Thursday, October 31, 2019

Mom's Moose

The 2018 moose hunt was marked by a roller coaster ride of unfortunate lows mixed with the highs of success. This story starts in January of 2018, with the tragic news that my step dad Lenny Lloyd of Calais being diagnosed with bladder cancer. Though the original prognosis was good, and we all remained hopeful that he would beat the cancer, it was not meant to be.
In June, at the annual moose lottery, my Mom (Kathy Lloyd) and my Dad (Steve Vose) were both pulled for the exact same week of the September moose hunt. This obviously set-up a challenging scenario, as I wanted to join both Mom and Dad for their respective hunts. Adding further complication to the task, Mom and Dad had been picked to hunt wildlife management districts (WMD) over five hours apart. For Dads hunt, we were assigned WMD 2, and would be hunting near Portage, Mom’s hunt was WMD 19, located in the heart of Down East. This quandary forced me to decide, that as Dad had no additional support, I would join him for the beginning of the week and hopefully help him harvest a moose and then join Mom for the end of the week, if she had not yet encountered success. Mom had planned to hunt the beginning of the week with her husband Lenny and a close family friend and Maine Guide, Tim Daley of Calais. As the months passed, however, these plans rapidly changed, as Lenny’s health continued to decline. Tragically at 4:00 am on September 21st, I received an emotional phone call from Mom saying that Lenny, at just 60 years old, had succumb to the cancer and passed away. 
My initial plan had been to leave that next morning to join Dad in Portage and scout for moose, so my truck was already packed full of camping equipment and hunting gear. Instead of going through the laborious task of unpacking, I threw my suit jacket, dress shoes and necktie into the truck and headed north from Augusta to Calais. 
I arrived in Calais at Mom’s house early Friday morning where I was met by Mom and almost a dozen other family members. To say the scene was somber, would be the worst of understatements. I assisted Mom with funeral arrangements, cooked for guests, made general house repairs and generally attempted to make myself “useful”, a task that I think most bereaved would easily understand. An active mind and body has less time to become idle, think too much and become overwhelmed by grief. 
Saturday morning, Mom’s household was joined by my wife and kids, as well as my brother and his family. Having this added emotional support, Mom pulled me aside and said that she wanted me to go and help my Dad. This left me in a quandary, wanting to stay and provide support but also wanting to help Dad on his moose hunt. While even at 68 years old, I knew Dad extremely capable, disassembling a moose is not an easy task for one person to handle and it gave me an uneasy feeling. Upon Mom’s continued encouragement, Sunday morning, I headed out to meet Dad in Portage. 
Sunday afternoon, I arrived in Portage, met Dad and headed to our camping spot in the Deboullie Public Reserved Lands. On the way to our campsite, a large bull moose slowly waltzed across the road. A good sign, so we thought. The next two days were dreadful for moose hunting, high winds blew our scent in every conceivable direction and made calling a unique challenge. To further complicate matters, our inability to scout earlier in the week, lead us to expend a considerable amount of time hunting in areas that lacked fresh sign. Still undeterred by these challenging events, Dad and I gave it our all, hunting from sunrise to sunset Monday and Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, however, Dad told me he had done what he came to do and moose or no moose, I need to drive back to be with Mom.
Early Wednesday afternoon, I was headed back to Calais. The 5.5 hour ride from Portage to Down East, had me arriving at Moms only an hour and a half before Lenny’s wake on Wednesday evening at 6:30 pm. The somber event left not a dry eye in the house and at the evenings conclusion everyone was emotionally and physically drained. The Wednesday wake was followed by Lenny’s funeral on Thursday, which was attended by half of Down East, Maine. It was an overwhelming show of support for our family and a high honor paid to a man who had meant so much to his friends, family, co-workers and community.  
Thursday night, Mom’s house was packed with family. During dinner, Mom mentioned that she felt Lenny, an avid outdoorsman, would have wanted her to go on her moose hunt. Mom’s strength in the situation surprised me, however, I felt that if she was really interested in going, there was likely no other task that would be more cathartic. Mom’s assurance, after dinner, that she was deadly serious about moose hunting, lead to my brother, step brother and I to begin organizing a plan for a hunt early the next morning. All three of us growing up Down East, we had a fairly good lay of the land but still consulted with a local Maine guide to determine where we might find fresh sign.
While my brothers were checking Google maps, I helped Mom organize her hunting gear. Obviously my biggest concern, was Mom’s ability to safely and accurately discharge her firearm. While she was very familiar with her hunting rifle, complicating the situation was her current state of obvious emotional distress.
