Vegans Be Ware!

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So my last post tells the story up to Thursday night. Friday was moose day and it was all day. I took the shot about 9:30 in the morning. He gave a nice broad side and I asked the local guy I was with, who I guess I could call my guide, if he was going to take the shot and he asked if I wanted to. As much as I wanted to yell YES! YES! YES! I tried to be cool and responded with a, ‘sure.’ I hit him just behind the shoulder blade. I wanted to make sure I missed the shoulder because I was fairly sure that my .270 would not make it through. In my enthusiasm I placed it several inches behind the heart and as a result the animal was able to take 3 more steps… Right into the water he was standing near. Maybe I should have waited until he was not facing the water or maybe I should have followed him further away however I believe that 1 if I did not shoot my guide would have, and 2 if you have a good shot you should take it.

For a moment we thought he might turn back because he paused. I worked the bolt just in case. My guide hearing this said something to the effect of, “No, no, no, not in the water.” I had not brought my gun up yet for the reason I am sure he was thinking of, the difficulties that would cause after, but was considering it because of big reasons 1 and 2. But I figured that if me moved for land I had him covered and so I waited and a moment later he went to his knees, still in the water, followed by a, “nooo” from my guide. As I said had he dropped where I shot him all would have been fine but on approach we discovered that the 3 steps he took had brought him from the dry ground to water maybe 6 inches over my boots. I couldn’t quite get close enough to touch him which was ok since it was only a few minutes after I shot him.

He was not breathing or moving and I could see the hole where I hit him. But the weight of his antlers had turned his head such that the antlers were under the water and part way in the mud. I still didn’t know just how big he was, but I could see that he was a fat guy. He went down about 9:30 and I got back to the school about 10:00 to let the principal know, and see if he wanted me to bring the quarters in for the students to help butcher as a cultural connection. I had figured we would have it quartered in a couple hours and they would be working on it by noon.

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As he dropped I could not really see the antlers.

I had not had very many of my large tubs at the house and had filled them with bean bags to work as funky chairs in my classroom. So I poked my head into my class for a few seconds to grab them, much to my class’s distress. They love the bean bags but were quickly distracted when the sub said something about a moose. I guess she had gotten a text and it must have gone around since several people had heard about a moose. There was a little confusion however as there were actually two moose taken at the same time not far apart. So many people thought that I was helping with the other one and then there was confusion when I said that I was the one to shot it. Being aware of the other moose I was able to correct the rumors and left my class a buzz which I must apologize to my sub for.

On returning with the tubs my guide and the school maintenance man brought some straps and their hip waders. Unfortunately I had left my hip boots in Washington due to weight and I was now regretting this as I was only able to give limited assistance. We had to negotiate the head to wrap the pulling strap around the antlers and this then was my first look at the full antlers. When he had been standing I could really only see his front palm and did not get very good or long looks at the upper palms. I knew that he was big but this was the first time I knew how big and even then with little experience to compare to did not fully appreciate it. He still had a little velvet stuck to the antlers which surprised me. I guess I don’t really know when the velvet comes off or when the antlers grow/drop but I would have thought that the velvet was shed in the summer which is fast approaching completion.

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My first real view of the antlers.

We hooked it up between ‘my‘ (Kelly’s) four wheeler and my guides and Brandon’s (the school maintenance man). It took all three to pull him. ‘My’ four wheeler was only two wheel drive so it was limited assistance and although we got it to a place that would not fill my boots, it was still in maybe a foot of water. As we were resetting for a second pull a fourth four wheeler came down the edge of the water. For a few seconds Brandon and my guide took turns guessing at who it might be before he was close enough to identify as fish and game, a local guy from a nearby village who came looking for tags jokingly saying something along the lines of, “Whose the bad shot? Need to see a license.”

I had a short moment of panic as I couldn’t find my tag but I quickly remembered it was in my shirt pocket which I had a sweater over. All being in order he looked at the animal for a while marveling as the other two at how fat he was and the size of the antlers. He might have been looking to go but my guide conscripted him to help pull the animal a little further. He hooked up and the three 4 wheel drive four wheelers were able to move it a little more. It was still not on dry ground but out enough to be workable without being terribly inconvenient. He left and we started working.

