When people think of a Maine moose hunt they don’t think of Down East Washington County. But when I was drawn for one of the few permits in that zone after 8 years of entering the lottery, I was excited. I knew I wouldn’t see many moose, but to hunt the area where I grew up and include my non-hunting parents in such a special, maybe once-in-a-lifetime, hunt was a gift.
To increase my odds in the difficult zone, I hired a guide, Dennis Perry, who works with my parents at the courthouse and jail in Machias.
My parents, fiance Travis Elliott and I settled into Dennis’ off-grid cabin in the woods of Deblois on Sunday afternoon before my hunt. After a game of cribbage with Travis (he won) we turned off the generator and went to bed. I had trouble falling asleep. I felt the pressure of the hunt upon me. Six days to kill a moose and fill the freezer. I would likely wait at least another eight years before having this chance again.
On Monday morning, we woke eagerly at 4:15 and enjoyed deer sausage for breakfast. Dennis picked Travis and me up at 5 a.m. and my parents headed to work later that morning. We drove 10 minutes to a dead-end old logging road, got out, sprayed our clothes with scent-free spray and walked down the road in the dark.
At legal hunting time, Dennis did a cow moose call. He cupped his hands around his mouth and pinched his nose and let out a drawn-out, high-pitched whine. I focused my ears, straining to hear a reply from a bull moose. After 10 minutes without hearing a response, Dennis began grunting like a bull and scraped the shoulder bone of a moose against a sapling to imitate antlers raking against a tree.
After 45 minutes or so, we walked half a mile down the road and called again. We repeated this sequence until we had walked to the end of the road. Having heard nothing, we headed back to the truck and to the next quiet, dead end gravel road to repeat the routine.
Once we were set up on a ridge, Dennis began cow calling. Suddenly, about 200 yards in front of us, a black bear emerged. Dennis did another cow call and the bear stopped, stood on his hind legs and looked at us. Then he silently dropped back to all fours and continued into the woods. We would see two other bears that week, a rare treat in the Maine woods.
Tuesday after lunch we settled into a piece of woods between two wetlands. The effects of my big lunch were kicking in and I closed my eyes to rest when Dennis whispered, “Bull” and I nearly fell out of my chair.
“Where?!” I replied, looking around slowly.
“No, I heard a bull grunting. Be ready!” Dennis clarified.
Dennis took his moose shoulder blade and scraped it against a tree while grunting. After a few minutes I heard the bull grunt and could hear him raking his antlers against some brush. He was getting closer.
I took deep breaths and steadied my 7mm rifle against my knee for support. I stared at the thick group of alders 40 yards away that separated me in the woods from the bull in the wetland. Then I saw them move. I’d see the bull any second.
“Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it!” Dennis whispered, but I hadn’t even seen a moose. Dennis sat 10 feet to my right so I leaned toward him but still couldn’t see anything. I shifted farther to my right and finally spotted half of a nice bull moose behind a tree staring at me. I didn’t have a good shot and the bull turned around and ran back the way he came. If he had taken a few more steps I would have had him!
Though it was exciting to call in a bull, it was disheartening to come so close and be unsuccessful. I lamented the what if’s and maybe I should have scenarios all afternoon.
Sleep came slowly that evening and Wednesday and Thursday passed without a moose sighting. I began to wonder if I had blown my chance.
Friday morning, we hiked to the same area we had called in the bull. After calling for an hour and getting no response, we hiked to the truck to try our other spots. As we emerged from the woods to cross the blueberry barrens, Dennis slammed on the brakes, “Bull! Bull!” A bull was sauntering across the barrens nearly 300 yards in front of us.
Travis and I hastily jumped out of the truck and loaded our rifles. We grabbed our shooting sticks for support from the bed of the truck and I zoomed in my scope. The bull continued meandering. When we were ready, Dennis did a cow call and the bull turned broadside, staring toward us. Travis shot first and I fired after him.
“He’s hit good,” Dennis reported.
I watched with bated breath as the bull took a few steps, wavered back and forth, and fell over into the crimson blueberry field within seconds.
I called my parents, who had just left the cabin to head to work and told them to turn around. The gravity of the situation settled. When would I be here again, with my family, hunting moose? I thought of my great grandfather, who I never met. He was the last hunter in my family. I felt a connection to him. Had he hunted this area a century ago?
I thought about the meals I would share with family and friends for the next year from the moose, which weighed 670 pounds and had a 36 1/2-inch spread. I thought about hanging the bull’s antlers in a place of honor in my home.
But first, I had a moose to gut.