HAINES -- Chip and I did not get a moose, but it wasn't from lack of trying. And as he said, now that the hunt is over, the stories can begin. And that's the fun part that could last all winter.
Until now, everyone was very vague about just what they saw out there, especially as this hunt, with strict restrictions on antler configurations, means that a bull moose is not always, or even usually, hunt-able. It may take a while to determine if he has three brow tines on one side, the minimum amount, and if indeed what you think is a brow tine really is one, and not a mid-bay tine. Or if that's a forked antler for certain -- and just forget about the 50-inch antler spread, as very few of our moose are that big, and close up they all look huge. (Yes, it's tricky, all of it.)
Turns out we saw more of the beautiful country than the moose herd, but there were still plenty of them to keep us hoping. One day we were tiptoeing through the brush and came upon a cow and calf and watched and waited silently, barely breathing, it seemed, for a couple of hours, guessing a bull would show up, until it grew too late. On the way to camp the same pair blocked our path. We had been sneaking around so quietly not to disturb them, and now we were shouting and waving our arms, and she wouldn't move. Oh, the irony.
We couldn't get to camp except on their trail, as the river was on our other side, so we nudged the pair back, a few steps at a time. I kept thinking about my friend Deborah who was stomped by a moose on her way home from dinner at a friend's house. That one kicked her thigh and nicked her knee, and stood its ground for 20 minutes while she froze, bravely, in spite of the terror. She's okay, but I think a cow and a calf are more dangerous than a bear.
Our friend Don hunts with a bow instead of a rifle, and he was charged by an angry bear while walking back to his wall tent camp for the evening. He keeps a pistol in his pack, just in case, but said he didn't have time to grab it, so he turned around and pretended to be an aggressive bear and scared it off. (Don did eventually bag his moose, though it was too far away for his bow and he used a rifle.) Only 26 moose were taken and about 200 permits were issued for the four-week subsistence moose season. The hunt in Haines is more about hunting than killing, which makes some hunters grumpy, but that's why I enjoy it. It's safe -- as no one is shooting at everything that moves -- and it takes time. That allows for life to slow way down and allows me to pay close attention to the world around me. It also blends tenacity, skill and luck in equal parts.
We just weren't that lucky this year, although, as Chip pointed out, we have had very good luck in the bigger things in our life than a moose hunt, and we wouldn't trade that for some steaks, you know?
And what is luck anyway?
Vince Hansen spent about two hours out in the woods on a sunny afternoon break from his work as the administrator of Haines Assisted Living and he shot a moose. He said he walked into his usual spot, sat, waited and read for a bit, and on the way home, after seeing nothing and hearing nothing, he noticed an antler-raked bush, a sign that a bull moose has been in the area, and thought he should come back here again, if he could find the time. That's when he walked right into a big bull moose. It didn't bolt. Instead, that moose bowed his antlers at Vince, first forward, then slowly to one side, and then the other -- just to be sure Vince could see it was legal? Maybe. Who knows? "The thing is," Vince said, "everyone says, 'Man you are lucky.'
"Well, it actually took me six years and two hours of hunting to get my moose. 'Finally' is all I can say."
Haines writer Heather Lende's third book of essays, "Finding the Good" will be published soon. This post originally appeared on her blog. It has been reprinted with permission.