Of moose and men

Paul Smith
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Moose season opens today, here on the Avalon Peninsula that is.

Much of the province has been open for big game hunting since Sept. 14.

The Avalon, along with Burin and Bonavista peninsulas, as well as the Clarenville area, opens Oct. 5. Of course I’m writing earlier, a week earlier to be exact.

I rode my ATV to our moose hunting cabin this morning to ready a few things for opening day.

Robert and I cleaned the place up a bit and split a hundred or so junks of wood that were just too big for the stove. We’d been meaning to get to that job all summer, but never got around to it.

Anyway, all is in readiness for the big day, kindling made, water lugged up from the brook and the floor swept clean.

By the time you read this piece in the paper, the floor will likely be a tad dirty again. We’re going in Friday night and cooking up a roast of moose in the oven. There’s a bunch of us planning on a few drinks and a scoff before the morning hunt. But we are serious hunters, just half a flask each, and lights out by midnight.

We have it pretty comfortable moose hunting these days.

Our cabin in the backcountry provides a measure of luxury that I wasn’t always blessed with. Granted, we worked bloody hard to build our abode in the middle of nowhere. And when luck shines upon us and we shoot a moose, we always manage somehow to get our ATV’s right on the spot to tow out the venison.

Actually we generally won’t shoot a moose anyplace we can’t travel to on a quad.

The times have changed. Robert would rather cut a mile of trail than lug a moose 50 feet. I don’t blame him one bit. Humping moose on your back is one of the toughest slugs on planet Earth. A triathlon has nothing on a hearty moose lug.

I’ve paid my dues moose hunting.

There were no ATV’s for my first decade or so of gunning for the big fellas.

I’ve had seriously tender shoulders and severely sore muscles from shouldering those bloody heavy quarters of meat. Can you imagine carrying a 100-pound plus chunk of moose on your shoulder or back for miles and miles over barrens, boulders, marsh and stump?

It will make you or break you. Funny how you work beyond human limits for yourself, to get a moose out of the woods, but there could never be money enough paid to go to such extreme in one’s chosen employment.  

One of the hardest day’s work I ever did in my life was bringing home my first moose.

It was 1979 and I was 18 years old, young and quite foolish.

I shot a moose very far in the woods. I had a party licence with my cousin Boyd Winsor from Harbour Grace. Myself, Boyd, and our good friend Chris Coombs, set off at daylight on opening day.

Actually we weren’t too distant from where our cabin stands today, it’s been a productive moose area for many years.

Anyway, I shot a fine bull moose with eight points at around 8 a.m., fine and dandy, if I weren’t several miles from the road.

And I don’t mean a few miles on some nicely groomed hiking trail. This moose walk would take us through quarries of boulders, thick woods and more than a few bog holes.

We were in for a very long and arduous day.

As if the path weren’t muddy enough, rain began to pour down endlessly, just a few minutes after I pulled the trigger.

There we were, three college students, stood around a 500-pound critter, dead on the end of a marsh, and wondering how we were going to gut, quarter and transport such a massive beast to the distant road.

This was no teenage video game. This was real life, subsistence living, down and dirty. We were boys meddling in a man’s world and likely a mountain man at that.

First there was the matter of field dressing a moose, and on that morning my closest experience was a snowshoe hare — quite a difference. We wisely brought along a copy of the hunting guide which detailed (and still does) the gutting and quartering of large critters.

Guided by written and illustrated wisdom, albeit somewhat obscured by raindrops on cheap paper, we made the proper cuts to disembowel our kill.

Then we proceeded with the quartering using my dad’s old Disston D12 handsaw. After much puffing and lactic acid concentration in shoulders and arms, four quarters of moose lay separate on the marsh. Consideration and discussion turned to transport. Honda’s Big Red was five years off — 1984 I believe. At least that’s when they showed up here in Newfoundland.

We had some rope and an axe. Why not fashion a hand barrow from the stout gnarled spruce that grew on the edge of the marsh?

That’s exactly what we did. After an hour of hewing and knot tying we were headed towards my truck with a quarter of moose and its head balanced delicately on a makeshift stretcher of round sticks.

You will note there were three of us, neither being man enough at that time to carry a quarter of moose solo. So we took shifts at the staves of the barrow. We also discovered that rope tied to the handles and looped over one’s shoulders to be a fantastic aid in shielding strain from the forearms.

There is much valuable knowledge not taught in schools.

The walk was long, wet, and tiring, but we made it inside of two hours. We drove home, me beaming with pride at shooting my very first moose on opening day.

Dad was proud of me. I think he was even more impressed with how we had managed to cart it home.

However, he reminded us that there were still three quarters left in the woods and surely the meat would spoil if left overnight. We would never get our bounty home before dark without enlisting help.

Who do you call when you need a moose lugged to the road? The yellow pages were no help.

We called upon my cousin, Gordon Smith, and his brother in law, Max Winsor, who is incidentally Boyd’s father.

And they showed up with a friend of theirs, Bren Best from Harbour Grace. I guess he had nothing better to do that afternoon besides shoulder a quarter of moose in the pelting rain.

You might remember Gordon from a tribute I wrote about him after he passed away from cancer early last winter.

You call real men when you need a moose lugged. We arrived on the location of our morning kill. It was still pouring rain.

Max and Gordon were carrying on, joking around and tormenting us young fellas about this and that. You wouldn’t know but they were on a Sunday school picnic or a leisurely stroll in Pippy Park.  

Over a smoke, the logistics of the outbound journey were decided upon.

Chris and I, mere boys amongst men, would use our barrow and carry another quarter between us.

The other four would alternate, carrying a quarter solo for 10 minutes at a time — no small feat I assure you.

Anyway, the moose was hung in the shed by suppertime and all hands enjoyed a snort of rum that my Dad had waiting.

There are not many men around nowadays like Gordon and Max. Sometimes I miss moose hunting before ATV’s, when you discovered abruptly who your real buddies were.

But I’m not selling my quad just yet.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity.

He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Geographic location: Clarenville, Newfoundland, Pippy Park

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