I don’t remember when I agreed to go on a Canadian moose hunt with my husband Peter.
It might have been when we finally decided to spend our vacations together. Since our marriage six years ago, we’ve always managed to pick different vacation destinations: He usually goes elk hunting in Colorado or black bear hunting in Canada, while I head off to a golf resort with my girlfriends. Either way one of us ends up home alone. I finally agreed to go hunting with Peter when he convinced me I couldn’t judge the sport until I tried it. My only other incentive was his promise to go anywhere I wanted if I went on a hunt with him.
Our vacation plans started with a trip in February to the Harrisburg Sportsman Show. I’ve never seen that many happy men in my life. They were like wide-eyed little boys on Christmas morning, looking at guns and bows and talking to all the outfitters. Peter and I spoke with different outfitters too. We settled on an outfitter from Canada that had lake cabins. I wanted four walls around me. Yet a cabin and a whole lake to ourselves, sounded almost enjoyable. Plus, the cabin was equipped with a stove, refrigerator, motor boat and bunk beds with mattresses. For seven days we could fish and hunt moose.
Spring came and went. In June Peter taught me to shoot. For the rest of the summer, though, I put the trip out of my head. But when September rolled around I realized I had to prepare for our vacation. Once we arrived at the cabin we would be cut off from civilization. So I struggled with the menu for a week; we were restricted to 100 pounds each. The outfitter was flying us from a base camp to the cabin.
During the week before the hunt, Peter and I got everything together. We went to the grocery and sporting goods stores to pick up last minute items. I made a final list to make sure I didn’t forget to put some of the essentials in the cooler. Peter was excited and took real care in planning everything he packed.
Peter was the first one up. Usually I have to drag him out of bed, but this time he dragged me. I showered and washed my hair like it was the last time. Around 12:30 a.m. we hit the road. As Peter drove us farther from home I just kept wondering how he’d talked me into this? When he put a cassette tape in about how to call moose, and tried to teach me some moose calls, I knew I’d entered a “weird zone.”
After hours of driving we arrived at the Canada border. I didn’t know what to expect. We were crossing the border with a gun and two bottles of wine. Because of the terrorism and our trip being so soon after September 11, I thought security would be tight.
While I wanted to drive home, Peter waited as patiently as an impatient person can. He was uncharacteristically calm and happy for someone getting the runaround. He was thinking about the woods, and he didn’t mind whatever it took to get him there. We were only in customs for an hour, but I think the customs agents enjoyed making us wait at every station. Eventually we got back on the road and drove toward Ontario.
At daybreak we approached Ottowa and I started to see the terrain. It was flat and swampy. Peter said the area we were hunting was similar. I felt a glimmer of excitement. Maybe it was being trapped in the car all night, but I suddenly had the urge to put on my hiking boots and tramp around looking for moose. Even though I thought our chances of even seeing a moose were remote, I was hoping to spot at least one.
Everything changed, though, when we turned onto the final road toward our destination. It was all rutted from rain and we were bouncing around so much I thought the truck would fall apart. According to our directions we had a 3½-hour drive on this road to base camp, where they would pick us up by seaplane. We slowed down to 20 miles an hour and I thought my teeth were going to fall out. All these people with Canadian plates were passing us at 50. We thought they were crazy until we realized the faster we drove the better. But with so many dangerous and unexpected potholes we were both on edge for the next 100 miles.
We arrived at base camp around 2 p.m. Both of us were exhausted, but the outfitter quickly got us loaded and on the plane. The scenery from the air was everything I expected and more. Our pilot, John, showed us the terrain. We would be staying on Zig Zag Lake. It has a really nice trail in back that leads to a swamp. There are tree stands on each end of the lake, and the cabin is in between. There are no roads, and the outfitter promised that if we saw another hunter, he’d give us a refund.
After a smooth landing, John showed us around the cabin. It has an outhouse, a refrigerator with a small freezer, three gas burners, a wood burning stove and a sink that drains under the cabin. There’s a modified picnic table in the center and two bunk beds. It also has a propane lantern in the ceiling. The cabin is surprisingly clean. John also showed us how the motor boat worked before wishing us luck and taxiing out for his take off. My last link to civilization was leaving.
