Day 5: So close, and yet, so far…
We were out the door by 5:45am, me in my stylish Real Tree bibs and pink thermals, my Elkhorn Inn logo fleece zip-up with the pockets filled with jingling rifle bullets, topped by my Wal-Mart ghillie jacket; my fur-lined Mad Bomber hat on my head, camo glittens on my hands, and Cabela’s SHE boots and pink camo socks on my feet. My lucky orange rock and rifle-wielding Hello Kitty charm were in my pocket, and a light sparkle of frost was on the grass. The nearby marsh-surrounded lake was the most beautiful I’d seen it- pink clouds in the sky and mirrored in the water. Almost immediately at dawn we saw a mom moose and her calf- which, of course, we couldn't shoot- strolling slowly across a meadow like something out of a National Geographic film.
|Elisse, with her war paint on...|
|A frosty Sept. morning in British Columbia...|
Then, within minutes, the female moose that will, I’m afraid, haunt me for years, appeared. She stood there in the cross-hairs of my rifle, up on that damn hill, for damn near 10 minutes, while Joe looked through his damn binoculars, searching in vain for little horns (and basically trying to “will” it to have little horns) so I could shoot “him”. (Sense the frustration here? LOL) But “he” was a she, and shoot her I didn't. I Did learn where to aim (high, shoulder) and took pix of her, and got Dan to take pix of me aiming to shoot her over the roof of Joe's little Suzuki (which we were riding in because his pick-up kept cutting out on him), as she stood there That long, looking straight at us, with apparently no fear whatsoever, until she finally got bored with the whole thing, turned, and wandered off into the tall grasses. A LOT of things go through your head when you have a moose in the cross-hairs for 10 minutes (which is not necessarily a good thing), but yes, I could have and would have shot and killed her for dinner had Joe given me the go-ahead. I am convinced that the females know they can’t be shot- it’s the only explanation for their obviously relaxed, almost blase demeanor around Lots Of People With Loaded Rifles.
|Ms. Moose ...|
|Elisse's gun, pointing at Ms. Moose...|
|Elisse, aiming at Ms. Moose|
|Elisse aiming at Ms. Moose... 10 minutes later|
We saw some mule deer, and rabbits, and then tried to track a humongous moose (based on its hoof-print size), apparently running in a pack with lots of others, to judge from the extremely fresh tracks we found. The problem was that we weren't sure if they were moose or elk- the tracks are so similar- and we didn't have an elk tag. Joe called and called into the valley, and we walked and then sat in silence the cold, Dan with his freezing hands tucked into his armpits, trying to coax what we hoped was a giant bull moose out of the trees, but to no avail. The other hope, especially from the running tracks, was that the moose are finally and actually rutting, and that the next day, assuming the frosty mornings continued, we'd see the bulls deliriously dancing in the aisles, oblivious to all and sundry. The rest of the day was a bust. We took a gas and lunch break in wild, swinging Vanderhoof, bought cigarettes and Canadian Rye Whisky, and I tried unsuccessfully to boot up the Nexus at the A&W; I got halfway through a response to our inn-sitter's latest Facebook messages before it died from lack of power- apparently the plug in our cabin room that I Thought was charging it, was a dud. L Then we drove back into the wilderness, but found nothing moving at all, anywhere. We ate Celine’s sandwiches, candy bars, and trail mix. We smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and water. We peed in the wilderness. We picked and ate wild rose hips. We scoured the horizon for moose, but found nothing more than moose-like tree stumps that refused to grow horns or move. I painted my face camo and did a Smoky Eye and Nude Lip (using Dirt Brown and Urban Grey) to kill time. Dan brought up the concept of Moose Carpaccio, the thought of which made me drool, and to which I added imaginary capers, balsamic vinegar, and slivers of Parm… We sat in the car and snoozed in the autumn sunshine. Joe found a place he could get bars on his cell phone and called his wife, telling her again how "very long" the days of hunting have been. This ticked me off Big Time, as this is why we booked an expensive guided hunt (and intended to tip large at the end of it)- which so far has been totally unsuccessful- but I said nothing. "Don't piss off the guide" has become the theme of this trip.
