Time was running out Saturday. The sun was going down to end not just another beautiful fall day in Aroostook County, but also the first week of Maine’s moose hunting season.
The sister-brother team of Carrie Reed and Ben Lothrop and longtime friend Kevin Hamel had been getting up at 4 a.m. every day, jumping in the truck and scouring the landscape and the woods for a bull.
Going on a moose hunt had been on Reed’s bucket list, even though she has never hunted. At her brother’s suggestion, she applied for a permit this year.
Without much response during the week to Hamel’s moose calls, the hunters — down to their last chance on Saturday — set up on an old clearcut they had visited previously.
“I had resigned myself not getting one, I really had,” said Lothrop, the sub-permittee, who had been on enough moose hunts to know that it doesn’t always work out as planned. “We basically hunted 11, 12 hours every single day.”
Reed, the permit holder who chose not to carry a firearm because of her lack of shooting experience, had likewise come to grips with the possibility there would be no moose on her first-ever hunt.
“That last hour, I was planning, OK, what am I going to order at the Mai Tai?” Reed said of a restaurant in Presque Isle.
In Presque Isle, Julie Lothrop, Ben’s wife, looked out the window of their home and noticed the sun was setting, with no word from the hunters.
On Friday, the party had caught a brief glimpse of a moose in the area near where they had set up for the last hour, but Lothrop couldn’t get a shot.
Then, for the only time all week, they had an argument about issues unrelated to the hunt.
“That afternoon was a little bit of a struggle,” said Reed, who returned home for the night rather than stay at camp. She returned on Saturday, refreshed.
Reed and Lothrop marveled at each other’s determination and resilience during the week.
“I’ll give it to Carrie,” Lothrop said. “She didn’t give up. She said we’re going to go right until the end.”
The motto for their hunt, preserved on long-sleeved T-shirts to commemorate the occasion, was, “We’re trying to kill a moose, not each other.” It was a lighthearted jab at the typical sibling rivalry they have had experienced over the years.
They praised Hamel, both for his moose calling efforts and for his ability to keep the mood light.
“You have to embrace the suck,” was his advice as they pressed on.
The trio returned to the clearcut to end the hunt. It is located not far from where their maternal grandfather, Benton Craig, had once owned a farm.
Reed also remembered it as the place where her late husband, Ted Reed, had shot the biggest deer of his life many years earlier.
They arrived shortly before 6 p.m., but the sun would set at 6:16 and legal shooting time ended 30 minutes later.
Hamel, who had begun the week alternating electronic moose calls and mouth calls, was dialed in. He had ditched the electronics in favor of his own vocalizations.
“He had it down really good, and I think that made a big difference,” Lothrop said.
Finally, it all came together. A moose stepped out, 150 yards away, as Hamel called out across the cut. Hamel saw it first, but it was out of Lothrop’s view. Lothrop stepped out of the bushes and got locked in.
His first shot was on target, but he followed up with a second, just in case.
“I was so happy for Ben. Getting a moose was a really big deal for him,” Reed said.
Walking up on the bull, which later dressed out at 633 pounds, also proved a special experience for Reed.
“I just was sort of stroking its fur and looking at it. I got a little choked up,” Reed said. “I almost cried because it was so beautiful.”
What was not nearly as attractive for all involved was the extraction. Lothrop called good friend David Cook and his father-in-law, Bob Besaw, for help. It took them four hours to get the moose into the back of the truck.
“We were working on nothing but adrenaline, especially bringing that moose out,” Lothrop said.
In spite of the grueling nature of the week, Reed said she enjoyed it and came away with a newfound appreciation for the moose hunting process.
“It was more, really, than I thought it would be,” she said.
With one of her daughters buying a camp on Scopan Lake, close to where her late father’s cabin is located, Reed is looking forward to hitting the roads again.
“I can see myself next summer telling my grandkids, ‘Hop in, we’re going to go down and look and see if there are any moose or tracks or sign.’”