After two days of driving dirt roads, setting up in likely looking spots and calling to apparently nonexistent moose, Chris Lander needed something … anything … that would encourage his hunting party.
Just before sunset, the Orrington hunter got his wish.
The two-way radio crackled to life, and his brother, Bill, made the announcement everybody had been waiting for: “Big bull! Big bull!”
Our two-truck caravan slid to a halt. It was, indeed, a big bull moose.
For the next five minutes or so, all of us — Chris, Bill and Tim Lander, Pete Warner and I — stared at the behemoth some 250 yards away.
No shots were fired; hunting season didn’t start for another 11 hours or so.
But as we headed back to Caucomgomoc Lake and the comfort of A.J. Deraspe’s hunting camp, the entire party’s spirits were buoyed.
“I needed to see that,” someone said.
After two days of seemingly fruitless scouting, sitting and calling, everyone else agreed.
Two years ago, Chris Lander and I teamed up on my first moose hunt. I held the permit. Lander carried the second gun.
This year, our roles were reversed, but not much else changed: Our hunting party was intact, though we did add a moose decoy that Chris decided to name “Beth.”
Note to any friends of the Landers: Yes, I know Chris is married to a very understanding woman named Beth. Yes, Beth knows a moose decoy was named after her. And no, Chris is not in the dog house (I told you Beth was understanding).
Also intact for this year’s hunt was a tasty array of menu items we’d enjoyed in 2006.
Stuff like Billy Chili. And Petey Pasta. And 1½-inch-thick rib-eye steaks, specially ordered from Nebraska. Toss in a new addition — Bill Lander’s already famous lobster-and-scallop-based seafood chowder, and we were ready for a week of hunting.
Too bad our “week” only lasted one day, plus two days of advance scouting.
For two weeks, I had prompted, prodded and cajoled the permit-holder to come up with a plan.
Just to be safe. Just so we’re all on the same page. Just so I know when I can relax.
Are we hunting for a big bull, with massive antlers? Are we merely meat hunting? Will we take the tried-and-true tactic of aiming high, then adjusting our goals as each day passes?
Chris, in his typical low-key fashion, took more of a wait-and-see attitude.
“I haven’t decided,” he kept saying.
Eventually, we (or was it me?) decided to look for a nice set of antlers on Monday. On Tuesday … or Wednesday … or beyond … we’d stop being so picky.
That’s the way I remember it, anyway.
Monday dawned perfect for a moose hunt. The grass was crispy with new frost, and there was just a slight breeze.
We set up Beth (the decoy, not the wife) and began calling.
Before long, we had replies.
One moose began approaching from our right, and seemed likely to step out of the underbrush (and directly on Chris) at any moment.
Later, another moose began approaching from directly upwind.
And a few minutes later, a third moose returned our call and began walking in from our left.
Eventually, the third bull stepped out of the woods 150 yards away.
“There he is,” I whispered, before offering a quick warning. “Not a Monday moose, Chris. Not a Monday moose.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Up to you,” I said, accepting the permit-dictated pecking order.
Chris agreed … reluctantly … and we watched and filmed as a young bull stood and stared in our direction. One minute. Two. Three. Four.
“Hard to resist,” Chris said, as the moose finally stepped back into the forest.
Not 20 minutes after our moose had departed, we had another visitor: A black bear walked into view off the game path the moose had used, and stopped to sniff the air.
We were upwind. The bear raised his nose, quickly homed in our location, and trotted off.
The morning hunt provided plenty of good theater, to say the least, and the payoff for waking early and hunting hard was worth it: It was time to eat … again.
A couple hours later, as we pushed back from the breakfast table, Chris let me in on a little secret.
The morning’s hunt had frustrated him, it seems. He didn’t know how many better chances at a moose we’d get. He was ready to re-evaluate our plan.
“It’s not Monday any more,” he said.
That meant horn-hunting was over. The hunt was now officially a first-come, first-served proposition.
At 1:30 p.m., Chris suggested we drive down a road that we had decided should provide a perfect hunting spot.
The road took us out onto a peninsula. On three sides of us there was woods … and water.
“We might as well kill a half-hour calling before we meet Billy and Timmy,” he said.
The three of us — Pete Warner was the designated videographer — quickly set up, and began calling. Sometimes we used a nifty Extreme Dimension Phantom call, which is manufactured in Hampden.
At other times, I used old-fashioned mouth grunting to elicit a reply.
We had scouted the same location a day before, seen moose sign and decided the spot was worth a determined effort. No moose answered that day, but we figured they might … some day … if we kept trying.
Still, with the temperature rising and the sun beating down, we were a bit skeptical this would be the perfect time.
Two moose answered the call and began working their way toward us. One from the left. One from the right.
They sounded equidistant at first, and I wasn’t sure which would step out first … or whether either would decide to show himself at all.
After 30 minutes, with our self-imposed deadline looming, the right-wing moose obliged.
A limb or two cracked as he made his way through the deadfalls, and then he was there.
Right there. Close. And since it wasn’t Monday any more, he was big enough for us.
Chris took one shot from 46 yards and the bull dropped.
According to moose-hunting vets, that’s when the hard work is supposed to start.
Luckily (for the second hunt in a row) that wasn’t the case: A short 25-yard haul through the scrub and a small water hole, and the moose was beside the truck, ready for field-dressing.
The bull’s rack measured 33 inches, and the moose likely weighed 625 pounds.
Later, we gathered in camp and told the same stories over and over to hunters who were camping in our Caucomgomoc “neighborhood.”
Pasta was served. And ribs. Nobody went hungry.
At the end of the day, while all of us were still smiling, each of us likely shared the same regret.
We arrived in camp with what we estimated to be a solid week’s worth of food, you see. Spend any time in a hunting camp, and you quickly realize that means you’ve actually got enough chow for three weeks.
Packing up all that food and returning to civilization on Tuesday morning, it seemed, was the only blemish on a wonderful time spent in the Maine woods.
Not that any of us were really complaining.