I should say I am still  proud that I dropped him with one shot from a .270, even if he took a couple steps after. I guess grandpa is right, I should only need one box of bullets… Ever. Don’t know what I will do with the other 20 boxes. And maybe this will silence all the people at the gun shop who said you can’t hunt moose with a .270 because its, “too small.” I happen to look up some of the record holders and several of the top ten were taken by a .270.

I began skinning. I did not even consider a full head mount from the time I shot it until later that evening. I did not realize just how big the rack was and I did not even consider that it would be possible to ship the head and antlers let alone the cost of the mount. It is my estimation that a shoulder mount would have cost several hundred in shipping and been very difficult with regards to packaging, and the mount would have cost roughly 2 grand in Fairbanks and then additional shipping of several hundred either back to Shungnak or to Washington neither place having room for such a beast.

Because of all this a full shoulder mount did not even enter my mind and I began skinning as far up the neck as possible. Brandon and I and my guide and Dad and Mom then spent the next several hours cutting. We were going to cut the top quarters (those not in the water) for the school but decided that we wanted the un-skinned ones so much of that was pieced into tubs and taken by my guide who probably should have had even more as it could easily all have been his had he taken the shot himself. I also owe him a lot for showing me how to cut the animal. Had we taken those we might have dropped off the first two quarters close to noon as I had predicted, however because of the way we did it we did not get anything back to the school until the whole of the animal was quartered. About 2:30 we dropped off the first load, an hour before school got out.

Disclaimer: Squimish people may want to skip the next paragraph it involves a graphic description of butchering the animal.

After getting the first two quarters off and the ribs the animal looked very strange. It is a image few outside a saluter house would get to see. The chest cavity had created a tub like effect and had filled with the blood draining from the lungs, which were a fascinating fragile spongy consistency, and the rest of the body. This created a bath tub of blood which was impeding further processing. The original plan was to roll him over at this point, but his weight made that still impossible. The next solution was to make a cut to drain the blood but as the water was still 6 inches from the ground the animal lay on this still left a large amount to be removed. We began scooping it out with our hands which were already so soaked in blood that we gave little thought. I happen to turn at the wrong time and got splashed in the face. I almost wiped it off with my bloody hand and then thought better.

All this was a tremendous amount of work, more than I ever would have thought and I found myself stripping layers quickly despite the light snow fall, the first of the year. In retrospect I was very thankful for the snow. It kept me cool. It kept the meat cool. It kept the flys away. All of which could have turned a difficult task very unpleasant very quickly in warmer weather.

PreK and Kindergarden were in the gym when we got there and it was very entertaining to watch their fascination. Though these children did not get to butcher they did watch what everyone was doing very carefully. Class is a little different in the bush. Where other kids are learning shapes and colors these kids were learning parts and direction of a moose. I must have looked particularly menacing as I was bloody up to my shoulders and the blood on my face which I forgot about until about. I went over and pretended to give the preK teacher a hug which gave the kids a good laugh as he ran off yelling, “NOOOOOO!”

It was interesting to me how apparent the cultural shift was made by one of the teachers questions. She asked what kind of animal it was. Now if they had seen the whole thing they would probably have gotten it but the first guess was ‘cow,’ not something any of them had ever seen or which has ever been in the area but which is in all the educational material provided. The next guess was caribou which was fairly reasonable, followed by horse. I will refrain from commenting on my feelings and the moral implications of the cultural bias of education here and will leave you to consider.

The kids were very impressed, as was I, at the size of the moose. It took a half a dozen high schoolers to move the quarters to the loading cart. Several of the high school boys who were by no means short were taking turns laying next to the ‘drumstick’ and commenting how it was as tall as they were. A large moose can stand up to 7 feet at the shoulder. I would estimate this one was right around 6 feet. The head and antlers could have added several more feet placing the overall height at 8-9 feet. Then the real work started.

It was a little funny how the students couldn’t quite figure out that I was the one who got the moose. The high schoolers seemed surprised but figured it out quickly but my students kept asking whose it was. I think they, and many people, didn’t see me as a hunter and so they were trying to figure out whose moose I was helping with. Several times they would ask things like, “teacher, who catch it?” I should point out that catch is the local term for shoot or kill. Just as you might catch a fish here they say catch a moose or caribou or catch a duck or muskrat. When told it was me several kept asking, “My teacher? My teacher catch the moose?” I do not believe that very many people saw me as a hunter or even outdoors man. I am not one to show off guns and I did not do much hunting last year because of out of state licensing costs so I am not surprised by this though I do think that that particular view may have now been altered.