On the way back to the cabin at twilight, full of pretend hopefulness that a moose would magically appear in the grey of early evening (even knowing what a Royal Pain In The Ass packing out a moose carcass in the dark would be), we did see a huge bear- 6’ tall at least, and definitely man-sized when running on its hind legs- loping down the road in front of our car faster than I thought any animal that big could lope… I snapped a photo of it on all fours before it galumphed down into the valley and vanished...
The sunset was, as always when it’s clear here, a glorious and almost tropical hot pink, with molten, golden light edging the clouds and making the pale, wheat-like grasses glow in the dark, the tall, skinny pines looking like Florida palm tree silhouettes… The golden light on the top of the trees was surreal: it looked like someone had painted them with gold leaf...
|Golden sunlight on the treetops- pretty amazing...|
And then, suddenly again, it was coal-black night. Back at camp Dan and I had a spot of Canadian whisky, and Celine’s turkey with all the fixins’, including tasteless gravy topping tasteless mashed potatoes, and canned, jellied cranberry sauce, which for me was the highlight of the feast. J Making it even More special was Celine informing us that she made the turkey for "just the 4 of us" rather than throw it out. LOL
I videoed Joe doing pretty impressive moose calls with a duct tape-covered can and a string, and bird calls with a piece of ballpoint pen, to add to the ones I have of him doing moose and elk calls in the field:
|Dan and Celine at the Cabin|
Mike and the other couple had still not returned from "Spike Camp", which we all silently assumed to mean the hunting had Not been good there, either… Après dinner I had another one of those delightfully hot baths before Celine shut off the generator, and ever the Glamouflagista, I re-bandaged my legs with camo duct tape. Hot water, as I've stated before, is a great, good thing, the joy of which never fades… The night sky was again clear and white with stars, and as Dan and I stood outside with our cigarettes and glasses of Canadian whisky we could see our breath in the crisp cold… which we took as a good sign for morning moose… And so, to bed…
Day Six: Somewhere moose are laughing…
We were up Way before a dawn so cold and frosty that it looked like snow glistening on the grass. All three of us were full of hopeful enthusiasm. And just as we got up onto Blue Mountain we met four schmucks in two trucks: hunters on the way down. To say we were bummed is an understatement. According to Joe, “the locals can only shoot spikes”- small moose with tiny horns and no points- because, we assume, as in Montana, the “point” tags are so expensive that the locals can’t afford them. And although Joe had told us that the "locals" will sometimes tell if they see a big bull, he asked no one… So we again drove around all day, and walked, and tracked- and saw nothing save a mule doe and her 2 fawns scampering across a field; Dan spying chipmunks zipping back and forth across a logging road was the joyous highlight of our day. Yes, the scenery is beautiful, and I have taken lots of photos of marshes and lakes missing their requisite photo-op moose, and festively, fall-colored trees and pines silhouetted in the mirror-like lakes and marshes, but that’s not why we’re here…
|Yes, I see a face...|
|A marsh missing its moose...|
|Hunting Camp, outside Vanderhoof, British Comumbia|
|"Who's gonna decorate all the Christmas Trees?"|
We spent the day talking about using drones with cameras duct-taped to them to spot moose, and speculating on when laws would be enacted to make it illegal. Joe told us that a woman hunter who has a TV or internet show is coming to hunt with them this fall, with her partner filming it using a computer-controlled drone camera. “It’s all about her, her, her” was his snide take on the whole thing. I didn't recognize her name, so I mentioned "Hardcore Huntresses", two women I had found on Facebook who also have a hunting show of some sort. Immediately Joe is all a quiver: "The blond beauty queen?! And the dark-haired one- Megan?!" He is now ALL excited. “But", he adds, about the blonde, "she’s really down to earth- she’ll squat and pee like anyone else.” LOL They recently did a bear hunt here, he tells us, and Mike took them out- because he didn't want anything to do with the “beauty pageant”. (My guess is that glad-handing Mike took them out because he knows Joe is a foul-mouthed racist of the first stripe, and didn't dare risk the Hardcore Huntresses getting a dose of his pro-Nazi bullshit). Yes, I tell him, those are the gals I talked to on Facebook. “You talked to them??!” Joe is flabbergasted. Yes, I did- about “beta-testing” hunting clothes for women that they were supposedly designing. I also tell Joe that I’m hoping to get a moose, not just for dinner, but so I can share that with them, too… And then on the way back to camp at dusk, we run into Another 6 trucks full of hunting schmucks- just as unlucky as we, as we haven't heard one shot in the 6 days we've been hunting. I go to bed almost immediately after dinner, too bummed to even write.
