Moose Hunt – Day 5 – Second Day of the season

Woods are alarmingly still today.  It was a late start and Ive been on watch for about an hour.

It turned out that yesterdays final hauil was a cow and a calf.  I was relevied to see the cow met a quicker end than I originally thought – she was found less than 100 yards from where she was shot.

The rest of the day got busy fast.  It took about 5 hours to clean the animals, bring them back to camp and hang them (this is far shorter than when the camp started and the hunters would have to drag the moose by hand).  It was a successful hunt and a small celebration followed.  It is a definite releif that last years skunk is now a memory and not a streak of no luck.

Our land offers many luxuries to us – including the second spot known as flat rock.  It is a high point of land that, when all things fall into place, offers a cellphone signal.

Moose Hunt – Day 5 – Second Day of the season wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

I drove to flat rock last night to make calls home and thought of a few more traditions that may be interesting to share here.

The first is the phone call itself.  When I was young my Father would call on the Wednesday of the hunt.  Being pre-cellphone, this meant a tricky drive to town – up to 3 hours each way, often sitting on the flatbed of a hay wagon dragged behind a tractor.  A 30-minute car ride to town followed the wagon ordeal after a long day of hunting.

We still make our Wednesday call (for the most part) but the short drive to flat rock on the ATV shortens the process and allows for a call on special occasions like yesterday.

I got to flat rock around 9.00PM and made my first call.  By the time I made my second, flat rock was crawling with 3 others doing the same thing.  A fourth was on his way when I made my way back to camp.

Im not exactly sure why we call home after a successful hunt – it is something I do without thought.  Perhaps it is to seek approval ot to share news or to share excitement.  I dont know why we call after some successful hunts but not after others.  I wonder if, perhaps, there is some ancient program set in our brains which calculates that we have somehow provided for our families and want to let them know.  Maybe we are glowing or gloating.    Maybe we just want to be the one to be able to tell someone for the first time.

I dont know why the call is so important (beyond the obvious of wanting and needing to talk to those you love) but, having been on both sides of those calls my entire life, I know there is something special to them.

We missed the calls a few times as a child – getting a message was a bittersweet tonic; perhaps that is what finally reveals to me the importance of these calls – a connection to the outside that, in some way, teleports those we cherish to our sides during the important moments of a week we value deeply.

I also wanted to share my non-hunting Mothers reaction to the news of animals.  Delight would be the closest emotion I could describe.  She knows the work that goes into this – in fact she can take credit for her share of it.  It was her and friend Judy that filled the holes in the road with rocks (she has her own ATV and connects the trailer to it to do road work while Dad does other tasks).  She has spent 30-45 days here in the late summer and early fall and traipsed the woods with my Father looking for signs, patterns and animals.  My Father ensured that she was included in the toast as part of our traditional thanks to all involved in the hunt (which is always followed by a generous pour of anything alcoholic).

Moose Hunt – Day 5 – Second Day of the season wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

We cleaned the heart and liver last night – we are going to try to cook it this evening.  It is something we dont have a lot of experience with – I hope, in part, to change that.

It also occurred to me last night that we could try to get the bones of the animals and preserve stock for the winter with our pressure canner.  This is now a high priority and arrangements have been made for me to take the animals to the butcher and ask.  It is a very exciting prospect for me – as is any chance of using more of the animals that we harvest.

A final note as I have been writing for too long.  I have become quite adept at cleaning a moose and now feel I could do it without guidance if I had to.  While that isnt likely to happen, this could be very useful for deer (and that is certainly a possibility).

Other than 1 very loud chipmunk, it is shatteringly quiet here – my ears are actually ringing from silence and lack of wind.

Almost missed brunch.  I forgot my radio in the morning clamor and had a very quiet run.  The guys went past me unnoticed by 12.00.  I figured they were gone and started walking out when I met up with two who had come back looking for me.  A little embarassing but no real fault.  I am back on the watch where I started yesterday morning for 2 more runs before dark.  Waiting.

First run just ended.  Moving about 100 yards off trail to get ready for the next one.  Time to wait.

