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Moose Hunt in Newfoundland June 2011
September 2000 – Part 2
Roger Turner


We met the other hunters. All of them knew each other, and they were all from South Carolina. A bunch of good old boys complete with accents. There was Jimmy Davis. He owns a construction company. He is small but wiry. He fell through the spruce by 8 am in the morning and twisted his knee. He duct taped it over his pants and continued to hobble along.

There was also Jimmy’s brother Jesse. Jesse didn’t talk much and was an engineer of some sort. He was also in the construction business. He was a very affable sort, but politely quiet.

There was also Kenny who used to be a fireman, but is now some sort of real estate developer. He had really bad knees to start with, but did not do them any more damage. He had a bit of a belly on him, and told a few good stories. Also, very polite.

Then there was Rick Freeman. Rick had a major belly on him and a major mouth to go with it. Rick was a crack up. He had a story for everything. In fact, he almost talked incessantly. Rick had been hunting with Viking Outfitters before, and he is the one that arranged for all of them to go on this hunt. Needless to say, it did not surprise me to learn that Rick had his own outdoor TV show. Seen in the southern six states. Rick did a lot of hunting.

Kirk cooked a good dinner, we all chatted about our experiences of the day, told a few jokes, told a few lies, and turned in for the night. There was no hurry, because in Canada, you cannot hunt on Sunday.

Sunday was a gorgeous day. The guys spent the morning retrieving the moose and packing it back to the cabin. The floatplane showed up after lunch, and we sent the moose pieces back to Hawk’s bay where the freezer was. There was a meat house next to the cabin, but it did not have any HVAC. It was cool enough during the night, and the days were cool and breezy, but it was sunny. I was happy to see the moose get on its way. We spent the remainder of the day, taking in the atmosphere and not doing anything in particular.

Monday came early. We were up, fed, and ready to go by sunrise. This time it was just Johnny and me. Dave and Rick paired up and went off across the lake. As a matter of fact, everyone else took off across the lake but Johnny and me. I think Johnny is a sadist at heart. His plan was to hike up the ski slope to the top of the plateau. Okay. We only had to stop twice on the way to the top, so I didn’t feel too bad.

We immediately started looking around the top of the plateau. The nice thing about tundra is you can see a long way. The bad news is, if you don’t see anything, you walk a long way before it’s worth looking around again. We walked and looked and walked and looked for another hour or so. We followed a game trail to the bottom of a ravine where it intersected with three more game trails. Surely there must be something around here somewhere. We continued over the next ridge, and when we were down in the next ravine, up popped a caribou. It was a cow. She kind of looked at us like, “What are you?” I found out that caribou use their nose more than anything, and since the wind was perpendicular to all of us, she didn’t quite know what to think.

After a while, she began meandering along the nearest game trail more or less away from us. I giggled and looked at Johnny. He mumbled, “Take us to your men.” We decided to have some fun and see how close we could get to her. She meandered, we meandered. There was a couple of times the game trail changed direction enough to almost put us directly up wind of her and I really expected her to bolt off. Nope. We kept trotting along and headed to the crest of a ridge.

She crossed over the crest, and Johnny and I were about 40 feet behind her. When Johnny got to the crest, he hit the dirt and pointed forward mumbling, “Shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot.” I took two big strides to get in front of Johnny, flipped up the scope caps and pulled the hammer back as hit the dirt myself. (Looking back, this spongy dirt hitting was really getting to be a bit of fun…)

As I looked up a few things became immediately evident:
1) There was another damn rock in front of the gun.
2) A stag, the cow, and a young stag were all in front of me, heading right at me, at about 40 feet.
3) The young stag was crossing between the bigger stag and me.
4) All of them were now directly down wind of me and this is going to be over before I can even think…

As I jumped up, the young stag finished moving by the bigger stag. We all looked up at each other just as the cross hairs were coming down on the bigger stag. BLAM! This time, the stag went down in a heap. Okay, that’s what I expect out of a .338.

The other caribou ran off, I quickly reloaded and closed the thirty feet or so to the stag. He was still twitching, so he got another shot behind the ear. I then took my moment with the caribou, and was thankful to have been able to get such a lovely animal.

The post mortem on the caribou was a bit bizarre. The first bullet had gone into the neck, on top of the spine, just forward of the shoulder, crossed over the spine and exited just behind the shoulder. Other than the damage to the spine, the hydraulic shock from the impact pulverized all the meat on top of the spine all the way down to the hips. Rats, there go the tenderloins. After we field dressed and filleted the caribou, we had to figure out what the plan of action was.

