The Opportunity Moose
Each year we apply for a chance at the moose permit lottery. We’ve been extremely lucky to have already gotten several. I have had one in 2011, another in 2016, and John had one in 2012, so we enter each year with no expectation of getting drawn again since there are many hunters who have never been drawn. To our total surprise, John got drawn for his second moose, only this time for a bull in Zone 5 during the September hunt. Zones are very important since a permit in a higher number zone has less permits and less favorable chances of getting a moose. I know…I had zone 23 in 2011, and John had zone 16 in 2012.
We have always taken a lot pride in the fact that we hunt. We don’t do drive-by shootings. We scout, we call in moose and then we shoot. Even when we don’t have permits, we practice calling in moose just for the excitement of it. When John got his permit, he decided he’d try to take a moose with his bow. We’ve called moose in many times within bow range, so it seemed realistic. As the sub-permittee I would carry my new 6.5 Creedmor rifle as backup, and he’d carry his bow. I decided to carry my gun instead of his 30.06 because my gun is much lighter than his.
Since we’ve moose hunted Zone 5 a number of times, we felt pretty prepared. I even wrote about what to bring on a moose hunt in The Maine Sportsman, a magazine in which I write monthly articles.
We were set to hunt, when our youngest son decided he wanted to join us for a few days. We had made the trip up in July to scout and check things out. It was so weird to find not nearly the number of people we expected to see during the summer. We literally had this section of the North Maine Woods to ourselves. We camped on Chase Mountain road in the same spot we had for Tyler’s hunt. We scouted all our known spots, and found sign, but it was very obvious that moose move with the cycles of forest harvests, and many of the spots we thought would have been teaming with moose weren’t hot.
September came quick. We packed and headed up two days early to scout. It was hard to not get discouraged by the forecast. Our whole week was looking like rain except for one day. It rained when we left, but broke as we headed north. The dirt roads were muddy and gross, but at least it kept the dust down. We headed to “our” spot only to find an outfitter set up there in both campsites, so another hour plus of driving and by then dark, we found Malcolm Branch campsite off the Pell & Pell Road. High winds and rain continued overnight. At about 4:30 am, we were awoke by the roar of a truck flying by our campsite. Holy crap! That empty log truck had to have been traveling more than 60 miles an hour we thought; however, once we got on the road and started to drive, we realized that we were “flying” at 35 miles an hour. The truck probably wasn’t even going 45, but the size and shear sound of the truck made it seem a lot faster. We did know that when, not if, we met a truck, we’d pull over and stop. They have the right of way and get as much of the road as they want.
Tyler arrived Sunday night, and Monday morning we were up and ready to hunt faced with pouring rain. We brought our rain gear so at least we’d be dry for the most part. To start the hunt, we decided to go to the spot where I shot my moose in 2016. It had the best sign of any other spot.
By the time we arrived, it was just before daylight, and Tyler was completely car sick. We left him in the truck to recoup while we hunted. We called but there were no answers. Just when we were ready to leave, I heard a large crack like a branch breaking. We quickly set up, and tried to keep calling. After awhile, the wind started swirling and changed direction to our disadvantage, so we decided to not take a chance of being busted and headed to some of the other spots. On the way out to our truck, we flushed four partridge and there I was holding a rifle.
We did get a glimpse at a young bull moose that literally darted out in front of us and crossed road. By the time we pulled over to a safe spot, loaded our guns and got in the woods, that moose was gone. It was disappointing but then again, it gave us another spot to go back to and it made us hopeful since that was our first sighting of a bull moose. Tyler continued to be car sick so we headed back to the campsite. That night Tyler decided he couldn’t do the hunt because he’d be car sick the entire time, and would be headed home in the morning.
We were excited to see that it stopped raining and clouds were actually breaking up. We kept our rain gear on because everything was so wet. We went back to our spots, parking about a quarter of a mile out, then walking in, calling, waiting, calling, but the moose simply weren’t answering, or we weren’t being patient enough. John and I decided we needed to be more patient; if the moose weren’t answering, it didn’t mean they weren’t still responding to the call. We’ve seen this before, and in 2016, it was Thursday before we heard a moose grunt to our calls.
As we moved from one area to another, we drove by a spot where a bunch of guides were on their phones, which is unheard of in the NMW. Sure enough, we had a couple bars. Taking a break to eat, we decided to check out one of the roads headed up a mountain. It was steep, narrow and the road was made of crushed stone with shards the entire way. I was very thankful for our ten-ply tires, and once we drove to the top of a hill, we had a spectacular view and great cell service to text the family that we were okay, but not successful moose hunters.
