Our canoe slipped silently along the inside curve of a slight bend in the thoroughfare between Eagle and Square Lakes. The Commander, Kevin Regan, sat in the bow with his rifle across his knees as he scanned the early-morning shoreline. In the stern seat, I gently stirred the flat -water reflections of bright October foliage with my wooden paddle. It was the third day of our hunt to fill the Commander’s cow moose tag.
As we rounded the curve, Kevin suddenly tensed and raised the rifle. A cow moose was grazing the shoreline of a small cove about ninety yards from the canoe. After sighting the canoe, the cow turned towards the deep woods along the shore. And as she climbed from the water back to the cove’s steep shoreline — the Commander’s rifle barked.
The moose died instantly at the shot — but she also fell back into the deep water of the thoroughfare. Our celebration was cut short when her carcass proceeded to sink like a stone into the dark tannin depths of the waterway.
By the time we had paddled to the spot, the 600-pound animal had completely disappeared under the dark water. The only sign that she had ever been there was a cloud of brown mud that slowly expanded from the watery depths.
“What the hell do we do now?”, asked Kevin, as we unloaded our rifles and beached the canoe.
It was a fair question.
The thoroughfare between Square Lake and Eagle Lake is perhaps the most remote
spot in the area designated as Zone 3 of the modern Maine moose hunt. Take a look at Delorme’s, Maine Atlas & Gazetteer, Map 68, E-1. Much of this zone is St. John River Valley farmland, but we were deep in the woods on Maine Public Reserve Land that surrounds Eagle Lake.
The cove was several miles from anything resembling a passable woods road. And we were many more miles from our vehicle, which was comfortably parked in the driveway of a friend’s camp on the far (eastern) side of Square Lake. This was exactly the kind of situation that legions of moose hunters have sought to avoid since the modern moose hunt began in Maine back in 1980.
Maine’s moose hunt, for a number of reasons, has primarily been a road hunting experience ever since those early years. See “How the Maine Moose Hunt Became a Gas and Blast Affair”. Back in 2011 the Commander and I, along with some hunting partners, decided that we wanted to do a different kind of moose hunt. See “Off-road Moose Hunting” .
When a moose dies in an inconvenient place during a road hunt — the hunter still has multiple options to retrieve the animal from the woods. Fellow moose hunters, helpful loggers and other assistance is never too far away.
But when two guys insist on paddling a canoe to the most remote corner of the zone to find their quarry… they need to be a little more self-reliant. Our mode of remote moose hunting calls for less in the way of complicated motorized equipment — but plenty of gear is still required. Inside the canoe was a moose retrieval kit that we had assembled for situations just like this one.
Still, as the Commander and I stood in the ankle-deep mud on the bank of the thoroughfare — and looked at the dark water where his moose had disappeared — I wished for just a moment, with all my heart, that a solid woods road and a 3/4 ton pickup were handy. One with a heavy-duty, bumper-mounted electric winch would be good.
We began to debate about who was going to strip down and go moose diving in the chilly water. And as the debate got more spirited a miracle happened. The moose carcass slowly rose from the bottom of the thoroughfare and floated just under the surface of the water.
We quickly attached a rope and then towed the beast across the thoroughfare, by furiously paddling the canoe, until we reached a narrow gravel beach on the other side. Here, away from the worst of the boot-sucking mud, the real work could begin.
Using the rope and some small logs to help roll the cow up out of the water we managed to gain enough high ground to begin the butchering process. With a series of sharp knives and a bone-saw we started the dis-assembly using a method that I have come to admire.
The “gutless” method comes to us, not surprisingly, from western elk hunters. It involves partially skinning the animal and then removing the front and rear quarters, back-strap, neck and brisket meat from one side. The moose or elk is then flipped over and the process is repeated. The chest and stomach cavities are never opened. The ribs, spine, entrails, lower legs, hide and head remain in the woods. The quarters and loose meat are placed in muslin game bags for transport by canoe or pack.
The whole process is amazingly clean. The meat cools quickly because the hide is removed. And very little edible meat is left behind. Even the tenderloin can be teased out from under the spine near the end of the process. Check out the video available on the internet at http://elk101.com/videos/gutless-video/ .
By early afternoon we had transformed the moose carcass into five heavy bags of skinned, mostly deboned moose parts that fit nicely into the bottom of the canoe. We paddled the meat two miles down the thoroughfare to Eagle Lake Sporting Camps. The owners, the Theriault Family, were gracious enough to help us transport the meat to a tagging station and then back to our base-camp at Square Lake.
A camp neighbor wandered over as we were hanging the meat bags under the eaves of the wood shed. He seemed skeptical as we told him the story.
“I thought you guys must be duck hunting or something– you kept leaving in the boat but the truck stayed here.”