It’s a moose hunt to remember

By Pete Warner

TAUNTON AND RAYNHAM ACADEMY GRANT, Maine — Chris Lander has heard the talk. There seem to be fewer moose in Maine, and they’re harder to find close to well-traveled logging roads.

While there’s no denying that luck can play an important part in a successful moose hunt, there’s no substitute for preparation. 

The Orrington hunter wasn’t about to leave anything to chance, because you never know when, or if, you’ll get another opportunity.

After he was drawn for a permit in June, Chris began making trips to Wildlife Management District 8, near Jackman, in search of promising moose habitat. 

Photo courtesy of Pete Warner
BULL MOOSE — Moose hunters Chris Lander of Orrington, left, and Bill Lander of Dedham pose with the 731-pound bull moose they shot on Oct. 9 near Rockwood.

He knew most of the roads and much of the landscape after several moose and bird hunting trips to the region, but he didn’t settle.

Chris made eight scouting trips, including some with his brother and subpermittee, Bill Lander of Dedham, who made four visits himself. As a result, they had a particular chopping picked out as their target hunting spot.

Rob Hannigan again graciously allowed the party to stay at his camp on Brassua Lake. His generosity gave the group a comfortable and convenient base of operations, building on the hunting tradition established there by the likes of Earle Hannigan, Robert Hannigan Sr. and Robert Hannigan Jr.

When our group — which included the Lander brothers, former Bangor Daily News Outdoors columnist John Holyoke and former BDN Outdoors Editor Pete Warner — arrived on Oct. 7, we unloaded, grabbed a sandwich and hit the road.

Revisiting a particular cut that Chris had come upon last summer produced excitement. Not only were there ample moose munchies, but a 200-yard walk into the chopping revealed unexpectedly good visibility and fresh tracks.

The plan had changed.

We returned Sunday and erected a ground blind up against a group of small trees. We found more new tracks. Billy and Chris exhibited an unprecedented level of confidence and we all felt great about the location and the setup.

We arrived early on Monday, well before legal shooting time. Our only fear was that another group might also have selected the location and would beat us there. We had the place to ourselves.

After a dark, quiet and cautious walk along a skidder path into the cut, Chris and Billy deployed “Beth” the cow decoy, hung some scent, set out the speaker for the Cocall electronic call, and hunkered down.

We sat and watched silently, allowing the scene to settle down while waiting for dawn to arrive. It was a comfortable 46 degrees. A wispy layer of fog began dissipating as the sun made its way to crest the horizon.

It wasn’t until just before sunrise that Chris started calling. The Cocall speaker resonated beautifully, sending the cow estrus moan quickly downrange to the treeline and back with an emphatic echo. 

We looked at each other and nodded in collective approval. If there was a bull in the area, it almost certainly would come to investigate. We leaned forward in our chairs (I was on a bucket) in anticipation of a guttural grunt.

We were treated instead to the sounds of hungry, grumbling bellies. No grunt ever came.

Periodically, Chris used the remote control, causing the call to bellow. It took only a half hour for the action to begin.

“I’ve got movement,” Chris said, looking off to our right through a narrow opening in the window flap.

We all shifted in our chairs, hoping to catch a glimpse. It couldn’t have been 10 seconds before Chris said the magic words.

“It’s a bull,” he whispered as the moose appeared without a sound, as if out of nowhere.

Chris carefully peeled open the curtain while Billy rose and tried to establish a viewing position in a window on the other side of the blind. 

The moose, walking some 85 yards away, pulled up behind a strip of small trees and bushes that separated two rutted, muddy skidder paths.

With limited daylight, all we could see was the left palm of the antlers and part of the head. Neither hunter had a shot. 

Billy and Chris waited as the bull stood its ground, seemingly aware that something was afoot. But with the wind at its back and everyone concealed, it couldn’t solve the mystery.

At Billy’s urging, Chris sent out another cow call sequence, which caused the moose to resume walking. When it finally presented a clearer broadside shot, Chris squeezed the trigger, piercing a hole in the morning silence. The bull ran forward several strides, then turned back to the left and went down.

The hunters waited briefly before exiting the blind. They approached the moose cautiously and discovered that it was still alive. When the bull unexpectedly sprang to its feet, Billy and Chris both fired. It was over.

A muted celebration consisted of fist bumps and hugs. With a surprisingly strong cell phone signal available, Chris and Billy immediately called their brother Tim to share the good news.

John won the informal competition guessing the day and time of the expected event, missing by only a few minutes.

We took lots of photos to commemorate the feat before the moment of truth arrived: the extraction. The task was made much easier because Chris had recently purchased a Honda Capstan winch to lighten the load on our aging group. 

The gas-powered device uses a small-diameter rope which, wrapped around a spindle, allowed us to slide the bull — positioned about two-thirds of the way into a Jet Sled XL — slowly to the road.

Billy and I stood at the head, frequently lifting the antlers to get the sled over stumps, rocks and slash. We were blessed that temperatures remained in the upper 40s and low 50s during the field-dressing and extraction, which still took us upward of three hours.

Chris’ foresight to buy the winch had added an indispensable weapon to the moose hunting arsenal. It left us knowing that we can more confidently get farther off the road and into the cuts — closer to the moose (or deer) — and get a dead animal out efficiently.

A trip to the tagging station at Bishop’s Store in Jackman revealed that the healthy bull weighed 731 pounds and sported gorgeous chocolate brown antlers measuring 39 1/2 inches (later determined to be 40 1/2) with 11 points.

It was a fine specimen, one worthy of the extensive scouting and preparation Chris and Billy had been doing for months. It was a moose, and a hunt, to remember.

Our reward, other than the delicious moose meat to come, was a couple of days of unproductive grouse hunting. 

The time in the truck allowed us to bask in the glow of another awesome trip into the Maine woods, dreaming about having the chance to do it again someday.

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