Moose hunters search for moose signs on tiny Shields Branch in northern Maine. Contributed photo

 

When my friend Brent Elwell invited me to join his moose hunt, I immediately accepted. Only a small percentage of applicants win the moose hunt lottery each year. A lifelong Mainer, I’d never participated in a moose hunt and at my age, it might be my last chance. Permit holder Brent had assembled a stellar hunting team that included his longtime friend Carl the sub-permittee, a mutual friend who prefers the hunting pseudonym, Jimmy Olsen, Cub Reporter and yours truly, designated lackey. A decidedly senior band of hunters, three of us are retired and the fourth should be.

I haven’t hunted since I had the bad judgment to allow my Maine Guide’s License to lapse in 1990. A testament to my lack of patience; the state kept changing the rules for relicensing at a time when I was busy raising kids and managing a gaggle of Revenue Officers for the IRS. I simply didn’t have time for the inexplicable vicissitudes of the bureaucracy. I don’t have any philosophical objection to hunting, rather prefer other activities and haven’t had the inclination to purchase a new license since. I wouldn’t be hunting on this expedition; instead my role would be designated lackey, cameraman, and reporter, responsibilities I embraced.

Two things about Brent’s proposed hunt made it particularly appealing for me. First, his permit was in Zone One, the northernmost moose hunting sector and most remote. Our hunt would be in the St. John River region, an area near and dear to me. Second, his primary focus would be hunting by canoe, a unique more challenging alternative to traditional hunting.

One of the first things I learned about moose hunting is that it’s logistically complicated. There are many moving parts and a variety of potential obstacles must be anticipated. The sheer size of a moose makes retrieval of the carcass a consequential undertaking. A bull moose can stand as tall as 6 foot 6 inches at the shoulder and weigh as much as 1,400 pounds. The remote location of our hunt increased the difficulties; timely refrigeration being a major concern. A trailer was hauled with a homemade icebox, freezer, and portable generator to power the freezer.

Just getting to the St. John region is a significant endeavor. Located in the crown of Maine, our plan was to enter the backwoods through Allagash Village, a 6.5-hour drive from Topsham. Brent had claimed a site at Priestly Camp on the St. John River, another 50 miles of slow travel on rough North Maine Woods roads. I arrived first to find hunting parties at the other two campsites. Ours was a superb location overlooking the very shallow St. John River. No moose were observed during a walk on the camp road, but lots of partridge.

Our moose scout day was the Sunday before the hunt officially opened. Cub Reporter had not arrived, so the three of us dodged mammoth logging trucks spewing massive amounts of dust on a 15-mile drive to Shields Branch, a small stream that begins in Quebec. The tiny tributary of Big Black River had a remarkably fluid water level meandering for about three miles to the river.

Launching down a steep bank, Carl and Brent paddled a tandem tripping canoe and I a flatwater kayak. Although a bit breezy, Shields Branch was a pleasurable excursion from the outset. Twisting circuitously southeast, repeated moose signs were observed but no sightings.

Arriving at Big Black, a decision was made to separate. The tandem team would travel downriver while I explored in the opposite direction. A gentle current in Nine Mile Deadwater facilitated navigating upstream. Moose tracks were numerous along the shore. An impassable stretch was encountered after about a mile and a half.

Brent and Carl located an excellent hunting site on a small pond connected to Big Black a short distance downriver. Indications of moose activity were prevalent and a grassy knoll provided an open view of the pond. Warm summer-like weather presented a serious difficulty. Situated 3.5 miles and a steep climb from refrigeration the distance constituted a transportation dilemma. Brent and Carl would add a small motor to the tandem canoe but multiple trips would be necessary.

My mission, should I accept it, would be to paddle a solo canoe to assist the retrieval effort and Jimmy Olsen would provide kayak support. We retired that night enthusiastically anticipating a formidable hunt the following day. To be continued.

Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at [email protected].

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