Maine Moose Hunt – Opening Day
The number of moose we saw while scouting was discouragingly low. We were up at 4 am on Sunday and out the door 30 minutes later. We rode The Golden Road and a lot of the side roads on the Zone 9 side near Chesuncook Lake. Steve made breakfast sandwiches on the tailgate – English muffins with eggs, bacon, ham and cheese. Later, tailgate lunch was beef and barely soup with lots of veggies and a loaf of seven grain bread. It was Sunday, no bird hunting, and we saw 26 partridge in the last hour. It wasn’t until around 6 pm when I spotted a cow moose on a tote road going up a mountain. Peter called and she whipped around to find the “bull.” A real bull to her left crashed through the woods to get to her first. Aha! A bull! I couldn’t get a good look at his body but he had antlers longer than the tips of his ears, the legal size for a bull. Big enough. We called a few more times and saw three more moose in the next half-mile. We had a starting point for the morning of opening day.
Up at 4 am again. Out the door at 4:30 am. Tightness started to build in my chest. Fingers tingled. Heart pounded. I wondered what I do and say if I failed. What if I dragged this out for six days and didn’t kill my moose? What if… what if… The words of the Zone 9 naysayers raced around my brain. “Shut the hell up,” I mumbled to them. It took a few sessions with a breathing technique to calm my brain. I could do this. We’d find a moose. We had six days. I wasn’t expecting an opening day moose. Tuesday, Wednesday, maybe Thursday. Pressure built up in the weeks before the hunt. “Oh you’ll get it Monday or Tuesday.” “Home by Wednesday.” Anxiety sucks. Nothing anyone said was about me and my hunt. Everything they said was about them and what they wanted for me or themselves. I took on the anxiety. And then I kicked it out somewhere on Loop Road and calmed myself down.
Legal Shooting Time
The start of legal shooting time was 6:12 am. We were in place at 5:45 am, guns not loaded but bullets ready to go. Kevin parked his truck three-quarters of a mile from us. If we spotted a bull we’d radio him and he’d ask people to hold back a few minutes. Steve and I sat on a log in the brush and waited. There’s no since in calling before legal time. We couldn’t shoot if a bull come to us. We couldn’t tie him up and have him hang around. It wasn’t light enough for a safe shot at 6:12 am. Peter gave the first cow call at 6:20 am.
It didn’t take long for a bull to answer the cow call. Wuh wuh. Peter called, bull answered. Peter called, cow called. Oh no. We’re no match for a real cow. We can sound as good as a real cow but we didn’t have the scent of estrus on our side. Imagine a bull to the left a good half-mile away, a cow in the middle, and us on the right. Peter gave it all he had for over an hour. One loud wuh wuh wuh told us we were done. He found her and we weren’t even as good as chopped liver. Had they ever even heard us?
We talked about what to do. There hadn’t been another bull answering the call. It was time to move on. Steve was curious about the area and wanted to know what made it appealing to the five moose? He followed the tote road up the mountain while Peter and I ambled toward the truck.
There’s a Moose
Peter looked down a tote road on the left. “There’s a moose.”
“Is it a bull?” I whispered back.
“I don’t know.” He peaked around the brush again. “A bull and a cow.” The bull hadn’t made a sound. The cow hadn’t answered the bull in the distance. I remembered a piece of knowledge I’d been given – sometimes they come in silent. I peaked around the brush to see the bull as well as a cow, a calf and a spike horn bull.
“He’s with a cow but I don’t think he’s cowed up. Can you get him away from her?” Peter called. The excited the bull thrashed the brush with his antlers. Bone (antler) against branch, through leaves, debris flying. He turned 45 degrees and took a step up the mountain…toward us. Another call, another step. I pushed the safety off. Could this be it? No, but it was good practice for when I really would shoot a moose. And really, you never know. Stranger things have happened than shooting the first bull you see.
He was more than 100 yards down the mountain, too far. I’d never fired at an animal that far away. Too close to the other moose and too far from me. I arranged myself behind the brush without taking my eyes off the moose. “There’s a stick between your feet. Don’t step on it,” Peter said. Got it. Don’t move my feet.
I studied shot placement for months and knew what to do. Head on, he had to pick up his head enough to expose his chest. I needed him to come 50 feet closer and out of the brush. He thrashed again. The cow and calf browsed while the spike horn stepped off the trail and into the trees. Mmmmmwaahhhhhhhh (cow call) As though they could hear and understand my thoughts, the cow and calf stepped out of the way.
“Live in the moment. Remember this. Details matter.” He took two more steps, lifted his head and turned to walk away.
“Shoot him, honey.” This was going to happen and it would be fast. My semi-automatic Browning .308 needs only 1.5 seconds between shots.
Anxiety. I couldn’t do this. I don’t shoot through brush because I don’t have the personal experience and confidence to make risky shots. “I can’t.” My heartbeat rose but not so much that it was pounding. “I can’t.” I took a deep breath through my nose and blew it out through my mouth. One more deep breath. “I am.”
He turned broadside. I aimed above his right leg and gently squeezed the trigger. The casing launched to the right and landed in slash with a clink. He flinched as the bullet hit his heart. Thinking about it later I realized he probably wasn’t going to walk away because I’d just shot his heart but in the moment, that’s what I thought was happening. “No,” I whispered. No, he wasn’t walking away. No, he wasn’t going to suffer. I fired again, this time sinking a bullet in his rump because I’d read it would spin a moose in the direction of the side he’d been hit. It worked. He swung around broadside to me again, probably on his way down already, and I made a debris-free third shot, this time into his neck.
He crumpled. His legs collapsed beneath him and he landed in a heap. From first bullet to death, only five or six seconds passed. He was dead before he hit the ground.
My wildest dreams for this hunt happened. When people told me it would happen fast I didn’t realize it would be this fast. I don’t think more than five minutes passed from the time Peter saw him until he was dead.
I don’t shoot through brush, but it turns out I do.
The crumple that took me by surprise and I let out a loud primal scream. Only in my wildest dreams was that going to happen. The shock of my reality took over. Peter whooped. “Holy Shit Robin, you did it. Did you see that? You dropped it right there!” I pushed the safety back on and took the last bullet out. Safety first. This kind of excitement causes incidences in people who are no longer thinking about where the rifle is pointed.
Bent at the waist, hands on my knees, rifle on my shoulder, adrenaline took over while reality sunk in. “STEEEEEEEEEVE!” I yelled to him as though he hadn’t just heard the three shots, the scream and whoop. “I SHOT A MOOSE!”