The Author of this Field Report is IDO Member – Brent Graunke (Farmboy1).
I know some of the guys on here know my story, but I think I need to start at the beginning. Sorry for being longwinded for the guys who know this.
I have been looking for a couple of guys to apply for the “Once in a Lifetime” MN Moose Hunt with me for awhile. I wanted to do it the “right way” and in my mind this means a complete Boundary Waters Canoe Experience, hunt the entire 16 days allowed, and work for our moose or until time ran out, or we were fortunate enough to harvest an animal. After talking to a few guys who I thought would be up to the physical abuse, I had my 2 guys. A lifelong friend of mine, Paul, and my brother-in-law, Kent, were both in with both feet. I have applied for a Moose tag before in a more accessible area, but this was my first time with this group and in this area. In June I received the notification that we were drawn and the real planning and work began.
Paul had to work Monday, so we decided to leave as soon as he was off work, and left town about 3 pm for the wild blue yonder. We had a place to stay at in Buyck the first night and we hit the ground running in the morning. We were very surprised when we got to the access location because there were about 20 vehicles there. We were a little worried about other hunters in our area, as well as the recreational traffic we could run into, but we had our spots scouted and were going to make the best of the situation. These concerns were unfounded as we did not see another hunting group and the recreational traffic was minimal in areas we wanted to target.
We were on the water beginning our travels about 7 AM and were able to travel the 8 miles, with 6 portages, and have camp set up about 2 that afternoon. Emotions were high and we headed out for what we had predetermined was our number one spot from our scouting trip for an evening sit and call. The first night was slightly eventful as Kent had a nice buck bedded down in front of him, and Paul had a deer snort-wheeze at him for about 15 minutes. That thing really wanted to know what he was and why we were there.
Our locations were much like this, over creek beds or any areas where we could gain a sight line of more than 20 yards. We were hoping to find just one love sick moose to respond to the calls. We did hear some loud crashing on a hill on day 3, but it did not break cover, and we were unable to draw it out. We decided to hit this spot later when the weather broke to see if we could entice him out.
Mornings came early, and we were off canoeing to our next location at about 5:15. The travel time to many of our hunting locations were a good paddle from camp and we wanted to be set up early. We were on the move most mornings about 5 AM. Traveling by canoe in complete dark was difficult at best, and weather conditions were not helping. The winds were crazy on the next couple of days, and on day 3 were probably pushing 40 mph gusts, and the temps pushing 75 degrees. For a cold weather animal that is at their far southern part of their range, we were struggling to keep our heads up and keep hunting. The full moons at night were killing our moral, as we figured all the moose would be holing up during the day, and doing most of their moving at night.
On day three, I had a very interesting experience and had 4 wolves come to my cow calling. They sat and looked at me for about 10 minutes. I pulled my gun up and thought of the fantastic wolf rug I could have and “bang”. Sadly, this experience will have to wait until wolves are delisted and I can legally hunt them. For now, it was really fun to see them and the shot was only in my mind. There was one who was very interested in me, and the others would not stop running behind him. After about 10 minutes they walked into the woods and simply disappeared. Very cool experience for a southern MN boy who had never seen a wolf outside a zoo.
The day 3 night sit was the worst experience of my life. The wind let down about an hour before dark and the skeeters came out in mass force. Kent was the only one to bring a Thermacell because it is October, we would never need it with cold temps. Mistake. At one point I looked down and my feet were off the ground because there were so many mosquitoes on me! Paul and I struggled until we decided it was dark enough and time to head back to camp. When I saw his headlamp turn on, we all sprinted to the canoe and got out of there.
The weather continued to be hot and windy, and our confidence continued to drop. Days 3-5 were uneventful. Sitting and calling for about 8 hours a day, traveling to hunting locations, eating and sleeping. On day 4, the wind was really kicked up and we were unable to get the canoes on the water without risk of catastrophe. We decided our best approach was to walk 3 miles over what we later coined “Mount Everest” to get to a hunting spot. The hill was not that large, but we had not anticipated how thick the cover was, and any moose could have heard our still hunt from 1,000 yards away. It was simply impossible to get through it without climbing over, around, and through major snags, downed trees, and other major obstacles to get the 2 miles to where we wanted to be. I think we were all happy that night when we did not see a moose and did not have to travel back over the hill with 600 lbs on our backs.
