10.5 year old, last day bull
About a day after the drawing for the Maine moose hunt my phone rang. "hello" I said. "Hey is zone 4 better then zone 2" the voice from the other end of the phone asked. I just went with it, and gave my response. That's how the conversation started between me and Massimo who goes by "Massi." Long story short, I traded his zone 2 tag for a zone 1 September bull, so I guess we figured out that conversation. Apparently Massimo had seen my name on Facebook, but hadn't figured out yet that I was an guide. He just wanted to call me to pick my brain about moose hunting in general since he had seen I was active on the "Maine moose hunt" Facebook page. After chatting for probably 45 minutes he discovered that I was a guide and booked a hunt.
We talked back and forth quite regularly over the summer to discuss all the details of our moose hunts, the gear, the weather, strategies and what to expect, etc. He wanted a mature bull, which I told him in a typical week of moose hunting you usually will get only one chance at a mature bull. Turns out Massi was a first time non resident applicant and was drawn for a tag. He hadn't really even thought about moose hunting much prior to applying.
Finally in late September it was time to hunt moose. Massi and his sub-permittee Connor arrived in camp, you could see the excitement on their faces as they pulled in to see all of the wall tents setup, the random moose antlers we had in front of the tent we find when scouting, the entire atmosphere is great.
We did the typical welcome, showed them to their tent to get unpacked, said our introductions and got settled in.
I had picked out a really nice spot for opening morning. The year prior we had a hunter miss a really big bull in this spot, and low and behold he was still living in there according to our cameras. The plan was to get in there really early and just settle in and wait for things to calm down. I gave them the "we've gotta be really quiet when we get out of the truck," speech. It includes closing doors quietly, no loud talking, no slamming things around, etc. They could tell I was serious about this, I didn't want to blow another opportunity at this bull. We arrived well before light, everything was going according to plan. I was pleasantly surprised that they were being quiet, getting their gear in order, the excitement could be felt. I could hear a bull grunting on the ridge above us. After everyone closed the doors, I walked to the back of the truck to get my things, I went to lock the doors and "HONK HONK HONK" and "BLINK BLINK BLINK" my alarm sounded and lights were beeping. "FU*******" I let out quite the explicit, unintentionally. After getting things all shut down I was beside myself. I couldn't believe I had set my truck alarm off, and furthermore I figured these guys were going to regret their decision. When I looked over Massi was laughing hysterically and casually says "I didn't want to shoot that f*** bull anyway".
After struggling to get over the embarrassment of that opening morning hunt we never did quite recover from that incident that day. In fact I don't think we saw a moose on Monday or Tuesday unless they were dead in someones truck. By Wednesday morning after listening to me call moose for the last few days I'm pretty sure everyone was convinced that my call wasn't working. I decided I was going to pull into a spot to do some calling, but first I needed an emergency pit stop. I had to run up in the woods to take care of some business. I could hear Massi and Connor messing around out by the truck, grunting and cow calling and probably making fun of me. When I got back to the truck they were signaling me to hurry that there was a moose there. In disbelief I slowly walked over. I looked up, to see a young bull coming right up the road at them. Massi said "yup I see who the real guide is here" and just starts laughing. Wednesday evening we went to a spot I had seem quite a bit of moose sign and decided to settle down and call for an hour or two. After calling for about an hour I finally heard a bull grunting. He was coming in. I looked up to see if Massi could hear it, and saw him sleeping. Connor woke him up and told him to get ready. Just as he got ready, the wind swirled in the wrong direction and the bull went silent. Just like that he was gone, and Massi was convinced I was messing with him.
Thursday morning we went to a different spot. We could hear a bull grunting and a cow calling. We worked our way down to where we figured they might go, but by the time we got there we could hear that they had already gone by. We attempted to get closer but they went silent. I worked my way back out of the woods and around to the other side of them to get in front and again got the bull grunting. A few minutes later I could hear another bull grunting from a different direction. Both of these bulls sounded like they were with cows and didn't want to come out. We made a second attempt to go after the first bull, and as we closed the distance the wind swirled and again busted us. This seemed to be the theme for the week, if it wasn't bad luck it was no luck.
