Back in mid-June, in an event that my friends and I have been celebrating ever since, my name popped out of the cyber-hopper during the state’s annual moose lottery, and I became the proud owner of a genuine 2017 moose hunting permit.
And how does one celebrate winning a moose permit?
By planning the actual moose hunt, of course.
Our celebration began with a series of emails and phone calls, making sure that our designated moose-hunting party (which has combined on two other successful hunts over the past 11 years) was willing and able to embark upon another adventure.
For the most part, we were all perfectly willing and passably able to go on another memorable hunt.
That’s when the real work — scouting — began.
At least, that’s what we’ve been calling our monthly trips into the woods: “Real work.” And “scouting.”
Those who’ve told my sub-permittee, Chris Lander, and me that we’ve actually been doing nothing but riding around on dirt roads, talking, laughing and eating snacks, might also have an argument.
But this moose-scouting is complicated work. And it’s just got to be done. (Don’t hold it against us if we eat a lot of snacks and laugh a lot while we’re working so hard.)
Figure this: We’re not looking for moose on these trips. In fact, if we actually see moose in July or August, we’re not likely to find them in the same locales come October.
Confused. Let me explain: Picture those moose as … well … your chubbiest uncle. Come summer, where do you think you’ll find good ol’ Uncle Chub? That’s right: At the lake, cooling off.
And where do you think you’ll find that same uncle come October? That’s right: Sitting in front of the TV, watching football and eating like a fool.
That’s what the moose will do, too (well, except for the TV part. And the football part).
They’ll be eating (likely somewhere not all that close to the cool places they prefer in the summer).
So on three trips to the woods over the past three months, Chris and I have traveled roughly 700 miles, through places with odd names like Soldiertown Township and Tomhegan Township and Sandwich Academy Grant Township (the mere name makes me hungry), looking for one thing.
Sure, we’d love to see a big bruiser of a bull moose standing in the middle of the road. And sure, we’d stop and take photos if that happened. But seeing real, live moose wasn’t the goal.
Top secret note: This is what us moose-scouters tell each other when we’re not seeing moose and we decide that we’ve actually been looking for tasty vegetation for the past four hours.
Over our scouting missions, we have solved a lot of complicated problems. For instance, we have decided that during our October hunt, we will eat at least one meal of ribeye steaks, and another meal of Billy Lander’s fantastic chili.
We have talked about the merits of various butchers. We have even figured out exactly what is wrong with the Boston Red Sox, and decided that nobody will touch the New England Patriots this year.
We saw a fox, several broods of ruffed grouse and a rather large snapping turtle, and found ourselves in a couple of places where we didn’t feel particularly welcome.
The first was a narrow dirt road named “Go-A-Way.”
Not Go-A-Way Lane. Or Go-A-Way Avenue. Just Go-A-Way.
So we did.
On another excursion, we found a bunch of signs — including one announcing a major conservation easement that would allow permanent access to 360,000 acres for public access and recreational opportunities, while still serving the timber industry.
The sign was full of bullet holes.
I’m not sure what part of the equation the sign-shooting hooligans didn’t agree with — free, unfettered access forever, or the continuation of Maine’s history of forest industry jobs.
Either way, the vandalism was disappointing.
One day, while we stopped to consult our DeLorme’s Gazetteers and plan our next foray onto a tiny spur road, a pair of ATV riders whizzed past us, traveling fast, and driving side-by-side on a road where ATVs aren’t allowed.
The riders spun around, looking for our help, then dismissed us when they saw our maps.
“Oh. You’re lost, too,” one rider said.
We weren’t, and we told him so.
“In that case,” he said, somewhat sheepishly, “Can you tell us if this road goes to Rockwood?”
Neither, apparently, had a map, nor a clue where they were. We set them on the right course, and continued on our journey.
Eventually — on our third trip into the woods — we were able to coerce our pal Pete Warner into joining us.
Pete has a knack for finding wild animals, and we figured if anything could put us closer to the moose that we swore we weren’t really looking for, it would be our buddy’s karma.
At about noon on an August day when all of the moose should have been wallowing around in the local lake (along with good old Uncle Chub), we rounded a corner on a road all of us had agreed felt very moose-y.
Two cow moose greeted us, trotted away, then stopped to pose for a few photos.
Rewarded at last, the three of us marked the spot on our maps and vowed to check back in a couple of months.
Not that we were really looking for actual moose, of course.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke