If you’re lucky — like I certainly am — you’ve got a close group of hunting buddies that you can count on to drop all the important stuff at a moment’s notice, hop in a truck, and head out onto our state’s network of semi-marked dirt roads in search of adventure.
Even if it’s the middle of summer. Even if there’s really no hunting season open at the time. Even if the moose hunt that you’re officially “scouting” for won’t take place for months.
Just because — well — because it’s been too long since your last trip afield together.
My friends — brothers Chris, Tim and Billy Lander — all agreed that we were long overdue, and on Aug. 22, we headed for the woods near Moosehead Lake, where we’ve shared countless hours driving thousands of miles on those productive dirt roads over the years.
Tim holds the moose permit this year, having finally been drawn for the first time some 40 years after he first entered the state-run lottery. And though we all know that come October, moose are likely to have moved from their summer haunts in favor of spots that hold plenty of autumn nutrition, we also figured that reacquainting ourselves with the road network and any possible changes made good sense.
Those roads, although quite familiar to us, are always full of surprises, you see. In some spots where we’ve seen abundant moose in past years, we’ve subsequently come up empty for several years in a row. Clear cuts grow up and provide feed after a few years of regrowth and finding those new, productive areas can really help a hunter out come fall.
At least, that was our excuse for heading into the woods yet again — not that we ever really need an excuse.
Shortly after arriving at a particularly promising spot, we all began paying extra attention to our surroundings, and started peering deep in the woods, looking for a moose.
Tim spotted a cow and a calf early in our trip, and it became apparent that the weather that day — the temperature only reached about 70 under cloudy skies — was working in our favor. On hotter August days, we’d probably have to look in more shaded dark growth, or in a nearby pond, to find a moose.
After a couple of hours of slow-rolling down those old dirt logging roads, we came to a clear cut that seemed just about perfect. It wasn’t new, and some tasty-looking regrowth — prime moose feed — had taken over.
“We’re gonna see a moose, right up here,” Tim said, making the kind of prediction that sounds overly optimistic right up until it comes true.
And it came true, not 30 seconds later, as Tim spotted a young bull out in the middle of the cut.
The four of us took turns talking to the moose, taking photos of it, and staring at it through our binoculars before it grew tired of the invasion and trotted back into the woods.
“Where there’s one,” Tim said.
“There’s more,” Chris completed.
There was a reason for that kind of optimism: Those woods have been good to us over the years. We’ve taken a couple of bulls from this Wildlife Management District, and have encountered dozens more in our combination bird hunting and moose-watching trips.
Up here, you never know what you’re going to see. And you never know when the next moose is going to step out in front of you, or when you’ll see two or three out in the middle of a large clear cut.
One year, while on our annual bird hunting trip, we took some time around dusk to try our hand at calling in a moose, and we ended up with much more than we bargained for. The bull that answered our calls stepped into a clearing with a purpose, toppling a series of alders as it made its entrance.
The massive bull was among the largest I’d ever seen, and the fact that he also seemed angry at our disruption (and that he was about 35 yards away from us) made the episode particularly memorable.
Another year, a young, lovesick bull apparently thought that the crashing and twig-snapping he heard meant that a cow moose was nearby. Instead, that racket was being generated by a clumsy bird hunter — me — and eventually we had to tell the rapidly approaching moose that he was out of luck.
Yes, the woods are often full of surprises. Sunday’s revelation: It’s still possible to have a huge swath of the Maine woods all to yourself.
Over the course of the day, we saw three moose, one deer and a few turkeys. What we didn’t see on those dirt roads: Any other humans.
At about 2:20 p.m, we finally rounded a curve and met another vehicle. It was the first — and last — we’d seen on a dirt road all day.
“More moose than vehicles,” Billy said.
“Just the way it should be,” Chris replied.
They’ll get no argument from me. All in all, it was simply another amazing day spent in the Maine woods.
John Holyoke is the former outdoors editor of the BDN, an aspiring novelist and a future high school English teacher. He can be reached at email@example.com.