By Friday it was a downpour, this was going to be rain gear all day. I was amazed that despite not having seen many moose due to weather and all of the other various challenges the spirits were still high, everyone had a great attitude the entire time. I decided to hike about a mile through the woods to a pond hoping for to maybe find some moose out there. To my surprise when we snuck to the edge of the beaver dam a cow was feeding in the pond. We got settled in under some cedar trees and decided to use her as a live decoy figuring sooner or later a bull might show up. After 5 minutes of sitting there we could hear some crashing running through the woods close to us. A different cow suddenly appeared and she started chasing the other cow around in the pond, she was mad. She ran the cow out, and made a run all the way to the other end of the pond, and started moaning at what we later found out was a bull wallow. She came all the way back down to us and started moaning. Soon enough a couple more cows appeared. We could now see 4 cows and they were all letting out estrous calls. You can imagine the excitement of having 4 estrous cows in front of you, only wondering where the bull was. We could hear a couple more moose back in the woods but after 20 minutes of watching these cows no bull ever appeared, and the cows eventually wandered off. Massi told me that even if he didn't get a moose this made his entire season, and he would leave happy no matter what. I told him the hunt wasn't over and your entire day can change in 5 minutes.
Saturday morning was the last day of the 6 day hunt. We had had 5 pretty tough days of hunting. Guide Robert joined us this morning as his hunter had already tagged out with his moose. I could tell something was different this morning. The spirits weren't up, the mood seemed to be off, and I had come to the conclusion in my head that Massi didn't think he was going to get his moose. I told Massi and Connor that we were going to hunt all day, and not come back to camp even for lunch. We went out for the morning hunt for a couple hours, everything was still wet from the previous days rains. We probably should have been wearing our rain gear but we wanted to be quiet, so we didn't. Within a couple hours we were soaked to the bone and cold. Massi told me it was fine, and that we just weren't going to get a moose. I could tell I needed to do something to change the atmosphere. I decided to go back to camp against my earlier plans, get everyone a warm dry set of clothes, some soup and a sandwich. I told Massi at camp that I wasn't going to give up on him, so don't give up on me. We both agreed and gave it the last go for the week.
All week long we had been taking a left when we left camp. I said "lets take a right instead" change it up a bit. I knew an area not far from camp that hadn't been getting much pressure. We drove about 3 miles from camp, parked the truck and started walking down an old road that didn't have a single tire track in it, and had some trees across the road. I knew nobody had been in here all week. I let out a couple cow calls and after about 20 or 30 seconds I heard what sounded like a cow answer me. I looked over at Robert and confirmed he heard it too. We knew a cow had just answered us. I wasn't going to wait, I just hoped that she would have a bull with her. When I got closer I let out another cow call and she again answered. This time Robert could hear a bull with her, although I didn't hear it. I trusted him and decided this was our chance. I told Robert and Connor they needed to stay out near the road and that Massi and I were going to go in and seal the deal. Robert looked at me and Massi and said "GO KILL THAT BULL!" We did our best sneaking in to where we had heard the cow calling. When we got to where I thought they should be I stopped. We started looking around and I spotted a small spike bull. I pointed it out to Massi, but I didn't think that was the bull who was with the cow. After looking a little more I finally spotted the bull and cow, he was much bigger. I pointed him out to Massi and I didn't need to say anymore. "BOOM." Massi fired and the bull buckled up "HIT HIM AGAIN" I said. Massi ended up firing 3 rounds into the bulls vitals and he dropped. Words can't describe that moment, but in 5 minutes our entire hunt had just changed. There were smiles and tears of joy. We walked up on the bull and had to pull his rack out of the ground, he was more than Massi had hoped for. With 3 hours left in the season we had killed a great, old bull. Over this past winter we found out he aged at 10.5 years old. Massi also found out that I wasn't lying when I said you usually get one encounter of a mature bull in a weeks hunt. His just happened to be on the last day.
The best part about the guys we had in this moose camp were the attitudes. Everyone in each party just loved to be there, despite the other two parties having already tagged out they had waited at camp in hopes that Massi would get his bull, as they wanted to join in the celebration. We decided with camp being only 3 miles away and having so much help back there we went and got everyone. They were all more than willing to help. It was the end to one of the toughest, yet most enjoyable moose hunts i've endured.