I learned how to make lemon confit while sitting on watch.  If I get it started right after moose it will be close to ready by the December Holiday season.  I am contemplating why traditions like these have not continued more commonly.

Grey feels like dark is coming early.  Reports have crossed the radio of a possible moose moving 3 watches (a few hundred yards) away.  A lot of distance – and hunters – between me and it.

Moose turned.  It is now closer – between 1 and 2 watches away.  Possibly headed back towards the doggers.

Confirmation has come in that the moose is likely headed this way on radio.  Mind games have been setting in for 3 minutes (had to put journal down there as those games continue).  I swear a hear something far away coming.  It is tough to keep heart and breathing regular and I must do so in case I have a sighting – it is difficult to aim otherwise.

It is starting to rain lightly; tough to hear anything now.  A radio call comes through – the doggers are out (2 of 3).  The hunt may have ended just that suddenly.  I am waiting to hear more – 7 hours of sitting for 7 minutes of possibly hearing something.  It is a game of deep patience.

(As a note of interest, retyping these words has brought back the tightness in my chest that I felt at the moments I scrawled this in pen originally).

As a side note, rain is 10 minutes in and still a gentle sprinkle.  I have yet to feel a single drop (3 open books are still dry).  I am sitting under a hemlock tree on the downward side of a hill; the lack of wind and thick green cover keeps me dry.

Back to waiting.  The excitement I had likely imagined is now over.  2 of 3 doggers have been out for some time – the last is turned around in a swamp.  He just called to say that the batteries in his GPS (Global Positioning Satelite) just died.  He knows our general direction and has asked us to whistle so he can confirm his assumption.  We have been whistling loud enough for our entire line of hunters to hear – but the dogger cannot hear it.  He is going to walk for another 5 minutes before trying the whistle again.

The misplaced dogger is an experienced woodsman and this is fairly routine so far – it is enough to get the heart going with many of us.

A twist now plays out – our lost hunter encounters a very fresh, very large moose track.  A tough decision to be made by him with darkness coming as he stumbles upon me.  Apparently that moose was very close – it is time to pack and go, the hunt is over.

I am 15 feet high in the forest ceiling.  The group hunt is over for most and many are back at camp unwinding and drying out.  I am testing my new moose call at an area we cleared on Sunday.  It is a lonely area at best and it is my new home until darkness falls.

Height has some natural advantages – perspective, range and less ground level scent.  There are also many disadvantages – mobility, reduced field of view (there is no spinning around up here in this small chair), and possibly tougher shooting to adjust for height.

It feels somehow cooler up here – like suddenly I am more of a hunter or know more than I actually do.  Of course this stand does not make me a better hunter – using it with the little knowledge I have may actually somehow hinder my overall skill.  But I do try.  And I wait.

12.00ISH (Midnight)
I finish the jounral from my bunk tonight.

A crack of thunder ended my perch.  From there I travelled the roads by ATV hoping to fluke a sighting.  I only saw 3 other groups of hunters – one of them being friendly with us and the other two unknown.

2 of us made a brine for the heart and tongues and they are bathing.  I am proud that we are using more of the animal and glad I brought the cookbooks I did for inspiration.  The alarm will ring at 6.00AM and I must make a very qucik move – I am dogging tomorrow.  There will be different gear and mindset and a lot more moving.  Will update then.

Not Far From the Tree – End of Season Party and a chance to win


Remember Not Far From the Tree?

They are hosting an end of season party – Dana and I won’t be able to make it (she’s in pottery and I’ll be in Glasgow, Scotland) this Thursday evening.

Not Far From the Tree   End of Season Party and a chance to win November

We are donating some preserves and a preserving workshop (just like the one in the link above to see what it was like) as one of the door prizes.

It’s a mere $10 to attend (though I’m sure they would accept other donations to this amazing cause) and you can buy tickets here.  If you go we’d love to hear your experience in the comments – wish we could be there with ya!

Moose Hunt – Day 4 – The season opens and our first hunts

5:00AM came early.  I was last out of bed and coffee couldn’t come fast enough.

