For years, I’ve heard the whispered tales from disgruntled hunters who were certain that the meat cutter they’d trusted with their deer or moose or bear had engaged in some nefarious behavior, and had clearly, obviously, certainly stolen prime cuts.
And since it’s basically impossible to convince an angry hunter that shooting their moose six times may have made some of the meat inedible, and led to a less-than-expected yield, I’ve chosen to keep quiet.
Then, I ended up with a mystery of my own. Simply put, the moose I shot in October grew.
And today, I’ll offer a cautionary tale with an unexpected punchline that I’ll share right off the bat: I’m not angry. I don’t blame anyone. And I’d go back to the same butcher again tomorrow.
With that said, I won’t identify the meat-cutter who processed the moose I shot back in October. All I’ll tell you is, they have skills that I don’t possess, and the meat I received from them has been very tasty.
The problem: The meat isn’t from the moose I shot.
The first indication that there might be a mix-up came during a phone call a week after I took my small bull to the cutter. The moose was ready. And the bill seemed a bit high.
Since I hadn’t shot a moose in 11 years, I didn’t really know how much a moose that weighed 559 pounds, field-dressed (pay close attention to that number, it’s important) should cost to be processed.
After checking a few websites for comparison, I called my meat-cutter back and asked for an itemized explanation.
The person on the other end of the line only had to get to “based on a hanging weight of 645 pounds” before my well-honed journalist math skills kicked into action.
“Hey,” I thought. “Six hundred and forty-five pounds is more than 559 pounds. How did my moose grow when the butcher took off its head, hooves and hide?”
I tried to convince the meat-cutter’s rep that there had been a mistake, and that they were trying to sell me the wrong moose. “I wish my moose had been 645 pounds, or however huge a moose that has a hanging weight of 645 pounds would have been, but it wasn’t,” I explained. “Mine was small.”
As you might expect, at this late stage of the game, the moose was out of the corral, or the meat was out of the grinder. There was no telling where the mistake was made, and since it was a custom-cutting job with some odd specifications on our part, it wasn’t as if “our” moose was easily transferable to someone who might not have wanted as much sausage and ground moose as we did.
So the butcher decided to knock 100 pounds off the hanging weight I was being charged for — still 100 pounds or so higher than my moose would have weighed — and my sub-permittee and I paid our bill, scratching our heads and wondering what had happened.
As we loaded up our coolers, I took the green plastic tag that had been attached to my moose’s leg off the freezer rack and tucked it in my pocket.
Then, back at the office, when I pulled that tag from my pocket, a co-worker wondered aloud if the tag even belonged to my moose in the first place.
“Does that number exist anywhere else?” she asked, pointing to the bold digits emblazoned on the tag.
Reaching into my wallet, I took out my moose permit and flipped it over. There, printed neatly by the biologist who had tagged my moose, was its “seal” number.
The numbers should have matched those on the green tag.
And they didn’t.
For the next week or so, I enlisted the help of a bunch of people who know the system, trying to figure out who shot the moose that was by that point in several freezers around greater Bangor.
Everybody loves a little moose meat, after all.
And eventually, I learned the identity of the hunter, who lives in Madison. When we talked on the phone, I told him what I was sure had happened, and told him I felt badly for him. The meat of his moose — an 885-pounder with a 57-inch antler spread — was mine.
And my moose — what there was of the little fella — was his.
Could I make it right? Could I deliver him some of the meat that I’d already taken possession of?
As it turned out, the hunter and I had met each other in the meat-cutter’s driveway: He and his subpermittee had arrived just before us, and we spent a few minutes admiring his massive moose.
Unspoken, but also on my mind, was this reality: His big moose had been taken and tagged on Wednesday of the hunting week, but not delivered to the butcher until Thursday afternoon. I shot my moose on Thursday morning, just a few hours before we delivered it to the meat-cutter.
I expected my younger, smaller moose to be more tender than the big bruiser I’d seen hanging. And I knew exactly how we’d taken care of my moose, and how much attention to getting it cooled down and to the butcher we had taken. The treatment of the other moose? Again, a mystery.
The other hunter told me he didn’t want any more meat — his freezer was already full of deer and moose — and we each agreed to keep eating what we’d received, and to let each other know if we changed our minds.
Which brings me, again, to the punchline: I’m not angry. And I’d take my next moose back to the same cutter, even though this mix-up took place.
Why? Because I’m certain that a mix-up is exactly what this was. The family that runs the business was pleasant and easy to deal with, even as they fielded calls and queries from me that couldn’t have been comfortable.
Faced with a difficult reality, they did what they could to make me happy.
Most importantly: They said they were sorry.
They’ll also reexamine their identification process to make sure other mysteries don’t crop up in the future.
That, for me, was an acceptable outcome. So for now, I’m digging in, and sampling the the moose that I’ve accepted as my own.
And I’m happy to report, this “mystery meat” has been quite tasty thus far.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke