TBT-My First Moose Hunt – Final

I Get My Moose!

We had found our way to the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, now called the Midcoast Conservancy. I called to let them know I was hunting there, which was a request in the brochure.

I took a Friday off so we could hunt two days this week. I was able to find, using the map, that we could access the bog through various trails. This would cut down on the mountain climbing and possibly may save us some time so there would be less time walking, more time hunting.

Friday: One way to enter was by using the gas pipeline access. Our trusty Gazeteer came in handy to find the trails we needed. We planned to use our four wheeler to drive the trail once we found access. We met some really nice people who offered us park in their yard so we’d have access to the pipeline trail. We used our GPS in walk mode to mark where we parked the ATV and to find our way out. While the walking was easier, the distance was longer. We hiked through trails for miles.

map

 

On our way in, I seemed to be watching more where I stepped than in front of me since all I could see was John’s back. Our first encounter with wildlife was as we were approaching the softwood area. There we jumped the biggest, grayest buck we had ever seen. I only got a glimpse of his hind end, and neither of us could get a shot. That deer was on a gallop too far away for any chance. We eventually found our way back to the beaver bog. The day ended pretty quiet. We made our way back to the four wheeler and left that day exhausted.

Saturday arrived with aching legs, but a sense that we were getting the feel for the land and thinking that perhaps we’d see a moose. A breakfast of coffee and Tylenol and I was ready.

This time we used yet another trail to get to our main access point (8). The hike up the side hill was pretty challenging without having sore legs from the day before. Almost to our access spot, John abruptly stopped. He’s whispering…deer, deer, deer. I don’t see a deer. When I finally saw it, it was a high racked six point buck that was just staring at us about 60 yards away. John wanted me to use his shoulder as support to make the shot. I became flustered because I didn’t want to blow his ears out, and about that time, the deer took off. I tried to make the shot as it ran, and I missed. So we went back to moose hunting.

I had discovered on the map that we could cross the Sheepscot River (which is really like a wide brook) further up from the beaver dam that we had been crossing by jumping from boulder to boulder. This way we didn’t have to deal with the wet zone, beaver dam or get wet crossing the water. By crossing the river higher, it also put us in the ideal spot for moose.

Around 1 pm we walked into the thickest wall of pine and fir I had ever been in. I would have easily gotten lost had John not been leading the way. Everything looked the same until we came into a clearing. There, in front of us, was fresh moose droppings and browsed fir tips. We found their hideout. As we walked, I spotted the moose, two moose-one bull and one cow. I stopped and pointed and told John, and said, “There they are.” He asked if I wanted to use his gun. No, I said. I drew my gun to shoot. I had the bull in my sights. Then I began to overthink. The moose were quietly bedded down in a willow growth. Willows blocked me from getting a clean shot. Do I shoot? In the time I took to question myself, which was only a matter of seconds, the moose realized we were standing there, jumped up and bolted. Mr. Bull was gone in a flash crashing off through the woods, but the cow made a much smaller circle and ran directly broadside toward us over a knoll. We each shot at the same time and the cow was down. It was now 2 pm. It would be dark in about two hours.

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Now the real work began. There was no way we could get the moose out of this area because four-wheelers aren’t permitted on the trails, so we had to pack it out. John began field dressing the moose as I made a trip out of the woods and back to the truck to bring the guns out, call my son for help to pack out the moose, and call the game warden to find out if I really was required to bring out a reproductive part of the moose since I was allowed to shoot either a bull or cow. Yes, was the answer…seriously. So off came the teats since I had no idea where to retrieve an ovary.

I took on the task of lugging out the tenderloin in my back pack. It weighed so much and I was so tired from all the walking that it didn’t take much before I was flat on my face. I caught my pant leg on a stick and down I went. I literally had to walk leaning forward to offset the weight so I could climb the hill. My second trip out was made in the dark by flashlight. The guys used backpack frames to lug out the front and hind quarters that they had packed in meat bags. They too had to make two trips.

We loaded up the truck, feeling exhausted but excited at the same time that we were able to harvest a moose for our family. We tagged the moose at the now closed station where I also tagged my first turkey.

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My moose hunt was far more physically challenging than I ever imagined. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I’m glad we didn’t give up. It wasn’t the perfect hunt, but it wasn’t the worst. I had missed a nice deer, but if I had gotten that deer, I wouldn’t have had time to hunt for moose, so I guess I’m glad I missed it…sorta…We ended up getting one of only two moose harvested out of the permits allotted in zone 23, and for that, I am extra proud. Best of all, my family got to eat some amazing meat for the next year.

