For 33 years, Maine’s moose hunt participants have been determined at a popular lottery. After that, celebration … Or disappointment.
You don’t win a permit, you don’t hunt.
Or do you?
My buddies and I got tired of waiting. We missed hunting camp. Wool jackets hung on nails … cutthroat games of cribbage … lonely roads and calling moose. Listening to Red Sox playoff games on a hit-or-miss AM radio. And we missed the food. Especially the food.
So nearly every year, we go moose hunting. Sometimes we get a permit. Sometimes, we don’t.
And when we don’t?
Well, that’s how our Almost Annual Catch-and-Release moose hunts began.
Late last week, and through the weekend, Chris Lander of Orrington, Pete Warner of Bangor (a co-worker here at the BDN), Bill Lander of Dedham and Chris’s father-in-law, Earle Hannigan, spent some time at Hannigan’s Brassua Lake camp.
And we were hunting.
Some would call trips like this photo safaris — no moose were harmed during our adventure, after all. But we’re hunters. And fishermen. So catch-and-release seemed to make sense. Plus, I think people on safaris wear pith helmets. And I don’t have one.
We take shotguns on these hunts, which we stage during a lull between actual moose seasons. If we see a grouse, we might shoot it. Or shoot at it.
This year was a particularly good one for birds; on past hunts, we’d seen as many moose as birds. This year, a couple dozen birds took part in our adventure (though very few were actually shot).
That, of course, is a bonus. We’re moose hunting on these trips, let’s remember.
On this year’s trip, our goal was to find a moose for Hannigan, who said he’d never heard the burly critters actually converse with people trying to call them.
“They’ll talk to us,” we told him. “No doubt about it.”
Except there was. Doubt, that is.
For a day and a half, we checked likely spots, set up our cameras, and called to the moose. One or two may have answered … though it was windy, and the responses (if they existed) were distant, at best.
Hannigan headed home moose-less on Friday afternoon. Chris and I were discouraged.
On the bright side, Hannigan had seemed to be the lucky charm when it came to finding grouse. The veteran bird hunter told us where to go (not a first for Chris nor I), and we listened (which has not always been the case).
We found enough birds to keep us occupied between fruitless episodes of moose calling and the epic meals we consumed to dampen our discouragement.
As often happens, the moose showed up the next morning, in the exact clearing we’d taken Earle the morning before.
I set up a camera. Chris called. The moose never responded … but he emerged silently from the woods in the exact spot I had aimed the camera.
For five minutes or so, we watched the lovesick moose; His ears stood upright. He was decidedly unhappy that a pretty female moose had not been the source of our amorous calls.
Eventually, after an extended stare-down, he’d had enough, and walked back into the forest.
Just as we’d hoped.
Catch … and release.