Killing the moose was the easiest part of the hunt

2015 huntAt moose/deer/and grouse camp, it all starts with breakfast, the eggs and bacon sizzling, the stories flying, the laughing and (sometimes) lying going on and on. But then, it’s time to get serious and hit the road. At moose camp in October, we had to leave the camp at 4:30 am for an hour and a half ride to the hunting district to our north where Scott Ireland had won a permit in the June lottery. Scott’s friend Greg James was his subpermittee.

We were upta camp in Northeast Carry with Ed and Mike Pineau and their Uncle Lester, who we call the Doctor of Deer. Boy, you should hear Uncle Lester’s hunting stories! The Pineau’s camp sits right on the shore of Moosehead Lake, with millions acres of the North Maine Woods in their backyard. In other words, hunting heaven. Well, heaven on this trip turned, briefly, into hunting hell. But before we get to the hunt in which I participated, let’s go back a couple of weeks to the Pineau’s September hunt.

The Bog

Norm Pineau had the moose permit for the September hunt and Ed was his subpermittee. Cousin Mike Pineau was along to help. And boy, was that a good thing. Uncle Lester, Ray Pineau, and Paul Jacques didn’t go with them that day because it was raining. Well, it was actually the deluge we endured the last day of September.

They drove up to their designated hunting zone, and by 9 am, they’d spotted a nice bull down in a chopping. Ed and Norm shot at the beast and it ran back down through the chopping and into a bog. And the fun was over. The dream of shooting a nice bull moose turned into the nightmare of trying to haul that big critter out of the bog and up the hill through deep ruts left by a skidder, lots of downed trees, and thick brush.

They hooked up the ropes, linked to two trucks on the road, and hiked all the way down into the bog to the moose. Boy, it was a brute, and it was a long way up to the road. At 4:15 pm, after the rope had snapped three times, and hours of poking and prodding the bull up and over every obstacle, the bull was finally nearing the rod. On one haul, the truck was actually yanked off the road while the trailer flipped upside down. It took quite a while to straighten that out!

They arrived Raymond’s store about 5:30 pm, where the bull registered 700 pounds. They will swear, foreverafter, that down in that bog, it was at least 7000 pounds. But they were also pleased that they got it out of the bog, happy with the size of the bull, and confident that they’d never again suffer through such a difficult hunting task. Little did they know.

The Bog (Again)

We arrived at our starting point about 20 minutes before legal shooting time and waited the 20 minutes for our October moose hunt to begin. Mike and I rode in the Moose Rider, a contraption constructed by Paul Jacques, a long-time champion of Maine sportsman and one-time legislative leader, who has a camp just down the road from the Pineaus. The Rider, which is mounted on the bed of the truck, sported two very nice chairs which Mike and I quickly settled into, expecting to ride up there all day as the truck proceeded very slowly up the roads, searching for moose.

2015 hunt Scott IrelandWe’d been motoring only about 15 minutes as we approached the spot where the Pineaus had experienced their moose nightmare in September. Mike was pointing to the place where his truck slid off the road and the trailer flipped over, when he said, “Wait, there’s a moose!”

Actually, there were three moose off to our left in nearly the exact spot where the September moose had stood. Later, I would say that those three bulls were standing there, still laughing about the Pineau’s September nightmare.

The biggest bull was broadside, standing there looking at us, so Mike quickly pulled the rope that draped down over the windshield and signaled to Scott, who was driving the truck, that we’d seen a moose. Scott stopped, jumped out, and quickly loaded his rifle and mounted it on a tripod. But from the ground, he couldn’t see the moose!

He shifted slightly to the left and spotted all three moose, but they had started to move away from us and were lined up in a row. Scott feared he would shoot more than one, so he waited. Eventually the biggest bull moved to the right giving Scott a clear shot. And he fired.

