PORTAGE, Maine — There was no sense of urgency Monday morning when Bernie and Jen Fortin stepped out of their pickup truck and onto a muddy road in the North Woods.
Sure, it was the opening day of Maine’s annual moose hunt and there was anticipation in the air, but the Fortins had a plan.
Having been involved in 13 previous hunts, permit holder Bernie Fortin of Vassalboro knows the drill. This time, with his wife as the sub-permittee, they were targeting a big moose.
“I want something that’s more of a mature bull,” he said.
Bernie and Jen Fortin have been together for 21 years and were married in 2005. They hunted moose together in 2004, when Jen harvested a 740-pound bull with a 40-inch spread. They also teamed up to take a bull with a 51-inch spread in 2010.
Clockwise from left: Bernie Fortin of Vassalboro points out how much visibility the group has on Monday during a moose hunting trip in Aroostook County; moose hunters (from left) Bernie Fortin and Jen Fortin of Vassalboro, along with Ray Foster of Oakland, check out the photos from a trail camera they placed in a location near Portage Lake; and the hunter talk strategy during a break in the action. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN
Bernie Fortin shot a cow in 2001 and had a bull tag in 2011. That year, he allowed his brother Greg, who had never been drawn, to pull the trigger as the sub-permittee.
“So I haven’t really had the opportunity to hunt a trophy moose for myself,” Bernie Fortin said.
He calls Jen his good luck charm, pointing out that she has a real knack for finding four-leaf clovers. She has been drawn twice.
While scouting they found an intersection of grassy tote roads a quarter-mile off the gravel road. There, they would not have to deal with a parade of pulp trucks or hunters riding in pickups.
Bernie Fortin did not want a repeat of his experience in 2011 hunting in Wildlife Management District 10.
“Everybody was on top of each other,” he said. “Everywhere I went to hunt, like I’m going to hunt, someone would either walk in on me or drive in on me.”
Bernie Fortin admitted that if they got a moose down in there, it might be a difficult drag. But he figured it was doable.
Under dark, clear skies and a waning crescent moon, it was a quiet walk into the chosen hunting spot. It was 43 degrees.
The group — which included Bernie’s father Greg Fortin, his uncle Ray Foster of Oakland and friend David Bucknam of Oakland — had rented a camp on Portage Lake owned by Dan and Sherry Hodgins.
“Usually in the morning and the afternoon I like to sit somewhere and do some calling and hunt like you do deer and wait for something to come,” Bernie Fortin said.
Their game camera held photos of a younger bull passing the location twice in a span of 30 hours, most recently at 6 p.m. Sunday. It might be a moose to target later in the week, if a big bull did not show.
After Bernie Fortin placed more scents and set a thermos of warm bull urine on the ground to release the scent, the hunters set up along the treeline and waited. He used a fiberglass horn to produce a short series of cow calls.
The only other sounds were birds, a plane passing overhead and some gunshots in the distance.
At 8:30 a.m., everyone returned to the trucks to check out a couple of other spots the Fortins had seen while scouting.
Everywhere they went Monday, Foster and Bernie Fortin exchanged good-natured jabs.
“It’s more like brothers instead of nephew and uncle,” Bernie Fortin said of their relationship.
“Acting like brothers and fighting like brothers,” Jen Fortin said.
The group visited two other areas, both located at the end of dead-end roads. There were a few moose tracks at the first, but a game camera showed nothing.
The next stop was in a low, wet area where they ate breakfast sandwiches cooked on a Coleman stove on the tailgate of Bernie Fortin’s truck.
The hunting party then headed back out to visit some other spots.
“We ride around the middle part of the day,” Bernie Fortin said.
The elder Greg Fortin, an avid hunter and fisherman who is an accomplished tyer of streamer flies, drove the other truck. He’ll be hunting with a bull permit in October.
Greg Fortin’s passenger was Bucknam, the chief of police in Skowhegan, with whom Bernie Fortin became friends through their involvement with the Masons.
At 1 p.m., back at the first location, it was time for the afternoon sit. Greg Fortin grabbed a shotgun to walk the main road in search of grouse. Bucknam stayed at the truck to take care of business.
Bernie Fortin, Jen Fortin and Foster returned to the woods and set up the decoy and scent wicks. Before settling in, they walked several hundred yards up one tote road.
A mink scurried in front of them at one point, but the most interesting part was seeing how realistic the flat, fabric moose decoy, its head swaying in the breeze, looked from a distance.
Once settled into their umbrella chairs, Jen and Bernie Fortin sat and waited. He periodically made cow calls and subtle bull grunts.
At about 3 p.m., a cow moose bellowed briefly and subtly from the woods. More than an hour later, after a few raindrops fell, the winds slacked, leaving the woods nearly silent.
Bernie raked the bushes with his horn and did more grunting. Shortly thereafter a cow moaned again.
But that was it. Just before the end of legal shooting time, they gathered their belongings and walked out of the woods.
Not having seen a moose did not dampen the group’s enthusiasm.
“It’s just about doing it and being together,” Foster said of the day afield, exhibiting the optimism he had demonstrated all day long.
Twice on Monday, Bernie Fortin predicted that Wednesday would be the day they harvested a moose. It’s what had happened on two of their previous hunts.
On Wednesday morning, hunting at another site about half a mile into the woods, the Fortins shot a beautiful bull.
The animal dressed out at 832 pounds and sported an antler spread measuring 46 1/2 inches.
Bernie Fortin now has his mature bull and all the memories that go along with sharing the experience with his family and friends.