I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me. Having grown up in northern Minnesota, I've had my share of close encounters of the moose kind, and most have bordered on the bizarre.
There was the time when a pair of moose nearly flattened me and my Honda three-wheeler while I patrolled a fire line as a DNR smoke-chaser. I was puttering down a deep drainage ditch, investigating some smoldering peat fires, when a large bull and cow moose suddenly charged down one of the steep banks of the ditch-flanking me on either side-and then ambled up the other. I swear I could have reached out and touched either of them as they towered over me.
Then there was the enraged bull that decided to play "chicken" with my brother's Toyota pickup. With ears flattened against his head and steam rolling out of his nostrils, he looked like an old-time locomotive hell-bent for the station. We lost the argument, and had to back up a half-mile out of one of our favorite grouse haunts.
There was the pair of yearlings that hung out in my parents' backyard for the better part of a summer morning, and an infuriated cow on Main street that repeatedly charged curious tourists and their annoying cameras.
In fact, my hometown, which is nestled on the southern shore of Lake of the Woods, a stone's throw from the Canadian border, reads almost like a page out of the script of the 1990s TV series "Northern Exposure."
But I guess even all of that had not prepared me for this.
I blinked hard, hoping to dismiss the weird image, wondering if somehow I was fast asleep at our hunting camp fitfully dreaming.
Nope, this was real. The young bull moose was licking Siegfried Gagnon's boot! And even though I had an arrow nocked and was ready to draw, I was helpless to do anything but watch the strange event unfold.
From the moment I spotted the moose navigating a sliver of land that divided the twin beaver ponds where we had set up an ambush, I knew that we were in deep trouble. And as the large animal passed under the tree where Ernie Lanthier, our videographer, was perched, the situation progressed from bad to worse.
"He's going to kill me," Gilles Gladu, my guide, whispered, referring to Siegfried's predicament. Gilles had assured Ernie and Siegfried that any moose that happened by would most assuredly take the highland route, far from their position. We had set up for such a situation.
But now the moose was staring lovingly at Siegfried, who was trying his best not to move a muscle.
We were wrapping up a three-day hunt in southern Quebec, an hour-and-a-half west of Montreal. It was October and the rut was just kicking in, but Guilles' plaintive cow calls had been met with limited enthusiasm from local bulls. To make matters worse, heavy rain dampened our efforts and 30 mph winds made calling ineffective.
"It's much too windy to call," my guide told me in perfect English that betrayed only the slightest hint of his French heritage. "Let's settle in here and see if things calm down a bit." Gilles and I set up on a finger of land that jutted out into one of the beaver ponds, while Ernie and Siegfried positioned themselves across the water from us. Ernie was there to capture video for the "North American Hunter" television series while Siegfried, of Tourism Quebec, was along to lend morale support and, as it turned out, supply comic relief.
As the warm afternoon dragged on, Siegfried fell asleep under the shade of a small tree. He later told us that when he heard the commotion he figured that Ernie was climbing down from the tree and it was time to hike back to the truck. But what he saw when he opened his eyes caught him totally off guard.
"I was lying comfortably, flat on my back, under the tree and I had my face mask on and my hat pulled down," Siegfried said. "I remember listening to a flock of geese flying overhead. I thought to myself, 'We aren't going to see any moose. It's too windy. It's too warm. It's too early.' Then I heard some rustling around and thought, 'Ernie must be coming down from his tree so it's time to go.' I lifted my hat and there he was in front of me; four long legs and a big black nose. 'Something's wrong here!' I thought. That's not Ernie!'"
Earlier that morning, Siegfried spilled cow moose urine on his boot, and now the young bull was getting a snout full of the odor that triggers an age-old response in all antlered critters.
"He was looking at me and I was looking at Ernie in the tree and I wasn't moving. I was scared," Siegfried said. "I was afraid that he would charge me or hit me or something. He was really close.
"Our eyes met and we understood that we were meant for each other," Siegfried laughed. "But I said, 'No, you have to go. Gordy is waiting for you. He is the guy for you now.'"
The moose finally quartered away a safe distance from Siegfried and I was able to draw, hold, release ... and miss! How do you miss a moose? I'm not quite sure, but I now know that it can be done. The young bull ambled off, oblivious to his close brush with death.
"He went away and then everything was fine," Siegfried said. "And then about 15 seconds later I began to shake. I wanted to jump up and yell, 'Ernie did you get that!?' But I could not move. I've seen a lot of moose in my life, but never that close!"
We gathered our gear and prepared for the two-mile hike back to the truck. There would be no moose this year. Our hunt was over. But I chuckled again as Siegfried recapped the details of his close encounter for the third time, noticing that he was already beginning to embellish the story.
As we crossed a small beaver dam in the waning light, I stopped for a moment to reflect on the beauty of my surroundings. The fall colors were in full peak, and the vibrant hues of every imaginable shade of yellow, orange and red were radiant against the deep blue autumn sky.
A small cluster of Kamikaze teal whistled overhead and then plummeted into the pond like a squadron of dive-bombers. A beaver slapped the water sharply with its tail, imitating the sound of a 90-mph fastball meeting a solid piece of hickory.
Then a faint sound broke my trance. At first I was unsure of its origin; I even considered that my mind was playing tricks on me. But as it repeated I recognized the melodious refrain of a young bull moose's ancient love song. The plaintive notes drifted lazily across the still beaver pond, melted into the deep-woods flora and then faded in the light evening breeze. But not before I deciphered its amorous message: "Au revoir, Siegfried, my friend. I will miss you."
Hunting Moose in Quebec:
For more information on hunting moose in Quebec, contact: Bill Nowell, Kenauk Outfitters, Box 1000, Chein Kenauk, Montebello, Quebec JOV 1LO or call (800) 657-6845.
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