ASHLAND, Maine — Joyce Murray of Naples got a bit of a late start in the hunting game.
It wasn’t until her husband’s hunting companions began to age out of the sport a decade ago that she considered joining Jim Murray on his forays into the woods.
Sharing all of life’s experiences is something the couple has mastered during their 59 years of marriage. On Monday morning, they were side by side in Aroostook County on the first day of the 2023 Maine moose hunt.
It was their fourth moose hunt together in the last eight years. This time, it was Joyce Murray’s turn and the 75-year-old made her shot count, harvesting a 780-pound bull moose with a 43-inch antler spread.
The Murrays were all smiles as they stood beside the scale at the Gateway Trading Post to have the animal registered, weighed and measured.
“I’m 79 so I need some help,” Jim Murray said of encouraging Joyce to get involved in hunting several years ago.
“So he got me into hunting,” said Joyce Murray, who also is a deer hunter deer. “I’m his partner.”
The Murrays headed out early Monday to a spot they had scouted previously, but other hunters had beat them to it. They moved to another area and got out of the truck.
Their friend, Skip Blood, took care of the calling duties. They didn’t get very far.
“He [Blood] started blowing and scraping and you could hear it start coming,” said Jim Murray, who was the permit holder.
The party quickly hunkered down, with subpermittee Joyce Murray sitting down on a small chair she had brought along.
When the moose appeared, 30 yards away, they were both ready to shoot.
“She took it down with one shot,” Jim Murray said proudly.
It was 6:24 a.m. and their hunt was over.
Even though it was barely 9 a.m., things were just beginning to get busy for tagging station workers Linda Milligan and Hannah Faloon, who were tasked with charting the moose’s weight and antler spread and removing a tooth to be submitted for aging.
As of 3:30 p.m., 30 moose had been tagged at Gateway Trading Post. That’s up from the 19 animals registered on opening day last year.
Overnight temperatures in the region dipped into the lower 40s, which should have been helpful in promoting normal moose activity. Even at 1 p.m. Monday, the temperature was a reasonable 59 degrees.
Several hunters had the body cavity of their moose filled with ice to help cool them down for the trip to their meat processor of choice. One hunting party from Massachusetts quartered their moose and stored it in the covered bed of their pickup truck to promote cooling.
It was a successful and speedy end to the hunt of Mark Hamilton of Benton, who has been applying to the moose lottery for years.
“This is my first time ever getting a permit,” Hamilton said. “I skipped a year or two, but I think I had 22 bonus points.”
He admitted that he has only applied for a bull tag and listed only a handful of Wildlife Management Districts, which would have lessened his chances of getting a permit.
Hamilton and his party did some calling in the minutes leading up to legal shooting time at 5:56 a.m. but didn’t have great visibility initially. After some light calling, raking on bushes and bull grunts, a bull began responding with grunts and raking.
The bull showed itself at approximately 120 yards and had two other moose, including at least one cow, with it. Hamilton shot a bull weighing 801 pounds with a 43-inch antler spread.
“This is our third time in this zone, we snowmobile up here, so we’re no strangers to the area,” said Hamilton, who was accompanied by subpermittee Alex Audette of Winthrop and friend Brandon Johnston of Oakland.
With the hunt over quickly, Hamilton is looking forward to enjoying the rewards of a successful Monday hunt.
“We’re going to kick back and relax,” he said.
Michael Vollmer of Mount Desert had trouble believing he and his crew were standing at the tagging station at 10:20 on Monday morning.
The group, including his father and subpermittee John Vollmer, had been in the area for four days and hadn’t laid eyes on a single moose during their scouting trips.
But on Monday morning, there was a bull standing in the middle of the road. Like many hunters, he thought briefly about whether to hold out for a bigger bull, but took the shot.
“I’ve got a family now, so it was all about the meat,” said Vollmer, whose moose weighed 586 pounds and sported a 25-inch antler spread.
The harvest didn’t come without at least one casualty, though. When he pulled the truck up to get the moose loaded, it had a flat tire.
“So I’m gutting the moose out while he [John Vollmer] is changing the tire on the truck,” he said.
Vollmer has learned through the years that going on a moose hunt is all about the experience and the people you spend it with.
“It’s never the size of the moose you remember,” Vollmer said. “It’s about friends, family, the meat.”
The first bull-only week continues through Saturday in several WMDs across northern Maine.