Day Seven: Moose Madness!
I've pretty much given up hope. Unless we can add on a couple of days and hope it gets cold enough for the moose to rut and come out into the open, I honestly don't think we're going home with moose kebabs. Joe can't or won't give us a straight answer about if and how we could add on a day or two of hunting- supposedly we have to talk to Mike and Lorne, the Hunter Trainee, neither of whom are around (and no clue as to when they might return), because Joe is going home- he’s “been away from home too long” and his wife is “Not Happy”. Joe’s been a fairly good guide (assuming calling moose from logging roads is the way to guide…), and seems to be a relatively okay guy- except for his racist remarks (hot sauce makes him “sweat like a n-----" was one), and enduring admiration for the Nazis, which he continued to reiterate daily and constantly. Dan managed to temporarily stop him with a “thank G-d the Nazis lost” comment, whereas my “thank G-d the Nazis lost” didn't do a damn thing… His views, since he’s American-born, 61, and not a veteran of the US armed forces, (and yes, I did begin to wonder why he moved to Canada…), were apparently gleaned from his late US Army WWII Vet dad: "The US and Canada should both have stayed out of WWII" and let the Germans take Europe, including England, and commit their atrocities- including, of course, the murder of 6 million Jews... "I hate Churchill for tricking America into the war" was another lovely comment, along with how he hates the then-Canadian Prime Minister, as well. He repeatedly bemoaned the fact that Hitler was “in too much of a hurry” and “made stupid mistakes”, such as attacking the Soviet Union, and it took everything I had in me to keep my mouth shut. I could only imagine his views on Jews, and as he knew full well I’m a Jew (the night of our arrival the fact that Dan is US Army Retired and I’m an IDF Veteran was made clear), I knew all this was Very deliberate and it was not a place I wanted to go with him. I assume I'm the first and only Jew he’s ever met, much less spent 15 hours a day in a car with for a week, as in the beginning he seemed a tad in awe of my being an IDF Veteran. He asked me a couple of naïve questions- “What’s Yiddish?” was one- and while I was telling Dan about my Italian NYC friend who speaks better Yiddish than I, he asked why anyone who wasn't Jewish might speak Yiddish; I answered both questions nicely and simply, as one would respond to a fairly bright 3rd Grader. He tried to goad me into a political discussion over our first dinner at the Cabin, minutes after we arrived, smiling nastily and asking me if I was a "terrorist", but I artfully refused to pick up the gauntlet; “Play nice with the other children” I snarled back with a big, cold smile, followed by “Let’s talk about the weather and hunting, shall we?”
|The happy hunting couple!|
|Frost! Will the moose start to rut????|
We get back to camp that night to find that Mike and the hunter couple Still aren't back from "Spike Camp"; we all now Know the hunting must be terrible there, too. There is supposedly no way to reach Mike- for 5 days now, and continuing ad infinitum, which we, being in business for ourselves, too, find Extremely hard to believe. The only contact anyone’s had with him is a text that popped up on Joe’s phone, wherein Mike asked his wife who had the lanterns- indicating he didn't have them at "Spike Camp". Dan looks as glum and blue as I, though he is trying unsuccessfully to put a brave face on it. I think we are both thinking the same thing: how to put a positive spin on a $16,500+(!) once-in-a-lifetime holiday we've saved for Forever, that we both will consider a total bust if, after all this, we don’t take home at least one moose in the damn freezer we hauled across the USA & Canada. We walked for probably 10 miles that day- more than on any other day. (The good news being I could actually do this J). We tracked huge moose and/or elk hoof prints for miles, watching them go in and out of forests; we found big black bear tracks of a mama with 2 cubs (right underneath her- amazing how she could run like that!), we hiked fens and glens and marshes, and ate more tiny, wild blueberries… and saw nothing.