            So to ensure safety, I had Mom show me her TC Encore in .308 and walk me through the operation of the firearm. I then had her practice standing up, looking through the scope and bringing it into firing position. Evaluating Mom, she appeared relaxed, an emotional state easy to maintain not under duress, less so when being stared down by a 1,000 pound wild animal. Ultimately, I felt that with the support of the three of us, she would be capable of safely killing a moose, if the opportunity presented itself. Besides, I figured our chances of actually shooting a moose were somewhere close to zero.
I awoke early the next morning and woke everyone up. After plenty of black coffee and a hearty breakfast, we were driving two trucks down Route 9, headed for our first choice of hunting spots. Turning off Route 9, we traveled dirt roads for about 15 minutes before arriving at the edge of a large clear cut. We parked the trucks, Mom loaded her rifle and the four of us started slowly walking toward the edge of the clear cut. After about 20 yards, Mom noticed a decent sized fresh bull track but she bemoaned that it was headed in the opposite direction we were now headed. I explained to her, that bulls in heat are wanderers, looking for love and there was as much of a chance that he was now in front of us as behind us. 
Before entering the clear cut, I let out a long mournful cow mating call on my electronic game call. After 10 minutes of waiting with no response, we eased into the cut. A long dirt road divided the massive clear cut in half and large gravel berms on both sides of the road partially hid our approach through the mostly open area. Every 50 yards or so, I would stop, glass the area with my binoculars and let out another soft cow in heat call. Halfway across the cut, (about 30 min.) we all stopped behind a large berm and busied ourselves to the task of investigating every rock, stump and tree.
About halfway through my third calling sequence, my brother turned to me and whispered that he had heard a bull grunt but was unsure of the direction of distance. We continued to scan the clear cut, when suddenly I heard an odd, rapid, high pitched, squeaking noise directly behind us. Peering slowly around the edge of the berm, standing only 25 yards away was a hefty 725 pound bull moose. He had appeared so rapidly, I can only assume that he had been bedded down, out of sight, in the middle of the clear cut and had simply stood up when he heard the cow call.
Wasting no time, I withdrew around the corner of the berm and began frantically waving to Mom. Giving me a confused look, she mouthed the word, “What?”. Spreading both my hands wide and putting one on each side of my head, I whispered, “MOOOOSSSEEE!”. At that point, Mom’s eyes enlarged to the size of dinner plates and she sauntered over to my side. Mom’s “saunter” on that day, is now a point I regularly tease her about. When I frantically waved at her to hurry, she ignored my repeated requests to hurry and instead slowly walked over so that she would not to trip and fall. Even with a gun in her hands, a moose in her sights and adrenaline rushing, she still maintained a “safety first” level of composure.
Taking Mom by both shoulders, I told her to mount the rifle, keep her finger off the trigger and slowly pull back the hammer. Accomplishing these tasks, I then eased her around the edge of the berm. As soon as Mom saw the moose, she started shaking and I could feel her entire body vibrating through my fingertips. Throughout the entire process, I never took my eyes off Mom, so when the gun went off, I had to ask my step brother if the moose had in fact went down. He assured me it had dropped in its tracks. I helped Mom reload the rifle, as her arthritic fingers lacked the strength to extract the bullet. Reloaded, we both started walking together toward the downed moose. As we got closer, Mom asked, “I hit it…right?”. I replied that, “In a clear cut of this size, if you missed, where would it go?”, as I had not seen the moose go down, this statement was as much to convince myself, as it was Mom. Our fears were unfounded, however, when after only a few more feet there lie her moose. Upon verifying that the moose was dead, Mom knelt down beside the beast, looked to the heavens and said, “That one was for you Lenny.” I cannot justly describe the outpouring of emotions that then ensued, it certainly was a joyous, yet difficult time for us all.
            They say once you pull the trigger all the fun is over and after a moose is shot, this is the understatement of the century. As a light rain began to fall, I started gutting the moose, while my two brothers walked back to get the trucks. Upon their return, the rain had picked up considerably and I knew we were in for a soaking. Using ropes, pulleys, a come along and a little brute strength, the four of us managed, in just one and a half hours, to drag the moose 35 yards out of the blueberry barrens and into the back of my Toyota 4x4 Tacoma pickup truck. After loading the moose, in my tired state, all I could think to say to Mom was, “Thank God you didn’t shoot a bigger one!”.
Lenny Lloyd loved hunting, fishing, camping and all manner of outdoor pursuits, I know that he was up there in the heavens watching over us that emotional day. The sheer luck involved in all the events that occurred on September 28th, could only have only been preordained by some higher power. If ever I had any small doubt that there is a God and an ever after, this day eliminated those doubt and renewed my faith in a power beyond mere mortal man.

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