November 11, 2011
In Matthew's own words... Click on the link to the left to read our son Matthew's story of his Moose Hunt with his son Noah and their friend Gary. Quite a long story, but well worth the read. Here are a few pictures to go along with the story. He has promised more pictures later. Story written by Matthew E. Steiner. (Story is reprinted below in case you cannot access this link above)
2011 Moose Hunt
Two years ago, I decided to expand my love of the outdoors and get my first hunting license. It was a “Hunter’s Apprentice” license which meant I could put off the Hunter’s Safety course for a year, but I would only be able to hunt with a licensed hunter. I met a man at the place that I worked who was a Hunter’s Safety instructor. I asked him if he ever took an inexperienced guy out hunting before. He told me that he loved to do that sort of thing. And so began my experiences hunting. I also have a good friend, Gary, who lives in Brownfield, Maine who enjoys hunting and fishing. He also was more than willing to take Noah, my son, and myself hunting.
Last year, I was diagnosed with cancer and spent from April to the end of November getting clinical treatments of chemotherapy. With the hunting season being in the month of November, I didn’t know if I’d be able to hunt at all. I was so weak and so sick from the drugs. Noah and I also needed to get our official hunting licenses. So we had to take the hunter’s safety course. We took the course together and both passed. My chemo treatments were scheduled in such a way that I’d have a week of treatment then two weeks off to recover. The class fell in one of the off weeks. The idea of hiking while hunting was not possible. But in the spirit of kicking this disease and hoping for brighter horizons one day, my wife bought me a rifle. Noah got to use my shotgun. Our property has about 12 acres of wooded land and there are a lot of deer that walk through. So it was decided that the only place we’d get to hunt was out back behind the house on our property. I had to take a camp chair out with me and I walked about 100-150 yards away and just sat hoping that something would walk in front of me. After sitting for a while, I decided to come inside because I knew if I shot something and it didn’t immediately fall, I wouldn’t be able to search and find the animal. Nothing ever walked by but at least I could say that I tried. My clinical treatments ended and I was put on a “maintenance” form of chemotherapy which I’ll have to take for the rest of my life.
This year began. The maintenance chemo drug didn’t come with all the debilitating side effects of the six I V type drugs that I was on last year. Most of my energy returned. I grew a little bit of hair. The fullest spot happened to be on my chin! I was given back my immune system again. So this year I began to think about life differently. I wanted to make the very most of each day. I didn’t want to take one single second of life for granted. My time spent with family was already precious to me, but now it became even more precious. God had given me another second chance at life. I wanted to live! So I began think about what represented itself as life to me. The answer was the outdoors. And so this year began with a slightly different perspective concerning the outdoors and the activities there of. It wasn’t just something I enjoyed being out in and doing things in. It represented LIFE to me.
One day this past spring, my hunting friend Bob called me and talked me into purchasing some chances towards this fall’s moose hunt. Moose hunting licenses are picked lottery style. Only 3,015 permits are issued annually. So I purchased 5 chances to possibly hunt a moose. On the application, we were allowed to put in a name for a subpermittee and an alternate subpermittee. I put Noah down as my permittee and Bob and the subpermittee. The drawing wouldn’t be until the end of summer. My chances were about 5 in a million, but I thought it would be neat to hunt a moose.
In June of this year, I went up to Masardis, ME (way up “noth”) to Jack Mountain Bushcraft School. “Bushcraft” is a term that describes a way of life that uses primitive things found in the forest for living. The word “survival” is also used to describe it, but bushcraft, I found, wasn’t survival; it was living comfortably in nature with very little gear. Knowledge of plants, building tools with forest found materials, learning about building a good shelter, and learning about navigating through the forest were some of things we were taught. We cooked over a fire. Some of the things we made were: a bucksaw, a crooked knife, rope, and pack frames. One of the phrases that was repeated that week was, “we didn’t go into the woods to rough it; we went into the woods to smooth it”. It was a very good experience.
It was the latter part of July or around August that I received notification that Noah and I were picked for the Moose Hunt in the November week (7-12). The area of Maine that we were picked to hunt in was “Wildlife Management District 4” or also known as the Maine North Woods. It’s an area above “The Golden Road” (north of Moosehead Lake) and south of “American Realty Road”. It goes from the Maine/Quebec border to Allagash River. The whole area is private paper mill owned property. All the roads up there are dirt. There are gate houses there that one must pass through to enter. There is no cell phone coverage (I found out during the hunt. I’ll elaborate later). There are no power lines. There’s nothing but trees, wildlife, and the occasional group of paper mill guys harvesting a wooded lot. For the most part, it was an area untouched by modern, “sophisticated” society. I called Bob to tell him the good news and to confirm if he could go with us. Unfortunately, the timing conflicted with his schedule. I started to feel like this possibly once in a lifetime chance wouldn’t happen at all. I’ve only hunted for deer a few times. Those times were just day trips. I had never been to the area I was picked for. We didn’t have the financial means to hire a guide and stay at a lodge. So I called Gary. I could write a several page note just about Gary. He’s been a good friend for almost twenty years. He, being a professional carpenter, helped me build my shop, Mattopia. He and I were deacons in a church that we both took part in planting in Conway, NH. I could go on and on but for the sake of this story, I’ll stop with that much info about him.
