January 19, 2015
Moose hunting in Maine is a little know secret to most in the Hunting world. When most think of Moose Hunting, they think about destinations such as Alaska, The Yukon or maybe Quebec. The little know secret is that Maine has the highest density of Moose per square mile than anywhere in North America. The quality of Moose Maine produces is World class with several bulls taken every year that make the record books. In Maine’s antler record book there is a set of shed antlers that would be the World record Canadian Moose if that Moose had been taken by a Hunter. That, being said, you would think hunters would be flocking to Maine to Moose hunt. The reason they don’t and why most hunters have never heard about Maine’s Moose hunt is that the permits are limited and are issued through a lottery system. Typically there are about 2500 bull permits issued and about 45,000 hunters apply for them. Non-residents receive 10% of the permits and are in a separate drawing.
I have been apply faithfully every year since the hunt started in the early eighties and finally lady luck caught up me in 2013. I know other resident hunters who have been drawn 3 or 4 times and have guided many non-resident hunters who were drawn on their first attempt. I always knew the law of averages would catch up to me but I didn’t think it would take as long as it did. Not only was I lucky enough to draw a tag, but it was in my first choice of zones and the season I wanted. I had a lot of decisions to make as I knew that this might be the only time I would draw a tag. Being an Outfitter I knew we would book other hunters for this zone. My first decision was to whether to guide a hunter first and then hunt when I got him a bull. I knew one of my other guides could take my client if they got a bull for their first so I decided to do it.
I wanted this hunt to be special and different so I decided I would do a float trip on a river. Typically we Moose hunt old cutting back in where roads are mostly impassable and call. I also knew we would film my hunt for a Television show. I would need to take along two Cameramen to capture the hunt on film. One would be my longtime friend and Business partner Chris Dalti. Another decision would be what gun to use. I settled on the Marlin Guide Gun in 45-70 knowing it would be reliable and have the knockdown power for a heavy bodied Moose. I also thought it was fitting for a Guide to be using the Guide Gun! My bullet choice would be the Barnes VOR-TX 300 gr. The season was the last week in September so I knew the outcome depended a lot on the weather. I have seen years where there was frost in the mornings and cool days for the hunt, making ideal conditions and I have also experienced seasons when the temperatures were in the 70’s making Moose hunting very difficult. Moose are dark colored and they are approaching a winter coat by this time of year, making them overheat on warm days. In those conditions the Moose move at night and lay around in the damp bogs where it is cool during the day.
As it turned out the hunting conditions were somewhere in the middle. The rut was just kicking in and I figured the hunting would get better as the week went on. We had 4 clients in camp and mine was a young guy named Ryan from Maine. I guided him for two days and could not show him a Bull. I thought I was snake bit and handed him off to another guide so I could start my hunt. Wednesday morning I headed for the St. John River with Cameramen Chris and Jason to begin the float hunt I had planned. We Loaded up the Old Town Canoes and began the 2 day journey with our Carlisle paddles dipping the water shortly after daylight. It didn’t take me long to realize that the sound of the water riffling over the rocks was going to make calling difficult. The first nine miles was uneventful and Moose tracks were in short supply along the river. I was beginning to realize this might not have been the best way to hunt. Another problem was the with the river bank being so high seeing into the woods was impossible. I finally spotted a couple of Moose rubs around noon time, and decided we better investigate. We pulled to shore and walked up the river bank and discovered a really great spot with lots of Moose sign. We ate some lunch and struck off to investigate the area.
We hunted a big circle around the area, stopping to Cow call periodically and within a half hour a Bull was grunting back. With a few soft Cow calls I had the 35” bull within 20 feet. We let this young Bull go on his way and continued to circle and call. A couple of hours later, as the day turned to evening, another Bull answered my call. This Bull was close and he came in fast grunting all the way. I knew things were going to happen in a hurry so I got ready for him to step out of the brush. This is always the most exciting part of moose hunting. The anticipation of what the bull might look like. As this Bull broke into view through the brush at twenty yards, I could see that he had about a 50” spread. He had pretty good brows but was slim on the palms, so I let him go on his way as I still had three days left to hunt. It was getting late so we decided to camp where we were and try again in the morning. We boiled some water for our Mountain House meals and crawled into our sleeping bags under the canoes for a night’s sleep.
After a quick breakfast before daylight the next morning, we headed back in to see if we could call in the right Bull. Despite all the sign around we couldn’t get a response from a bull. We moved in on a cow that was bellowing, thinking that there must be a Bull with her, no such luck this time.
With a lot river cover by the end of the day, we had to get back to paddling. We caught a glimpse of a Bull when he grunted from an island as we paddled by it at mid day, but after trying for an hour to get another look at him in the tangle of alders and vines; we decided to keep moving so we could make it to the truck by nightfall. The rest of the days float turned out to be uneventful. We made it off the river and back to camp Thursday night as we had planned. It was a fun float hunt but I learned it was not the most productive way to hunt Moose. At least not on the stretch of river we were on as it was difficult to call as the running water made it impossible here a response.
