The Star-Herald

Preparation pays off for moose hunters

Since 1982, a moose hunting lottery has taken place here in Maine and those lucky winners have enjoyed an exciting hunt and a freezer full of delicious game meat. Aroostook County has three one-week seasons in September and October with 1,700 permits for zones 1 through 6. For many sportsmen, especially those near retirement age, it may be a once in a lifetime experience. That means proper preparation is a must for success and enjoyment.

Once the shot is fired, the prized animal is down and the initial celebration winds down, the real work begins. Without the proper gear and equipment, cleaning, moving, loading and transporting a moose that can weigh 1,000 pounds. goes beyond challenging. Add obstacles such as unusually warm weather, an animal that ends up in a pond or stream or a long distance from any path or road, then the task becomes truly difficult. Worst case scenario, some or even most of the delicious meat may be spoiled by heat, insects, dirt and debris or improper handling.

First and foremost, novice hunters who have never gutted a big game animal before need to read an article or seek guidance from an experienced outdoorsman about the task. Better still, take a friend with game cleaning experience on the hunt. He gets some tasty steaks, the neophyte gets hands-on guidance and many hands make light work. It’s a proven fact that the further a large moose is from the truck and trailer, and the wetter or thicker the location is, the less the fun will be the rest of the day.

The most important set of tools for field dressing any game animal is sharp cutlery. At least two keen-edged knives are a must and since they are likely to lose their edge during the job, a whetstone, file, and sharpening steel will be needed for resharpening. If it turns out the moose has to be skinned, quartered and deboned, in order to be carried out of the woods, the knives and sharpening utensils become even more important. In addition, a sharp, wide-bladed skinning knife, a meat saw and hatchet will be very useful if a big job is required. A set of elbow length, field dressing rubber gloves or at least a set of wrist length latex gloves certainly cuts down on the fuss and mess as well as ruined clothes.

I personally carry a five-gallon plastic bucket with a few other sundry items inside that make cleaning game and cleaning up afterward a simple chore. In the pail are a couple of sets of plastic gloves, a roll of paper towels and of course plastic bags, cloth meat bags, the cutlery and sharpening utensils and a small first aid kit, just in case the knife slips. The bucket can be used to carry water from any nearby brook or pond to rinse out the body cavity once the cleaning is over. Washing away as much blood and debris from any exposed meat reduces the chance of meat spoilage and keeps flies somewhat at bay during field processing and travel. Clean and cool are the two main objectives when caring for game animals. By taking care of your meat in the field, you will be rewarded at the dinner table.

Once the shot is taken and the moose is down, the work begins. Planning and packing a wide array of gear can make cleaning, moving and transporting a big bull moose a bit simpler. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Have lots of ropes or cable and a sturdy come-along or winch to drag the game from the woods to the edge of the road, and then to pull it onto a truck or trailer. A set of heavy tree shears and a chain saw for swamping a trail can be a big help. Many hunters have had to winch a moose from stump to stump for several hundred yards, and without a saw and ax to move dead falls, the work would have doubled. An ATV or UTV with all-wheel drive can save a lot of time and trouble during the hauling chore. If there is an electric winch, so much the better, but even these mechanical work horses may need some sort of trail swamped for travel.

While it’s possible to load a big moose into the bed of a pickup truck, it’s no simple chore. A sturdy trailer with a solid ramp style tailgate offers a lower to the ground option where a winch or come-alongs replace human strain. If a four-wheeler is to be used on the hunt, usually the ATV trailer will be large enough to load the machine and a moose. Be sure to have a tarp or large piece of cheese cloth to keep insects, dust and debris from the road out of the open body cavity during transport.

It’s wise to bring along a couple of good-sized ice chests with several frozen milk jugs inside. The ice-filled containers can be placed inside the body cavity of the dressed out moose to cool the animal and keep the meat from spoiling on hot fall days. The heart and liver can be placed in one of the coolers for travel out of the woods. As for high-tech gear to aid the hunt, there are only a handful of items to consider beyond a set of good binoculars. A handheld GPS, a set of compact two-way radios, a rangefinder and perhaps an electronic moose call might all be useful. First and foremost, however, don’t forget a dependable camera to record memories of a successful hunt to last a lifetime. Last, take some time to research a top rate meat cutter and perhaps a taxidermist as well. Moose meat is delicious and when cut properly and vacuum packed will provide many tasty meals for months and months. And whether you decide to just have an antler mount, a head mount or the whole big bull, a top rate taxidermist will make it look alive.

Whether the moose you’re after will end up as a taxidermy mount in the den, as an 8 by 10 inch glossy photo on the office wall, or as a well browned roast for Sunday dinner, the right equipment will increase your chances of success. Plan well and compile a check list of every possible item you need to take along, because once you’re in the woods you either have it or you do without. Moose hunts are a unique and fairly rare experience, so take full advantage of the opportunity. Be prepared as it’s better to have it and not need it, than vice versa. Good luck to the lucky lottery winners and hunt safe.

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