Back in 1980, Billy Lander and his brother Tim — along with more than 36,000 other eager Mainers — applied for one of 700 permits that were to be handed out in Maine’s first modern moose hunt.
The brothers’ names were not drawn.
They weren’t drawn in 1982, either. Or in 1984. Or 1994. Or 2004. Or, for the record, ever.
Finally, after 39 years of moose lottery futility, Billy broke that skein in June, when his name miraculously popped out of the cyber-hopper during this year’s drawing. His subpermittee, or second shooter: Brother Timmy.
Over those years, life hasn’t been easy. Tim Lander suffered a serious back injury 25 years ago, and now he recognizes that each day he gets to spend afield with his brothers is a true gift.
Both men are my friends — brothers of my longtime hunting buddy Chris Lander, in fact — and both have served as scouts, draggers and gutter-outers during moose hunts that Chris and I have enjoyed over the past decade and a half.
And according to the tradition that began with my first moose hunt, when one of us is drawn for a permit, all of us are required to show up, pitch in and eat like hogs for as long as the hunt takes.
That’s exactly what we did last week, when the four of us, along with my BDN colleague Pete Warner, headed into the woods west of Moosehead Lake to find ourselves a suitable moose.
Hunters, I have learned, have different ideas of what a “suitable” moose is. Sometimes, a critter’s suitability is dependent on which day you see it, in fact. Consider: For some hunting parties, a scrawny young bull moose might not even be worth calling to on a Monday, when the six-day season has just started and the opportunities are seemingly limitless.
Come Saturday, those same hunters might decide that even the tiniest of bulls is just perfect.
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Luckily for us, the Lander boys were not that particular. All they wanted was a legal bull — one with antlers longer than its ears. The first one that we saw, Billy and Timmy told the rest of us, would be in trouble.
During our Sunday scouting journeys through woods that we know well, we saw plenty of ruffed grouse, but the moose proved more difficult to find. Finally, in the last clearcuts that Billy checked out before sunset, he spotted a moose. And another. And a third.
Come Monday, that was where we were heading.
Hopping in the trucks before sunrise, I was the chauffer for the two hunters, while Chris and Pete ventured off to find other suitable hunting spots.
Our first sign of trouble came just after I turned onto the road we’d decided to target. Apparently other hunting parties had seen moose on that road the night before, too. And, apparently, half the town of Rockwood was vying for space as they either slow-rolled along the dirt road, looking for moose, or raced ahead, trying to get to a particularly promising spot.
We were among the racers, and arrived at a clear cut that was not occupied. We silently geared up shortly after legal shooting time, a half-hour before sunrise, and began creeping across the cut to a good ambush position.
Fifty yards out into the grassy clearing, a shot rang out. Close. Then we heard voices from the lower end of the vast cut.
“It’s over!” one hunter exclaimed. Cheers erupted.
Someone had found “our” moose before we did.
Later, after we’d abandoned that location, found a few cow moose at another spot, and a bull at another, we returned to the scene of the shot. We learned that the shot came from a group that had been driving slowly along the road, well behind us. The moose had crossed from the same side of the road we were planning to hunt, and the other party took advantage of the opportunity.
Time for Plan B: Breakfast.
Nothing, we have learned, clears a frustrated hunter’s mind like a good meal, and we adjourned to camp for some bacon, eggs and corned beef hash.
While eating, we mulled things over, and pondered other possible plans. Then, seeing as how we’d already seen six moose on that one busy road earlier that morning, we simply decided to return to the scene of the crime and try again. Maybe this time, we’d end up with a shot.
Or maybe we’d never get that far.
Sometimes, a hunter’s luck can be pretty amazing. And on this Monday morning, with a week’s vacation stretching in front of us and a camp full of food waiting for us, we got very, very lucky.
Less than three miles from camp, while driving back toward that super-moosey spot we’d already visited, I watched as Chris and Pete, who were driving about 500 yards in front of me, slammed on their brakes and backed into a turnout off busy Route 15.
By the time we pulled up, both were frantically pointing at where they wanted us to park. Then, just as frantically, they pointed at the moose that was standing across the road, in a large clearing.
Billy and Tim crossed the road. Then they loaded their rifles. And after walking about 30 yards closer, improving their angles, they got down to work.
“I can’t see him,” Billy said he told his brother.
“I have him,” Tim replied.
“Take him,” Billy said.
And after 39 years of waiting for just such a chance, that’s exactly what Tim Lander did.
The bull wasn’t huge — it weighed 590 pounds. But it would be tasty, and will provide plenty of meat for the Lander family over the coming months.
And after sharing a few more meals, hunting a few birds and staying in camp for a couple more days, we all agreed that while the hunt hadn’t adhered to our master plan, it had turned out perfectly nonetheless.
And again, we vowed to do it again as soon as possible, should we be lucky enough to have that chance.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” was published by Islandport Press this week and is available on bookshelves now.
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