For most of my 56 years of life, I’ve heard the adage “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then” when I’ve done something good, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s that simple. Next year, I’ll celebrate 35 years of marriage to my truly better half. Last December, I retired from my career as a fire fighter after 23 years of service and moved to Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. And a few years back, I was one of 10 Union members honored to be a guest on the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s Escape to the Wild TV show. On that trip, I hunted for ocellated turkey and puma in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. To the astonishment of our outfitter, we were able to film the harvesting of a bird on the ground. All aspects of the trip were wonderful; it was truly an acorn.
One of my most memorable blessings in the great outdoors began in July 2010 when I carpooled with a fellow volunteer of the North American Squirrel Association to an annual trout fishing event. During that trip, talk about my new friend Ralph’s life in Alaska turned into an invitation to fill a vacancy in a group flying to northern Ontario to hunt moose. I said yes before the odometer recorded another tenth of a mile! As the summer passed, we met periodically and discussed our future hunt in the North. Ralph was the only experienced moose hunter in the group, and we were all trying to absorb everything he could tell us.
Finally, September 17th, 2010 arrived, and we were on our way to Alaska with our minds filled with the promise of new adventure. After stopping for the night in Thunder Bay, Ontario, we drove the last leg to the “outfitter base” and met the float plane to fly us into our camp. The flight over the Canadian wilderness was breathtaking with most trees showing full colors. The log cabin suited this group of moose hunters perfectly. And after fishing Canadian walleye and northern pike, we were not disappointed in our decision to fly in early. Acorn- check!
When moose season opened, we were ready. We had two bull (or calf), one cow and one calf tag in our pockets. Ralph and I went one direction and Pat and Mike went another. Pat and Mike’s promise of having several moose down by mid-morning passed into the night on day one. Day two yielded similar results, and by sunset of day six, we had only seen one moose collectively. Each night, we looked at the full moon, the abundance of wolf tracks and shook our heads at how often the wind blew. We thought about the outfitter’s expectation that our group would “probably” get one animal, maybe two, but three was unheard of for a group of four.
Our plan for the last day was to hunt only until noon. Since we had an early flight the next morning, we didn’t feel it was wise to risk working into the night to get an animal as large as a moose butchered and back to camp. Pat and Mike went east under a beautiful red sky that morning, and Ralph and I went south up the Ogoki River as we had every morning. The wind was wrong for the first setup, so we headed for the next area, a canal that winded back into the bush to where it was just a stream coming out of thick cover.
At 8:15 that morning, we entered the first pool of the canal. My head was still in the game, but I wasn’t glassing every dark object like I had earlier in the week. Now, I was taking in a few deep breaths and simply enjoying the place and time. The boat motor was running at a slow idle. Upon entering the last bend, I had the binoculars up and saw something that hadn’t been there before.
“It’s a moose,” I yelled in my loudest whisper as I motioned for Ralph to turn the boat to shore. I jumped out and pulled the boat in, grabbing four cartridges with my free hand. Ralph told me not to worry about the boat and to get up to the bend. As I peered around the bend, I could see a medium size bull standing on the bank. Sticking my head out a little more, I could see a very large cow standing in the middle of the canal. As I stood there thinking about how I could get closer, two calves walked out from the shoreline opposite the bull. This was too good to be true; could all of our tags be filled right here?
I climbed the bank into the bush and slowly picked my way through the branches. After about 100 yards, I slid back down the bank and set up behind a stump. For 15 to 20 minutes, I watched the bull shake his head, stick out his tongue and drool. I also listened to his many different vocalizations. I watched the cow repeatedly lift her head out of the water with her mouth full of plants and listened to the water running from her fur. ACORN, ACORN, ACORN! The bull eventually quartered toward me and was finally broadside.
I estimated the distance, took the safety off and fired once, twice and with the third shot, the bull collapsed into the water. I swung on the now departing cow and fired my fourth and final cartridge. In a few steps, she too fell. I jubilantly ran back toward Ralph yelling for him to watch the floundering bull as I made my way back for more ammo. As I reloaded, Ralph shot once to finish the bull, and we came together again. I’m sure he could see as much gratitude in my eyes as I could see pride in his. We exchanged handshakes, high fives and even a hug as he listened to my story.
Then, Ralph went back to bring the boat up while I walked down the bank toward the cow. Two more shots and the calves were down. I had just harvested four moose in less than 10 minutes! Pat and Mike joined us, and we all beached, dressed, skinned, quartered, butchered and transported nearly 3,000 pounds of moose. We had all the meat hanging in less than seven hours, which was no small feat.
I no longer believe I find an acorn from time to time. I think I should go to a doctor and ask him to look for my missing horse shoe. Then again, maybe I’ll just leave well enough alone.