|Still more tracks...|
I found a deer skull in the forest and kept it- right now it looks like the only souvenir with teeth I’ll have from Canada; maybe Dan can drill holes in the teeth and I can make an appropriately creepy ‘hunting necklace’... In the afternoon Joe’s big pick-up truck began to have problems yet again, and we drove back to camp once more to swap it out for the small Suzuki, the problem with that being that if we Do get a moose there is no way to haul it back in that tiny vehicle...
In the late afternoon we set off again, Dan talking Joe into going to a “new” area we hadn't yet been to, where we followed more tracks of running moose/elk (melk? LOL), for miles, again to no avail. As twilight descended, and we began discussing, yet again, what a total bitch it would be to pack out a moose in the dark if one of us were to shoot a moose at dusk, and I began wondering, yet again, if I could actually shoot a moose at point-blank range should one amble out onto the road 2 feet from the car, all of a sudden a huge bull moose appeared on our right- right outside my window- down in a field, smack in front of a forest of trees. Joe saw it first and within 2 seconds yelled at me: “I told you to have your fucking gun ready!” (Driving around for 7 days and seeing nothing, I no longer had a bullet in my sweaty little palm). I saw the moose and grabbed my gun. Joe leaned across me and grabbed it out of my hands, shoved it out the window and demanded a bullet which I gave him. He shoved it in my gun and shoved them gun back into my hands and barked, “put the window down!” I buzzed it up and then down- just like I did during my driver’s exam in Florida. LOL. Joe then barked at me, “it’s ready- shoot!” I leaned out the window, looked through the scope, and saw him clearly: Bullwinkle. A truly beautiful, majestic moose looking straight at me and not moving. I actually thought about letting him walk away and getting my camera… But I also knew that if I waited more than a second Dan would take him, and Joe would shoot him if Dan missed, and that this moose was going to be kebabs one way or the other. I said “High? Low?”, but got no answer, so I aimed for the center of his chest and fired- and instead of blinking like usual when I fire, adrenaline kept my eyes open and I watched him immediately fall over. 275 yards, one shot. “Holy Shit!” was what I think came out of my mouth. Joe told me I’d gotten him, and then told Dan to run down and make sure he didn't get up, and Dan started running down the hill. The fear was that if he got up and ran back into the woods we’d have a wounded, suffering, dying moose thrashing around in the forest that we’d never be able to find in the dark, much less pack out. But he didn't move. I ran down the mountain as fast as I could, shaking. Joe grabbed my gun from me, even though it was unloaded, I guess because it was obvious I was shaking, but then, finally, handed it back to me. The moose was still alive, barely, and we had to wait the few minutes until he died, which was, frankly, very disturbing: Joe repeatedly took my rifle and put it on the moose’s eye until he stopped blinking.
We then did the requisite Hunter Photo Op, Dan taking pix of me with moose and gun. I have always rather loathed the big, grinning photos of hunters with their dead animals, so it was hard for me to smile. Dan finally coaxed one out of me, and it does look better than the totally serious ones, which are actually scarier than the ones of me smiling. LOL I'm proud I could do it- with one shot at 275 yards, my first time hunting, no less- proud I did it, and Very happy to to eat it, but I'm not gloating. Hunting makes you THINK- about a LOT of things- life and death specifically- and it's a VERY intense 2 seconds that feel like an hour when you pull that rifle scope up to your eye and have to decide whether or not to pull the trigger. But I was very pleased with the fact that I was finally able to prove I'm still a Damn Good Shot, & that we Were going home (hopefully) with moose kebabs. Shooting was the one thing I was good at in IDF Basic Training, and I needed to know if I could still do it when pedal hit metal. And the answer was Yes. :-) I was also Very happy that my husband had the ability to stop himself from shooting while I took the few seconds (that felt like an hour) to make up my mind to shoot. He understood, bless his heart... With great effort, Dan and Joe then turned the moose around- I couldn't lift its foot, much less anything else- and then took more photos of me and the now artfully posed Mr. Moose.
