Moose Hunting 101

Think of this as field notes from our moose camp-- or at least how the Lendes got our moose. I imagine there are as many different ways as there are hunters. 

I took pictures of how my husband and I cut a whole moose into pieces and carried it out of the field and to the boats with two knives, a saw, and alder branches as props to hold up legs. First, how Chip cut out the anus and such, carefully --the bladder was bigger than a water balloon-- and he gingerly removed intact not to foul the meat-- He made a cut stem to stern and gutted it. (Think fish cleaning times 1,000. Armloads of steaming, bloody innards are pulled out carefully onto the ground.) I sawed a branch to hold the ribs open so the cavity would cool. Then we skinned it  ( the skin peels back like a paper label on a jar. I am best at this ) and quartered it (you've seen a side of beef? A moose leg and rump or leg and shoulder looks like that) and then came the ribs, the back, the neck, the trimmings, the heart, and liver-- ( as big as a boulder and about 20 pounds is my guess.) Anyway, it soon became pretty clear that I shouldn't show you too many pictures. They are hard to look at,  even if you have done that sort of thing before.  

Know that we butcher it all neatly, cleanly, and carefully. Respectfully I would say. It's a really big thing, to kill a moose, and worth doing extra right by afterwards. We use  a tarp and muslin game bags for the meat, and do one side, and then when we roll the moose over ( heaving a shoulder in and pushing hard) we keep him on the hide to make sure the meat isn't soiled, and when we cut loose a hindquarter we rest it on alder branches above the the mud and dirt and literally hug it to drop in the bag. 

Once the whole moose, unbelievable as it seems, is reduced to a pile of meat and bone filled bags, and the head-- we have to bring that in to Fish and Game and a friend has claimed the tongue meat-- we strap it all one heavy load at a time, on frame packs and hike through the brush, across the swamp-- which gets deeper and sucks hip boots harder with each pass- then down a trail from our tree stand, and out into a sand and gravel dry wash, across one knee-deep stream and up a three-foot bank. (I did this on my hands and knees. The weight is right at my tipping point.) It takes about half-hour loaded, and half that on the light, fast return. The idea is to get the meat out as quickly as possible, as we don't want to be stuck in the dark with bears, and yet not to hurt ourselves-- or drop any. I only swore and told Chip I'd never do this again and that I may divorce him twice, and that was during and after the first load which was ill balanced and way too heavy for me.  After that we adjusted the weight (emotional and physical) and both felt better.

As to how we got this moose, we looked hard for him in about a three  square mile area near our Chilkat River camp. Every morning at dawn we tiptoed to the tree stands, sometimes in the same one, and sometimes, as the morning this one was shot, in two different stands about 200 yards apart on either side of a field and swamp with brushy edges. We'd wait for 2 hours, calling sometimes like a cow moose-- a high nasal whine that's made with a horn to carry far, or by cupping hands when a moose is closer-- Other times we'd pretend we were a bull looking for a fight, and break branches and scrape tree bark and grunt. Over the two weeks we heard some, saw some, stumbled on some, but none met the legal requirements-- a bull with 3 brow tines, a spike or fork, or 50 inch wide rack--  When we weren't in the stands we walked. A lot. We were quiet, checked the wind direction, and looked for moose signs-- tracks, scent (moose smell moose-y), flat grass beds, trails, pawed pee pads, broken branches, raked bark. Midday we'd head back to camp for lunch and a nap-- about an hour-- then were back out looking, until the end of the day when we'd climb the stands again, with a thermos of tea, a snack, and a book, for two hours 'til dark. (I read Simon Winchester's  The Man Who Loved China, about a Cambridge prof who wrote a history of science in China,  and Larry Watson's dark novel Let Him Go.)  

The morning we got the moose I had finished both books, so only had my binoculars. I carried breakfast, a hard boiled egg, orange, and tea. We had planned to head to town by ten. At nine I saw a cow step out in the meadow and begin eating willows. It was quiet, and so foggy that I couldn't see Chip in the other stand, the trees also obscured him. I did hear his cow calls though. I watched the cow a bit, and then a shot cracked the silence. Rifles in this environment are really, really loud. I jumped. My heart hammered. The cow didn't move. She just stood there.

I wondered if Chip had fallen out of the stand and shot himself. (Not that he would do that..but I imagine worse case scenarios.) I knew he would never shoot at a cow. I wished I'd seen the bull to be sure it was legal. I hoped it was. There wasn't another shot. Then I heard loud huffing. The cow still didn't move. Neither did I. Then the the huffing stopped and the cow bolted and Chip came through the hedge and shouted ( this is the first time we had spoken above a whisper in three days) and asked where the bull was. I shouted back "I heard him but haven't seen him-- is it legal?"  "Yes," he hollered, three brow tines, and went back in the bushes before announcing he'd found him and he was dead. Shot through the lungs.

 It took us until about-two thirty to get it all bagged and then we began the walks to the boat, with me singing country songs to keep the bears at bay. Chip draped a dirty shirt on the antlers to deter bears while we were gone  We didn't have any trouble. We still had about four more loads to go when friends Don and Aaron arrived with their boat at the beach where we had pulled ours up, and offered to help. I was so glad to see them, and luckily by then Chip and I were happily married again. So they each took a load and just like that we were done. With two boats we were able to motor down to the landing, and the truck, in one trip. In a few days we will begin to butcher it and wrap and label it all for the freezer.

Here's a postcard of the hunt-- with a few pictures of the process- the tamest really-- but they could offend, so if you don't want to look, then don't, okay?

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