April 07, 2020
Sports Column

Learning the ropes while on the hunt

The lessons we learn in pursuit of our outdoor adventures are often hard-earned, and truly absorbed only in those moments immediately following one miscue or other.

Over the past several years, I have been fortunate enough to talk with dozens of moose hunters. Last week, I became one of them.

And I’d be lying if I told you I was confident that everything would turn out perfectly on my first moose hunt.

There would be lessons to be learned, I thought. And I’d have to earn every single one of them.

In spite of all the doom-and-gloom nightmares I had during the days leading up to the hunt, things worked out as perfectly as we could have expected.

During those restless slumbers, the what-ifs kept adding up, and by the time we headed into the woods of Wildlife Management District 4, I was half-convinced that we would either a) forget something vitally important, despite my ever-growing list of supplies; or b) have to drag a moose a half mile through thorn bushes; or c) never see a single moose … and be required to come back here and tell you all about it.

None of those things happened. And while I’m surely not qualified to give anyone moose-hunting lessons after one successful foray afield, I can tell you a few not-so-hard-earned lessons that I learned:

. You will never eat as much as you think you will … but that’s OK.

We stayed in the woods for four nights. We packed food we thought would carry us through seven. And when we returned, we brought back enough grub to feed our families for another week to 10 days.

I know. The math doesn’t add up.

All this proves is, when you begin eagerly hopping from one likely spot to another to another, and end up bagging a moose at mid-morning of the third day, it’s pretty easy to skip a meal or three.

We decided, early on, that no matter what happened, we were going to eat well.

We did. But we still ended up with plenty of leftovers to take home.

. There is no quantity of rope, come-alongs or snatch-blocks that will give you true piece of mind.

No matter what you do, the image of a moose, your moose, 600 yards out in a clear cut, will drive you nuts.

Pack as much gear as you can, hope for the best, and pray you won’t have to use any of it.

Some hunters say they take 100 yards of rope. Some opt for much more than that.

We got our moose into the truck with nothing more than one 20-foot piece of rope, one come-along, and six men.

Of course, if your moose drops four feet from a skidder path, and it doesn’t weigh a half ton, you can do that.

If not, all that rope and other gear comes in handy. We prepared for the worst, and were pleasantly surprised with the best situation we could have hoped for.

. Your friends can help, even if they’re not officially hunting.

In our party, two extremely knowledgeable hunters didn’t tag along with the two shooters most of the time. Instead, they provided some in-season scouting information that we used to succeed on the third day of the hunt.

The lesson, for us: The more eyes, the better.

. Black pepper is your friend. Buy it. Pack it. Use it.

Within five minutes of shooting our moose, the flies had arrived in force. By the time we field-dressed it, those flies were becoming downright annoying.

The state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife advises hunters to pack a can of black pepper, and after taking that advice, I can tell you it works.

We put almost a half-pound of pepper on the moose, being careful to pay extra attention to places where there was blood, and the flies nearly vanished.

. There’s no such thing as too much ice.

After returning from our hunt, I heard a second-hand horror story about a hunter who had trouble finding his moose and getting ice on it. After eventually taking his moose to the butcher, he walked away with only a set of antlers. All of the meat was ruined.

And our meat-cutters told us that one of the moose they’d processed on Tuesday hadn’t been iced properly, and much of the meat had spoiled by the time the hunters returned to town.

Ice early. Ice often. Enough said.

. Moose (our moose, at least) are more vocal than you think. If you’re calling, act like you mean it.

For two days, we called sporadically. After hearing real moose on Tuesday, we revamped our approach for Wednesday, and it immediately paid off.

The big difference: We stopped calling like deer hunters, and began calling like real, live moose (or at least the moose we had heard).

. The moose is only a part of the hunt.

Wednesday was a big day for our hunting party. We finally succeeded in bagging our moose, after all.

But if we hadn’t struggled on Monday and Tuesday, and hadn’t spent that time together at camp (and hadn’t eaten as much of that wonderful food as we could), I’m quite certain of two things: The hunt wouldn’t have been so memorable, and our success wouldn’t have meant as much to us.

By Wednesday, each of us had played a role. And each of us was equally eager to celebrate that success.

DU banquet roundup

On Sept. 21, the Downeast Chapter of Ducks Unlimited held its 35th annual fundraising banquet in Bangor.

Longtime DU member Ernie Boynton checked in on Monday with an update on the organization’s efforts this year.

According to Boynton, the results from a raffle, silent auction, live auction and other fundraising activities should net the chapter a little more than $20,000.

Boynton praised Steve Trimm, who served as auctioneer and whipped the attendees into a bidding frenzy. The “first pick from the auction table” went for a whopping $434, which was then cashed in for a Tom Hennessey watercolor print.

Since its founding in 1937, DU has raised more than $2.3 billion nationwide, which has contributed to the conservation of more than 11.6 million acres of prime wildlife habitat in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, and in key areas of Mexico.

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.net or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.

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