Right about that time, we saw Jimmy and his guide off in the distance and heading our way. Jimmy was already duct taped and struggling to get through another large spruce bush. Those spruce bushes absolutely eat most clothing; Jimmy’s pants had more than a couple of tears below the knee. I’m sure his knee felt really good about that, although true to form, the duct tape was tear proof. After 20 minutes or so, Jimmy and guide arrived. We compared notes on the game trails and tracks, and came up with a plan. Jimmy and guide would go back to the great game trail intersection, and I would take the guide’s backpack. Johnny and I decided it wouldn’t be worth a couple of trips for the guides, so he and I would pack out the caribou ourselves.

Little did I know the caribou weighed about 450 pounds. That translates to about 100 pounds of meat per backpack, plus the rack, plus the gun. The trek back was only 2.5 km as the crow flies, or so the GPS told me, but we had to go around a bog, through the spruce, and down 1000-foot elevation ski run. Hmm. I began doubting my decision almost immediately.

I had to stop twice on the way to the top of the ski run, and twice on the way down the ski run. On the lighter side of the news, Johnny went to sit down when we were halfway down the ski run, misjudged where the pack would actually land and ended up falling over the log onto his back. Nothing but arms and legs in the air flailing. Priceless. Johnny only weighed about 150, so 100 pounds of backpack sucking him over the back of a log was a sight to behold. No injury.

We finally arrived back at the cabin at 11:00 am. We did the meat prep and threw the bags in the meat house. Living somewhere in the near area were 5 Canadian Jays or Black Jacks. These little birds were really a giggle. As jays go, they were even more brazen than their comrades. I now know where the expression, “Crazy as a jay.” comes from. These little guys are grey and white, with smallish beaks and a real attitude. They have absolutely no scruples whatsoever. They were elbow to elbow with us during the meat prep. Evidently they are all around scavengers, and definitely wanted a piece or two. On more than one occasion I had to brush them aside as they were taking a bite. They would land on your hand to snatch a piece of bread. They were wary, and amazingly fast and brazen. We let them pick at the remnants on the racks. They did a real nice job of cleaning them up.

Kirk called for the floatplane, and I took a nap. While I snoozed, contemplating the virtues of efficiency, the weather began to turn. After snoozer, Tami and I discussed leaving early. As much fun as we were having, Tami got to relax in the woods and read etc., we came to the conclusion that it would be good to get back to Hawk’s bay. We could see some of the archeological sites in the area the next day (Tuesday), redo the plane reservations for Wednesday, get home Wednesday night, and spend a couple of days recuperating before returning to school on Saturday and work on Monday.

About the time we came to this conclusion, it started to rain. No big deal, but the gusty winds were creating the equivalent of microbursts on the lake. One could see the churned up “black squalls” weaving patterns on the surface of the lake. Hmm. The floatplane doesn’t try to land when that happens.

And so it went. No big deal, we’d push everything out a day and spend one day recuperating. Mother nature had other plans. Tuesday, the conditions persisted. The floatplane attempted a landing, but was bobbing and twisting like a cork about all three axes. The pilot, still in charge of his faculties, aborted the attempt.

Later that day, Jimmy came back with a caribou. He had saved the skin and left the head attached because he wanted to mount the head and keep the skin for a rug. Damn, wish I had thought about the rug thing. Caribou have nice white, really soft fur. Tami even commented about how it would make a really nice rug.

Wednesday morning looked okay, but quickly turned windy and drizzly. Yikes, this is not looking too good. I suppose we can forget leaving early and leave on schedule Thursday. I was still enjoying the sights, I could sit on the porch and watch the caribou on the ridge across the lake, but a sneaky voice in the back of my head whispered, “You’re gonna miss your plane, you’re gonna miss your plane!”.

Nobody had a fishing pole, but being with a bunch of Atlantic fisherman, they had a plan. They found a couple of fishhooks, beat a kitchen spoon into a spinner, found some bait and some string, and decided to go fishing. Sounded like fun to me, so I tagged along. It continued to rain, and we didn’t catch any fish in the morning. They went out in the afternoon and did catch a few brown trout.

By that afternoon, the damn little voice in my head was screaming. I told Tami, “You know, I’ll be okay until tomorrow around lunch time. If the plane is not here by then, I’m going to climb up the ski run to the top of the tundra and throw an absolute fit.”

Kirk the cook was not too pleased with the weather either. We were running out of supplies. The sack lunches for the field were getting a bit skimpy. Jimmy volunteered some caribou for dinner, so we had a wonderful caribou stew. More jokes, stories, and lies. Man, does Rick EVER run out of something to say?!

Another night and I was up before dawn with the rest of the hunters. The morning cleared and Kirk called for the airplane. Way cool. The plane arrived around lunch time, and Tami and I climbed aboard with all our gear.

When we arrived at Hawk’s bay, we threw the caribou in the freezer. I began to wonder if it would get cold enough to survive the trip. We had a couple of hours to kill, so Bess took us to one of the nearby archeological sites. We learned about very early Eskimo’s and Indians. We stopped off at one of the nearby stores and bought a cookbook. Johnny’s family runs the store. His parents were fun to talk to, and we heard some stories about Johnny’s childhood. After the cookbook, we dropped in on Bess’s sister (unannounced) for some tea and conversation. Bess’s sister and her husband have a really cool bar in her basement. Now I know what they do to pass the winter.

