Over the years many hunters have asked me where's my favorite place to hunt moose, and after their scowls go away when I say "In the woods" I tell them it's Cateye.
Cateye has become a bit of a legend over the years. Stories from Cateye have been know to grow legs and walk the streets of small cities and towns across America, even going into the homes of hunters where they've swelled bigger and bigger until the occupants burst out of the doors to get fresh air - after all Cateye stories always end with bull, er I mean bull moose. Just hearing about Cateye can be a little overwhelming for most people's imagination, but bear with me and read to the end.
Cateye is a small lake on the top of a hill with several meadows around it, just south of Crystal Lake, but most of the time when a hunter wants to go there I work them into a frenzy until they believe they're about to go on a death march over the Himalayas. I've actually only ever guided for one bull on Cateye lake itself, though I've seen many on the lake... but I'm going to cut the legs off those stories right here and tell you about guiding my first trophy bull moose.
I was pretty young at the time, I'd guided for a few young moose, but nothing in the 40" range yet. We'd had a fresh snow fall and Bernie, my hunter, was ready to lay down his life to shoot a trophy moose. At the time there was no trail to Cateye, not so many as two or three hunters had ever ventured there before - but I'd never met one of them - I'd only heard my Dad tell me stories of poor hunters who had hunted there.
Actually, my Dad told me he once took a hunter to Cateye, and a great big moose walked out in a meadow, and the hunter asked my Dad if he should shoot it, and my Dad told him "We can't get horses back here. If you shoot him we've got to pack him out". And the hunter pretended to shoot the bull, slung his rifle and said "Let's go Fred, I want to be home before Christmas."
Anyhow, I digress (I warned you these stories grow legs!)
So Bernie and I made the death march up to Cateye. I had an old black and white aerial photo and a compass, took a bearing and headed straight for the lake, missing it only by a mile or two. As we wandered through the snow, I tried to reassure Bernie I knew exactly where I was because I could just follow our tracks in the snow home. His nervousness was beginning to make me nervous though as the day dragged on. Eventually we cut moose tracks, which was a great relief to me because then I knew we'd never been there before, this was new territory.
I started making cow moose calls. Unbeknownst me myself, as he never made a noise, he was coming in charging! After about an hour of waiting for the charging bull to arrive Bernie asked if he could make a call. "Why not," I said, "It's not like you're going to scare anything off."
I should have specified to Bernie that he was supposed to make a cow moose call, because what came out of his mouth sounded like the saddest wounded duck you've ever heard, complete with choking death gasps. This unnatural noise however stopped the bull moose charging into my calls dead in his track. Uncertain what he was hearing, the bull began grunting and walking slowly towards us, perhaps only 100 yards away in the timber.
"Do you hear that?" I grabbed Bernie to make sure he didn't make any more duck calls, "There's a moose! I'm going to call him in."
I began cow calling again, and relieved to hear his cow moose was back and had probably stomped the wounded duck out of its misery, the bull didn't feel the need to keep calling anymore and once more resumed his quiet charge.
The suspense was killing me, so I directed Bernie to walk slowly forward in the direction of the noise.
One tree, that's all it took to hide that moose and once we had walked around it his antlers stood out like satellite dishes. The forest was so thick there that at 50 yards we could only see his head and horns. Bernie, needing no prompting, and not allowing me to offer the warning about packing it out, threw his rifle up and blew the snot right out of that moose - literally - he shot the bull square in the nose.
There was a moment, one of those rare manly moments when guys hug, and we pulled out the camera for photos. Bernie insisted on me being first, and when I went to take one of Bernie discovered it was the last one, we were out of film. No matter, Bernie had his trophy moose.
Unfortunately I hadn't brought a fork, or we might have camped there for the next few months and eaten that moose on the spot. Being a young single guy at the time, this would not have bothered me, but Bernie protested about having a family and a job. I relented and we cleaned the moose and began our trek out. I carried the skull out on my back. I was sure to put it down once or twice every few steps to leave blood in the snow so we knew we were on the right trail when we came back for the rest of him the next day.
And what a next day it was! We convinced several other hunters and guides in camp to help us as the horses weren't able to get across the swamps in the area. Unfortunately, we lost several of our packers on the trail to disease, starvation and predators - so Bernie and I ended up packing it ourselves.
I have to admit the truth though, there was a moment, I think it was around 2 in the morning, when we crossed the big horseshoe meadow and the full moon lit up that snowy meadow like it was midday. It was serene, like you could reach up and touch heaven. I had to pause to enjoy that scene - here I was with 100 pounds of moose meat on my back, hungry, thirst, exhausted, covered in blood, wolves howling on our back trail - and at that time in my life I'd never seen anything so beautiful as that meadow that night.
Bernie brought me back to earth when he kicked me. "Get up!" He barked, "The wolves are gaining on us and I'm not leaving you here to die!"
He may have sounded noble, but I knew Bernie's true motive. He knew there was safety in numbers and didn't want to go by himself for fear they'd pick him off easier.
"Ah well," I thought as Bernie lifted me to my feet, it was a beautiful moment.