Most (including me) were in bed early; the last went to bed around midnight.  My Father popped out of bed at 11.30PM and thought it was time for the hunt – it’s like Christmas morning for grownups.

I’m on Wolf Road sitting near a creek – we call this place Flat Rock (one of two different places with the same name).  The grey sky is turning blue, weather is around freezing.  The doggers (these three guys sit in the woods like us for about an hour before getting up and walking through the deep forest towards us – in theory “pushing” any animals between toward us sitting on watches) will start their walk around 8.30.  All is quiet except for a single hunter who has gone back to camp to get his ammunition clips (and I’ve just realized that I’m not sure he knows where the keys are as I write this).

Moose Hunt – Day 4 – The season opens and our first hunts wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

Sun is starting to throw shadows.  Radio call came in – moose sighted on the watch next to me and is heading further from me to the next guy down the line.  I am less than 200 yards from a moose right now, waiting, listening, focus.  Heart is picking up speed – no clear sight (or shot) for anyone.  Yet.


First run just ended.  One of the doggers saw a buck (adult male deer) – he was alerted to the animal as it rubbed its antlers against a tree.  When the dogger stopped suddenly the deer got spooked and ran.  Two of the hunters had a brief sighting of a moose (that’s more than we had in 5 days last year).  One of them only saw legs and the other had a brief look at the side – gender and age are unknown.  Dad followed it’s tracks on his dogging run – figures it is a large adult.

2 of the watchers now move position and the rest of our group of sitters now rotate 180 degrees and face the other way.  We figure the moose ran between two of our sitters and past our line.  he doggers will push from the other side and I will sit in the same spot (facing the other way) for the next 1.5-2.5 hours.

Moose Hunt – Day 4 – The season opens and our first hunts wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

It’s a good start to the hunt – so close.

Moing animals cause chaos to our formation – moving chess pieces on a board with infinite spaces (and a fininte number of “good” moves) is made increasingly complex by our attempts to avoid getting lost or standing in the line of gunfire.  It’s taken over an hour and most of us are sitting within 100 feet of where we started.  I made a big move of about 100 yards.  Time to sit.  Wait.  Quiet.

Shot went off.  It was close.  Second shot.  The radios are silent.  Heart racing.  Moments take forever.  Code 2 just came in – this means that a cow (adult female) is down.

Adrenalin is rushing – meat for winter is now a certainty.  There is a bittersweetness that comes with the cull for me.  A formal excitement crossed with the reality of death of an animal I beleive I have love and respect for.

A correction has come across the radio – Code 2 has been changed to a code 1 – a young bull calf is down.  Having a bull, cow and many calf tags offer luxuries of choice and calls are always made on the safe side (too many of the wrong age and gender are a significant problem that we simply cannot afford).  Our tags grant a luxury to the first shooter of not needing to confirm age and gender – from now on we have to confirm both before firing.

The message of the young bull is relayed through the line.  We all stay in position – the hunt will continue until the doggers come back to the line and then we’ll work on cleaning and hanging the animal.

Possible cow sighting.  Holding tight.

This is a massive contrast from last year which saw us hunt for 4 days before even finding fresh sign of moose and coming home empty handed.

Another shot.  Big cow sighted – could be headed this way.  It’s a game of waiting and patience – the radio is once again silent.  She is between us and the doggers and a large lake forms the base of our trap.

More gunfire and reports that she is hit.  It’s an uncanny morning of action and an irregular hunt.

Reports of the cow – she has been hit and is on the run.  It’s not something that we like – it’s the worst part of the deal in fact.  A wounded animl does not paint a positive mental picture in my mind – the ideal happens when an animal is dropped without ever hearing the bang of the gun.  It really can be that quick.

Everyone sits tight.  A single dogger quietly tracks her trail  If she is not chased she will likely lie down and speed the ending.  We hear periodic reports on the radio and wait.  Of course she could have already passed and simply be waiting to be found as well.

It’s been about 20 minutes since the shots and they’re losing the trail.  Time for the tracker to sit still as well – this promotes the chance of her lying down.  We will resume the tracking after a small passage of time and track her past sunset if needed.  This could be a long day ahead.