I got my moose!
Dan and Joe turning the moose around...
|Me and Moose|
And then the fun began. Hunting, as I stated above, is very definitely NOT just about pulling the trigger. That may be the heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping moment, but the next 2 days is the REAL story of hunting. Dan and Joe immediately gutted the moose, spreading him out belly up, Joe cutting off his balls (yes, you really have to do this), and then he and Dan cut him open (with our knife set, which thank goodness we’d thought to buy and bring, because Joe had nothing but a pocket knife), and pulled out all his still-warm guts: intestines, bowel, bladder, liver, etc. Part of me wanted to put my hands in there and help them, so I could say I that I did that part of this hunt, too, but I didn't- I just couldn't get myself to squeeze between the two of them and do it. But I watched, and I photographed, and I didn't vomit, and I didn't flinch. I just kept thinking "moose kebabs". LOL
Then Joe had to go get the bigger pick-up (hoping it worked…), and Dan and I stayed with the moose. Me, Dan, the moose, a pile of blood and guts, my rifle, and a few bullets, in the pitch darkness, knowing we have a bear mama with two cubs floating around, along with wolves and coyotes… We didn't want to build a fire, as the entire area was full of logging debris and pine needles and a literal tinder box. Joe, thankfully, left us 10 cigarettes- along with more “jokes” about how much money he could have made selling us cigs at $10 apiece. As we'd bought him packs of cigarettes to more than replace the ones he gave us, this routine of his is starting to get old. I’d spent the afternoon listening to him tell us, repeatedly, how it was “totally against the law” to leave us with bullets if we were out of his sight- if we shot a moose at dusk, for example, and he had to go back for another (sufficiently large and operational) vehicle, for example- but then, after I pushed him, he said they didn't always obey the law. But his point was clear: we can be assholes if we want to be, and make you leave your moose overnight and come back to nothing but a pile of bones in the morning after the bears, wolves, and coyotes get through with it. (See "not pissing off your guide" above). Dan and I spent the hour+ in the dark talking about hunting: about his first moose hunt in Alaska, in which he also almost didn't shoot because it was wonderful just to watch two moose fighting in the wild, and how the first word out of his mouth when I shot the moose was “shit!” because he expected to get second shot... and Seriously listening for bears- not to mention coyotes and wolves. Several times we went totally silent because Dan thought he heard something; I probably wouldn't have heard anything unless it came up and tapped me on the shoulder. We joked that while my stomach continues to sound like a female elk, Dan’s growling tummy sounds like a wolf… We also killed time debating who Joe would bring back with him to help load the moose (neighbors? friends?), and what the repeatedly brightening and dimming light on the horizon was: Dan insisted it was either cars on the highway or Joe in the truck, and even that he heard a diesel several times (LOL), we both thought it might be the train, but I was pretty sure it was the bright lights of wild, swinging Vanderhoof, which it turned out to be.
