Apologies to fans of this column (both of you!), which did not appear last week due to a scheduling error on my part. I was in the great North Woods (close to the former Quimby, now National Monument lands) hunting moose and forgot that there is neither electricity nor Internet in that part of the world. I was planning to write and send in my column from the hunting cabin but, alas, no such luck. We did get a moose, which we called in after many days of fruitless effort, and overall the hunt ended on a high note. Five coolers full of young bull moose is about as productive as such a hunt will get and none of us were disappointed as we headed home from our trip.
By the way, the powers that be are working full steam on the Katahdin Woods project. There are already nifty metal signs designating those lands as such and, sadly, there are also signs that prohibit hunting, trapping and snowmobiling on most of the roads we traveled. Such is the way of progress, I guess. Let’s hope tourists are satisfied with walking through 87,000 acres of woodlands with nothing to do but look!
While my focus was on moose it struck me that it is October. As we were leaving Sunday morning the parade of deer, bird and bear hunters increased dramatically. Our bunks were still warm when the new batch of sports rolled up ready to move in and begin their own adventures.
As we rode endless miles of backwoods logging trails I kept track of all the game we saw and was surprised at how few critters crossed our path. In total we saw more moose than grouse, plus one deer and two bobcats. The highlight of the week was a Canada lynx that strolled down the road in front of us for several hundred yards, oblivious to the LED light bar our guide had attached to his bumper. It was bright as day at 5 a.m. and the lynx showed no concern over the sudden flood of blue-white light.
In the area we hunted (Zone 5) moose sign was dominant with lots of tracks, raked trees and trails that meandered everywhere through the old choppings. We found a dozen moose tracks for every deer print we discovered, and though we spent long hours walking old skidder trails we did not jump a single deer – or bear, for that matter.
Theories were rampant back at camp each night, for the dozen hunters on hand had the same reports: Little sign, few moose, and no response to calls. We drove 28 miles back into the woods twice daily and did not see a single moose until Day Four, when, coming out after dark, the roads seemed littered with moose that did not know how or when to get out of our way. After that things began to pick up and, early Friday morning, we had our chance. By that point we were well versed in our roles (our guide did the calling, I was the spotter and our permittee did the shooting). At 7:31 a.m. our bull was on the ground and ready to be hauled out. We made quick work of the project thanks to a 4-wheeler and the fact that our moose fell flat in a convenient logging trail. Two hours later we were back in camp bragging about our guide and our fabulous hunting skills. (Actually a 10-year-old could do what we did – in fact two youngsters in camp got their bulls before we scored.)
It was interesting to me that we saw more spruce grouse (illegal to hunt) than we did ruffed grouse. For a few days all we saw were the protected birds. Our first sighting of a “legal” partridge came on Day Three, which could be discouraging news for uplanders expecting a thrilling week coming up. I’d say we drove about 200 miles between sightings, which is a long way on gravel roads that were often deeply rutted, some even flooded over by beaver ponds. In one spot the water was halfway up the tires, making for an exciting ride before dawn and after dark. There is a road under there somewhere but only our guide new where it was!
The weather was perfect for hunting with daytime highs in the 50s and nighttime temperatures below freezing. On the day we killed our moose it was 27 degrees and dead still with a fine rime of frost on the lowland vegetation, which is about what one might expect in northern Maine in October. Because we spent most of the day walking and calling I was perfectly comfortable in a long-sleeved T-shirt, but while sitting and calling I often needed to pull on a flannel shirt to ward off the wind-generated cold.
We were well equipped with bottled water, fruit and snacks so we were able to stay in the woods all day without having to come out for provisions, and except for one rainy day we ate our lunch while calling for moose far back in the woods.
It was interesting to me that while all of the logging trails off the main gravel road had moose sign on them it wasn’t constant or consistent. There would be a half-mile or more without tracks or battered alders and then suddenly sign would be everywhere – beds, lots of droppings an even a few shed antlers. Of course, we spent most of our time calling in the areas where sign was most abundant but over time we saw that there was very little new sign, just the same old tracks and rubs we had seen from the start. I took this to suggest that the bull moose were traveling cross-country in search of cows and were not going to be territorial about it. It was fun to see all the different evidence of moose in the rut, with trees and bushes 12 feet tall reduced to kindling by a randy bull. Some of their wallows, where the big animals dig in the mud and urinate to attract a cow, were quite pungent. We could smell them before we could see them.
All in all it was a great moose hunt. My apologies again for missing a column deadline – the second time in over 20 years!