Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Moose

I was a bow hunter until I was almost twenty-three years old.  Since I couldn’t own a rifle until my twenty-first birthday (Texas laws at that time), and since I didn’t have an adult over twenty-one to hunt with me, I was restricted to using a bow.  But I didn’t mind.  I was considered to be good with a bow, and after I turned twenty-one and purchased my first rifle, I had the privilege of hunting in two separate seasons.  But I gave up bow hunting after an incident with some wild javalina in west Texas.

Before I retired my bow I managed to take several deer, one elk, one black bear, a bighorn sheep, who knows how many rabbits, squirrels, and other critters including fish, but the one I remember most was the moose.  I had been hoping to make this trip happen for a long time, but I had to wait on two events to come about before I could actually do it.  First I had to turn twenty-one, and second I had to be drawn for a tag.  Both occurred in the same year.

I sent in my out of state application along with my license fee and a few other fees the state of Idaho required many months before my birthday, and since I was to turn twenty-one before the start of moose season, there was no automatic rejection.  By the time the drawing was finally held, I had forgotten about it.  When the tags came in the mail I was completely surprised.

There were still a few months of waiting before the hunt could proceed, but there was also much to do.  First of all there was my job.  I had to arrange for the hunt to coincide with a business trip to the area so to minimize my use of vacation time.  Then I had to study the designated hunt area.

When I looked at the topo map of the area north and east of Coeur d’Alene where I was to hunt, I realized that it wasn’t flat land.  I was by no means out of shape at that time in my life, but I did not spend much time in the mountains where the air is a bit thinner than what I was used to.  So I started training.

The first thing was to arrange my business trips so I would have at least two free days each week to spend hiking.  If the cities I visited were in or near the mountains, so much the better.  I had an office in Denver, so this was a convenient place to be for access to the mountains, but I also had offices in New York City, Dallas, and Chicago.  So I started taking the stairs instead of the elevators.  I placed a backpack in each office, and except for Denver, I filled the packs with bricks.  I did get a few strange looks as I walked the city streets in a business suit and hiking boots while wearing a heavy backpack.  I didn’t care.

Many cities in the west were near enough to some mountains to provide a hiking or backpacking workout, and in the east are plenty of great rugged areas also.  And I made certain I was rarely far from one of these areas.  By the end of the summer I was in the best shape of my life.

Normally I would fly from city to city and rent a vehicle when I arrived, but I was also free to drive between cities if I so chose.  My home was in Fort Worth, and when I was there in August, I decided to drive my car to Denver and leave it there for a few days as I continued my travels by plane.  About two weeks later I drove from Denver to Salt Lake City, and my car stayed there a week or so.  By the middle of September, I had my car in Spokane and it was time to go hunting.  I drove to Coeur d’Alene and made it my base of operations, and then the next morning I drove into the mountains to find a campground.

I had never hunted moose before, nor did I know anyone who had done so.  I wasn’t opposed to using a guide, but I wanted to do this myself.  I had studied moose habitat and sort of understood that moose are where you find them.  The most likely places would be near a lake, pond, or river, but could also be just about anywhere else.  In other words, I didn’t know what I was doing.

The first three days of hunting would have been great if I had been hunting deer, bear, or elk, but I wasn’t.  I was hunting moose.  The weather was clear, the days were comfortable, and the nights were cold, and there wasn’t a moose to be found.  I hiked back to my car, and then drove back to Coeur d’Alene for a hot shower and a good cooked meal.

Just to break up the trip, I stopped into the company store in the city and visited with the store manager.  It wasn’t an official visit; I was just spending some time with a friend.  We talked about moose, needless to say, and he had a few tips.  The first was give up.  The second was to set my bow on the ground and walk about thirty yards away from it.  Third was to take a nap.  In every case a moose was certain to show up.  Thanks a lot.

