My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure: The Pre-Hunt

moose-permitI was more than a bit shocked when I found out I was drawn for a 2016 moose permit. Even more shocking was that I was drawn for zone 5, one of the most successful moose zones, which also happened to be the same zone in which my son Zack shot his moose in 2012.

Let me be clear and honest. Moose hunting is not glamorous nor romantic. It’s hard work, especially when there’s only two of you. It’s physically and mentally draining. For a hunter and the sub-permittee to scout, hunt, harvest and transport their own moose, it’s work. This is my story about how we hunted. John and I didn’t hire a Maine Guide to do the work for us. Not that we have anything against hiring guides. In fact, we want to be Maine Guides, so we wanted the whole experience of doing it ourselves. If you don’t or can’t do all that I’m writing about, then by all means hire a Maine Guide.

Weeks before we left, we prepped for the hunt. Prepping for a hunt takes time and money. We didn’t want to forget anything, and with the idea that there would only be the two of us to get a moose out of the woods, we had to be able to do it smart. Winches, come-a-longs, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow straps and more ropes filled our truck. Then we had propane, gas, food, water, firewood and clothes.Physically, I was as prepared as I was going to be. Lugging bait and hiking in to our bear sites all season helped get me physically prepared for long walking on my bad knees.

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Six Mile Checkpoint. Photo courtesy of NMW website

We headed up to the North Maine Woods on late Friday afternoon. We went up early so we could scout a couple of days prior to the hunt. Given our bear season schedule, and that it’s a four-hour drive to zone 5, we didn’t get a chance to do any scouting before then.

We arrived at the Mile 6 Checkpoint outside of Ashland at 8:59 pm. We registered by phone and left a check for $204.00 for John and I to camp and hunt for 7 days. We drove down the Jack Mountain Road and found the first nice campsite. The gravel roads were still wet from the day’s rain, and pulling the camper across those roads covered the underside and front of the camper in a cement-like coating. We got set up, had a campfire under the most amazing star-filled skies and went to bed.

On Saturday, we scouted, trying to search out where Zack had shot his moose. I had forgotten the GPS in my car so we had to rely on our faded memories, the Gazetteer, and lots of searching. We finally found the area on day two of the trip. Late Sunday afternoon, we spotted where there had been a moose fight in the road only the night before. We pulled over. We found a brand new wallow that moose make to urinate in and then roll in. Yeah, it sounds gross and stinks worse. But when you’re moose hunting, it’s a find, and apparently it’s an irresistible calling card for a cow moose.

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The moose’s antlers looked like these. Photo from Pinterest

We made our way through the armpit-high raspberries and went into the woods about 50 yards. John gave a rake of the shoulder bone on the trees to simulate a moose scraping its antlers, and gave a moose grunt. No return grunt. Nothing. We waited a couple minutes. Then John tapped me on the shoulder and silently pointed. There in front of us about 50-60 yards away stood the biggest moose I’d ever seen! Well, actually all I could see were its three-foot high and foot-wide paddles of its antlers. Not even the points showed because of the foliage…but he was huge and after I put my eyes back in my head, we turned and scurried away so not to bump him out. I hardly slept Sunday night thinking about that moose. In my mind, we’d be on our way home by Monday afternoon. I’d have a moose, and I’d get a big refund from North Maine Woods. I think how boastful that sounded at the time, but in reality, I was just sure we’d get a moose, this moose, early Monday.

 

 

 

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Prize in the Snow

Saturday morning we headed out with high expectations that we’d go down to the stand, get on a new track and find not only the first dropped antler, but also find the second one that “must” have fallen off the following day. I was convinced they couldn’t be far from the game camera.

Disappointingly, there were no new deer sign or feedings on the camera or in the snow. The camera batteries died due to the cold so we weren’t 100% sure, but there didn’t appear to be any new tracks in the snow. A full moon the night before and our playing with coyote sounds near the stand probably didn’t help.

We began at the Christmas tree grain pile and decided on the “divide and conquer” technique. I stayed on one track and John on another covering the entire area and then moving onto a new section. I had visions of what it would be like to find it. A scream of excitement kept going through my mind. I dressed light and my Under Armour heat gear kept me warm and even when I still managed to sweat, I was comfortable trekking through the shin/knee deep snow.

I managed to see some pretty cool animal sign that wasn’t deer and wasn’t my antler. Smithfield is known for its boulders in the woods left from the glacier (yes Mr. Lagasse, I was listening in seventh grade) and the area we were covering is no different. Boulder after boulder to navigate around or over, I came upon three different trails where porcupine had come out of their wintering shelters. The porcupine left neat little trodden down trails through the snow and with careful looking, you could find where they had climbed and chewed the bark off a nearby tree.

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Rabbit tracks and rabbit poop…(c) S. Warren

Given the amount of rabbit tracks one would think we were overrun with rabbits…I wish that was the case! I can’t wait to try rabbit hunting with Fly and John.

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One of three deer beds in a softwood growth. (c)S.Warren
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Happy hunters! (c) SW

Three hours later, half a mile away from my tree stand, we finally find newer tracks. We find more deer beds and then we find the prize we’ve been looking for–the antler, the left antler that had fallen off January 21st. The look on our faces says it all. Now I’m determined to find the match. I’ll be back out tomorrow tracking the shed hoping for my prize.

 

My biggest surprise about the antler was to see how golden brown the base is. Having only seen the antlers on his head in nighttime photos, in my mind, I imagined they would be all pale and not brown. A very nice surprise!

 

Tracking the Shed

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Remember when I told you my deer lost his antler on the 21st of January last year? I’ve been anxiously watching the calendar trying to plan trips down to my stand, but between the cold, meetings, and getting home late from work, I haven’t been able to get to outside.

Before I made my trip down to the stand tonight, the last time I had been there was Monday, January 19th. I had the day off so I spent about three hours in the woods. The fresh coat of snow told me the deer hadn’t been there since I last put out food the day before.MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA I hadn’t bothered with the chicken wire after one of my online friends told me I may be breaking the law with chicken wire SO…on her advice, I went natural and took my recently thrown out Christmas tree down in the woods, and plunked it right over the pile of grain. Thank goodness we got a smaller tree this year! Nothing for the deer to get tangled in but something that may help an antler fall right where I want it to fall.

 

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There were deer tracks but not nearly like before…but any deer tracks get me excited. I exchanged out the memory card, refreshed the grain and beet crush, and John and I picked up our trash and headed in a big circle. I purchased a FoxPro predator caller for John at Christmas and we wanted to try it out. Having had a coyote howl one morning on my way into my stand, I got to realize how close it must have been. The eerie howling that comes from that machine is simply unbelievable. I’m hoping we’ll get a chance to try nighttime coyote hunting and actually get some out of our woods.

Back home, I open my computer, put in the memory card and saw that my deer has lost an antler! We plan to go out first thing tomorrow morning to check the camera to see if he has dropped the other tonight. That’s right, my deer lost his antler last night, January 21st! I can’t believe he lost an antler the exact same day! So we’ll be out tracking the shed to see if we can find where he dropped it. I’m hoping we’re lucky enough to find the shed, but I know it won’t be as easy as it seems.