The doggers are back to tracking the cow.  Radio traffic is getting heavy and it’s clearly an uneasy time until we find the cow.  Tension is apparant in voices – it reminds me of those TV shows which track the Alaskan Crab Fishermen.

This was the end of writing for the day, tomorrows post fills in the void of what happened from 11.05 onwards…  See you then!

Moose Hunt – Day 3 – Sunday at Camp

Sundays move slow, even in the bush.

Lots to do today.  We are informally splitting in to teams – some are working on trailers, some working on installing a makeshift urinal and others working on rewiring the cable for our gas powered generator to camp.  I’ll be heading to set up some tree stands, clear some bush and work with the guys to try and improve our chances.

Ideally a lot of this work should have been done before – there is a constant discourse in the woods as to how Moose react to changes such as these.  Will our saws scare them off or entice them in?  Will the scraps of brush we clear surprise and scare them away or provide a buffet for them to eat?  Are we cutting too much or too little?

We will also leave trails of ribbons to mark our spaces and have a camp meeting to discuss radio calls, ensure all know what we are allowed to hunt (and not).  We are allowed 1 adult male and 1 adult female and many calves (previous writing explains why).  We average about 1.5 moose a year between 14 of us and we got none last year.

Moose Hunt – Day 3 – Sunday at Camp wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

This is my 21st year with my hunting license and my 13th year of being a full-time member.  Other than a handful of birds and the odd target practice, I haven’t had the chance to shoot at anything else.  I have seen deer in moose season, moose in deer season and, 4 years ago, saw an adult female moose in moose season from less than 8 feet away – we didn’t have a tag and I watcher her browse in front of me.

Moose Hunt – Day 3 – Sunday at Camp wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting November

We had a surprise guest arrive tonight.  Dad has been teasing the camp with this news for days.

Brent arrived this afternoon, after lunch.  Most didn’t know him.

Brent was Ralph’s son.  Ralph hunted with us for many, many years before passing 2 years ago.  He was a friend to many at the camp and one of my Dad’s closest buds – and a great leader at the Fire Department who helped my Dad a lot.  He was also funny as all get out and the best Jeopardy player I knew.

Most recognized Brent as the son of Ralph with no explanation – they look a lot alike.  It’s great to have him hear and I know how much it means to many of us.  I am so glad to have him here, feels like a piece of Ralph is here and I know there will be many stories shared this week.  It’s Brent’s first time here and many are strangers – that won’t last for long.

We officially divided the camp into two teams of 7 men – we alternate inside/ outside camp duties.  One team is all fathers/sons and the rest are our other friends.  It’s a different theme each year.

Early to bed planned and a big pork roast dinner – a long, early day ahead tomorrow.

Moose Hunt – Day 2 – Saturday at Camp and a difficult kill (NOT graphic)

I did not write on the Saturday – it is a day when the majority of our group arrives and we have a lot of work, fun and a party to celebrate the annual reunion.  I was working with my Father early in the morning when we realized we needed supplies and I decided to make a quick run to town – it would be the last time I would see civilization for 8 days.

We drive 13 kilometers on a closed logging road.  You could drive a car, depending on the condition of the road.  It’s an awful mess in winter that even a four-wheeler (ATV) would struggle to navigate.  I carry an unloaded shotgun with me on this road (as many do) in bird season.  When I get to pavement I lock and store the gun, go to town and unlock it once off the road again.  It must be unloaded in the vehicle – this is acceptable because we are not officially on a road.

On my way into town I saw a partridge.  It takes a few careful moments to stop, get out, load, aim and shoot.  I was successful.

The attached video DOES NOT show the bird.

When you harvest a partridge, you “clean” it immediately.  It’s a dirty job – there are no knives involved, simply your hands and eyes to guide you.  Sometimes I find this easy, other times it is very difficult.  I generally find it more difficult to clean a bird than a moose.  A moose feeds so many of us so often – a bird seems like a much more extravagant harvest.  1 life for 1 meal for 1 or 2.  I find a bigger guilt associated with fowl than larger animals for this reason.

