Moose hunters live (and sometimes suffer) by the same saying, which is shared at permit lotteries and hunting camps year after year: “Once you shoot the moose, the fun is over.”
The reason: When you walk up to a freshly shot critter that might weigh as much as 1,200 pounds (800 is more typical), you’ll quickly learn that a few things aren’t going to happen.
Like, for instance, you’re not going to muckle onto the moose’s antlers with your bare hands and haul it back to your truck, as you might a deer. And if your moose decided to take its last breath in, say, a lake, or a pond, or a mud hole, or (this is a good one) the ocean, it’s up to you — the hunter — or your faithful pack-mule pals, to figure out what to do next.
My brother-in-law is a perfect example of the moose-hunt Murphy’s Law that seems to exist for some people. Years ago, after heading out on his first moose hunt, he and his hunting buddy quickly dispatched a moose. They field-dressed it where it lay, and got it up onto their trailer in no time flat.
Then, as they prepared to drive out of the woods, they lurched into a hole and the trailer’s tongue bent … severely … making a simple process into a much more complicated one.
Some hours later, after hammering the trailer back into shape, they emerged from the woods with their moose. It was full dark. They were tired. And they had a hunting story they’ll never forget.
Here, then, are a few unconventional moose tales. Some came from readers. A couple are my own, from our BDN files. And all illustrate that there’s no telling what will happen when you head into the Maine woods in search of moose … or onto the ocean in search of lobsters.
Since you’re probably confused by that last bit, let’s start with the lobsters.
Martha’s brine-soaked moose
Back in 2002 (in my first piece as the BDN’s official outdoor columnist), I shared the story of Martha Jordan of Machiasport, a 48-year-old teacher and tour-boat operator who regularly took customers out on her 34-foot lobster boat during the summer months.
One day, Martha and her clients got a big surprise: They found a dead moose floating in the Atlantic.
I know, I know. This isn’t your typical moose-hunting story. But Jordan was a hunter, and had always wanted to go on a moose hunt. She hadn’t, to that point, because she’d never had her named drawn in the state-run permit lottery.
Then she got lucky, and the moose came to her.
At first, she thought the floating moose was a seal. Then, when she realized what it was, she pulled alongside the carcass and began checking it for freshness by pulling at tufts of hair on its back.
“When they start to decay, those hair follicles will start to loosen and you can pull out the hair,” she explained at the time. “But they were all tight. I said, ‘I bet this is a fresh, drowned moose!”
It was. And with some help from her clients, she “tied her up short” to the boat and hauled it back to port, at 4½ knots. A game warden met Jordan at the dock and they field-dressed her prize right on the shore.
In the subsequent weeks, she enjoyed the tasty meat that she had salvaged.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It tastes like Angus beef, except it doesn’t have the fat to it,” she said. “It’s like a cow of the forest.”
Or, in that case, cow of the ocean.
“It’s like surf and turf, all in the same meal,” Jordan said.
Have trouble? Call Gary
Fourteen years ago, Gary Cameron of Caribou realized that there was money to be made in bailing out unprepared or unlucky moose hunters.
That’s why he started his business, Moose Retrieval Service, which specializes in extracting the burly critters from the worst of situations.
“I don’t get the easy ones, and the ones I extricate from the woods are usually because of hunter error or simply Murphy’s Law,” Cameron wrote in an email. “I’ve floated a few moose across beaver dams and farm ponds. I never claimed to be overly intelligent in finding a challenge in pullout out a 700-pound animal, but there’s some humor to be found in almost every one I’ve done.”
Cameron started out with a diesel compact tractor with a front-loader bucket. Now, he uses a six-wheel amphibious Argo vehicle with a 3,000-pound winch, and travels all over the north country, helping moose hunters in need.
“I’ve often thought about writing a book about some of my escapades and likely will still do it, given a stormy day in mid-winter with nothing else to do,” he wrote.
‘Do rocks have hair?’
A BDN reader who offered her tale as simply “M.E.B. from Deer Isle,” ratted out her nephew, R.B., and his buddy, Scott, who had an eventful hunting trip that both still talk about.
The pals, both lobster fisherman on the coast, headed north one September when the weather was unseasonably hot, and found their moose on the third day of the season.
“They both fire at the same time, and the bull takes off down through the woods,” M.E.B. wrote in an email. “They follow the trail, plain as day, about 100 yards and into the river.”
The moose was gone. It was getting dark. And the adjourned to camp, sure that they’d lost the moose.
The next day, another 70-degree September scorcher, the pals headed back to the river.
“R.B. was looking across the river through his scope. He says … “Hey, Scott. Do rocks have hair?’ The moose had made it up over the bank and dropped. R.B. could see its back sticking up above the bushes,” R.E.B. wrote.
After some further misfortune — including launching the roped-up moose into the river while trying to haul it back across, and the two lobstermen paddling different directions in the same canoe after changing their plan — they successfully field-dressed the moose and took it to Ashland with minimal meat lost due to spoilage.
“It sounds more like an African safari than a moose hunt,” M.E.B. concluded.
Ever troll a moose?
In another tale from the archives, guide Dan LaPointe of Masardis and Beech-Nut Camps told a doozy back in 2002, after a couple of “sports” ended up in the soup.
Well, let’s clarify: The moose ended up in the soup, after it ran 30 yards, down a steep embankment, and splashed into a pond.
The simplest method of retrieval, LaPointe decided, was to “float” the critter across a 600-yard pond.
Which is perfectly fine, if you’re sure that moose float. LaPointe wasn’t.
“We weren’t really sure if the moose was going to float, because I’ve never floated a moose across a lake with a boat before,” LaPointe said at the time.
Luckily for the guide and his clients, the moose trolled along just fine, and was safely hauled out of the water on the other side of the pond.
And the sports? Well, they had a few more days to kill before they were expected back in Massachusetts. LaPointe had a boat.
And they were going fishing.