For us folk in the eastern US our "close to home" "driving distance" big game hunts are basically limited to whitetail deer and black bear. For a few dollars a year anyone can enter the Moose Lotteries in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Odds aren't great but heck I have been picked twice in 3 years of trying. 2011 in Maine and 2013 in New Hampshire. For most of us it's only a 1 day drive to the hunting grounds. And if you score it makes it mighty convenient to transport 300/400 lbs. of meat and a giant set of antlers.
So after only 3 years in the lottery I got my New Hampshire either sex tag for unit C2. The website indicated my odds were 1 in 136 for a non resident so I figure I got pretty lucky. Unfortunately for me the season dates fell on exactly the same dates as my business partner's honeymoon requiring me to "rush" my hunt. It didn't take long for me to identify New Hampshire Guide Services as the premiere outfit in the NH north country. A short conversation with Jason Parent from NHGS and I was booked on a five day hunt. He even went so far as to say I should be able to get a moose in a day or 2 allowing me to get back to my business responsibilities quickly. At the time that seemed to be a mighty optimistic prediction. So on October 16th I set out alone from Virginia for the 700 mile journey to Wentworth Location New Hampshire. I planned an extra day before the hunt to do some exploring. The highlight was going up Mount Washington (Google it up, too much for this story).
I arrived at the Mount Dustan store (base of operations for NHGS and the Parent family) on the afternoon of the 18th and was shown to my cabin to unpack and get ready for the Saturday moose season opener. The cabin was small but perfect. 1 bedroom, a kitchen/sitting room, nice bath with plenty hot water and satellite TV.
I met my guide Chuck Ryan and he informed me that opening day tradition is to get going EARLY. We were out by 2AM the next morning. At first light we were creeping around the clear cuts looking, listening and calling. This is the tail end of the rut and the moose are generally not too responsive to calling. The country is fairly mountainous but not too difficult, lots of stepping over old dead-fall etc. We saw our first moose around 8:30 AM a small bull at about 70 yards, he saw us but was largely unconcerned. At 9:30 we came across a second moose at about 60 yards, after a quick consultation with Chuck I decided to shoot him. A fine old bull with a 51 inch spread, unfortunately a broken tine that we had not noticed. Nonetheless a great bull and I could not have been more pleased. We were about a mile from the closest logging road near top of a mountain in the back of 4/5 year old clear cut. I stayed with the bull and Chuck went to meet Dave the "recovery" guy. NHGS uses 2 ARGO tracked vehicles to recover whole moose. These things are invaluable! What would have been countless man hours of packing was over in short order with the 750 lb. dressed moose on the trailer and headed to the checking station. There is one drawback to the ARGO more on that shortly. By mid-afternoon we were back to base and the moose was hoisted by David (Jason's father) for skinning and processing all done right there at Mount Dustan.
As for the non-hunt related services I can't heap enough praise on NHGS! The Parent family... Justin, Dustin, David and Bridgett, and all the staff were great. Everything from the clean,tidy cabins, big bag lunch and the plentiful delicious family style meals was better than promised. Keep in mind 15 clients, most with sub permit-tees and 20 or so guides/helpers, this was a big crowd. Everyone was helpful and fun, it was not long before I felt like one of the bunch. Everyone works together to make sure clients have a good time and get their bull, no ego issues with these guys. The Parent family also runs a general store so everything you could need is right there.
When it comes to the hunting everyone is super keen. They scout year round and know every cut in all the units they hunt. I believe any hunter of any ability can kill a bull with NHGS. If you can walk and sneak a bit no reason shouldn't get a real trophy. My 51" bull was only average for the area. I saw photos of the others and these were some real whoppers.
My only complaint is that my cape was ruined during the recovery process. I suspect the ARGO treads and the countless rocks and stumps rubbed most of the hair off one side. Not a big deal for me (a skull mount is fine). I intend to go back and get a real north woods monster or a "cocker" as they call 'em. However, most clients would not be pleased to lose the cape of a one in a lifetime Moose trophy. I was right there during the recovery and should have paid more attention as well. I suspect that the folks at NHGS can figure this issue out, as these guys are serious trophy moose hunters and work hard to do things right. I might also recommend that NHGS train someone or arrange with a local taxidermist for proper capeing of the moose trophy. By doing so the cape could be frozen or salted, transporting a whole moose head is a huge pain.
I won't get into all the issues involving the declining eastern moose population only to say that I suspect the Winter ticks are an issue. My moose cape had MANY THOUSANDS of ticks crawling on it three days after having been killed, I cannot comprehend the number that must have been on the whole moose!