As I drove down the road I felt queasy (I am bound to be teased for writing and sharing this :)).  I shot a brief video trying to capture that moment – one of the tougher moments of the hunt for me.  This was shot within minutes of harvesting the bird (which is currently in our freezer):

I know that some may have a problem with the word “respect” associated with killing an animal.  It is something I debate a fair bit – I know many hunters (including myself) who would claim to respect and/or even love the animals they hunt.  I also know many farmers who would lay claim to the same of the animals they rear.  Can one really love something it hunts?  These are questions I’m not sure that there are answers to – but they certainly make me think and am conscious of them.

Saturday night was a party before the hunt began Monday morning – stay tuned for the day by day…

Day 1 – Heading to Camp

Written 1 week ago today – the day I left for the moose hunt.

Lunch time.  I’m at work.  I got up at 5:00am this morning.  A quick walk of the dog, some last minute packing and I was off to work.  Today is a day when a surprising amount gets accomplished – I like to leave knowing that most things are looked after and that the phone won’t ring while I’m away or that I will come back to an avalanche.  An ounce of preparation matched with an awesome team is enough to make my vacations remain as vacations and my returns be fairly smooth.

This will be the last day I work with a beard this year.  I grow it exclusively for the hunt every year – it’s a fun tradition and one that helps keep me warmer on cold days (at least that’s my theory).

I also find that staying focused makes an otherwise long day go quickly.

I will leave around 4 or 5 and head north with few errands to go.  I’ll be in camp around 9 or 10.

Day 1 – Heading to Camp wellpreservedgoesmoosehunting October

Arrival in Huntsville.  Buy beer, snacks for the week and a couple of small items left on my list.  I know there’s a small crew of retired guys (including my Dad) waiting.  I am bouncing off the walls.

I also saw 3 deer on the side of the road outside of Huntsville.  It’s not deer season but that could be a good omen.  I’m a bit nervous – it was a tough year last year.  It had been a difficult year outside of camp for many and the complete lack of hunting success added to the tension.  I hunted from early morning to past sunset every day (30 minutes after is legal).

It is great knowing that there is a small group of guys in camp (they came up yesterday and today).  There will be 6 of us tonight, most of the rest arrive tomorrow and 3 (including a mystery guest that only my father knows the identity of) will arrive.

I am in the middle of the forest in my pickup truck.  I was driving the abandoned logging road that leads to our cabin (13 kilometers from the nearest “real” road.  I thought my headlights were flickering on far away trees before I realized there was something other than light running in front of me.

I thought it was a dog at first and sped up when I knew it wasn’t.  I was chasing a bear up the center of the road without even realizing it!  It was bigger than a cub but not a monster – about 300-400 pounds.  I backed off and he turned into the woods.  It is shocking to see an animal run around 30 kilometers an hour (about 18 miles per hour) turn into the pitch black woods and keep running the same speed.

I stopped and listened to him scamper.  He ran for 2 or 3 seconds before going completely quiet – did he stop and look back?  I wasn’t waiting to find out and took off a little freaked out.  I have driven another kilometer since  and have another 9 to get to camp.

Will write when there’s more to write about the actual hunt.

Keeping Beer Cold in the Woods (and an introduction to the next 10 posts)

Before we get to the larger portion of this post, I’m sure some of you are simply here to learn how to cool beer (without freezing it) while in the woods.  This lesson works year round and will work in any body of water:

Keeping Beer Cold in the Woods (and an introduction to the next 10 posts) October

Full cans of beer float (in this case we used barrels of rainwater)!  Note that this doesn’t work so well with cans of pop which simply sink (I think the can is heavier).  This will chill warm beer in the summer and – as long as the water doesn’t freeze – will keep your beer cold without going to ice.  In the summer you can use the water in a lake or a stream to chill them out.

Regular readers will know that I have just returned from a week in the woods hunting moose.  I had pre-written a series of posts and tweets about my general perspective on hunting and how different it is from what many may (or may not) think.  I’ve been back for 4 days and am glad to say it was a great hunt.