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I will always regret my hesitation, and wish that I could have gotten the bull moose that had a beautiful rack on it; however, I feel I am the luckiest girl to be able say I have a chance to do it all over again only this time with much better odds.

Wish me luck in September!

TBT-My First Moose Hunt-Wk 2

I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down.

We Climb Down a Mountain

beaver dam
Beaver dam photo by SWLA.org

By mid-morning we were a bit discouraged. We stopped into the local store for coffee and snacks and ran into an old friend of John’s dad. After some conversation, we told him we were moose hunting. The gentleman knew “exactly where to go to get a moose” and told us where we needed to look. He and his grandson hunt this area for deer, and they often see moose. We were excited again. We thanked him and headed out for what we thought was a climb down a small hill to a bog.

It had recently snowed but then half melted away, which made walking more difficult. The temps had warmed, but it still wasn’t overly warm…unless you’re hiking a few miles. We parked the truck and headed out to scout for moose. There was a small trail at the top of the mountain, but we cut off from the trail and headed straight down over the mountain. We managed to jump two nice doe on our way down. This “small hill” ended up being a monstrosity. It was about a mile and a half downhill before we ever came to the bottom of the hill. There we hit another walking trail but continued straight on through in hopes we’d reach the bog.

Walking downhill was awkward for my ailing knees. On top of that, I was completely over dressed. I had on my big L.L. Bean boots with wool socks, my green Johnson woolen overalls, heat gear turtleneck, hunting jacket and orange hunting vest…and I was carrying my rifle. I was drenched with sweat before we got to the bottom of the mountain.

Beaver dam2
Beaver dam photo by SWLAmaine.org

We crossed a small stream, then a few hundred yards later, we hit a flooded area and then a beaver dam. I prayed the water wouldn’t go over the top of my boots. We managed to get to the beaver dam. We then shuffled our way across the edge of the dam, holding onto the tips of branches. Somehow we managed not to fall in. Once on the other side, we heard some crashing and immediately noticed we had jumped two moose.

 

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Young moose photo by SWLAmaine.org

I was in a dilemma. I had made it clear that I would absolutely not shoot a moose with a calf no matter how old. This appeared to be a cow and calf, or two cows; we weren’t sure. We decided we might be lucky enough to spot a bull so we decided to track them. We tracked through the bog, twisting, winding, slopping our way through a maze of woods and moss from which I didn’t think we’d ever find our way out. We tracked the moose for almost three hours. Good thing John has “iron boogers” to get us out. We never caught up the the two moose, and as dark closed in on us, we finally gave up and headed back.

By the time we got back to the beaver dam, I was exhausted. I was thirsty beyond thirsty. We hadn’t brought one ounce of water with us. Our short trip turned out to be the whole afternoon. I shimmied my way across the beaver dam and through the wet land. As we came upon the bottom trail we had initially seen, I spotted a brook with crystal clear cold water. Against protests from John, I laid down and took a good healthy swig of spring water. I didn’t know where we were and at the time, I didn’t care. It wasn’t connected to the beaver dam and it tasted lovely. By this time John had thought I had gone insane. Perhaps I had. You probably shouldn’t do that.

SWLA
Sheepscot River tasty water                           photo by SWLA.org

I tried to convince John to take the unknown-destination path which looked much more an appealing walk than the mountain he wanted me to climb, but with darkness upon us, the last thing we wanted to do was be lost in the woods. So we hiked back up the mountain, the tall freaking steep mountain. As we began the hike up the mountain, I began peeling off my jacket and hat. I was so hot I could barely stand it. My feet hurt from sliding inside my big boots.  My knees really hurt. I was thirsty still. I was sweating. I ended up eating snow as I climbed the mountain. It was absolutely the suckiest moment of hunting I’ve ever experienced. I kept saying over and over in in my mind: Don’t give up! when all I wanted to do was sit down. Luckily my asthma didn’t make the climb worse, but none the less, I was bummed that I hadn’t better prepared for all the walking I had to do and for the physically intensive challenge I had faced.

We finally made it out of the woods by nightfall about half a mile from our truck. I declared I couldn’t take another step. As I sat on a stump feeling defeated and waiting for John to come pick me up with the truck, I found out where we were thanks to a sign and a nifty brochure. We were at the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance (SWLA.org) now called the Midcoast Conservancy, and we had climbed Whitten Mountain. It turns out all those trails do lead to somewhere, and I was going to do some research for the next weekend of hunting. I was going to be more prepared. AND I was never going into the woods without water again.

