CARIBOU – The Aroostook County farm fields the morning after a downpour have a far-away, ancient quality.

The fields set on rolling hilltops are hugged by dense, low-lying clouds, while views stretch wide in every direction.

It’s big sky country and the perfect setting for a gathering created to serve a big purpose.

The special agricultural moose hunt that took place here a week ago was meant to help the military veterans who have served our country around the world.

Monday, all six Maine veterans in the special moose hunt here had tagged out after four days of hunting, but the purpose of the hunt had been achieved long before they each bagged a moose.

This moose hunt — a gift of several volunteers — brought these men together and sent them into this peaceful land to find a unique adventure together.

“The camaraderie is what it’s all about,” said Paul House, a Registered Maine Guide who created the hunt.

“We got together in Caribou at the (Maine Veterans) Home. It was emotional because some of the veterans talked about what the hunt meant to them, and about what we were doing for them.”

The entire program was conceived and organized as part of House in the Woods Military and Family Retreat in Lee, a nonprofit formed by Paul and Dee House in June to create meaningful outdoors experiences for veterans.

When the Houses lost their son, Sgt. Joel House, in the war in Iraq, they wanted to find a way to heal by giving back.

They created House in the Woods to bring sportsmen and women together to do the outdoors activities Joel loved.

The moose hunt in Aroostook County was made possible when the state set aside five moose permits for the agricultural hunt, which began last year to mitigate crop damage by moose.

A lottery was held to select the five hunters, and at the last minute a sixth moose permit was donated by a hunter who won one for the controlled hunt, but couldn’t go.

The rest was easy.

Eight guides volunteered their time to guide the hunters and Dave Hentosh at Smoldering Lake Outfitters near Presque Isle offered to run the show.

The six men showed up at Hentosh’s lodge on Sept. 16 and were treated like visiting dignitaries.

The men said the overwhelming support helped them heal.

As Bob Blaze stood at the outfitters’ firing range, he spoke of the Bangor International Airport traffic that brings him back to the helicopter noise of Vietnam, and also of the calm he feels when hunting in the woods.

To share that with like-minded outdoorsmen was special, he said.

“There are different issues with vets, each one has suffered in a different way. I’m not used to a lot of people. I don’t like to talk. I suffered (post traumatic stress syndrome) after Vietnam. But it’s easy to talk here, to do this stuff,” said Blaze of Holden, who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.

It was the second year of the hunt in eastern Aroostook County, where grazing moose have cost farmers thousands of dollars in damage across several thousand acres, said Game Warden Thomas Ward.

But the hunt is not easy.

The veterans who hunted rose at 3 a.m. and met on the road to Presque Isle at 5 a.m. Then they hunted until dusk.

It took two hunters more than two days to bag a moose.

For Len Hanson that made it more meaningful.

“Walking across those barren fields, it’s not easy work, physically and mentally. It was a challenge getting close enough and making sure the moose doesn’t detect you or the spotter or the guide,” said Hanson, 34, who served two tours in Iraq.

The care that went into the veterans’ hunt made Hanson want to volunteer for it in the future.

“Taking a moose was secondary to watching how these people treated the veterans and made sure everybody had the opportunity. They just took care of us,” Hanson said.

House in the Woods programs will continue with bird hunts this fall and on to ice fishing adventures for veterans this winter. But whether the state provides more moose permits for a veterans’ hunt again is uncertain.

House is hopeful, and a ground swell of support is building around his efforts.

“This program is or should be an example for every other state,” Hanson said. “There is nothing else like it that gives this many soldiers the opportunity to come up and participate in a hunt like this for moose.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]