We returned to Hawk’s bay, and the work began again. Ralph and I decided to butcher the meat, and pack everything up the right way. Martin the owner had procured special boxes for me. They were about 3.5 feet long, 1.5 wide, and 1.5 tall. They were wax impregnated cardboard. Inside them was the equivalent of a half-inch thick Styrofoam cooler.

We cut the pieces up into manageable sizes, filled “small” plastic bags, put about a dozen of the small bags into a large plastic bag, and put that into the Styrofoam cooler. I sealed up the boxes and used a Sharpie to note the contents, license number, and tag number on each box. We ended up with five boxes weighing anywhere from 50 to 70 pounds each. The moose froze my fingers, but the caribou was not quite as cold since it only had been in the freezer for a few hours.

We couldn’t pack the boxes with dry ice, the airlines have a problem with evolving gasses, so we just sealed it all up and hoped for the best. Airlines aren’t too happy about pointy things, so we had to take cardboard bits and duct tape them to all the points on the racks.

We threw our luggage, meat boxes, and racks into the back of a pick up and began the trek back to Deer Lake. When we arrived at Deer Lake, we immediately went to the airport to see if we could ship the meat. Deer Lake is small enough that the airport closes at night.

Okay, plan B. There is a hotel near the airport, and they had one room left. We took it. The front desk guy arranged for a van to pick us up in the morning and had a walk in freezer I could put the boxes in. I threw the boxes in the freezer and we called it a night.

The next morning, the van was on time, the boxes were cold, and we got to the airport two hours early. In fact, we arrived just after the airline ticket counter opened up. We were second in line.

We weighed the boxes and racks (that’s how I know exactly how much everything weighed) and I filled out shipping paperwork. We decided to check the moose rack in with us and ship the caribou rack. I wanted to have something to take off the plane with me!

The boxes of meat were labeled with all sorts of hourglasses and time constraint stickers. The clerk made all sorts of notes regarding the fresh nature of the boxes and called ahead to alert the other shippers. We agreed to ship the boxes through Chicago so they could clear Customs there. The final tally worked out to about $350(US). We had a bite of breakfast, and climbed aboard the plane.

The flight to Nova Scotia went without a hitch. We had just enough time hit the restrooms and board the next plane for Ontario. The flight to Ontario went well and we claimed our baggage there. As one would expect, the U.S. has a full Customs office in Ontario. We had a couple of hour’s worth of layover in Ontario, but we decided to go through Customs right away and wait at the coffee shop next to the boarding gate.

New surprise! U.S. Airways has a special charge for antlers. They stuck us for $50. YIKES! If I had known that, I’d have shipped the damn horns for $10. Just when I thought I was over the antler debacle, I found out that Customs considers antlers, importation of livestock or some such. I was really going to throw a fit if they made me pay again. The conversation with the first Customs agent went something like this:

“You have to declare those horns.”

“Really, the ticket lady told me I didn’t.”

“She’s not the one making the decision.”

“Right.”

“Where did you get them?”

“I went on a hunting trip, and killed the moose.” (As I try to keep the antlers and rifle from falling off the cart.)

“You need to go to that room over there and fill out importation forms.”

“Yes sir.” Did I ever mention that I considered Customs agents to basically be IRS agents with guns?

The older agent in the next room was much more amenable. He still made me fill out an obtuse importation form that ended up being 95% blank, but he was nicer about it. The good news of the story is that he did not charge me anything.

Remaining undaunted, we proceeded to our gate. A couple of beers and a few latte’s later, life didn’t seem so bad. We boarded the plane, and flew to Philly. Another brief layover, and we boarded my usual Philly to Phoenix flight. We arrived home at approximately 9:30 pm. That worked well because I had school the next morning.

All might seem happy, but the evil shippers had other ideas. The boxes did not go through Chicago and Customs as we wanted. They went through Toronto and then flew direct to Phoenix. Normally, that would be good, but they arrived Saturday morning at 10:30. Guess what? The IRS agents with guns don’t work on Saturday. They told us the boxes would be stored in a refrigerator, but when Tami picked up the boxes Monday morning, they were not cold on the outside.

She traded vehicles with me at work, and I left early and rushed the boxes home to ice everything down. The moose was still quite cold, but the caribou was not. My buddy Randy came over that evening and we butchered and packaged everything. After all the dust cleared, the moose came through fine. Unfortunately, we lost almost all of the caribou. I think only 10 pounds or so was okay. The rest went straight to dumpster. Did I tell you how much I love Customs?

Anyway, the 200 pounds of boneless moose is more than enough to fill the freezer, so we are considering the trip a raging success. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!

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