I called Gary. I told him about me and Noah getting picked for the Moose Lottery. I asked him if he could go. Without much hesitation, he said, “sure, I’ll go”. He then told me that he had a friend with a camp up that direction in Shirley and that we could probably stay for free. That was a huge relief. Now, we needed to plan. Being the outdoors enthusiast I already was and because I had just gone to a week long camping trip (Jack Mountain Bushcraft). I already had a lot of gear. I had to plan for Noah too. I went to a local sand pit with my buddy Bob one day to get my rifle sighted in. We picked a spot at the pit and paced off a distance of about 200 yards. Our target was an old masonry saw blade. The center of the blade has a hole in it about half an inch in diameter. Once my rifle was sighted in, that half inch diameter hole looked more like a one inch diameter hole. My rifle was dead on accurate. So now we had our lodging taken care of, we had our camping gear, and had my 30-06 rifle sighted. My only other gun was my single shot 20 gauge shotgun. We felt that that wouldn’t be adequate for our moose hunt. Gary offered to loan Noah a 30-30 rifle. That became Noah’s rifle for the hunt.
We left our home in Lyman, ME for the trip up to Shirley on Sunday, November 6 at about 4 am. We met up with Gary and his friend Steve in Gray, ME. Steve was the owner of the property we would be staying at. We followed them up to the camp. I was told that the camp had electricity but no running water. We arrived at the camp around noon. Let me just pause here and reiterate that I was thankful for a free place to stay that was relatively close - about an hour from the hunting area we’d be in. With that being said, I’ll backup a bit and fill the reader in on my side effects of the “maintenance” chemotherapy drug that I’m taking, Nexavar.
Nexavar is a chemotherapy drug that is in pill form. The pills are 200mg each. My usual dosage is two pills in the morning and two in the evening. The clinical chemo treatments of last year converted dozens of large tumors, some as big as baseballs, down to a small number of tumors with the largest couple being about the size of walnuts. The Nexavar’s job is to keep what’s remaining at a small, non-threatening, maintainable size. It is not powerful enough to further eradicate the disease. The side effects of the drug are similar to the intravenous drugs, but not at the intense severity. However, I still am troubled with chronic diarrhea, very thin hair, and very sensitive and sore hands and feet. The drug targets cells that rapidly reproduce like cancer cells do. Unfortunately skin and hair cells are in a continual state of repair and reproducing constantly, so they become “friendly fire” casualties of the drug. The digestive system problems are the worst for me. On a daily basis it is not out of the ordinary to visit the powder room 3 to 5 times. When I went to Jack Mountain, I was allowed to stop taking the drug the week prior to and the week of the trip. At Jack Mountain, our “powder room” was a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat on it. Being off of the medicine kept the dreaded diarrhea away. I “was functioning within normal parameters”. In preparation for the moose hunt, I cut my Nexavar dosage down to half a dose – one pill in the morning and one in the evening. But still, I was worried about the condition of the outhouse at the camp for now what should be for obvious reasons.
The camp. Remember, I was thankful that the lodging was free and relatively close to the hunting area. The camp was comprised of two different dwellings. On the left, was an old camper with a steel roof built over it. The camper had the name of “Woodpecker” on it. I was told that it was only fit for storing extra gear, but not for sleeping in. I wasn’t sure if that was because of its smaller size or what. I didn’t ask any questions. It did smell musty and there was plenty of evidence that it was overrun with mice. So Woodpecker was opened up first and we were able to put our extra gear in it as long as it was in a sealed container to keep the varmits out of it. The dwelling to the right was a 1960’s model mobile home with the title, “Silver Palace” on it. I’m sure that in the ‘60’s when this rolled of the assembly line, it really was a top of the line mobile home. But, over the course of the last 50 years, the Silver Palace had lost some of that charm. As Steve was unlocking the door, he turned to me and said, “I hope you guys aren’t afraid of mice because this thing’s got ‘em”. He continued, “But it’s dry, and it has heat and lights”. As I walked in, I noticed that the two couches had plastic covers on them that were littered with mice droppings. Also, a very musty odor was in the air. It had a refrigerator and a gas stove. It had space heaters for heat.