The night sit on the 5th day was uneventful, other than I think this was the day that I finally decided that we were not going to get a moose, and was alright with that. We had been working our tails off every day, and were all missing our wives and kids pretty bad. Moral was at a low point to say the least, but the beauty of the area and watching the sunset over Boulder Bay was phenomenal. Paul was doing his best to spot the entire bay and the pictures are great.
It was also this day that we decided to try a new approach. We would move all day long, hit as many different spots as possible, and sit and call for about an hour apiece. We were still looking for just that one love sick moose and thought this may be a better way to find him. Little did we know how soon this approach would pay off.
It was also this night, with patience running short and tempers on edge, that I think we had one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. We had paddled through a smaller creek and settled into a bay for the evening to spot and call. The plan was to go back to our original lake via another shorter portage and make our way back to camp well after dark. We paddled across the bay to the ½ mile portage back to Lake Agnes in complete darkness. We had walked the portage before to glass, but had not actually used it with a canoe to gain access to the water. There was about 250 yards of what we started to affectionately call “Fart Mud” for its alluring odor and ability to make things disappear. It was hip deep and I was wearing hip waders, Paul also had on waist high waders, but Kent was left with just him knee high boots.
You have to know Kent, but I will tell you he is a quiet guy who normally does not have too much to say, and I have seen him lose his cool one time in the 15 years I have known him. It is just not his nature. With about 100 yards left to get to dry land, and with the 3 of us struggling hard to get there, Kent all the sudden grabs the canoe, shouts something to the effect of “Forget you, you silly canoe, I don’t like you” (edited for content and some language), and throws the canoe about 50 yards, with a loud Sasquatch like scream. We all sat there for about a minute looking at each other, and then the laughter started. It is a moment I will not soon forget and one of those times that you can never accurately explain to anyone other than the 3 of us. A great memory of a strange moment in time.
Day 6 started slow. I finally decided that I would give the guys a few more minutes of sleep and started making a fantastic breakfast of dehydrated eggs and Spam. Yummy….. Well maybe just slightly edible, but it does put fuel in the tank. Being that we had a 2.5 mile paddle to get to our morning area we hit the lake with paddles in hand once again. We started at one area we had seen earlier that we thought had some potential, but saw nothing. A ¼ mile portage and we were to our next location. This was a spot I had seen looking over some overhead images and thought had some promise. We beached the canoe and I started up the valley with Kent behind me about 50 yards. Paul was going to stay closer to the shore and spot the bay and up into the valley, and Kent was going to split the difference between us. I was not 50 yards away and I hear a loud “BOOM”. I turn around and the Bull and Cow were 150 yards from me. I always carry my gun with shells in it, but not one in the chamber for safety, and then kick a bullet in when I am at the hunting location. In the heat of the moment, I pulled up, “click”. Grabbing the bolt and throwing a shell in the chamber seemed to take forever, but I pulled up and was able to get a round into the bull at the same time Paul shot again. As hunters know, what seemed to take 20 minutes, probably happened in about 10 seconds. Kent was unable to shoot as he did not have a safe shot with Paul between him and the moose, and safety is never a bad call.
The bull slowly walked into the woods, unaffected by the shots or the noise. Even being very confident in our hits but we were still surprised at how little it seemed effected by our shots. There was no noise in the bush, no crashing, and the cow simply walked into the cover 10 yards from the bull. We decided to go back to the canoe and wait for 30 minutes. We tried our hardest, but in hindsight what seemed like 30 minutes at that point was maybe 5 minutes. We split up about 10 yards between us to go into the cover and spot for blood. 5 steps into the brush and I hear Paul say, “There he is”. He was still alive, so I put a quick round into him to end his struggles. To say that the next 30 minutes were a whirlwind of emotion, may be an understatement.
