A bull moose browses willows on the edge of a beaver pond near the campground at Vedauwoo, in the Medicine Bow National Forest, October 2014. Photo by Barb Gorges.
Published Nov. 2, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Letters from a Moose Hunt. Writer Barb Gorges documents the pursuit of Snowy Range moose.”
2014 Update: Moose have also moved into the Pole Mountain area of the Medicine Bow National Forest located between Cheyenne and Laramie. I’ve been coming across them about once a year while hiking with friends at Vedauwoo and the Headquarters Trail areas, and also outside the forest at North Crow Reservoir.
By Barb Gorges
A series of letters to my sister, Beth
Mountain Home, Wyoming, Friday evening, September 30
Mark’s finally winning the lottery for a moose license is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event so I thought I’d document it like Elinore Pruitt Stewart did in “Letters from an Elk Hunt by a Woman Homesteader.”
If you remember, she was writing to her former boss in Denver about the trip by wagon in 1914 from Burntfork in southwest Wyoming to somewhere north of Pinedale. Elinore and her husband, older children and friends spent several weeks just getting to elk camp and another two weeks hunting.
We drive two hours from Cheyenne, but only for weekends. Instead of tents, we stay at Wiggams’ cabin up here between Foxpark and Mountain Home.
It’s humble, but it has heat, lights, a stove, a refrigerator and an indoor composting toilet.
We went out twice on scouting trips earlier this month. Mark’s moose area, the Snowy Range, overlaps areas for his deer and elk licenses. We had beautiful fall weather, but didn’t see any big game, just tracks and scat. At least it’s easier hiking in preferred moose habitat along the creeks, than stepping over downed trees in deep timber where Mark hunts elk.
We left today as soon as Jeffrey got home from school. It’s hard to believe at age 16 this is his fifth hunting season.
Tomorrow is also opening day for deer for both Jeffrey and Mark and since the weather is supposed to be warm, Mark wants to concentrate on finding deer. As thick-bodied as moose are, temperatures in the 70s could mean the meat wouldn’t cool down fast enough to prevent spoiling.
Mike Wiggam will be in soon. He has a deer tag too. I don’t have any tags this year. Ever since that antelope I’m happy enough to let Jeffrey use my rifle while I help spot game and carry it out. What do you and Brian have for tags this year? When do seasons open in Arizona?
I often wonder what Dad would think of his daughters taking up hunting and fishing–things he never did. But remember how much he liked climbing mountains!
Mountain Home, Wyoming, Saturday afternoon, Oct. 1
Boy, are we going to be sore tonight from all this walking! We got up at 5 a.m., had the standard Gorges hunting breakfast of instant oatmeal and V8 juice and were in the field by the beginning of shooting time, half an hour before sunrise.
There were lots of stars, but they faded fast and the tops of the aspens quickly lit up in neon yellow.
Mark and Mike have an amazing sense of direction. They rarely follow any of the numerous roads and after two hours or so, we always break out of the trees right at the vehicles. Of course, Mike’s been hunting around here all his life and Mark’s been hunting with him the last 15 years.
This morning we heard several shots but saw only squirrels. Back at our vehicles by 8:30 a.m., we ate the first half of our lunches.
On our second foray we were luckier. I was bringing up the rear when we crossed over a beaver dam on a small creek. There’s always some ankle-breaker hole waiting under the long grass so I take my time. I thought everyone was waiting for me. Instead, they were watching a bull moose playing peek-a-boo among the tree trunks.
Mark’s license is for a cow moose, but one without a calf. He followed the bull and discovered the cow and calf in the willows not more than 20 yards from where I’d floundered across. Mark says though it looks like a family unit, the bull is usually not the calf’s sire and is only following the cow because it is rutting season.
This was also the excursion when I noticed something dark along the game trail decorated with what looked like red seed beads. They were seeds from rose-hips. It was bear scat. Good thing in south-central Wyoming we only have to worry about black bears, but still….
We ate the second half of our lunch on a sunny ridge within sight of the sparkling dome of the observatory on top of Jelm Mountain, along a narrow track that was a regular highway for pickups and ATVs. Everyone drove sedately and nodded greetings. One couple stopped to chat. The woman was the only female hunter I’ve seen so far.
It seems like hunting outfits come in two types, either an old beater like Mike’s (and at 9 years old, our Explorer is heading that way) or a brand new, $40,000 extended cab 4×4 diesel. However, maybe in deference to high gas prices, most of those giant trucks were carrying three or more hunters.
I’ve noticed too, some hunters dress like Cabela’s catalog models. We, on the other hand, wear old jeans and flannel shirts with orange vests, though Mark likes his loose wool pants.
Remember those matching flannel shirts with the geese on them I got for us when we went to the Becoming an Outdoor Woman weekend in Raton, N.M., one red, one blue? Mine is wearing out, perfect for the dirty end of hunting.
We spread out to walk the ridge after lunch. Mike got to the end first and glassed the opposite mountain, finding a cow moose on an open hillside, followed by a bull. They are a wonderful chocolate color. But the funny thing is their legs are whitish, looking like they’re wearing Mom’s white nurse’s uniform stockings over brown hair.