It must have seemed as a frenzy of students with knives, something they would regularly be suspended for and which would never happen at all under any circumstances in other places. But under the watchful eye of several parents and elders not to mention school staff, the kids got to work and completed in an hour what would have taken me days.

There are not many places that I might have the opportunity to butcher a moose, or anything, along side parents, elders, fellow staff, students and my principal. But here in the middle of the Shungnak School gym all were up to their elbows.

After all was butchered and Brandon and several of the people who helped had taken some as a thank you we took the remaining tubs back to our house to package and divide up. I should say here that I owe Brandon a big thank you and the principal for loaning him to me as he did a tremendous amount of work and I doubt very much if it would have been possible without him. Certainly not in a timely manor.

By about 8:30 we had some meat and fat portioned out. The fat, for those who are wondering is sometimes added directly to soup to make it richer, sometimes dried and eaten straight or with salt, and sometimes wiped with fish flakes and berries into a dish known as eskimo ice-cream which needs its own post entirely.  It is the tradition and custom here that when someone is fortunate enough to get a moose they share. I went around to various friends and elders and all told passed out perhaps several hundred pounds of meat between 12-15 houses and another large portion to the cook house which serves community events.

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It seemed that the list kept growing and I regret not being able to give to all the people who have been so kind to me this past year. But hopefully those I may have missed will not be offended. It turns out that that Tuesday a moose was taken near town, Thursday night someone got one down the river a little and as I have said mine was one of two taken Friday. So there was no shortage of moose meat.

As Kelly and I were passing out meat in the village my parents got to work washing, cutting more precisely and vacuum sealing the meat that we were keeping. This started about 8pm or 8:30pm (just after the breakfast we did not eat until then because we were working) and did not conclude until past 10:30pm. All told it was roughly 13 hours work. In the following days we cut a little more meat from the bone and passed the bones out as well. They are cut and used for the marrow by many elders.

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Sorting and processing. And keep in mind, we brought less than half in at a time.

The next day we took some more measurement. We had already measured the spread as 70.25″ and with the additional measurements I calculated by means of the Boone and Crockett online score calculator that my moose scored 219 points. Just 5 off of their record, unofficially of course.

We also went back to the kill sight. I wanted to look for the casing and try to pace off the distance. I had worked the bolt gently so it was not more than a few feet off where I estimated I shot from. From casing to kill was 140 yards according to the range finder Dad brought. Who needs to pace right? I had estimated just over 100 yards and he had guessed 120 so we were both shy. I commented that when a 8-9 foot animal is standing they look close no matter how far away they are.

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Mom and Dad standing at the kill sight. Photos taken from the place where I shot. The one on the right is zoomed in from the other.

Several kids were using the antlers as a teeter totter and while I thought that was hilarious and took a minute to consider that it would make a great addition to the playground, the antlers were sharp and I would be very sad if they broke. We moved the head out of sight up the hill a little ways by the drying rack viewable from our kitchen window. This meant that the kids could not easily see it from the ‘road’ (a generous term for the gravel path) but we would be able to see if they were up there.

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Shortly there after was the conclusion of my parents visit. I saw them to the airport. Made sure they were at the right gate and that they got through security ok 😉 see pictures below. They took along some salmon and pike and of course several moose stakes and a big bone for the dog.

Hope you had as much fun as I did!

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Transport

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Terminal

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Security

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Below are pictures of the butchering…

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Butchering a moose with my principal. Any of you able to say you’ve done that lately? You can kind of see the blood on my face in the one on the left too. Not a lot just a few drops but enough to notice.

Also a special thanks to all the kids and adults who helped out with butchering.

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Meat drying in a local house.

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Bullwinkle

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Inupaq class the next Monday. We cut the nose which is considered a delicacy and the tongue which is just plain good.

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4 thoughts on “Vegans Be Ware!

  1. Fantastic photos, Ray! Hilarious to hear of your students’ disbelief – guess you showed them who’s the mighty hunter, huh? This was just the icing on the cake for what must have been a fabulous visit for your parents!

    Like

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