The next morning I was already a few miles into the mountains when the sun came up.  My car was in a campground where I had staked a claim on an empty spot, and I was not going back to Coeur d’Alene until either I had a moose, or Sunday evening showed up.  I had two more days.

By noontime, I was already working my way back to the campground and had only a mile or so to go.  I came upon a small pond where I leaned my bow against a tree, took off my pack, and pulled out a sandwich.  The day was beautiful and warm, and I was just starting to think about quitting this hunt and going back to work.  Well I finished the sandwich, leaned back against a tree and fell asleep.

I began dreaming about the beauty of these mountains, the flowing waters I had crossed, the deer and elk I had seen, and the snorting.  Snorting?  I opened my eyes, and there was a moose.  It was just as my friend had said, give up, set down the bow, and take a nap.  I looked around for my bow and spotted it leaning against a tree about ten feet away.  Could I reach it without the moose seeing me?  Not a chance.

I eased an arrow from the quiver I had on my hip, jumped up and ran to the bow, fitted the arrow, drew back, and released.  All the while the moose was just watching.  The arrow disappeared into the chest of the moose; the moose looked down, then over at me, and then it turned and ran away.

I followed that moose about four miles before finding where it had fallen.  And it wasn’t before that moment that I realized just how big it was and how big a task it would be to get it out of there.  The four miles the moose had run was all downhill directly away from the campground where my car was.  What to do?

I decided to tag the moose, and leave a note for any passing bears that this belonged to me, and I would be back tomorrow to collect it.  I always carried some bright cloth or rope with me, so I used it to mark a trail as I worked my way back to my car.  At the campground, I loaded everything into the car and drove back to Coeur d’Alene.  It was almost dark when I checked into a motel for the night, but by seven the next morning I was at a stable ready to rent a horse.

I’m glad the old wrangler running the stable had seen this before.  One horse wasn’t enough, and one person wasn’t enough.  He was going with me.  We would take his truck and trailer with four mules.  All he would charge me was an arm and a leg.  At least he would use the moose’s arm and leg as payment.

By noon we were standing by the moose, and thankfully it hadn’t been disturbed.  The night was near freezing, and the moose had not begun to spoil.  It took both of us to gut it and quarter it.  The wrangler asked for the head to mount as a trophy, and I didn’t hesitate to give it to him.  It took all four mules to pack that beast out of there.  Back in the city, we drove straight to a butcher shop that prepared the meat for us.  I presented the tag and antlers to the Department of Fish and Game, filled out the required paperwork, and took the head back to the wrangler. 

All of this took a bit of time, and it was Tuesday afternoon before everything was completed.  I had allowed myself plenty of vacation time for the hunt, but I was hoping to have two or three days left over for some fishing.  As it was I needed to be back on the job in Spokane by Thursday, and the fishing would just have to wait for another time.

The butcher shipped the meat to my home in Texas where for months I either ate or gave away moose meat.  I was glad when it was gone, but I still wanted to go fishing in the area.  By the following summer I had my chance.

When I arrived back in Coeur d’Alene I had my fishing rod ready to go.  I took care of company business the first day I was there, and the following morning I was leaving town for the mountains.  On the way out of town, I passed by the stable where the wrangler was standing out front throwing a rope at a post.  I stopped in.  When I got out of the car, he recognized me and dragged me into his “office” to see the moose head he had mounted on the wall.  Somehow it seemed even bigger than when it was still on the moose.  Then he hung a closed sign on his door, grabbed his fishing pole, and we went fishing. 

I don’t think the old wrangler ever told me his name, but we shared a good time fishing and swapping stories that day.  I didn’t get back to Coeur d’Alene for another year, and when I did, the old man had passed on.  When I went into the stable to find him, the new wrangler gave me the news, and I was saddened by it.  I pointed up to the moose head and mentioned that he and I had pulled that moose out of the mountains almost two years ago.  The new wrangler said he had heard the story a hundred times.  That moose head had been the old man’s most prized possession.

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