Now the big question in my mind was, “what does the outhouse look like?” We walked outside to the outhouse. The outside of the out house looked like it was built with fallen down trees and scrap steel roofing. It had a door on it that was held shut by a piece of lumber. When Steve opened the door, I looked in and just about got back into my truck to go home. There was a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat on it similar to the Jack Mountain setup. The difference here was Jack Mountain’s powder room was primitive, but it was a pristine, shiny clean seat that sat on a wooden box that covered a bucket. This toilet seat looked like it was covered in tar because of the mice and other animals that had been in there. I was feeling a little panicky. I think Steve sensed that I was about to hyperventilate so he then told me that there was a RV camper toilet in the bathroom of the Silver Palace. He said, “You can use it, but you have to clean it”. I suddenly felt the urge to kiss the guy but I contained myself. When we got into town, I bought RV toilet liners and used the toilet in the Silver Palace that way. Thankfully, I did not have an episode of diarrhea during my stay there. Enough writing about my poop, right? Right!
So we moved our stuff into the Silver Palace. Steve showed us the town of Shirley and then showed us Greenville then he drove back to his house near Brownfield, ME leaving Gary, Noah, and myself to go and explore the hunting grounds.
We began our scouting journey of the area we’d be hunting. We drove up north of Greenville on the eastern side of Moosehead Lake. Soon, the pavement stopped and we were on dirt roads. We reached the checkpoint gate and paid our fee to enter the North Maine Woods. We got our Maine atlas out and started coming up with a game plan. We picked an area way off the beaten path and got out and hiked a bit. Instantly, we saw evidence of Moose and lots of it. We scouted a couple of other spots. They all looked like there was plenty of Moose in the area. We felt like we had found the spots we wanted to hunt. We drove the hour plus drive back to the Silver Palace. We ate dinner and prepared for bed. The alarm clock was set for 3:00. I took my prescribed sleeping medication and laid down for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, my excitement and nervousness mixed and overruled my sleeping medication. I could not fall asleep. I just laid there waiting for a mouse to run across my head. Then, around 12:00am, Gary got up. I thought he was going outside to pee, but he went into kitchen and turned the light on. He fired up the stove and started cooking eggs. I got out of bed and went into the kitchen and said to Gary, “You’re kind of getting an early start aren’t you?” He said, “It’s three o’clock. My watch alarm just went off so I’m getting ready. Get up Noah, start getting dressed.” I brought him my watch and directed his attention to Noah’s alarm clock. They both agreed that it was midnight and not three o’clock. He just put his hand on my shoulder and laughed. He said, “Janice found my old watch that I had stopped wearing a couple of years ago and gave it to me because it had an alarm. Maybe I stopped wearing it because it doesn’t keep time!” He laughed at his watch’s mistake. Noah and laughed too but with a little growl under our laugh. He turned off the stove and said, “Well I think we should get another couple hours of sleep what about you guys?” He shut everything off and went back to bed. I went back to my bed but not to sleep. Three o’clock came. The lights came back on. We got our gear on. Gary finished the breakfast he started three hours ago (which by now I thought mice had probably been rolling in!). We piled into the truck and took off for the hunting ground.
We got to the first spot just before sun up. We got out of truck and had a quick word of prayer for a safe and hopefully successful hunt. We tip-toed through the woods only whispering when we needed to communicate. We quickly came into very obvious, fresh moose sign. The trail led us into a bog. We hiked and hiked but did see the elusive moose. We slowly and quietly worked our way out of the bog and back to the truck. Man! How can there be so many fresh hoof prints and still steaming, glistening piles of moose poo and no actual, visible moose? We tried the next spot. Same thing! We got to one spot and we planned that Noah and I would work this one area and that Gary would work this other adjacent area. As we started hiking into the area, we found ourselves neck deep in thorny raspberry bushes. Noah and I totally wimped out of that. The thorns were everywhere and they were so high that we couldn’t see anything. So we went back to the truck. I had my cell phone on my hip. I took it out to try to call Gary to tell him that we were back at the truck. I flipped my phone open and it read NO SERVICE. So without having the ability to communicate with Gary, I decided to wait in the truck. While waiting, I put my head back against the headrest and closed my eyes. Right then, Noah said, “Dad, there’s a moose right behind us”. I turned my head around to see a bull moose standing no more than 20 feet from the truck! My license was for an antlerless moose only. I could only shoot a cow moose or a baby boy moose whose antlers could not be longer than his ears. Mister bull moose was exciting to look at but that was all. As we were looking at this moose, I saw a man in the distance dressed in hunting clothes and carrying a gun. He was walking up the same road that the moose was on. He raised his rifle. The moose was still almost directly behind us! I said, “Get down Noah! This idiot is going to shoot this moose with us right next to it!” Luckily, it was just Gary. He raised his rifle only to look at it through the scope. As we found out, Gary had left the raspberries too and had decided to hunt across the road we were on. His hiking through the woods spooked the bull out. We ate our lunch and drove down the road to the next spot. This spot was really exciting. It was a patch of land that had been cleared in recent years. It was about 200 feet wide and a half mile long going downhill at about a 10 to 20 degree angle. This patch of land looked like a moose caravan had been traveling on it every day. We hunted it for a couple of hours but again didn’t see any living, breathing moose, just sign. Somewhere walking down that spot I managed to loose my cell phone. I think it happened when I took my rifle off my shoulder. My cell phone was clipped to my belt. That was the first day, Monday, of our hunt. We saw a lot of exciting evidence that we were in the right spot just no physical female moose critter. We traveled back to the Silver Palace to play with some mice and get some sleep. This night, I slept.