Now it was getting down to the wire with 2 days to hunt, so it was time to make something happen. All the hunters in camp had filled there tags with nice Bulls so I was the last Man standing. Friday morning dawned cool with no wind, making it a great chance to call. At the end of the first winter road we called our way down, I got 2 bulls to respond, but could not get them to show themselves. On the next road we had the same result. There were plenty of Bulls talking but I couldn’t pull one out of the swamps. I’ve learned over the twenty years that I’ve been Guiding Moose Hunters, that when there are a lot of bulls in one area they are more nervous to step out in the open. They have a fear of being confronted by a bigger bull and do not want to be caught by one. Friday ended with no Bull and now things were really getting down to the wire. Talk about pressure on me, I had 2 cameramen relying on me to make the TV show. Not to mention everyone expects that it’s not a problem for me to shoot a big Bull as I have guided so many Clients to theirs, and everyone is tagged out but me!
Saturday morning’s weather was a carbon copy of Friday and my plan was to hunt a remote winter road about five miles long. One of my guides, Chuck, wanted to come along and with us and it’s always good to have an extra hand when dealing with a Bull on the ground. Within a half hour we saw a small bull in a black spruce swamp. Not too far from where we spotted the small Bull, another Bull began to challenge bark, so I knew there were two Bulls up ahead. As we moved closer, I saw steam rising in the spruces. I knew it had to be from one of the bulls that had been standing there. I gave a drawn out Cow call and immediately got a response grunt. Just then, another Bull grunted right in front of us. Both of these Bulls were coming toward us and then a third Bull began to grunt a few hundred yards to the right of us. When the third Bull grunted the other two bulls went quiet. I tried my best to get the third Bull to step into the open, but once again he just drifted off deeper into the spruce swamp. I was beginning to think I’d lost it as a moose caller after 20 years. We had already joked amongst ourselves that we were team Snakebite as everything we did seemed to turn out wrong. I knew I had to change things up to make something happen. There were three Bulls on one side of us with a Cow calling in the distance. I told the guy’s we were going in after one.
We headed into the spruce bog and I dragged my shoulder blade in the brush to imitate another bull walking around. I was in hopes of locating the Cow we had heard as there should be a good Bull with her. We were few hundred yards into the bog when a Bull grunted to our right. I grunted back and he started coming. Thirty yards out the Bull stopped out of sight. He only needed to take 2 steps to be in the open but he turned and shuffled off. I knew our wind was right but realized that the bull had crossed the path where we walked in and smelled us in the brush. Team Snakebite strikes again! I continued toward the Cow but soon came to a thick alder run. It was 9:30 so I told the guy’s we would have a sandwich and try a Cow call again. As we ate our sandwich I periodically Cow called but had no luck getting a Bull to respond.
|The Recovered 300-grain Barnes TSX FN|
The sun was getting higher and the temperature was rising so I knew I had to keep trying before the Bulls settled down for the day. I moved along the alder run dragging my blade again and within a couple hundred yards had a Bull grunt in front of us. I grunted back and tickled the brush with the blade. He began to circle to the left but I knew we had the wind in our favor. He grunted back again and then another Bull grunted to our left. I gave a few more grunts and the first Bull started racking the brush. I knew this old boy was going to come now. After a few more grunts from me he started straight for us. Soon I saw him coming through the brush at about fifty yards. The Bull didn’t appear to have very big antlers and I was a little discouraged. I had a hundred thoughts going through my mind, but my main thought was that it was Saturday and if this is the bull God brought to me, then he was the one I was going to shoot.
At thirty yards the Bull turned broadside and walked behind some short spruces. There were only two openings he would to cross so I had to be ready. As he entered the first one I couldn’t believe I was looking at the same bull. His palms were high with long points curling ahead. I instantly pulled the Marlin Guide gun up but when I looked through the Nikon scope it was a total glare from the morning sun. Now I had one more opening as he approached it I desperately tried to get my eye to see through the scope. As the bull hit the opening I could still barely see through the scope but it was enough to get the crosshair behind his shoulder and shoot as he turned behind the next spruce. At the roar of the Guide gun sending the Barnes VOR-TX 300 gr. bullet the bull shuffled off around the patch of spruce and all went quiet. I told the guy’s not to move and we listened, I could hear the Bull breathing and the antler tickle some brush before all went silent. I eased around the corner and my Bull was lying dead in the sweet fern brush as the dew glistened in the late morning sun.
He was a beautiful old Bull and all I could ask for. After our celebration and photo session, we be began the chore of skinning and packing the Bull out. This was the hunt of a lifetime and I was grateful to be able to share it with good friends. He is going to provide us as well as family and friends with meat for the table while I wait for his head to return from the taxidermist.
Hal is the Technical Outdoor Social Media Specialist for Remington Arms Company.