MISERY TOWNSHIP, Maine — In order to take part in Maine’s annual moose hunt, you — or one of your friends — has to be lucky. Hunting permits are earned by random lottery, and only the winners and their designated subpermittees are allowed to take part in the yearly event.
If you’re not lucky, however, there are other options.
At least that’s the way Chris Lander explained it to me during the summer, when he hatched a plan for another kind of outdoor adventure. We have collaborated on two moose hunts in the last five years, but this year, no one in our hunting party had been drawn. Still, Lander wanted to go moose hunting — or something like that.
“We should go up into the woods during the week between moose seasons,” he told me. “We can still call moose. I’d like to get some good video and photos.”
Thus, the first Catch-and-Release Moose Hunt for the Unlucky began to take shape.
We quickly got my co-worker Pete Warner on board for the festivities. Warner is a fun guy to hang around with, and has a habit of doing things to spice up a trip (much to his own chagrin). Such as the time he stepped in an ice hole while fishing. Or the time he dropped a full plate of chili and hot dogs on the floor at moose camp. Or the time — well, you get the point.
Eventually, we decided that adding two days of bird hunting to our Sunday of moose-peeping made sense. Eventually, we decided to scrap the part of the plan that called for us roughing it in an Army tent in the North Maine Woods, opting instead to stay at a Brassua Lake camp owned by Lander’s father-in-law and his brothers.
And eventually, we ended up getting accosted by a lovesick moose in aptly named Misery Township.
Well, “accosted” might not be the right word. “Pursued” works better. So does “stalked.” Whichever word you choose, one thing’s certain: The moose liked me more than I liked him.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, it’s important to realize that the bird hunting would have been fantastic but for a few small complications.
Like the fact that the best action we saw for ruffed grouse came on Sunday. We already had designated Sunday as our moose-peeping day. And it turns out that the state frowns upon bird hunting on Sundays. Knowing that, we left the shotguns at camp, took our moose calls into the woods — and saw plenty of birds.
Everywhere we drove, we saw grouse. They were in the roads. They were on the side of the roads. They flushed and flew into nearby thickets. In the spirit of Red Sox fans everywhere, our rally cry became “Wait until … tomorrow.”
Come tomorrow, we knew that we’d each fill our four-bird bag limit. We’d feast on grouse. And then we’d do the same thing the next day. No doubt about it.
The moose, however, were a bit shy. We found likely places and made mooselike noises. We grunted like bulls. We moaned like cows. And no moose joined in.
Just before sunset, our efforts paid off. Not that our calling had anything to do with our success, mind you. It was, I guess, a simple matter of three unlucky prospective moose hunters having a bit of dumb luck.
Two moose stood in a clearing. A small bull and cow grazed, and paid little mind to Lander as he leaned out of the truck window and got the video footage he had wanted. Warner and I crept back and forth and snapped photos of the feeding pair.
It was, we all said, very cool. It was just what we’d hoped for. And the next day, we’d have even better luck on the birds.
Monday dawned cloudy, and we headed back onto the woods roads. Back into places with names like Taunton and Raynham Academy Grant and Sapling Township — and Misery.
We covered mile after mile in vain. The birds had vanished. Well, all except one foolish grouse that allowed me to take a remarkably easy shot — which I missed.
Riding roads wasn’t working out. A change in tactics was needed. So we switched to a country music station on Lander’s Sirius satellite radio. Then we tried comedy. Then we tried classic rock. Nothing changed our karma.
Finally, we hopped out of the truck at a likely looking spot and acted like bird dogs, taking turns walking through the woods in hopes of flushing a lurking grouse.
That’s when things got interesting.
Not that we flushed any lurking grouse, mind you.
Instead, we learned that a 250-pound man waddling noisily through the woods sounds nothing like a bird dog. He does, however, sound a lot like a clumsy cow moose in need of a boyfriend.
At least that’s our explanation for the Misery Moose Episode.
I was the bird dog at the time, walking through the alders and birches in search of grouse. Lander and Warner walked the road, waiting for a shot they never got. After 200 yards of bird-dogging, I popped back out of the woods.
And just behind Lander and Warner, in the middle of the road, was a young bull moose. This moose wasn’t just standing. He wasn’t just watching. He was walking toward us. With a purpose. With (or so we decided) love on his mind.
“How close do we let him get?” someone asked.
“Not much closer,” someone answered.
“How do we get him to stop?” someone else asked.
Before my hunting partners decided to offer me up as a sacrifice to the oncoming moose, I told the moose … well … I told him I didn’t like him in that way.
That’s what I was trying to say, anyway.
What came out of my mouth may have been, “Hey! Arrrrrrrr!”
Whatever I said, it worked. The moose got no closer than 30 yards. Warner got some photos. But Lander had left his video camera in the truck, and missed out on the opportunity.
At my urging, we left Misery before Lander retrieved the camera and decided it would make perfect sense to send me back into the woods to try to re-create the moment.
For two days, we drove those roads. For two days, the birds refused to participate in bird season.
But on Monday night, as twilight approached (and as we gave up on our futile efforts to bag a bird), we stopped by a spot where we’d seen the hind end of a retreating moose the night before.
“Want to set up and call for a bit?” Lander asked. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
We set up. And we got lucky.
After just a couple of grunts, a moose responded. After a couple of cow imitations on the electronic call, the bushes were shaking.
A big moose was coming.
Two minutes later, a burly bull stood just 35 yards away. His antlers were massive. He was massive. And thankfully, he didn’t seem to think I was his long-lost cow.
Lander got his video. Warner got a few photos.
And I got away safely, without having to marry a moose.
All in all, it was a pretty lucky day. Just as we’d planned.