wears during the hunting seasons in our northeast.
His name is Paul Cichowski and we became friends while we both belonged to the Meriden Rod & Gun Club back in the 70s. Paul was one of the first black powder enthusiasts that I came across when muzzleloaders were first beginning to make an appearance as a bonafide Connecticut hunting season.
You would not forget Cichowski after you first met him because he is that impressive. He was a lineman for CL&P/Northeast Utilities up to his retirement last year.
Probably one of the most notable things about Paul Cichowski is his knowledge about things primitive in the outdoors. If I were ever to become involved in any type of outdoor survival exercise with another person, Paul Cichowski is the man I would choose to be with.
My first black powder rifle was a kit gun given to me by my darlin’ Edna many years ago. It came with all of the parts, including a wood stock that had to be shaped to receive the metal barrel and other components that would eventually become a muzzleloader.
I was about as handy at putting together something like that as a cow would have been with a shotgun. Paul took over and my very first muzzleloader was created.
We even took part in the very first Connecticut muzzleloader season for whitetailed deer together. Our first black powder hunting adventure took place up in the Housatonic State Forest. We had separated to do our hunting, with an agreement to meet at a certain spot in the forest at mid-morning.
I had little success that morning and was at the preordained meeting spot right on schedule, but there was no Cichowski there to greet me. I sat for awhile and thought I was hearing things because suddenly I heard a loud masculine voice that sounded like someone singing some sort of song, and whoever it was, they were terribly off-key.
I sat in wonder as the owner of the terrible singing voice came closer and closer. Suddenly, the owner of the voice appeared and it was my hunting partner, Paul Cichowski, and he was carrying a spiked buck that he had shot over his shoulder.
Now, I should point out that Cichowski has sort of a massive build, and the sight of this “mountain man” with the dead deer slung over his shoulder while carrying his muzzleloader in his other hand was an event I will never forget. It was like a step back into another place and time.
I sat there open-mouthed for a moment and then asked him about the singing.
He replied, “I forgot my dragging rope, so I decided to carry it out on my shoulder and didn’t want anyone taking a shot at the deer while it was on my shoulder. I figured my beautiful singing voice would take care of that!”
I can only imagine what any other hunter that might have seen him thought.
At the time, Paul and his lovely wife Pat lived in Prospect, and we spent quite a bit of time in the woods with our muzzleloaders hunting together.
We even took part in Meriden’s Bicentennial celebration when they had a reenactment of a British redcoat/ Connecticut colonist encounter on Broad Street in Meriden. We were using our black powder rifles and muskets and I was one of the revolutionaries that got “shot” and was attended to by a “colonial” lady who was on the scene.
Of course, it was all make believe and later on during the day our revolutionary team of Paul Cichowski, Richard DiPersio, Roger Schneider and yours truly whipped the ass off of those redcoats in a target shoot down at the Meriden Rod & Gun Club. Cichowski led the way.
Eventually, Paul and Pat left Prospect and started a new life in East Hampton. They purchased a sizable piece of land, build a log cabin on it as well as a barn and a meat processing spot complete with walk-in coolers to cut up meat both wild and domestic for various customers, and he is still doing it today.
But Cichowski’s story does not end there. Over the years he has made five trips to Alaska and just about every one of them has been an adventure of sorts for one of Connecticut’s own mountain man.
The Alaskan wilderness is Paul’s kind of territory and, to listen to him, he is as at home there as he would be on his own land here in Connecticut.
For Cichowski, most of his trips to Alaska would be family affairs. This is quite a feat since the Cichowskis are a really spread-out family, with Paul’s brother Hank and wife Betty living in Montana and their son Brandon living in Idaho. Paul’s son Luke resides in upstate New York. There is also son-in-law, Shawn Sharpe, a submariner married to Paul’s daughter Erica.
The group came together in Seattle, Wash. They took a plane to Petersburg, Alaska and then continued on to their camp by boat. This was accomplished with the aid of two rented 18-foot outboard boats. It was a 37-mile boat ride to the small (16-by-16) A-frame cabin they would be calling home for the next 10 days.
Cichowski related that many of the Federal forests have A-frame shelters, maintained by the Federal Forest Service that can be used by just about anybody, but they do not come with any amenities other than a small table, two stools, a couple of built-in wall bunks, an old kerosene heater and an outhouse.
That’s it. Everything you will use on the trip to such an area will be brought in by you and, when you leave, everything you brought in must be taken out with you.
The first trip to Alaska by Cichowski was made with his buddy Karl Russenberger. They took the ashes of one of Paul’s best friends, the late Bill Diamond. Diamond had requested that Paul bring his ashes to Alaska and let them go in the Kenai River.
Once Cichowski and Russenberger accomplished the mission, they became enthralled with what they saw. Since then, Paul and friends and family have made even more trips to Alaska.
Only Paul Cichowski could have picked the isolated spot they chose for their hunting adventure. After they landed in Petersburg, Alaska it was a short trip to the boat landing where they would leave modern civilization behind for the Tongrass National Forest.
I asked Paul about the possibility of getting to the spot by a car or truck, but he said that to get there you either flew in by bush plane or went there by boat like they chose to do because the area consisted of a bunch of huge islands.
Two 18-foot boats were an absolute necessity, considering there were six people and supplies to last them 10 days in the wilderness. This included 40 gallons of water for consumption because Paul did not want to take a chance on purifying water that was there before they could use it.
Included in the supplies were about 90 gallons of gasoline for the outboards, which would be the only means of transportation for the entire crew while they were there.
Alaska is noted for its extremely high tides and Cichowski said that they did experience the extreme tidal fluctuations (22 feet!) during their stay and their hunting trips by boat were governed by the tides.
They did their hunting in the Tongrass National Forest, and were even visited by the Alaska State Troopers TV crew that is so popular on cable TV.
To be continued next week.
MERIDEN LIONS CLUB GAME DINNER
The Meriden Lions Club will once again offer a game dinner under the guidance of Executive Chef Joe Berg at the North Italian Club.
It is a sit-down, six-course game dinner. Tickets are $50 and must be purchased in advance. Proceeds benefit the Meriden Lions Club charitable projects.
For tickets, contact Lion Les at (203) 631-7670.
MERIDEN ROD & GUN CLUB CAST & BLAST TODAY
The Meriden Rod & Gun Club will hold its Annual Fall Cast & Blast today on Ravens Lane, South Meriden, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The public is invited to fish the trout pond, shoot trap and use the firing range during the event, plus all the food you can eat and a huge sports raffle. Admission is $10 and tickets will be available at the gate.
See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.