Tuesday was much like Monday. We stayed in the same general area. We still had lots of very obvious moose sign but no moose. Gary had a .22 cal pistol on his belt. And since we weren’t seeing any moose, he asked us if we’d mind if he would shoot a partridge or two. So we went on hunting. Gary walked a little distance off to our right. I heard a bang bang! It was Gary shooting his .22 pistol at a partridge. He was searching for the bird. He knew he hit it. Unfortunately, the bird blended in too well with the ground cover and couldn’t be recovered. We finished up day two and made our journey back to the Silver Palace for mouse stir fry and then we went to bed.
Wednesday came. I was really hoping that something would happen on Wednesday because Thursday’s weather forecast called for rain. Noah and I didn’t have any rain gear. We got up at 3:00 as usual and Gary made our breakfast sandwiches. It was our usual bacon, egg, and mouse on toast. We got in the truck and started the journey to the woods. We were up, dressed and gone within a half hour. The weather was warm, and very calm. We made it back to the spot of the clearing where I lost my phone and Gary lost his partridge. We got out of the truck and got the guns loaded up. We made our plan. Noah and I were going to walk stealthfully down the hill. Gary was going to hike through the adjacent woods in hopes to spook something our way. I said to Noah, “Noah, today there is no wind. That can be good and bad. It’s good because our scent (which by now after staying three nights in Silver Mouse Palace with no water and lots of musty-ness is staggering) is not being blown around as much. The trade off though is that the wind that was here yesterday muffled some of our noises. So today we need to be extra careful to be quiet.” So we SLOWLY walked down that hill. We were careful of every placement of our feet not to crack a stick. We took an hour to walk an estimated half mile. We saw nothing. We heard nothing. I was expecting Gary to come out of the woods and meet up with us and come up with a plan B. So we waited. After a half hour of waiting, I leaned over to Noah and said, “Noah, I don’t know where Gary went but I don't want to go away from where we told him we would be. I think we should try walking back up the hill and keep looking.” So we started our hike back up the hill. Noah got in front of me. He was about 20 feet in front of me when he froze. His eyes connected with mine. I whispered, “What?” He whispered back at me, “moose!”
I carefully, and as quietly and quickly as I could, got up to him and looked to the left. There was a cow moose just standing there no more than 30 feet away from us! Split second thinking here is, “How can a mature female moose weighing at least 600 pounds maneuver through the woods without making a sound?” Before I got too attached to the critter, I reminded myself of why we were here. I didn’t come to pet a moose; I came for the purpose of feeding my family. This animal was not a trophy. This animal was hundreds of pounds of meat that I wouldn’t have to buy at the store for the next couple of years. I raised my rifle and put the cross hairs right between the shoulders and fired. I had definitely hit my target, but it did not go down immediately. The moose began to retreat but very wobbly. I put another round into her. Now my mind is thinking, “I hope my first bullet hit its mark. The gun was in the back seat of my truck and had been jostled around. Maybe my scope got knocked around and lost its accuracy.” I started walking toward the moose. Noah is following. He say’s, “I’ve found a blood trail!” Then he says, “Look I found Gary’s partridge!” I shot the moose again and again. Finally, it dropped and died. Now I have a 5 to 600 pound animal lying dead in the woods and we’re at least a quarter of a mile away from the truck and down hill. It was about 9:00am.
|Noah and Matthew, exhausted after the hunt|
|Noah and Gary carrying out the moose one section at a time|
|Noah and Gary carrying out the moose.|