The great state of Maine allows people who are selected in the annual moose lottery to transfer their permit to a Veteran who has above a certain percentage rating from the VA. I’ve helped donors and Veterans connect on several occasions. After the lottery this year, (another year I was not picked,) I got a call from a man I consider, a mentor, a friend, and a helluva good man. He said, “Jim, I’m 75 years old, what the hell am I going to do with a 1000 lb animal.” He wanted me to find a Maine Veteran, who has never had a moose permit and qualified with the VA. I said I would. I made a few calls and the first few guys that I spoke with couldn’t do the hunt. A little later I got a call from my wife Suzanne. She was checking in on me like she often does to make sure I didn’t fall overboard, or get stuck on some two track somewhere. I told her about the call and she said, “Jimmy, that sounds like you.” It never crossed my mind, she’s a really smart lady. I called up my friend and humbly asked him if he’d be alright if I was the one to receive the permit. He said, “absolutely, it’s yours. All I want is the heart.” Deal.
I will not lie to you. I was nervous. I was given an opportunity of a lifetime, “don’t screw it up,” was all that I kept telling myself. During the summer I planned on making a few runs up to zone 1, the most remote zone in the state. I’d do a little fishing, find some good campsites, find a few 50 inch bulls, relax for a few days. Then the bookings starting coming, and I found myself on the river with clients almost daily. No problem. I’ll go in August when I stop fishing and get ready for bear season. And the bookings kept coming, and the bears were hungry. “Oh shit, I’m gonna screw this up.”
My brother Billy was my sub-permittee. We finally decided that we would go scout during the September moose hunt. Our great friends Sally and Tony would be hunting in zone 2. We’d camp with them, and be available for them if they needed help. During the day we’d skip over to zone 1 and scout for our hunt. It worked. We found a good camp site, some quality moose sign and most of all few people. Tony and Sally downed a great bull on Tuesday night, we helped them pack it out. “I’m not gonna screw this up.”
Following the few days of scouting Billy and I talked daily. We poured over satellite imagery, we downloaded maps to our phones. I made 33 packing lists, I packed and unpacked 49 times. I shot a box of ammo even though my first shot was middle middle at 150 yards. On Wednesday, five days prior to my hunt I headed back into the northwoods solo towing enough provisions for 11 days. I stopped twice to make sure my rifle was in the truck. I looked at my permit 6 times to make sure I did indeed have zone 1 for the week two hunt. I forgot the eggs. “Man, don’t screw this up.”
I made it to the gate checked in with the lady and said I was going to the Ben Glazier camp site. It’s about 70 dirt road miles to the site from the gate. She said, “I don’t think anyone’s there yet.” What the hell do I do if there is someone there? For 70 miles I worried about flat tires, occupied camp sites, and not getting a moose in some weird mental rotation. I slowly drove the truck and trailer down the narrow road that led to the camp site analyzing all the tracks I saw. Did that truck come out, or is he still in there? Do I smell wood smoke? Finally, at the end of the road there sat an empty campsite. I set up camp and gathered enough firewood for the first five days. I sat by the fire that night with a can of soup heated in the can over the fire, and an ice cold beer. I listened to the coyotes, the owls, and cow moose looking for love. The stars were bright over my site and for the first time in a long time I was relaxed. I said out loud to nobody, “I’m not going to screw this up.”
Thursday morning I struck out at 5:30AM I walked about 10 miles that day and saw a lot of “moosey” areas but not a lot of good bull sign. When Billy arrived Friday we really scouted hard, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Each morning rolling out at 4AM to go sit and listen for moose talking. We narrowed it down to five areas that we would focus on depending on the wind.
Opening morning I woke up at 2:30, brewed coffee, and waited. We rolled out at 4:00 and the spot we wanted so badly to hunt had a truck parked in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. Another truck was parked and the driver was trying to figure out how to get around. It’s an asshole move to cut off 10,000 acres of woods. There was a time when I would have hooked onto that truck and yanked him into the ditch, but this wasn’t the time, and I wasn’t going to get heated. I wasn’t going to screw this up. We had plenty of spots, We’d done our work.
I looked at Billy and said, “everything happens for a reason.” I also said, “I hope that guy gets hit in the nuts today.” I hope he did. We moved to an alternate spot. I parked on the top of a hill rolled down the windows and listened for moose. All I heard was Billy snore. How was he able to sleep? It was 20 degrees, dead calm, and loud. Everything was frozen.
