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October 14, 2008

Moose Safari

Filed under: Photography,Travel,Wildlife — Steve Hamlin @ 1:15 pm

Bull moose, Errol NHRecalling our recent photo adventure in northern New Hampshire.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you moose are easy to find.  Sure, there are those lucky occasions when you’re in the right place at the right time (or those tragic times when you’re in exactly the wrong place), but you can’t count on them.  Most often, moose are infuriatingly unpredictable.

After several half-baked attempts to get really good photos of moose – a big bull, standing up to his chest in a picturesque pond, munching on a mouthful of vegetation with water dripping from his expansive antlers – Linda and I planned a trip to the moose-rich area of Errol NH for the first week of October.  According to the calendar, it should have been perfect timing.  After all, the moose are at their randiest then, and, since the fall hunting season was just getting started, hunter activity shouldn’t have sent them deep into the woods yet.

We arrived at dusk on Friday, October 3, just slightly disappointed at not seeing any moose on the drive north, but full of anticipation for the success that must surely be waiting for us.  Our daughter, Gayle and her husband Rene, joined us not long after dark.  We made plans to be on the road to a notorious moose hangout before dawn.

As planned, we were up by 5:00am and on the road before 6:00.  We drove south on Rt. 16 as the first glow of morning light strengthened in the eastern sky.  Nothing stirred as we made our way through Thirteen Mile Woods, or as we passed the bogs, salt licks and ponds behind Pontook Dam.  As we pulled into the boat launch at the dam, the sun was poking tentatively at the cloud cover.

Rene and I took a quick walk around the parking area, then we piled back into the pickup to work our way back towards Erroll.  Again, we saw nothing, other than dozens of game trails and mud pits crisscrossed with moose tracks.  We took a drive up a logging road, checking promising areas as we went, then returned to the highway, having found nothing.  I suggested that we continue north past Erroll to a spot Linda and I had discovered on our last poorly-timed moose trip to the area, in November of last year.

Following a fruitless drive the rest of the way to Erroll, we arrived at Long Pond and pulled into an access road.  We climbed out quietly and began scanning the pond.  The light was still poor, but I spotted a bull moose quite far away, near the north end of the pond.  I quickly setup my camera with my long lens and locked it into the tripod, but, by the time I was ready to shoot, the moose had disappeared into the woods.

We piled back into the truck and drove towards the north end of the pond, down a logging road to another access path.  We furtively climbed out and crept out to the water’s edge.  We could hear the thrashing of a large animal, directly across the water, but we saw nothing.  Rene, a lifelong woodsman and hunter, began imitating a moose call.  The moose responded, but didn’t show himself.  Rene and the moose traded challenges until the moose tired of it and the woods fell quiet.  We waited a few more minutes, then decided to move on, having missed the opportunity.

We continued down the logging road past another potentially productive-looking, but empty pond, then turned around and returned to the highway.  We continued north past countless promising looking areas, seeing nothing.  Several miles past the Maine state line, we decided to turn around and head back.  We were all tired from the long drive the day before and the early morning.

We drove back into New Hampshire, past the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge office.  We had just crossed a spot with a pond on the right and the Megalloway River on the left.  We rounded a curve and suddenly Rene exclaimed “There we go!” from the driver’s seat.  Looking over his shoulder from the back seat, I saw a handsome bull moose clambering out of the ditch on our side of the road.

By the time I could unhook my seat belt, unlock the auto-locked door and climb out, he was across the road and disappearing into the scrub vegetation.  I squeezed off several quick shots, but I knew as I was shooting that the camera had focused on the vegetation, rather than the moose.  I managed to get one shot with the moose in focus, but he was so hidden by foliage, that the tip of his antler is all that’s visible.  I scrambled up the road and spotted him again as he was traversing a small ridge.  He looked back at me and I took several shots.  I continued shooting as he turned his back on me and climbed the rest of the way up the ridge.

Gayle and Rene spent the rest of the weekend with us and we never saw another moose.  Linda and I stayed the week, spending each morning and evening either cruising the bogs and salt licks or staking out a pond.  We ended up seeing a good number of moose, but we never saw another bull until dusk, the evening before we were leaving, when we saw a young bull and once again missed getting any shots.

Having come so tantalizingly close only hardens my resolve to succeed.  We’ll be back!

All text and images © Steve Hamlin
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