Bob Bella of Bucksport applied for 40 years to participate in the Maine moose hunt.
It was a long wait for the retired CIA officer, but he was finally drawn for a permit in Wildlife Management District 4 for the first week of the 2022 season.
Bella, 74, had hunted deer as a youngster growing up in Maine and has hunted elk out West. But the moose hunt had been on his bucket list for a long time.
With permit in hand, Bella invited his nephew, Stephen Parker of Nampa, Idaho, to be his sub-permittee. They enlisted the expertise of PB Guide Service in Skowhegan, which took them to the Jackman area.
Things looked promising initially, as Bella got a glimpse of a big bull on opening morning.
“He was too far away,” Bella said.
On Sept. 27, the group returned to the area. The guide tried calling, but the moose would not show itself. The evidence of its presence was overwhelming.
“His tracks were just huge, a lot bigger than the average moose out there,” Bella said.
Bella and Parker were back on the ground that Wednesday and spent the morning trying to track the bull. The guide suggested that perhaps they try targeting a different moose.
“I’m just a stubborn Bucksporter,” Bella said. “I said, no, listen, let’s finish this. I want to stay on this mountain today and tomorrow we’ll regroup and think about what we want to pursue.”
At about 6 p.m. on Sept. 28, they finally had the bull in their sights. Bella fired first.
“He looked at me like, ‘Is that the best you’ve got?’” Bella said.
Parker then took a shot that missed, but he still had the bull lined up as Bella reloaded.
“He said, ‘Uncle Bob, what do you want me to do? He’s in my scope,’” Bella recalled. “I said take the shot.”
This time, the bull went down. Later, it was found to have two bullet holes.
It took the group several hours to get the moose off the mountain. It weighed 987 pounds and sported an antler spread of 52 1/2 inches.
“This was my last hurrah in Maine. I just mainly wanted a moose, and it ended up being a monster moose,” Bella said.
Bella grew up working on the dairy farm on Millvale Road owned by his uncle, Royce Smith, before heading off to attend the University of California. For 30 years, he worked for the CIA, where he hunted bad guys.
“I’ve been blessed, for a guy from Bucksport,” he said. “It wasn’t intentional to go out and get a monster bull. I was blessed by the Lord and I was fortunate enough to do it.”
Bella anticipates there could be some challenges finding a suitable place for the mounted moose head on the wall of their cottage on Hancock Pond in Bucksport, where he and his wife live about eight months of the year.
The wall, which is only 9 feet high, already features elk, deer and largemouth bass.
“I think I’ve got a wall high enough, but I’ll make room. He’ll get in there,” Bella said of the moose.
The couple spends winters in San Antonio, Texas.
Bella said he is almost ready to put down his rifle for good, now that he is almost 75. Before he does so, he’ll take one more hunting trip.
“I’m heading out Friday to hunt elk for the last time in Idaho and then I’m gonna hang up my guns and sit in Bucksport in my rocking chair,” Bella joked.
He plans to spend time traveling with Cathy, his wife of 46 years, who wants to see Paris and Rome.
“I said, ‘This is my last hunt. I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to going on tours with you, dear,’” Bella said.
But he’ll always remember his thrilling Maine moose hunt.
“It’s really a success story, an old senior who could still get it done,” Bella said.