The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife announced that the annual Maine Moose Festival would be held the weekend of June 17, 2017. The moose permits would be drawn on Saturday, the 17th, and the winners names would be posted on their website at 6:00 p.m.
For hopeful Maine moose hunters, residents and non-residents, the week before the Maine moose lottery drawing is the longest week of the year. Regardless of how any conversation starts among these hunters during that week, it always ends with, “If Saturday ever gets here and I draw a moose permit.” These conversations can be heard at the local diner, the gas pumps, the sporting goods store, and many other places moose hunters might gather. Hunters who have not seen each other all year make phone calls to say, “Hey, maybe we will draw a moose permit this year.” Of course, this is just the start of a conversation that continues with the best rifle, cartridge, and scope and the swamp where the giant bull hangs out. These discussions can continue for hours, or until the Mrs. announces that dinner is on the table.
The activity at the shooting range always picks up the week before the Maine moose lottery drawing. Hunters can be found dialing in their favorite moose rifles while saying to anyone who will listen, “If Saturday ever gets here and I draw a moose permit.” One shooter let it be known that he bought his rifle specifically for moose hunting and 20 plus years later he still had not drawn a permit. He continued to speak, with envy in his voice, about a friend who had drawn twice. Another shooter chimed in to tell everyone about his moose hunt five years ago. Although it was June and the temperature was 75 degrees, his description of the cold, frosty October morning in northern Maine made me want to reach for a down jacket. His story of a successful hunt just added another log to the blazing fire of anticipation.
Finally, Saturday arrived and I was a lucky 2017 moose permit winner. The hunt started with all the planning and prep work. After checking inventory, my wife, Jennifer, and I made long lists of things we needed. We made many trips to Cabela’s, L.L. Bean, and the grocery store for supplies. Of course, in our travels we always included a favorite restaurant to have lunch, talk through our progress, and regain energy loss from all the shopping. Jennifer, who is a person with refined and discriminating taste and who is very knowledgeable in the craft and art of food and food preparation, went into her gourmet cooking mode. She first prepared a menu for 14 nights of tasty, healthy dinners. She then cooked each meal and packaged it in a disposable aluminum container. After labeling the container, she placed it in our freezer. This cooking plan allowed Jennifer free time in the evening after a long day in the field behind the video camera to still serve hot, delicious meals. On our morning of departure, we transferred these meals to our plug-in car cooler for our trip to Eagle Lake, Maine.
It was a beautiful blue sky, sunny day that found us driving north on I-95. Once we got past the city of Bangor, the foliage started showing fall colors, and as for traffic, a car was rarely seen. After 315 miles of stress free scenic driving, we arrived at North Maine Woods Guide Service at Eagle Lake, Maine. Our guide/outfitter and good friend, Ron Ricciardi, greeted us and showed us to our home for the next two weeks. Ron’s cabins are clean, comfortable, and fully equipped with all of the housekeeping essentials. The wide screen TV with many channels to choose from was great. We appreciated the two comfortable chairs where old guys like us could sit and view the lake and the distant mountains. We would enjoy the view and have a sundowner while waiting for dinner to heat up in the oven. One of our favorite views was the evening sunset when the mountains would silhouette against the fiery sky with large flocks of Canada geese flying just above them.
Ron Ricciardi is the owner of North Maine Woods Guide Service, and Pond Brook Cabins is truly an excellent representative of the outdoor fraternity. His experience, hunter ethics, honesty, integrity, hard work, patience, dependability, and persistence are as good as it gets.
Our first week found us in the mountains scouting for moose and enjoying the rapidly changing fall scenery. We did this with Ron at the wheel driving the many miles of logging roads that crisscross the area. We sighted bull moose every day and gave most of them names. There was “One Horn Willie,” “Chicken Head,” “Pretty Boy,” “Roadrunner,” “Lazy Boy,” and “Paddle Back Pete,” just to name a few. The heat of mid-morning would shut down moose activity, so every day we would return for lunch. In the afternoon after lunch, Jennifer and I would relax and relive the morning scouting events. We would sometimes go into the town of Eagle Lake to pick up milk and talk moose hunting with the locals who are very friendly. Ron would pick us up late in the afternoon, and we would scout until dark.
The week of September 25th started moose hunting season. We were up at 3:30 a.m. and out the door at 5 a.m., at which time Ron would pick us up. The first four days, we spotted moose every day but nothing I was interested in. On Friday, the fifth day, we spotted what looked like a good bull heading into thick cover. It was late in the day, so we decided to back out and return in the morning. The fall foliage was now near peak and was truly spectacular, which made the ride out very enjoyable.
On Saturday, the last day of the season, we set up where we had last glassed the bull. Knowing the bull was probably still in the area, patience was the name of the game. Finally, at 10 a.m., Ron’s persistence in tree raking with his moose antler and excellent moose grunt calling paid off. At 103 yards, this grunting, snorting, tree thrashing, 1,200-pound giant came into view, ready for a fight. Although I don’t claim to understand moose language, I think he was saying, “Do you want a piece of me?” One shot from my .300 WSM put him down, with a second shot to anchor him for good, signaling that my moose hunt was over.
Jennifer and I finally settled back home after two wonderful weeks at Eagle Lake, Maine. As funny as it may sound, from force of habit, we are still looking down all the side roads and into the fields around here for moose as we drive to the grocery store. The grunting of that big bull moose as he slowly came to Ron’s call, the aroma of Jennifer’s lasagna warming in the oven along with a loaf of homemade garlic bread, the warm September days, the cool September nights, the brilliant fall foliage, and the many laughs we had with Ron along the way are just a few of the many great memories from our 2017 moose hunt that Jennifer and I will surely relive over and over. I’m lucky to have taken a great moose this year and other great moose in the past in Maine.