Straight from Minneapolis and his heart…
“If you want to find the truth, follow the lies..” *
There`s an animal that everyone wants to see when they`re in the wild. Yes, I know, there are some in zoo`s or animal parks, but it`s not the same, it`s not quite the same at all.. It looks like something right out of dinosaur times, those long legs, big antlers, and long nose. And when you see one you don`t forget it for the rest of your life, because that animal is the moose!
One fall morning I woke up early, left my cabin, and went out moose calling. It`s a morning I won`t forget, because it`s a morning that turned out to be one of the scariest mornings in my entire life! Now it`s time to tell the story.
I produced a film on moose about 15 years ago, it was part of a series of wildlife films I made for families and children. I entitled the film ‘Monarch of the Woods’. Believe me, it`s an accurate and much deserved title. The adult male or bull moose stands 6 to 7 feet tall at the shoulder and weighs 1000 pounds or more. It can hear a pin drop from 50 yards away and can trot 35 miles an hr. It swims well and thinks nothing of being outside in -40F, although it starts overheating at about 40F above. They can kill a wolf with a good directed hit to wolf’s head with its feet, or stomp it to death as well. They can kill humans too the same way if you`re stupid enough to get a little too close. If a moose runs out on the road and you hit it with your car, it becomes a real bad day at the office, for you that is.. It doesn`t really sleep like we understand sleep. It may nod off for a few minutes here or there, but it spends most of it`s time eating, and then re-eating or ruminating what it already has eaten. Males and females spend most of the year apart. Females will have calves most years and run off last years calves before the new years arrivals are born. If a cow moose doesn’t have calves, she may let last years calf or yearling hang around for another year.
I began work on my moose film by researching and trying to find the top moose experts in the US. One of them Rolf Peterson, the top moose researcher and expert in the lower 48 states agreed to an extensive interview. He was not far away in Michigan. I was a float plane pilot at the time so I flew there and had a very successful and enlightening conversation with him. Another expert I found was a guide that called himself ‘The Moose Caller.’ He was an outdoor guide that specialized in moose, or better yet taking people out to see moose and photograph them. His name was Mark Braaten. He would use a specialized technique dating back to Native American times. Imitating the sounds both male and female moose make verbally with their mouth in order to communicate with each other. As I mentioned earlier male and female moose spend much of the year alone in separate areas. There is one time of the year though that they do spend time together, their mating season, or
simply called the rut. In northeastern Minnesota the peak of this is in the Fall, around the third week in September.
During this time moose communicate to let other moose know where they are, and whether they are either male or female. The male moose vocalization sounds a little like a bull frog, and the female like an anguished yawn. Bulls will try to find out where the other bulls are to chase them off. If two bulls are of the same size and stature and one doesn`t want to be run off, they will fight. Sometimes to the death.. Although most often the smaller or weaker moose will run off. Thus the strongest genes get passed on. Cow moose are also attracted to the bulls calling and vice versa. This all happens only once a year. I contacted Mr. Braaten and he agreed to participate in the film and come up to my cabin and teach me how to moose call!
My cabin was in moose territory so that was a good break, and it was the peak of the moose population in my area as well, which means the moose numbers were up, another good break. I flew the float plane from my cabin down to central Minnesota to pick up Mark. He was right there at the lake and dock we planned to meet at, so I loaded up his gear and Mark hopped in and we were off for the flight back to my cabin on my lake near the Mn. Canadian border. The next day we hiked to different moose habitat areas. Moose like lakes, creeks, rivers, bogs, etc. I brought along my still shot camera and film camera and just listened and learned and watched what Mark was doing, his moose vocalizations and technique. Unfortunately we didn`t attract any moose, but I learned how to moose call from the best in the business. I was now confident I could moose call too thanks to Mark. I thanked him and flew him back home the next day, then I flew the return trip back to the cabin to go off on my own the next morning and try moose calling.
