Making preparations for the moose hunt

There are a trio of weeklong moose hunts that involve Aroostook County. They begin on Sept. 28, Oct. 12 and Oct. 26. During the annual lottery, 3,135 permits were drawn and awarded, allowing lucky hunters to participate and enjoy what is often the hunt of a lifetime. 

The six zones in the Crown of Maine garner 2,365 of the total permits, 1620 bull and 745 cow, and as is always the case, pre-hunt preparations are crucial. Here are some ideas to increase success and lessen the work.

Once a hunter’s name is drawn, the most difficult hurdle is over. But some sportsmen apply for decades before enjoying success, so it’s imperative to make the best of this unique and exciting opportunity. One of the initial steps is to settle on a rifle and ammo combo for the hunt and make an initial sight-in trip to the local gun range. Most regional hunters already own a big-game rifle capable of quickly and efficiently downing a big bull moose. Selecting the correct cartridge and hitting the vitals at varying distances are what require weekly visits to the range.

Bow hunters, black powder shooters and handgunners need to be closer to their quarry, but certainly need just as much pre-hunt practice. They too need to select the best arrows, broad heads and bullets for large-boned, heavy-bodied moose. These close-range hunters will also have to decide if a tree stand or ground blind will work better than a sneak-and-peek approach, and whether to utilize a moose call to bring the animal within range.

Sighting in any long gun or handgun requires a stable bench rest to assure pinpoint accuracy, and practice shots out to 200 yards help establish any compensation necessary for bullet drop and possible windage. Offhand shooting practice is essential as this will be the case for most field or woods scenarios, but if a tripod, monopod or other gun rest is to be used, practice with that setup as well.

It’s wise to check over topo maps and Delorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer and select specific ares to concentrate daily efforts. A couple of pre-season scouting trips will help familiarize you with likely moose cover and the best approach roads. This is especially important if you’re not going to be hunting near your home area or a locale you’re familiar with from deer or bird hunting. Be sure to have at least three general territories to explore, since there are plenty of other hunters out and about who might be set up in one of your favored spots.

Getting a big moose out of the woods can be a difficult chore and requires lots of manpower and machines –unless, of course, you have  access to the original woods working machine. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Once a trophy bull is on the ground, the real work begins, and having the proper gear, tools and equipment on hand is crucial to making sure no meat is ruined due to heat, insects or poor handling. The weekend before the hunt begins is no time to be scrambling in search of necessary items. Have at least three cutting and skinning knives, a bone saw, a hatchet and a whetstone, steel and file for sharpening cutting implements. A set of elbow-length rubber gloves or latex game cleaning gloves certainly cuts down on the fuss and mess as well as ruined clothes.

I always loaded at least 200 yards of sturdy rope or metal cable as well as a chain saw just in case it’s a long drag through thick brush. A 4-wheel-drive ATV or UTV can  lessen the workload on human muscles and if there’s an electric winch on the four-wheeler or pick-up truck, so much the better. I can also recommend a couple of come-alongs and a sturdy Handyman long-handled high jack for certain situations.

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 road debris out of the open body cavity.

Having your name come up in the annual moose lottery beats the odds. Bagging a big bull with your spouse is the real jackpot. Seth and Destin Rooney won both bets. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

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. I place my knives, files and other cutlery in a five-gallon plastic bucket along with a roll of paper towels. Not only does the pail keep gear together but it can be used to carry water to wash out the body cavity and clean up hands and tools.

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 range finder 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, but certainly not least, 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. Whether you decide to just have an antler mount or more, a top-rate taxidermist will make it look alive,

Moose hunts are a unique and fairly rare experience, so take full advantage of the opportunity. Be prepared; 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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