For Jeff Messer, Moose Hunt Fulfills Yearning For ‘True Maine Experience’
When Jeff Messer returned to his home state in 2003, he aimed to live the great Maine life with gusto, to experience everything the state has to offer. Toward that end, six years ago he started signing up for the annual Moose Permit Lottery – because you won’t find a more Maine-ish activity than that.
And this summer, when his name was drawn for a bull moose permit, he was thrilled and excited. And, also, a little daunted.
“I was quite surprised. Some guys have tried for 30 years,” Jeff says, who took a week off from Messer Truck Equipment for the hunt. “But I was also a little like, oh, what did I get myself into! I realized I had no idea what I would need, so I decided to hire a Maine Guide. After a bunch of research, I got in touch with Nathan Theriault from Eagle Lake because he was recommended several times. He’s an expert and has been hunting his entire life. He takes care of the scouting ahead and equipment, and basically, you show up with proper clothing, your hunting license, and gun. They house you and feed you and walk you through it.”
Jeff says he had never been much of a hunter but had experience with small arms as a pistol instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy. So that much was covered. Under the terms of his permit, he could bring one friend to hunt with him and they could bag one moose between them. He brought John Harvell of Presque Isle, “a guy I just like hanging out with, who’s also not a huge hunter.” And he could bring along one more person, who was not permitted to hunt. Jeff asked Mike Morse of Falmouth, a longtime friend and hunting enthusiast.
A Walk In The Woods
They packed up and headed to Eagle Lake on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 9, sighted their rifles and scopes, got a small amount of sleep, and awoke at 4 a.m. to make the 1.5-hour drive to prime moose country – the Maine North Woods, which is a huge gated plot of land used by paper companies that you pay a fee to access.
“It’s basically a criss-cross of dirt roads through the land, and we drove around in there when the moose were most active each day, at dawn and dusk. The Guide Service has a plane that scopes out where the moose populations are, and we stopped to hike along the edges of a clear-cut area first, being really quiet and staying downwind of the moose because they’re so sensitive to the scent of humans. We followed signs like tracks and broken trees, and did bull and cow calls, too.”
To attract moose, the guides scrape old moose shoulder blades against trees to replicate the sound of live males raking their antlers against trees.
“It was like going for a long hike each day, like a 13-hour slow hike,” Jeff says. “There are lots of clear-cuts where trees have been harvested, some steep hills and bogs, lots of dirt roads. The foliage was at peak, and it was absolutely beautiful. But it’s very slow going. You walk 50 yards, you stop and listen and look, go another 50 yards – all day. That area didn't have the drought issues that we did in southern Maine, and everything was pretty wet. We saw a bog with trout in it, and it was kind of amazing to consider that we were the only humans those fish had seen, ever!”
Sounds peaceful, right? Jeff says that, yes, it was for much of the time “until an 18-wheeler would go blasting past at 60 miles an hour with three feet to pull off. There were a couple of times where it was pretty scary. Hunters are definitely secondary there.”
Each night, the group would make the drive back to Eagle Lake, where they stayed and socialized with eight other groups of hunters. Then it was out the door at 4 a.m. again each of the next three days.
The Game Is Afoot
By Thursday, Jeff says he was getting a little nervous that he’d leave without success. He knew the pickings were somewhat slimmer because he had been assigned the second of two hunting sessions. And, by Thursday, all of the other hunters had bagged a moose.
But “at first light that morning, we saw signs of a moose and crept up to the top of a hill. We spotted a cow and a calf, but there was no sign of a bull. We did calls, and went down into a low area, a bog, but couldn’t determine where the bull was. Then we saw some motion. It was pretty neat seeing the guide draw him in with calls. When the moose was about 30 yards out, he opened himself up to a shot.”
It took three shots to bring it down. Lucky for Jeff, John and Mike, additional guides were done with their clients and were free to help. Jeff and his friends watched as the moose was quartered, cut up, and all edible parts were bagged and packed. The moose weighed about 900 pounds, and its rack was 43 inches across.
“I’m not a blood and guts kind of guy, but it didn’t bother me,” Jeff says. “It was actually pretty interesting to see how they process everything.”
The bull’s head, still attached to its skin, was strapped to a backpack, and Jeff was determined to haul the pack out on his own – all 150 pounds of it on 180 pounds of him.
“They tried to steer me away from doing it, but I said I thought I could do it. So two guys lifted the pack onto me, and I immediately was hunched over. It was about a third of a mile out to the truck, and I’m proud to say I didn’t fall down. My hips hurt from that for quite a while, but I just wanted to do it – I think because I wanted to feel more a part of the whole experience, and to make the trophy count that much more.”
He and his friends split the meat, most of which was ground up, and Jeff’s share fills half a chest freezer. He and his family enjoyed moose burgers on the grill the following weekend.
“Doing this is not a really relaxing time because you’re on a mission! But the natural beauty was breathtaking,” Jeff says. “I feel really lucky, and we realized that everything can change in 30 seconds. We went from being incredibly disappointed, thinking the week was going to be a bust, to this. The experience was everything I hoped it would be. A true Maine experience. It definitely did not disappoint.”