Moose hunting season started this week, although you would hardly notice if you weren’t paying attention. The number of hunters is dwindling, along with the number of moose. This year, a big chunk of the moose hunting territory is closed due to the Pagami Creek fire. Hunters with licenses in the areas affected by the closures were given the chance to return their licenses for a refund, or take the risk that their hunting zone would be reopened before the season ends. Their decision was complicated by the realization that there may not be many more moose hunting seasons in the future if the population continues its downward trend. Minnesota moose licenses are parceled out through a lottery system and some hunters wait many years to win a license. They are only allowed one license in their lifetime, whether they bag a moose or not. In recent years, hunters have been limited to shooting bulls only. According to biologists, shooting bulls only causes almost no impact in the size of the overall moose herd.
Last year, we had two moose hunters staying in the Sawbill Lake campground. They were enthusiastic, but candid about the fact that they did not know what they were doing. In fact, one of the hunters had a chronic disease that severely impacted his stamina. Unfortunately, they shot a moose, late in the afternoon, about two miles from the nearest road. They came into the Sawbill store and offered our crew $100 per person to help fetch the moose out of the woods. Three of our crew, Luke Opel, Liz Foot and Marc LeVoir, took them up on their offer.
The hapless hunters led their three newly-hired Sherpas through the thick brush and rugged terrain to the moose. One of the hunters inexplicably left his rifle leaning against a tree halfway to the moose. The other left his ammunition in the truck. When the group reached the moose, they were horrified to discover that it was still alive. The hunter who left his rifle in the woods couldn’t find it again, so the other hunter made the long trek to the truck and back before dispatching the moose. After the arduous and messy task of field dressing the moose, they tied a haunch to a pack board, which Luke strapped on his back and headed off alone toward the truck through the pitch-black woods. As soon as he was out of earshot from the rest of the group, a pack of wolves started howling about a half mile away. Here was Luke, alone in the woods, in the dark, unarmed, not completely sure where he was going, with 150 pounds of warm, bloody meat strapped to his back and a pack of wolves closing in. It would be enough to unnerve the steadiest person. Luke’s only reaction was to unbuckle the hip belt on the pack, so he could shed it quickly if he needed to – and, well, he might have picked up his pace a little bit. The wolves left him alone though, and all’s well that ended well.
This year, we’ve only seen one successful moose hunting party so far. As I’ve said before, I’m not against hunting, but with so few moose left around here, I feel like they’re more valuable on the hoof than mounted over someone’s fireplace. The moose is such an icon of the north woods, it will be a crying shame if it disappears from the landscape.
I see that County Auditor Brady Powers is reporting that the bed tax collected in Cook County is continuing its upward trend. This is surely good news for everyone. While it’s good to be busy, we are almost to the time of year when most of the county stops, takes a breath, and enjoys a few quiet weeks before the winter season cranks up. The conversation at the post office lasts just a little longer, there are more frequent middle of the road visits with two cars side by side and the mood in the local watering hole is just a tad more jovial. It’s good to live in Cook County.