Just as we were starting to get Really cold, and Dan was getting ready to build a fire, and had started to clear a spot of ground with his boot, Joe returned with the pick-up, Celine(?!), a small flashlight, one piece of wonky, rotten rope, and 3 boards in various states of disrepair. No chain, no saw, no chain saw, no winch, no lanterns, basically no nothing. Talk about “unprepared”! His excuse was that Mike had taken everything with him to Spike Camp- all three chain saws, all the chains, etc. If not for my husband’s sheer, physical strength, ability, and knowledge- and the set of meat knives and little saw we’d bought at the last minute and brought with us, I’d still be sitting out in a field with a (now rotten) moose carcass. I shot a 5-point moose; large enough for us, for sure, but definitely not trophy-sized. Had I shot a truly large moose, there is no way Dan and Joe could have physically handled it. I have no idea what we would have done- I probably would have had to leave it to the bears and wolves- and file a lawsuit. While Celine- coughing and reminding us of her heart attack- and I took turns holding the flashlight, Dan and Joe first tried unsuccessfully to load the moose onto the truck in one piece. No way. They then cut it in half- so much for my moose hide rug- using our little saw, and used the “come along” (the piece of rotten rope that kept breaking and the small, manual winch) and the 3 half-rotten 2x4s to pull it up into the truck- and just barely managed to do it.
|The front half of Mr. Moose goes up on the truck...|
|The other half of Mr. Moose goes up on the truck...|
On the ride back to Camp I ask Joe how we're going to handle the meat, and he tells us the carcass will sit in his truck all night, and then in the morning we will take it to the meat processor; tough shit on us if it warms up and the meat rots. As it’s now 11:30pm, he doesn't want to take the moose to the processor- even though he actually tells us all that the processor “told me I can come at any time”, and he knows that the next day is our last day for my husband to hunt and try to get his moose. It’s quite obvious that he simply doesn't want to- as far as he’s concerned our hunt is now over and he wants us gone. And I am pretending not to see any of this, because I don’t want to ruin Dan’s holiday... When we get back to camp, Mike and the other hunters are still not back. I tell Joe and Celine that I’m hoping Dan will be able to get his moose the next day- our last day unless we stay on- and Joe immediately announces, flatly, “We’re not hunting tomorrow.” No? “Read your contract” he barks. Read my contract?! ”The day after you kill something you deal with the meat- otherwise you Will have rotten meat”. So much for a celebration of my getting a moose. Silly me thought that the reason you do an expensive, fully-guided hunt with an outfitter is so They deal with the meat while you hunt. And I also assumed, based on my year-long correspondence with our booking agent who recommended them in the first place, Mike, his wife, and Joe's wife, not to mention their website (which brags that their hunts are “for people of all ages and abilities” and offers a checklist of things to bring, the only tool being “a skinning knife”, not “a complete set of meat cutting tools and a saw, ropes, chains, and a winch”), glowing online reviews, and their Facebook page, that you didn't have to be an experienced big game hunter, (with a US Army skill-set and all your own tools), to enjoy their guided hunts- that this was the POINT of doing an expensive, fully-guided hunt. I then asked Joe outright what it would cost for us to stay another 2 days so Dan could hunt. “I have no idea what Mike will charge you” was the answer. And we can’t reach Mike? No. And that was that. Celine started discussing getting her Menu (LOL) ready for the next batch of hunters, and between them they made it crystal clear that they not only had no Plan B for hunters who wanted to pay them to stay on and keep hunting, they obviously- especially Joe- wanted us gone. We then had dinner: sweet and sour meatballs- with a gummy, sweet sauce Celine tells us she used to make by the bottle for her now-defunct restaurant (LMAO)- rice, and corn, and apple pie for Dan. The food was okay as usual, but also, as usual, much more appreciated after a long, cold, hard day of hunting… And then Joe and Celine did what they did every night of our hunt: went right to bed, leaving us sitting at the kitchen table on our own. No celebration, no nothing. I had enough adrenaline coursing through my body that I could have danced all night: I wanted badly to party and celebrate what I felt was a pretty stupendous achievement, but there was no one to party with, and the idea of driving an hour into Vanderhoof through the mud in the dark didn't even enter our minds. :-( With nothing to do but feel a kind of post-partum depression, I then DO pull out and read our contract- and there is NOTHING about any of the bullshit Joe’s regaled us with. It’s exactly what I remembered: a one page receipt: what we paid and the breakdown of what it was for: tags, licenses, and fees. Observation: Joe’s not only a Nazi-loving, racist, foul-mouthed psychopath, he’s a lying sack of shit. But I got my moose!
Next: Moose Processing...