When I was in the woods I kept a journal of all 9 days of my hunt.  I will be posting each of these in order from tomorrow through next week and post each one exactly one week after each happened (i.e. tomorrows post is from hand written notes from exactly a week before).

I am hoping that this format gives readers an idea of what a group hunt is really like and shares insight into the world of sustenance hunting.  It won’t always be the easiest thing to read and all of it is my interpretation of the hunt.

I will not include gory photos or stories about the hunters themselves.  The personal stories are powerful and a massive part of why I go hunting – but this is not the venue to talk about stories of others – that’s not the deal they signed up for and not fair to them.  Taking this part of the story out of the story only paints a small part of a much bigger whole – I am hoping that the stories we posted in previous weeks would give some idea as to the bigger picture.  It is tough knowing that these stories would share a much bigger value to what we do – you’ll have to take my word on it (or not :)).

Some of the posts will be tough to read for many – this will not be a glamorized image of the hunt.  I, of course, have my own biases but hope to paint a whole picture of the hunt and went I went through of part of it.  I am hoping the last 10 days has been a good intro to my perspective about a topic that is difficult for many.  If you want an idea of what it’s like to be on a group hunt (hint: it’s a lot of sitting still), I hope this gives you an idea of what it’s like to be a hunter – and a member of a very real tribe.

We’ll be returning to food posts once the play-by-play of the hunt is over.  By then I’ll have a stockpile of information and topics to share – including several posts from another trip to the UK (I leave on Tuesday).  In the meantime, hope to see comments (including respectful challenges and questions) to continue as we go!

Easy Preserves for the holidays… Lemon Confit

Back to preserving – options for local are diminishing so we’ll do the odd batch of something special – there will be 3 or 4 things made in the next month or so which will be part of our late December and early January celebrations with family and friends.  Todays batch is lemon confit – some of which may end up within our Turkey stuffing or a salad.

I’ve never tried to make – or eat – lemon confit before.  But I am super excited and found the process a lot of fun.  It’s also the super easiest batch of preserves I’ve ever made.  The entire process is very fast – although a little on the pricey side (2 jars of salt for 1.5 lemons).  A different sized jar (a bigger opening to fit half-slices as recommended by my recipe) may have reduced the need for salt by some degree.

Easy Preserves for the holidays... Lemon Confit Salt Preserving Recipes October Lemon [Read more...]

Freezer Pesto

I don’t know if you are tiring of hearing of the woods and the traditions we hold dear in the north – let’s take a break and head to the kitchen for some of the easiest preserving (and most practical) known to man, woman or child.

Do you have a selection of herbs that you are afraid may turn the corner of freshness?  Are you worried about losing a fridgefull – or even a garden full – of them?  When we run into this, we make pesto and whatever we don’t use we freeze in cupcake liners.

These handy little packages freeze well from 9-12 months and can be added (sans paper) to soup, stew, dips, sauces or other meals as needed.  They are a wonderful flavor boost that we use through the winter to remind us of summers bounty and hold us through to the next year.


The cabin is also refuge to shot glasses from all around the world.  We have a traditional camp song which we chant on special occasions (toasts, birthdays, weddings, hunts or the fact that it’s Tuesday are all special occasions for us).

We have a very strict policy that hunting and drinking are never to be combined – once the guns are put away shot glasses (and liquids to pour inside them) appear from all corners of the globe.  We have drank elixirs from the middle east, potions from South America, tonics from Easter Europe and mysterious drinks from places yet to be named.  I’m not sure where it all comes from – but it all goes into these glasses and none are immune (though portions may be moderated for the faint of heart!)

Shotglasses October

Shotglasses October

As a bonus to today’s post is the following shot (it is not Southern nor is it in any way comforting):

The small contents remaining in that bottle are enough to twist the brim of 6 or 8 peoples hats.  It is a form of bathtub moonshine that we trade for in the middle of the forest with an other camp.  Trade of commodities such as this are somewhat commonplace – homemade moonshine, maple syrup and commercial sweets are not uncommon.  Our neighbours are our friends and we share tradition (and libation) with them commonly.