As the mobs of cars around wildlife check-in stations suggest, moose season is underway in Vermont and New Hampshire. Maine’s between seasons at the moment, but hunting will resume in late October in select management units. In many areas of the Northeast, drawing a moose tag is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d share a moose hunting story in this week’s blog, a snapshot of sorts from a successful moose hunt in 2007. Good luck hunters; may your drag be short.—-ED
Jamie killed the bull a mile and a quarter back into a roadless wilderness area, and after we’d said our prayers, the work began. A steady rain had begun to fall.
We dressed the animal then made for town, procured ice, called in B. David the horseman, Hiya-Kiya, and Kenny R. We re-adjourned at the trailhead, where Hiya and I struck out to ice down the carcass. An hour later, the other men joined us with Shirley, a draft horse, and Kelsey, a border collie mix.
The harness jangled like singing birds as B. David backed Shirley up to her load.
“Booo,” he said, not sharply, like you’d say during Halloween, but slowly and more drawn out, like the way cattle bawl. She was uneasy with this task. Mist hung over the forest floor, the air swollen with moisture and rich with the scent of the kill. Shirley’s dilated pupils sparked wildly as she smelled blood. She exhaled sharply through her nostrils and bobbed her head, stamped her back leg, in her eyes a pride of lions on some ancient grassland, her forebearers scattering like blown leaves.
“It’s OK, honey,” said B. David the horseman, his hand soft against her flank. Her trust for him was stronger than her flight instinct. She backed slowly to the moose and stood at attention as we hooked the chain to a draw bar. Then “hy-ah!” and 2,500 pounds of horse and moose were barreling through the forest.
The motion was less a drag and more a series of lurches. When things were going well, men were clear of the load and jogging to keep up. Kelsey, a herd dog, tried vainly to keep the group together, concern etched on his pale blue eyes. When things were not going well, the party would lurch 20 feet before a shoulder or an antler would snag on a tree or boulder and the whole caravan would whiplash to a halt.
The landscape was stark and unyielding: the highlands a boulder field, the swamps a quagmire of bottomless bogs and fir thickets. We tried to stay high, scabbing side hills and boulder-strewn ravines, the witches hobble snagging at our feet. Darkness fell hard. Four hours passed and we were still a quarter mile out, breath ragged, headlamps pointed towards the raw, soaked earth.
Hiya scouted the trail ahead and came back with grim news. There was a path, but it was littered with glacial debris. The footing was treacherous at best. The hill crested then fell into a slough before rising for a quarter of a mile at a steady clip to the truck. Shirley looked beaten, her head down, mane hanging in soaked, matted strands. She stood on three legs, her back right leg bent at the knee, as if to show us her shoe. B. David whispered something inaudibly to her.
“I’m sorry, guys, but I won’t push her,” he said.
“We wouldn’t ask you to.”
“We’ll come back in the morning if you want but for now she’s done.”
Ten p.m., then. We portioned the moose. Sixty-five-year-old Hiya and B. David trudged off together, Shirley in tow, the moose antlers splayed out like an oxen yoke along Hiya’s shoulders and arms. Kelsey circled us twice and barked to urge us on, then seemed to recognize the change in plans. The party’s headlamps cast cylindrical patterns into the darkness before the hill fell and the light disappeared and the night seemed to swallow them whole.
Kenny held the flashlight and I sliced between the second and third rib. Jamie worked the meat saw through the moose’s forearm-thick spine. It was 50 degrees and we were 18 hours from the end of this ordeal. Any hunter with a soul feels sick at the thought of meat spoiling before his hand and Jamie wore this sentiment all over his wrinkled brow. Rain fell in torrents through his clothes, in his eyes, down the bridge of his nose. “Be careful what you wish for, right?” joked Kenny, but Jamie didn’t hear him. Just cacophonic raindrops in puddles on tree limbs and dully against exposed meat. Just the sound of that bone saw, frantically now, back and forth, back and forth.