Just before he fired, Mike was on the radio to Ed and Lester, who had stayed back at the bottom of the hill in Ed’s truck. “You won’t believe this,” said Mike, “but there are moose in the exact same spot.”  By the time Ed and Lester pulled up to our truck, Scott and Greg were headed down through the chopping to look for Scott’s moose. It took a few minutes but when we heard him holler, we knew the moose was down. It had gone only about 15 feet, dropping in a thicket.

And that’s when the nightmare began. We would have never guessed that it would take 7 long and tedious hours to get that bull up to the road. Ten times, it got hung up and the rope broke, often snapping so loudly it sounded like an explosion. We all stood well away from the rope, so as not to get injured. At one point, the rope broke in two places at once, and the top half of the rope flew up the road and right past Lester and I. We’d actually been standing in that spot, until Lester moved to the side of the road to sit, and I joined him. Otherwise that rope would have knocked us down.

2015 hunt at campDespite the difficulties, Mike, who was in charge and well-experienced, never got discouraged, simply repairing the rope and trying again. Scott and Greg stayed down in the chopping with the moose, and did what they could to keep it moving. Eventually Ed wandered down into the chopping and sawed down a small tree that we would use to leverage the moose up and over the deep ruts. The chopping was full of downed trees, thick brush, deep ruts, and piles of dirt. As the afternoon arrived, it was getting hot, and we discussed various alternatives, finally deciding to double up the rope and use a come-along to ease the moose forward in the toughest spots. We also kept using Ed’s leveraging tree trunk.

2015 hunt Ed's bootsEventually we got the moose to a place and position where Scott could clean it out and that really helped, removing a lot of weight and slimming the bull down. And finally, seven hours after we’d started, the moose began to slide quickly up through the thicket. When it arrived on the road, I cheered. But there was still plenty of work to be done, including a final cleaning of the moose, and loading it onto the trailer, then driving all the way back to Raymond’s Store to register and weigh it.

The bull weighed 775 pounds with a 43 inch antler spread. A very nice bull. And an even better story – a story that gets better with each telling. Not that any of us would ever want to repeat that experience!

For the next few days, we all hunted grouse, which were scarce this year. Didn’t matter. We drove and walked the highlands, enjoying magnificent views and the colorful foliage, had great meals prepared by Chef Ed Pineau, and continued swapping stories, and a few tall tales, all with quite a bit of ribbing. And yes, I got my share of that! Especially the day I missed shots at three grouse, one of them twice.

13 Shots

On Day Three at Raymond’s Store in Northeast Carry, where I stopped to get gas, Paul Jacques was registering and weighing the moose, while Ed Raymond recovered from leg surgery. Paul has a camp just a quarter mile down the road from the Pineaus.

As I exited the store, a half dozen guys from southern Maine drove in, in two vehicles, towing a big moose. The antlers sported a 51 inch spread and the bull weighed 829 pounds. Impressive. And they had sort of nightmarish story, with a good ending.

On October 13, they had taken 13 shots at the bull, which had 13 points. But it was late in the day and the bull trotted down into a thick bog. They hunted for it well into the darkness, finally giving up. The next morning they scoured the area, which was quite a ways back from the road, anticipating a long haul and tough job getting the bull out of there. But they couldn’t find it.

Discouraged, they walked back towards their vehicle, still searching, and were ecstatic when they found the bull just 25 yards from the road. Judging from our experience, I knew this was very good news indeed!

Postscript: On my way home from the Northeast Carry hunt, just a few miles from pavement, driving up Silas Hill I punctured a tire. Fortunately it was a very slow leak and I was able to make it to Greenville where I pulled in to Porter’s Garage and asked if they could fix the tire for me. They were very busy but said they would, and almost immediately had me drive the Subaru into the garage. I expected a long wait, so I crossed the street and purchased a Bangor Daily News to read. After returning to the garage waiting room, I’d only read one story when I was told the tire was fixed and I was ready to roll. It took just 15 minutes and the charge was just $15. If you are anywhere near Greenville and need service for your vehicle, I can highly recommend Porter’s Garage. It’s worth stopping by just to see all the photos hanging on the wall of family members and friends hunting and fishing!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.