Outdoors

Maine objective

Moose season in Maine corresponds with the peak of fall foliage colors.
Moose season in Maine corresponds with the peak of fall foliage colors. The Wichita Eagle

BRIDGEWATER, Maine — The placid woodlands carried colors more varied and vibrant than a new box of Crayons. Nary a colorful leaf in a tree or on ground-level ferns wavered on the still morning.

Then chaos began with a soft grunting sound.

Within seconds, an animal as big as a horse bolted into view, running toward Chris Tymeson as steadily as a train on a track.

"Shoot," Steve Hunt said as the bull moose closed to within 25 yards. "SHOOT!"

Tymeson saw a wall of brown hair closing in when he pulled the trigger of his rifle.

When the bullet struck at 18 yards, the moose lowered its head and kept coming.

* *

Last summer, Tymeson mentioned he had applied for a Maine moose hunting permit.

I told him I wanted to go along, having always wanted to experience New England in the fall and the thrill of calling America's biggest deer.

Neither of us expected him to draw one of the highly-coveted permits. I was almost as happy as Tymeson when he learned he got one.

Simply getting to the hunt was an adventure.

Tymeson had booked the services of Smoldering Lake Outfitters in extreme eastern Maine. We drove in hopes of bringing home meat that's noted to have better flavor than veal and less fat than chicken.

After 2 1/2 days of driving, we found Maine at the peak of fall colors.

At the lodge, we learned their success rate was nearly 100 percent in past years, with many bulls qualifying for Boone & Crockett scoring.

Guide Steve Hunt also said the weather was unusually warm at the time, the rut was running late and the bulls might not be responding well to calls.

The next morning, we began long days of marching five to eight miles, including up and down ridges and through long stretches of gooey, boot-sucking bogs.

We slept well at night and any other chance we got.

Though the timing was wrong, the places were obviously right.

Never had we seen more game sign while seeing no sign of game.

Hunt led us along moose trails as well-tilled as an April garden spot. Piles of moose muffins were common and often fresh.

Hour after hour Hunt stopped, cupped his hands to his face and bellowed his version of the love call of a cow moose.

It sounded like Star Wars' Chewbacca with kidney stones to us, but Hunt assured us it would be romantic music to a bull's ears when the rut kicked in.

Called bulls often come on the run, maybe stopping to thrash a wrist-thick tree to prove its machismo with heavy antlers often 50 or more inches wide.

Hunt said many bulls are shot at under 25 yards. Two hunters in camp that week killed bulls called to within 10 yards.

Though he's never had a bull charge with evil intent, he has had to step off trails to let rut-crazed moose pass a few feet away.

Wednesday, he called a young bull like whistling a dog across a yard. Hunt stopped it with his voice at 30 yards. The bull didn't want to leave.

A cool front the fourth morning of the hunt brought much more moose action.

Friday, the fifth morning, we headed to a section of rolling woodlands where we'd seen a nice bull the day before.

He obviously had lust on his mind. We figure the bull mistook the sound of boots on leaves for the hooves of a possible lover or rival bull.

Hence the first "Who's there?" grunt.

After hearing a short and soft "Honey, I'm home" cow call from Hunt, the bull was on the run, grunting every step of the way and locked on where Tymeson and Hunt were standing.

"He came in looking like a meth addict," Tymeson said later. "His eyes were all bulged-out and he had this crazy look."

At Tymeson's first shot from his .30-06, the bull lowered about 40 inches of antlers and increased his speed.

When the bull veered at 10 yards, Tymeson pointed his gun at the passing bull and fired another shot.

The bull fell.

About 50 hours of hard hunting had lead to about 15 seconds of excitement.

It took six of us a few hours to skin and clean the bull where it fell, then get the meat to a pickup 200 yards away.

The straight-through drive home added to the fatigue.

But amid it all Tymeson said several times, "Awesome hunt, I'd love to do it again."

Me, too.

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