I woke up the next morning early while it was still dark. I was prepared, I took my back pack and loaded it with my film camera and tripod, still shot camera, some water and a first aid kit, and just in case a firearm for emergency use only. I knew a good spot about a mile away from the cabin. There was a little wooded hill overlooking a large boggy area. It was a cool morning with frost on the ground. I walked from my cabin quietly, it was still dark and before dawn, I wasn`t exactly scared, but more aware of the mission at hand, to get to my spot on the little hill overlooking that bog and find a good place to set up my tripod and film camera so I could begin moose calling at the break of day and hopefully film a moose! I was quiet and listening as I was walking down the forest service road gingerly as to not make any more noise than necessary. I was approaching the little hill overlooking the bog. I stepped off the gravel forest service road and onto the forested little hill. It was dense forest, with my little flashlight I only knew the direction to get to the edge of the small hill I was on to find a place to set up. No trail, so I was just trying to get through all the fallen branches, trees, and rock that make up the floor of any wilderness forest like this one. I finally got to the edge of the hill overlooking the bog, it was getting a bit lighter now, not sunrise yet but light enough so I could make out everything around me and see the bog. I was about ten feet above the boggy area that extended to the left, straight ahead, and to the right. A perfect spot to moose call and to film from. A little balsam fir tree was right next to me, so I set up the tripod and film camera just in back of it, shielding the camera and myself from any animal that might be looking our way. I had my backpack to my right with the firearm inside loaded and close by in case of emergency.
I began moose calling, I decided to do mostly the male or the bull moose call. I guess I figured if bulls heard me they`d want to come and see and chase off any other bulls in this area so they alone would have the best chance to mate with any female or cow moose nearby. I began to hear responses to my calls within a few minutes! I would change the frequency of how often and also volume and length of how I`d call. It was getting lighter now, sunrise, I can see the frost all over. I hear more responses to my calls. Then all of a sudden I see straight in front of me and alittle bit to the right a gigantic mature bull moose! It was maybe a hundred yards straight ahead of my spot behind the little balsam fir tree. I begin filming and kept calling, a little softer though, the adrenaline is now rushing all over my body! The moose keeps slowly walking towards the direction of the moose calls, me! It`s about 50 yards away now and I can really see this animal, it`s huge, its rack or antlers are gigantic with the velvet or protective skin coating rubbed all off now. I`m filming it all with the little tree shielding me and the camera, I`m getting more and more footage and this gigantic bull moose keeps getting closer. I do my last moose call very softly, I`m really scared now because he`s coming even closer still! I continue filming, I grab the gun, I`m scared to death now because it`s coming closer, like 30 feet away and straight ahead! No way am I gonna` moose call now, I start wishing I had never learned! He`s coming closer and I`m still filming! I pull the hammer back on my pistol, he`s 20 feet away and gigantic! I`m so scared I imagine that he`s going to eat me! Moose are vegetarians, but I`m so scared, that my thinking is going crazy. Just at that precise moment the moose takes a left turn as he`s facing me and walks up the little hill I`m on to my right and in back of me. Now I can`t see him but I can hear him walking 15 feet away, and I`m even more scared than when I was scared to death a couple minutes earlier! At that point I just knelt down with the firearm in my hand and waited and listened.. I was there maybe a half hour hoping and wishing if I stayed still and didn`t make a sound the moose would walk away. Luckily for me he did! I waited a few more minutes to be safe and packed up everything and slowly and quietly walked through the wooded little hill back to the forest service road and then to my cabin. I got inside the cabin and took my film camera out to see if I got the footage. That was the only thing I had on my mind now that I had survived and was alive. Did I get the footage? I did!
So long for now… Jimmy
Jimmy Wilson Gallery
4304 Upton Ave. So.
Born in Minnesota, photographer, filmmaker, writer, and gallery owner, Jimmy Wilson will share tips, advice, and gallery news in a bi-monthly column called “Jimmy’s Journal.”
For more Jimmy Wilson info, please go to http://www.jimmypicture.com & http://www.jimmyfilms.com
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