As we drove, we got to a spot along a clearing with a natural spring beside the road. We had found it earlier in the summer and so we decided to fill up a jug to wash the windshield off. The night before when were were headed home, we waited at an intersection for a truck to pass. When he flew by us, a spray of mud and rocks splashed across the windshield. As we filled our jug, a truck approached. A young couple got out to fill their water bottles. We ended up having a conversation and chatted for about 10 minutes. Just as we were wrapping things up, the guy looks past us and says, “hey, there’s a moose!” We turn around and sure enough, there is a moose..a bull moose…a nice bull moose.
John and I jump in our truck, which was luckily headed in the right direction, and sped up the road. The moose continued to walk straight down the road toward an intersection of the Jack Mountain Road. We parked at the intersection, got out as quiet as we could. John grabbed my gun and the moose call, and we tried to sneak run up the road at the same time out of no where, a red Subaru wagon drives by….a bird hunter. I had seen the moose, and we ducked. When we stuck our heads up, it gone and that red Subaru was driving oblivious to what had just transpired. The moose was gone….Gone.
John was convinced it went off to our left into the woods since that was closest to where we last saw it. Being almost completely deaf and having no hearing aids in, John was frustrated because he couldn’t hear me, and I was trying to whisper and listen for the moose. Meanwhile, the couple watched from the spring, which only made matters worse. How embarrassing to lose a moose.
I took the moose call from John and began calling. John was super annoyed and didn’t see the point. I continued to call just for the heck of it, as we made our way back to our truck about 100 yards away. Almost to our truck, I heard a large noise at the edge of the clearcut directly across from our truck.
And there it stood on the edge of the treeline. As I called, the moose walked out of the treeline and into the clear cut looking for love.
John jumped into position and took a shot. The moose hunched. Not thinking he hit the moose, he got on the ground and using a tree stump as support, he fired again. And then again, which was an obvious hit but the bull was still moving. On the fourth shot, the bull stood still. I knew he had hit it before then, and then it fell. Note to self, don’t be an ass and make your husband use your gun instead of his own gun…he had never shot it before then.
There was great relief that we hadn’t let this opportunity go by us, but it was not the hunt that we had planned. It wasn’t a remote stalk. It wasn’t a private event. It was a successful moose harvest moose that we were thankful for, but at the same time it was a moose of opportunity. John was disappointed that he didn’t get to do his bow hunt as he’d wanted to do for so long and that it was not solo as we’ve always prided ourselves in doing. It was an opportunity moose with the help of strangers, which for some hunters would be ecstatic, and we had to keep reminding ourselves of that. Ironically, as trucks with hunters passed by below, we heard one of them use an electronic caller…to which we waved and then continued to work on our moose.
By the time we hiked up that clearcut to claim the moose, we found out that clearcut was a hellish tangle of trees hidden by raspberry bushes as tall as us. There was absolutely no way we could get it down in one piece despite all the block and tackle we brought. It was already 3pm and we had to cut a trail just to get to the moose. Despite working tandem and as quick as we could, darkness fell quick. By the time we skinned and quartered the moose, got the tenderloins and packed it all out, it was well after dark and we had to work by headlamps. Since Miss Prepared forgot to bring the jet sled to drag out a moose quarter, John had to lug each quarter out one by one about 300 yards each way up and down a mountain with a newly healed Achilles tendon to boot. I tried to help, but I simply did not have the strength to do it. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
Once we were loaded, we headed back to the camper for the night. We packed up and headed home the following morning. I drove my SUV and pulled the moose on a trailer while John pulled the camper. At the tagging station, we weren’t the only ones who had to quarter and pack out. There was a lot of camaraderie among hunters, which was nice to see. We got an idea of the size of the moose by hunters who were tagging out whole. We estimate it would have weighed around 850 pounds.
The hunt was over, and John was one step closer to achieving the Grand Slam, which he missed in 2012. Now it was back to bear hunting and moose processing. Thank goodness we have a Cool Bot room in the barn to keep the meat.
What this has taught me is that no matter how much you plan, each and every hunt is different. Yes, we could have just said, no, we want to do it on our own, but what if that had been the last moose we’d see that week? We didn’t want regrets and have always said, “don’t pass on a moose on the second day that you’d shoot on the last day.”
Maybe I’ll get the luck of the draw and get a moose permit in 2023. If so, I’ll give it a go with the bow and see if we can’t relive our dream of getting a moose with a bow.