A Hunting Story

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.

  1. Mike Scott → in South Washington, VT
    Oct 21, 2011

    Your story has me thinking back to last weekend where, north of the camp on Whiskey Brook by Island Pond, a skilled teamster and a strong Belgian mare yarded our cow moose roadside without incident. Best luck to those still looking to fill tags!

  2. Carolyn Haley → in East Wallingford
    Oct 27, 2011

    I have tried, I have really tried, during the 13 years I have lived in northern New England, to understand and respect the practice of hunting. It did not exist where I come from.

    Intellectually, I get it; but emotionally, it still grosses me out. I found this story particularly sickening but realistic, and I’m glad someone put it up to show the raw logistics without any romance.

  3. Max
    Dec 12, 2011

    I agree with Carolyn, although I grew up around hunting and won’t understand it to the end of my days. My father tried to hunt but was repulsed by the things he saw happening to animals under the guise of ‘hunting for dinner.’ He couldn’t abide by the sporting mentality that accompanies many hunts.

    So, I was shielded by our family’s lack of participation, until I got older and began working outdoors, close to hunters myself. Then, I got to see how many slovenly hunters there are, and how often the animal suffers to a great degree after being shot and left to expire, often hours, sometimes days, sometimes never collected if the hunter loses his prey or didn’t have the foresight to figure out what to do with the animal after it was shot.

    Most people who don’t participate in the hunt, don’t realize how often this happens. They think quick kill, it’s done, all ethical, above board. Sometimes it works that way, but just as often, a deer is nicked by an arrow or bullet and is left to die for hours while the hunters wait for it to succumb. That’s common practice—to wait until you follow the blood trail. In the interim, the animal dies slowly of its wound, sometimes found by the hunter, sometimes not. The first time I saw an elk left to die for hours from a bad shot, was the last time I accepted hunting on the premise that it’s ethical or humane. This hunter refused to shoot the elk in a way that would reduced the bull’s suffering but would have also mangled his trophy head.

    I agree that at least this article lacks the romance of recent pieces I’ve been reading on this subject. The recent fad seems to be writers waxing poetic about how “alive” they feel because they recently took up the practice of killing animals, or how it makes them feel so “close” to the animal they just killed and eviscerated. Nice they could have that experience of personal enlightenment at the expense of a life. 

    But let’s face it, killing a moose isn’t all that hard. Once targeted, moose aren’t that tough to shoot. I’ve known of guys who passed right by one moose because the rack wasn’t big enough, only to take another moose a short time later. Of course, depending on the location, you have to haul the animal out as these hunters did. And Maine is notorious for people not thinking it through and finding it impossible to lug their meat out of the backwoods. The whole thing is unpalatable in a time where we really should be re-thinking our relationship to the animals and the lands under our stewardship. It’s 2011 and the defense of tradition is woefully inadequate to describe some of our barbarism toward animals.

  4. Ryan Trapani → in Arkville, NY
    Jan 17, 2012

    I think people forget that hunting is kind of similar to cutting a tree down.  Cutting a tree down is one aspect.  Once the tree is down is really when all the work begins.  The same is true with hunting.  Despite the long hours in the field whether waiting patiently or stalking through the woods on uneven terrain, “harvesting” an animal requires a lot too of the hunter.  “Harvesting” is a more accurate term since in hunting, an animal is rarely “killed.”  To me, killing does not tell the entire story.  This would be like picking tomatoes and leaving them in the garden.  We take our animal (or tomatoes) home… we harvest them.  They feed ourselves, friends and family and serve as reminders of the animals we harvested and the habitats we found them in.  If we really care about these animals, and desire to give back, then we should do so by managing our forests, enhancing habitats and providing both food and cover.  Hunting is a way of life and not a mere sport.

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