We decided to get a closer look, following a game trail that took a near vertical dive. All of us were thinking how the heck would we get a moose back up this mountain?
Jeffrey, Mike and I waited at the bottom. Mark crossed the creek and headed up toward the cow moose on the other side. Another bull appeared. Then there was a lot of bawling which Mark determined came from twin calves hidden in the trees.
We’re back at the cabin now, taking our mid-afternoon nap before having an early dinner, the traditional pan of lasagna Mark makes and freezes at home. Then we’ll head out again until shooting time ends.
Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sunday evening, October 2
No more moose yesterday or today. An hour before sunset last night Mark got a nice buck deer, a 3 by 3, and we all worked hard getting it and our gear uphill, thinking what it would be like to pack out a moose that weighs three or four times more.
On the way, Mark gashed the top of his bare head on a lodgepole pine branch and spilled more blood than the deer. We realized we had three first aid kits–back in the vehicles–so Mike and I sacrificed our personal wads of toilet paper and Mark stuffed them under his knit cap.
This morning Jeffrey got a small buck near the road between Foxpark and Lake Owen. I was the one who spotted it. Looked sort of like a stump with mule ears. Mike didn’t get anything and can’t come out again this season, but we always share since he is so generous with the cabin. Mark will be busy cutting and wrapping deer meat evenings this week.
Mountain Home, Wyoming, Friday evening, October 7
We stopped in Laramie to drop off some deer steaks with our starving college student. Bryan has too much school work to come with us.
We drove up to the cabin later than last week. The sky was that rich turquoise, the moon just a new crescent and the mountains black. Saw only one deer with a death wish standing on the side of the road.
This weekend is cool enough to take a moose. It may snow by Sunday or Monday.
Pelton Creek, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming, Saturday, 10:30 p.m., October 8
We have moose! After a whole day of hiking around and not seeing anything but tracks, just as I’m about to pull onto the Pelton Creek Road and turn towards the highway and the cabin, Mark says, “Let’s go down the creek instead.”
There was still the half hour of official shooting time after sunset.
Then Mark says, “There she is! Stop! Stop!”
As I pulled over he wondered if it would be too hard to haul her across the creek, but Jeffrey and I said, “Go for it!”
We waited while Mark went down the bank and made sure she didn’t have a calf hiding. Then came the shot. I don’t know how Mark manages to be so accurate since he never practices. Maybe it’s because he’s had the same rifle for 32 years.
I was official flashlight and leg holder for over three hours and finally had to come back to the Explorer and put on some more layers. The work is about as slow as that ranch buffalo you helped us with in Montana years ago, even though we have a Wyoming knife this time.
Mark suggested I take a nap while I’m here so I’ll be the one in shape to make the 20-mile drive back to the cabin. I can see two little stars of flashlight bobbing in the distance below. The stars above are covered with clouds.
Moose have such expressive faces compared to antelope and deer, or maybe I’ve seen too many Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. But if I’m going to be a meat eater, I need to be brave. Anyway, in Wyoming animals are the most efficient way to harvest and process the vegetation that grows here.
Both Elinore and her friend, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy, shot elk on their hunt. But they let the men deal with the rest of the process.
It’s a little spooky out here. The wind keeps sounding like someone is walking back up the bank.
Cheyenne, Wyoming, Monday morning, October 10
We got half the moose back to the cabin late Saturday night, or rather, Sunday morning. It was nearly 2 a.m. when we rolled into bed. Then, later that morning it took another two to three hours to get the rest of it. Everything would have taken substantially longer without Jeffrey’s tireless teenage energy.
Unbelievably, Mark and Jeffrey got the moose and our gear to fit in the Explorer and we drove home very carefully in snow mixed with rain.
We had our first bites of moose meat for dinner last night. It’s not tough or gamey-tasting despite the fact that moose eat mostly willow.
I’m glad it doesn’t have a strong taste, the way antelope meat can sometimes be like a mouthful of sagebrush. We won’t have to disguise it in sausage and spaghetti sauce.
We’ll have over 250 pounds by the time the butcher is finished with the quarters and Mark cuts up the rest.
Mark took the hide to a taxidermist. It’s been promised for about June. Mark took the head to Game and Fish so they could get the lymph nodes tested for chronic wasting disease.
I’m a little disappointed that we won’t have to hike around the other three weekends of moose season. I love abandoning town commitments for an off-trail ramble and was having fun taking nature shots to enjoy on my computer desktop this winter.
Jeffrey still wants to see about filling his elk tag. I don’t know what we’ll do for freezer space if he gets one–maybe we’ll have to throw a potlatch. I think you’ll be getting some moose jerky from us anyway.
It’ll be five years before Mark is allowed to try his luck drawing for another moose. Too bad we can’t make the meat last at least that long without freezer burn. I suppose now Jeffrey will want to get his own moose. Hope he’ll take Mark and me along!