ASHLAND, Maine — Albert Scaccia’s first day of moose hunting began perfectly. He and his son Craig headed into woods they had scouted the day before — and where they had seen a monstrous moose track. They parked their truck. They sat. They waited.
“He came out of the woods,” the 78-year-old Union man said, smiling. The Scaccias knew what to do then, and quickly dispatched the moose they assumed had made the huge tracks in the mud. After that, they determined that they had a slight problem.
Rather, a 989-pound problem.
“Then we sat there,” Albert Scaccia said with a chuckle. “We didn’t know what to do with it.”
That’s not entirely true, of course. The two were on a moose hunt. They knew what came next. It just turned out that the monstrous moose they bagged was a bit too big to fit in the back of the Ford F350 they had brought into the woods.
Enter the hero of this story: Dwight Helstrom.
“I just come along,” said the 64-year-old Presque Isle barber, who had cut brush earlier in the day and just happened to be driving a four-wheel-drive pickup of his own … and who just happened to be hauling an empty 5-by-10-foot utility trailer he had used to transport that brush. A moose-sized trailer, you might say.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll be a good feller and haul that up here for you,’” he said. “So that’s what I did.”
“Up here” was the Gateway Variety in Ashland, the state’s busiest moose-tagging station, where 18 moose had been tagged by noontime Monday, the first day of the state’s six-day September moose season. In all, 1,085 permit holders gained the privilege — by lottery — to hunt during the first week. A grand total of 3,862 moose hunters received a permit for one of this year’s sessions.
And “up here” wasn’t very close to where the Scaccias were hunting. Helstrom estimated he hauled the moose about 30 miles for the father-and-son team. Just because he could.
“I’m just glad I could help ’em,” Helstrom said.
So were the Scaccias.
“The people [in Aroostook County] are just great,” Albert Scaccia said, grinning at his new friend. “They’re Mainers. What the hell do you expect?”
In a part of the state where some claim helping friends and neighbors is an everyday part of life, you didn’t have to look very far to find further evidence of the phenomenon.
Over at the scales that Gateway Variety uses to hoist and weigh the moose as they are brought in and tagged, Mike Beaulier hopped onto trailers, attached chains to moose antlers, then pushed and prodded the moose away from obstructions as they swung skyward.
Beaulier is not a professional moose-wrangler. Most days you’ll find him in Presque Isle, where he manages Aroostook Pediatrics for The Aroostook Medical Center. This week, he’s helping out at Gateway — a family business that his parents bought when he was a child, and which his brother Dennis now owns.
“[This week my job title] is ‘helper,’” Beaulier said with a laugh. “[Dennis] was looking for help so he asked me if I could come over and assist … I said, ‘Sure.’ It sounds like a good time to take a vacation and what better [thing] to do for a week off. You get to meet all kinds of interesting people.”
Mike Beaulier first said that six official family members were pitching in on moose-crew duty this week. After considering that for a minute, he decided that it was tough to exclude a few other helpers.
“You can call everyone else family, I guess,” he said. “They’re not. But really, they almost are.”
Among those semi-family members was Kim Bowring, a feisty woman who recorded tagging statistics on a clipboard while entertaining anyone within earshot with a rapid-fire commentary on the day’s activities.
“We decided at 2 o’clock, we’re all going ‘nekkid’,” she said, making sure a reporter spelled the word the way she had pronounced it if he planned on using her quote in the paper. “I can’t stand this heat any more.”
Ah, the heat.
Moose season is often a chilly affair. Some years, hunters see frost in the mornings, and even during late September snow squalls aren’t uncommon. On this opening day, hunters withstood weather more fitting for a day at the beach, with temperatures reaching the high 70s.
Not necessarily “nekkid moose-tagging” weather … but challenging, to say the least.
“I brought some coveralls, but it’s way too hot to wear those,” Mike Beaulier commented after noticing that a morning of pushing and prodding moose carcasses had left him a bit grimy.
Game Warden Dave Milligan said he expected the afternoon heat to make moose less likely to move around or respond to the calls of hunters, but said the morning weather hadn’t seemed to affect the hunt too much.
“We’ve seen plenty of hunters out there and the moose are moving around this morning,” he said. “We saw a few that got shot and we actually saw a live one ourselves, a pretty good bull.”
And as Mike Beaulier tended to a steady stream of trailers hauling other good-sized bull moose, he said he had no regrets about his decision to take a working vacation.
“It’s sort of a family event,” he said. “We all go, ‘Hey, they’re tagging the moose this week. Let’s go see what’s going on, see if we can help out or whatever.’”
That, these folks will tell you, is just the Aroostook County way.
Nekkid or not.