At 5:15 we struck out for the mile and a half walk to where I wanted to start. It was a dead end road heading west, there was a similar road 1000 yards or so to the north, and another to the south. At 6:10, four minutes before legal, I gave my first cow call with a birch bark call my wife and I made. It wasn’t pretty but it sounded great to me. Turns out the bull liked it too. He grunted back immediately and started coming our way from a long way out in the valley. Billy and I worked that bull for an hour. He’d grunt and thrash a tree. We’d come right back at him like another pissed off bull. At one point I’d estimate he was within 100 feet of us behind a spruce wall. A few more steps we’d have him. “We are not going to screw this up!”
Billy put down his raking blade, and I put down my call. We both shifted our feet to be in the best position possible to fire when he stepped out. Then all hell broke loose on the ridge to the north. Some touch hole opened up with the loudest electronic moose call I have ever heard. It sounded like a dying cow being beat with a club while an drunk bull watched and yelled encouragement. I had never in all my life heard such a thing in the Maine woods. It was like the moose woods top 40 greatest hits all played at the exact same time. “Was this a friggin joke?” Our bull walked back the way he came. “They screwed this up.” We listened in disbelief as the noise on the hill continued. After 10 minutes it stopped. Billy looked at me and said, “we need to go after him.” I decided to make one more grunt and rake sequence. We did, and the DJ up on the hill opened up again. These dudes were calling us. We did get a response from our guy. He was checked up probably 300 yards away.
Decision point, go get him and risk the chance of pushing him out, or wait for the batteries to die on that monstrosity on the hill? I had the mental image of this giant cartoon sized megaphone hooked to a bank of batteries filling the back of a pick up truck, “lets go get him.”
In September bulls are aggressive they want to do two things, fight and… you know the other thing. In October they’re leery, and tired. They fight if they have to. We decided we’d just walk in nice and slow. Billy would drag the bone on brush to sound like a good bull carrying his rack through the woods. I’d grunt, nothing too aggressive, just a simple, “I’m here and if you want to throw hands we can.” Our guy stayed put. We’d stop every 10 yards or so and he’d grunt and move a little closer. The added bonus of us being quiet was the hill hecklers couldn’t hear us, or our guy. “We’re not going to screw this up.”
Half way to him I stopped. We did a little light raking and I saw him! He stepped through a small ten inch window at 150 yards. His antlers glistened with frost. Steam came from his nostrils as he moved. He tipped his head back to smell the air. I came up quick and mounted my rifle. The pump carbine in 30-06 is more than a rifle. It’s an extension of me. When I carry it I feel it like you feel your arms or legs. It will do what I want it to do. As I went to get a bead on him he stepped out of the lane. All I could see was his back half in my scope. I looked at Billy and whispered “shooter.” He said, “take him.” I watched him for an eternity. If he kept going the way he was headed he’d be gone. If he turned I’d get one crack at him. I gave a low soft grunt and he looked our way. He turned 180 degrees and stepped back in the lane. I had the narrow window I needed. I mounted again, safety off, saw vitals, saw steam from his breath, saw the frost glisten in his antlers, and I fired. He dropped. “I didn’t screw this up.”
For reasons I will never understand I decided to run to him. Like the athlete I use to be I took off. Turns out in the 150 yards between him and I was a tangled mess of alders, swamp water, and blow downs. About halfway through I realized I’m not the athlete I use to be. Billy was hot on my heels as we came out the other side. No moose. He was right here. How did I screw this up. I went into a mild panic. I was about to go back where I fired when I heard my brother, my best friend, and best hunting partner say, “Holy shit look at the paddles on this son of a bitch!” I ran over and there he was. Probably in a fit of frustration Billy yelled, “take that electronic call and shove it up your ass!” As we hugged longer than two grown men ever should. I heard three doors slam and a truck start up on the road to the north.
I joke about not screwing it up. In reality I wanted to be absolutely prepared. The map scouting, the actual scouting, learning of the habitat, the gear and equipment, being prepared for mechanical failures. Practicing my calling, my marksmanship, my conditioning. I knew I wasn’t going to screw it up. I was given an opportunity. I had prepared. I knew I could execute, and I knew I had a solid partner with me. This is only half the story. Wait until you hear about the legless partridge, The moose rodeo trucks, and the appearance of the winch operator, the rigger, the talkie walkie guy, and the moose wrestler.
Big thanks to the Thomas brothers who shared some solid info with me. I owe you boys.