Mainely Outdoors: The right gear eases moose hunt chores

Bill Graves, Special to The County
12 years ago

As the first probing fingers of dawn penetrate the dense Maine woodlands Sept. 24, the first of Maine’s three week-long moose seasons gets under way. A platoon of lucky lottery winning sportsmen will set out in search of the state’s biggest game. Hundreds of outdoorsmen and their co-permittees will be on the lookout throughout the Crown of Maine, six of the state’s most prolific moose zones. Some will seek a set of trophy antlers, a few want to break the state weight record, and many are interested in the tasty freezer fillings. All are out for success and the memorable hunt of a lifetime.
For many hunters, planning for success began within minutes of reading their name in the lottery list, and although most major preparations have been made, a few final tasks need to be accomplished over the next couple of weeks. Most chores have to do with the personal gear and  pertinent tools and apparatus to deal with a downed 1,000-pound game animal. A few personal ideas and philosophical conclusions have to be settled upon by each team of sportsmen.
First and foremost, the shooter must be fully competent and capable of assessing a quick, clean, humane kill with rifle, handgun or bow. Limitations on distance, shot placement, and prevailing conditions must be set and followed. Partners must know who will shoot first and who will shoot back-up and when. Shooters must spend time at the range, firing their favorite weapon from every feasible stance at life size replicas when available, and moving when possible. Camouflage clothing and cold weather attire usually aren’t necessary, but a good set of Gore-Tex gear cuts the wind and shields the hunter from heavy rain that can hamper an outing. Orange outerwear for safety and calf high waterproof boots broken in for comfort are a must.
In each and every scenario, once the trigger is pulled and a moose is down; after the pictures are taken and the tag attached; the work begins. Far-thinking hunters don’t even consider taking a shot when a moose is in water or far from any road or trail. Nonetheless, every moose doesn’t drop on the spot, some run, usually into heavy cover, and getting a big game animal out of the deep woods can be a back-breaking task if proper gear is not at hand. It’s a proven fact the farther a 1,000-pound moose is from the truck and trailer, and the wetter the location is, and it’s inversely proportional to how much fun the rest of the day will be.
Most of the prepared hunters have pre-scouted the area they plan to hunt, they utilize information learned from sportsmen with prior experience in a certain zone, and any woodcutting operations nearby are noted. Nothing brings a big moose out of the thick timber quicker, easier and safer than a skidder. For a reasonable price many owners of these brush-busting lumbering machines will be glad to aid successful hunters if the downed animal isn’t too far from the woodlot they’re working.
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 re-sharpening. If it turns out the moose has to be skinned, quartered, and de-boned, in order to be carried out of the woods, the knives and sharpening utensils become even more important. In addition, a meat saw and hatchet will be very useful if a big job is required.
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 with all-wheel drive can save a lot of time and trouble during the hauling chore, but even these mechanical work horses may need some sort of trail swamped for travel.
A fair-sized block and tackle or pulley system for hoisting the moose onto a tree will ease the cleaning, skinning and quartering chores and can also be used to load the animal on truck or trailer. A roll of cheese cloth or commercially available cloth bags for transporting game and keeping flies off the meat in warm weather will be a good idea. Plastic bags for the heart and liver should be at hand and plastic gallon milk containers filled with water and frozen work great to keep the carcass cool during the trip to the meat cutter’s cooler. Just stuff the jugs of solid ice into the body cavity, along with the heart and liver bags, and there’s much less chance of meat spoilage on sunny days.
I carry a five-gallon plastic bucket with a few other sundry items inside that make cleaning game and cleaning up afterwards a simpler 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.
If the moose will be transported on an open trailer or pickup over dirt roads, a thin plastic tarp might be in order. When a moose can be loaded whole, the dust isn’t a problem, but if the animal is skinned and quartered, the tarp is a great advantage in keeping the meat dirt and dust free. Clean and cool are the two main objectives when caring for game animals, take care of your meat in the field and you will be rewarded at the dinner table.
Don’t forget your camera, a good set of binoculars, and perhaps even a range finder. A small cooler with ice packs keeps a few cold drinks, sandwiches, and some snacks at hand in the vehicle. For the early season it’s also a good idea to have a manual or electric moose call, to draw amorous bulls within rifle range.
Whether the moose you’re after will end up as a taxidermy mount in the den, as an  8 by 10-inch inch glossy 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 checklist of every possible item you need to take along, because once you’re in the woods, you either have it or you do without. During September it’s difficult to drive a logging road or pass a broccoli field without spotting a moose, so hunt carefully and safely, pick your shot well, take a steady aim and shoot straight. Memories are sure to follow.