At 4 p.m. we put on our camo clothes and set out for the swamp. The trail was was beautiful, serene and insect-free. We got to the swamp in 20 minutes. Because we didn’t have our rubber boots on, we didn’t dare go any farther than the edge of the swamp. Peter and I found a spot to sit in the brush. Peter tried calling, but after an hour the day’s events took a toll. We agreed to go back to the cabin and rest up for tomorrow.
After dinner Peter got the wood-burning stove started while I did the dishes. I only had a bucket of lake water for washing and a pitcher for rinsing. We used mismatched china and real silverware; there’s also a can opener and cleaning supplies. I’m actually impressed, but Peter thinks this is a hunt for “city slickers.”
The stove quickly warmed up the cabin, and we climbed into bed. Within 15 minutes, though, I heard mice crawling in the walls. I hadn’t imagined this, even in my wildest nightmares. Peter told me not to worry. But I’m sure it’s only the first of seven unrestful nights of sleep. The bunk is extremely hard and my nerves will never get used to the mice.
Five o’clock came way too soon after a bad night’s sleep. I had no desire to get up, go back to the swamp and “sit.” Peter was up before the alarm and had gotten breakfast ready before I’d even thought about getting up. I had the sudden urge to cry. I was on vacation and didn’t even want to get out of bed.
I even asked Peter if he’d mind going out by himself this morning. He asked if I was okay. I told him I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. But I saw the disappointment on his face when he asked if it was “really that difficult” for me.
It was-I just couldn’t face sitting there all morning. He explained how all hunters get bored, but the moose harvest makes it all worthwhile. Reluctantly, I began to get ready. I put on long underwear, a hooded top, Peter’s old camo pants and shirt and (supposedly) warm socks. Because we were going into the swamp I put my rubber boots on and an old camo jacket. I packed some trail mix, a book and some toilet paper before we took off for the swamp. We finally made it to the tree stand. I refused to climb up in it, so we sat underneath and Peter started moose calling. Within 15 minutes my feet were frozen. That was around the same time Peter got a response to his calls. A bull called once out of the woods behind us, it was coming from the right.
Peter told me to get the gun ready as he started calling and breaking tree branches to rub against the bark. Because we didn’t hear or see anything else, Peter decided to go into the woods with his bow and stalk the bull. I could hear him calling as he walked into the woods. After about 10 minutes my feet started to sting, and I couldn’t feel my toes anymore. I heard Peter calling from far off. I danced around, trying to get the circulation back in my feet, until I couldn’t take it anymore! I put on my backpack and started walking toward the cabin. I just wanted to get my feet warm! I finally made it back, took off my boots and pants and crawled into the sleeping bag. From that morning on I knew to wear wool socks. It couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes when Peter showed up. He’d worried something was wrong. I thought he’d be upset. Instead he went to get the boat ready, pulled me out of bed and made me get in. First, we went to the west end of the lake to check the tree stand. Then we did the same on the east side. Peter liked that location better, and so did I.
We tied up the boat and this time I climbed up in the stand. The sun was halfway up and the sky was blue without a cloud in sight. We stayed there until about 10:30 a.m., when Peter said the good hunting time was over. So we climbed back into the boat and started for the cabin. I asked if we could try fishing for a little while. He stopped the motor, changed the lure on the line and showed me how to cast. He pulled the line in halfway and got a bite, it was a nice Northern Pike. He showed me how to cast again and caught another one. Then it was my turn. My casting was not too good, so Peter cast again and then gave me the line to real in. I got another fish! Peter thought if we could catch fish, then we could get a moose too.
After lunch we took a two-hour nap before heading out to the swamp. We sat under the tree stand for a half hour and then climbed up in the stand for what seemed like forever. I started reading my book, but it was uncomfortable. I tried to talk, but Peter wanted me to be quiet. Finally, we climbed down and headed back to the cabin. By that time the sun had gone down and it was starting to get cold. As I followed Peter through the swamp I couldn’t help feeling like we were soldiers doing maneuvers.
We had dinner and Peter went right to bed. I had a new wave of energy as I realized I’d survived our first full day. Only five more to go.