We went wild. Six days of butt kicking hard work, the efforts that come with a difficult hunt, the missing our families, the crappy food…everything faded away amidst a bunch of high fives, whoops, hugs, and emotion few can ever really understand. It is a few moments that will be implanted in my brain until the day I die. What a complete rush. All the hard work and sacrifices we had made seemed to fade away, and we were truly in the moment.
Every time I harvest an animal, I take a moment to stop and reflect. Taking the life of any animal is fantastic, but an animal of this magnitude and with the labors we had put into it was very special. I owe this creature the utmost respect, and the ability to harvest it is a great event in my life. I am not a highly religious person, but I stopped and thanked God for putting me in this point, and allowing me to be at this place in time, and to take such an animal. What a great time to be alive.
They say that once the shot is done the work starts. Whoever “they” are is dead right. We started to process the moose at 7:30 AM. We had the first half taken care of, and Paul and I decided to go and grab the other canoe and some other essential items for traveling. Our equipment was mostly whitetail knives and bone saws. They were not up to the task and we broke 2 new bone saws. This left us with a 250 head/cape/neck that we were unable to break down further without some different gear.
The 3 mile trip back to camp seemed effortless as we were running on pure emotion and adrenaline. We were able to grab our stuff and turn around and get back to Kent. He had most of the remaining side done, and we decided to get back to camp and do some other minor clean up duties there. Here we used an axe to further break down items for travel, and were able to shave an addition 75 lbs from the head.
We made the decision with the heat we needed to get this meat back to civilization as soon as possible and get it cooled down. We left camp at 4:30 with about 600 lbs of meat, one head (affectionately referred to as “Ed” the Head), 2 canoes and three tired but happy guys. We knew the next 8 miles would be tough, but it had to be done. The final of 8 portages was a ½ miles of pure hell. We carried all the meat first, and left the canoes at the end of the portage since we needed to get back the next day and break camp. I put Ed on my back and started walking, letting the other guys know to catch up with me, but that I would go as far as I could before I could go no further and they would take over. I literally walked right into the trailer at the end of the hike before they caught up. Don’t look up, just keep going. We were at the truck about 16 hours after our kill, and about 20 hours since we had slept.
Into town to grab ice, to the cabin for a few hours sleep, and then right back into the canoes to get back and break camp. I thought the trip out with the meat was hell, but the trip back in to break camp and then turn around and start out was the hardest thing in my life. With sore cramping muscles, little sleep, and a huge task ahead of us, we bucked up and worked through the pain. A nice 15 mph wind at our face the entire trip out was starting to take its toll, and I started to wonder if we could do it, but sure enough, 9 hours after we started, we back in the truck. Hurting was an understatement.
After we were able to make it back to the cabin and clean up a little and we made it to the local tavern for a couple pizzas and beers felt like heaven. It seems that our travels were already known because when we walked in the first question we were asked is if we were the guys traveling all over for a stupid moose. I guess they just don’t understand.
That night I woke in the night and hurt so bad I could not get out of bed, and every movement hurt. I laid there for about 15 minutes and just thought back to all the things that had got me to this point. The training for the hunt, the preplanning, a very understanding wonderful wife, and all the other people who helped me get to this point. Even through the aches and pains, I felt very blessed.
The rack ended up having a 43” spread, very respectable for a MN moose in my book, and has a great dark coloration. The eye guards are very heavy and along with 3 kickers on the one side at the top of the paddles make an excellent trophy. I will be proud to hang this on my wall and remember all the blood sweat and tears that made this hunt a success.
I was a little hesitant about the trip not knowing if Paul and Kent could handle the physical exertion required. My worries were completely unfounded. When the going got tough, the pain was high and your whole body was screaming for a break, they dug deep and did what had to happen. On the drive home we came to the conclusion that this is a “1%” hunt, meaning that 99% of the population could flat out not hack it. I completely agree that this was the hardest thing I have ever done, but the pain does not outweigh the joys.
Last but not least, this is my favorite picture of the hunt. I was on trip 3 of 4 on one of the portages when I looked up and saw an absolutely beautiful photo opportunity that I could not pass up. If you could not understand why we did this, you may change your mind.