Next week: I Get My Moose!

 

 

TBT: My First Moose Hunt-Wk 1

moose
photo by canoemaine.wordpress.com

In Maine, there is a moose hunt. It began back in 1980 and despite being challenged by anti-hunters, the hunt has continued and is probably the most highly sought after lottery drawn hunting permit in Maine.

As luck would have it, I scored a bull moose permit for northern Maine’s zone 5 in September for this year. Never in a million years would I have expected to get a permit since I had just gotten one in 2011. I am extremely grateful for my chance at a trophy moose that will not only feed my family but will be an exciting adventure with the entire family. This luck of the draw has me reminiscing the good and the bad about my 2011 moose hunt.

My husband, John has always applied for a permit in hopes of getting one in a northern zone overrun with moose. Admittedly, I originally applied to increase our chances; I wasn’t a hunter then. After 2002, not only did I apply each year, but with full intentions that I would be the shooter if I was ever drawn.

The lottery has been under a lot of scrutiny over the years. After getting too many complaints to ignore, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made some major changes to the system. One change in particular was that for each year you had put in, you not only had a bonus point, but also from then on, those with more bonus points would have better odds at being picked. They also lengthened the time span between being eligible for a permit from two to three years. With a level playing field and the hopes that we’d finally get picked, the idea of getting a moose permit seemed more in reach.

We both had applied so long that we fell into the “I’ll take anything if my choices weren’t available.” In reality, that really didn’t mean I wanted or expected to get a moose permit in November in the zone with one of the worst success rates in the entire state of Maine. When I applied for the lottery, my zone choices began with the obvious northern ones and worked their way down the map to my home zone with my last choice being the zone next to ours. But really how could I lose with all those choices listed first? A word of advice: if you really don’t want that zone or date, don’t write it down.

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My 2011 Moose Permit. Note the date error!

In 2011, the day of the moose drawing, my phone started ringing off the hook. I got a moose permit! I was ecstatic with the news! John was my sub-permittee. I repeatedly teased him that I got a moose permit before him. I’d send him text. “I got a moose permit.” or I’d say, “Guess what?” and follow through with “I got a moose permit.” He was a great sport, and I just tried my best to make sure we were prepared to make it the best hunt we could.

It didn’t take long before anxiety soon set in when I realized it was a November hunt for a bull or cow in Zone 23. In a preparation of the season, I had to do my homework. Zone 23 had the least success rate of any zone. It was disappointing to not get a “good” zone but with only 20 permits, there would also be less competition. The good news is that Zone 23 is known for its deer herd, and I could shoot any moose. The bad news is that everyone would want their areas for their own deer hunting, and calling in a moose wasn’t really going to work in November. I had no idea what lay before us, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. no hunt sign

I even paid the fee and entered the official moose swap website. I couldn’t even get people who live in 23 who had a permit for my home zone of 16 to swap with me. It was a waste of money and soon reality set in. If I wanted to get a moose, we were going to have to work for it. We didn’t want to rely on a Maine guide. John has been my guide all along. We’ve self-guided all of our hunts, and we didn’t want it any other way.

We talked to everyone and anyone who would give us leads. We used our beloved Maine Gazeteer filled with detailed maps to find boggy areas and on several occasions, we spoke with landowners and biologists. We would follow every lead and a few times this led us to nothing but waste time because there were so many deer hunters that it felt impossible that’s we’d see a moose.

We finally got permission to hunt on a farm that had been gated in Albion. The only person who had a key to the gate was the friend of the landowner, so we’d have to track down this guy down to make sure we could have access. The first day he was sitting on a wood pile, smoking a cigarette and had a rifle across his lap. He was deer hunting…I guess….He was all good to our face, then promptly tried to shut us out the next day. We went back to the landowner and asked him to call the guy…he did. We were all set. We showed up the following day and the gate was open, so we drove in. We hunted the entire day hiking over hills, brooks and clearcuts. On the way out, we found our selves locked IN.  Luckily, John knew the road came out into another field so after four-wheeling our pickup through some pretty tough terrain, we made it out. Despite having landowner permission and lots of moose signs, we didn’t go back. This moose hunt wasn’t supposed to be about hassles with landowners’ buddies.

Next: Week 2: We Climb Down a Mountain