Peter was up first again. I had another restless night listening to the mice. I was worried they were getting into our food. Peter wanted me to get dressed. This time I remembered the wool socks. We took the boat down to the tree stand on the east end of the lake. We climbed up in the stand and I began my boredom for the day, hoping that 10:30 would roll around fast. By 8:30, though, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I went to get my book just as Peter suggested we go for a walk. Because the woods were so thick we didn’t go very far. Then we got back in the boat and went to the north side of the lake. Peter wanted to scout the woods. I stayed on shore and read my book. Peter came back around 10:30, and we went fishing. We caught two small pike, but let them go. We got back to the cabin around 11 a.m. and took baths at the end of the dock. Then it was time for a quick lunch. Afterward Peter wanted to sleep, so I went outside and polished my nails. I wondered how many people had gotten a manicure there.
Later I started sweeping out the cabin, but got bored and played solitaire instead. Then a mouse ran in front of me. I swear it was talking to me. I screamed, and woke Peter. He got up and started playing cards with me. We had the front door open so we could get some fresh air circulating when a mouse suddenly fell from the roof and onto the porch. It must have been stunned because it just laid still. Peter became my hero when he took his boot and killed it.
At about 3:30 we suited up and walked back out to the swamp. We sat there until 7 p.m. I was bored out of my mind. We walked back around dark-the woods were lit by a full moon. But the highlight of my day was drinking a bottle of red wine at dinner.
Peter let me sleep in again, but I was actually the first one up-nature called. Despite an overcast sky, it felt warm outside when we went back out to the swamp. We saw cow and calf tracks walking to the tree stand. Their footprints were right over ours. We climbed up in the stand and Peter began to call. It must have been five minutes when a cow moose came out of the woods and into the swamp about 400 yards away. Peter had forgotten to bring the binoculars that day. He handed me the gun and I looked through the riflescope. She was big. Peter kept calling and she walked toward us. She sniffed the air looking for a bull. I didn’t think she was close enough, but Peter wanted to shoot her. I told Peter not to shoot. Despite the boredom, I wanted to hold out for the bull. Peter was disappointed because he wanted me to get a moose.
We went back to the cabin around 10 a.m. and tried to fish, but they weren’t biting. We had lunch and then Peter wanted to sleep. Around 3:30 we went back to the swamp. There wasn’t any action. I’d resigned myself to the boredom. I think Peter really regretted not shooting the cow. We planned our strategy for the next morning and went back to the cabin for dinner. Only three more days to go.
I didn’t hear any mice last night. We had a quick breakfast at 5 a.m. Then I put a couple granola bars and boxes of raisins in the backpack and got dressed. It was still dark so we walked out to the swamp very slowly. Our strategy was to get to the tree stand before day light. It was very foggy on the swamp. But as soon as we started walking into the clearing, we heard something. I thought it was a bear grunting. It grunted three times in the woods directly across from us. Peter was excited, though, telling me that it was a bull. He motioned me to the tree stand. I climbed up in the stand and Peter followed close behind. He began cow calling. We waited about 10 minutes. Peter thought the bull was a mile away. We heard him breaking branches and grunting. He sounded like a freight train crashing through the woods. The more Peter called, the closer he came. Peter broke off some branches and started rubbing them against the trees. I expected the bull to appear any minute. But he stopped and everything was silent. Peter came back to the tree stand and started cow calling again. The bull grunted from in the woods. Then we heard another bull behind us, and off in the distance we heard a real cow. Then it was silent again for an hour.
Later, we decided to take a walk. Peter wanted to test the swamp. He didn’t understand why the bull today and the cow yesterday didn’t try to cross it. After going out in a couple places, he found it was very unstable. We went down to the end and crossed over to the woods where we first heard the bull. We walked to the top of a hill in and sat for a while. But there was no sign of moose. When we came back we noticed a trail where the moose crossed the swamp. We decided that would be a good spot for the next day. Peter and I walked back to the cabin. Then we fished for a little over an hour, but the fish weren’t biting. We only caught one. The wind made it bad day for hunting or fishing.
We went back and had lunch and played cards. I have to admit this time with Peter is great. He’s made sure I’m comfortable and never really pushed me. I know he would’ve hunted a lot harder had I not been along. We’ve made arrangements for John to pick us up on Friday morning around 10 a.m.
The rest of the day consisted of playing cards and sitting in a tree stand at the other end of the lake for three hours. Peter took his new bow and scouted the hill behind us. There was no action as usual, and boredom took its toll. We fixed dinner and went to bed. Can I handle two more days of this?
I woke up at 4 a.m. I heard mice crawling in the walls again. I had a panic attack and wanted to go home. The alarm went off at 5 a.m., and Peter was up right away despite the rain. I told Peter the hunt was getting to me. I didn’t care whether we got a moose or not. He confessed it gets to every hunter after awhile. He also mentioned how we’d already be out of here if we’d shot the cow.
We went back to bed for a couple hours, and then I got restless. We played cards for about an hour and then Peter suggested we go fishing. He said they usually bite when it’s raining. We suited up in our rain gear and went out on the lake, but we didn’t have any luck. Then we walked to the swamp. We sat in the rain for a while and then went back to the cabin. We played cards, fixed lunch and played more cards. Peter even admitted that he was bored. We heard the plane fly over-we were stuck here for another day. I told Peter I wanted to go home tomorrow, but he ignored me.
Around 4 p.m. he wanted to go out. I asked him why if moose didn’t move in the rain. But he thought they might walk around. He didn’t make me go. I think he wanted the good rain suit I’d been wearing.
Peter wanted me to understand the thrill of hunting, but I don’t get it. I enjoyed seeing the cow and I’d have loved to see the bull moose we called in, but I wouldn’t have liked gutting and packing either one of them. And I certainly don’t understand the excitement of sitting in a tree stand on the off chance that a moose might walk out in the open to shoot.
Peter came back around 7 p.m. He’d seen a bull behind him in the swamp and was all excited. He wanted to go out early the next day. I’d go hunting with Peter tomorrow-rain or shine. There was only one more day!
At 5 a.m. I was ready to get up. Six nights on this bed was taking its toll on my back. I put on my rain gear and we headed to the swamp. It was really dark and I could barely see. We got to the swamp and sat on the moss. I propped myself up against a pine tree and waited for daylight. By the time daylight came it was cold and raining. The swamp was quiet. Peter said they wouldn’t move during the rain so we went back to the cabin. On the way back he asked if I wanted to go home today. He said it was going to rain all day and there was no use in staying. But I knew he wanted to try at least one more day.
We went out in the boat and the fish were barely biting. We managed to catch three, and two were pretty good sized so we decided to quit after an hour. Around 11 a.m. Peter went back out to the swamp. I’d go with him tonight. Peter came back around 2 p.m. We played cards again and then went back to the swamp. This was my last time. We stayed in the bushes instead of the tree stand. Peter just sat there and looked around for three hours. I read my book. I still don’t understand-he’s normally a very impatient person, yet he can sit for hours and stare off into the woods hoping to see a moose. He imagines moose everywhere. I guess he wants to see a moose so badly he pictures them everywhere. After three hours and no action, Peter reluctantly agreed to go back to the cabin. I felt bad because he’d accepted defeat.
By 9 p.m. we were both exhausted and went to bed. Peter kept the cabin so hot I couldn’t sleep. He said heat keeps mice away. I had two choices: mice crawling in the walls or sleeping in a sauna. Peter finally admitted that the mice bothered him too. He imagined them running across the mattress. I’ve definitely had enough of this vacation!
At 6:30 a.m. I was up and waiting for daylight. The only thing I worried about was that the weather might not permit flying. I saw the moon last night, so I thought the sky was clear. But it was still overcast. John said he’d fly as long he could see the treetops. The outfitter had told me to be ready by 9 a.m. with the cabin “spick and span.”
I let Peter sleep until 7:45. He finished his breakfast and went to bring the boat out of the water. That’s when we heard the plane John was coming to get us and I wasn’t even dressed! I quickly got dressed and started packing. John said we didn’t need to worry about cleaning. They’d clean it when they opened it up again next fall. At 8:40 a.m. we took off from Zig Zag Lake. It was a 10-minute flight to Corosal base and John helped us load up the truck. We heard that only one group got a moose.
At any rate we were in the truck and on our way home. The dirt road didn’t seem half as bad going home. And three hours later we were back in civilization. Our last moment of excitement was crossing the border. But it was uneventful. We stopped at the duty free shop to get our taxes back and buy souvenir t-shirts. The border patrol asked how long we were in Canada, what we’d bought and then let us go. Within three hours we were home safe and sound. I’d survived!