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Moose hunting with an expert

Freedom guide braves the logging roads of Errol

Moose guide Pete Nichols of Freedom poses with the rack of a moose he shot in 2006. Daymond Steer – Staff (click for larger version)
August 13, 2009
FREEDOM — Next month, moose guide George "Pete" Nichols will be returning to the wild logging roads of Errol in preparation of October's hunt.

There were 515 moose hunt lottery winners this year, a few of which will be exploring those same logging roads with Nichols during the season, which runs from Oct. 17 to 25.

Generally, moose hunting permits are awarded through a lottery process run by New Hampshire Fish and Game. The lottery was held in June. The permit determines where a person can hunt in the state and if the permit holder can hunt a male moose, a female moose, or either.

Moose hunters are also required to buy a separate license in addition to the permit.

But those who wants to shoot a moose but didn't win the lottery have another chance because the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of New Hampshire is auctioning five moose hunting permits for the 2009 moose hunt, along with licenses, as part of a new program to support the conservation of wildlife and natural places throughout the state. The deadline for the receipt of bids is Sept. 1.

In New Hampshire, Moose hunting is deemed to be a "hunt of a lifetime" because most licenses are awarded by a lottery system. Last year, the odds of winning were roughly one in 22 for New Hampshire residents.

On Monday, Nichols, 68, of Freedom, explained what moose hunting is all about.

"There is the thrill of chase, putting my skills against the skill of the animal," said Nichols. "It's all about being in the right place at the right time and if you've done your homework you should be in the right place."

For Nichols, that means going to the logging roads of Errol. The moose tend to hang out in areas that have been lumbered for hardwood in the past few years because they like to eat the young tree sprouts that grow in those areas.

In mid-September Nichols begins scouting these areas for tracks and droppings.

Errol's scenery is gorgeous as hunting and scouting takes place during the peak of the foliage season. In addition to moose, Nichols sees bears, turkeys, coyotes, and even bald eagles, said Nichols. In some areas it's common to see 20 to 30 moose.

The best time to see a moose is daybreak to 9 a.m. or just before dusk, because the temperature is cooler. During the heat of they day, the moose try to stay cool in the darkest dampest places possible.

During the season, hunters are allowed to shoot moose from the logging roads because the logging roads are privately owned. However, if a logging truck comes along, the hunter is expected to move. Hunters and guides are advised to carry CB radios so they can stay informed of truckers' movements.

The logging roads are the most practical places to shoot a moose because moving a moose carcass is quite difficult, said Nichols.

"It takes some specialized gear… and a strong rope," said Nichols.

He uses a winch, which was adapted from a chainsaw's power plant, to pull moose. Nichols stressed the importance of bringing rope for towing the moose because many people forget. Nichols hires himself out on occasion to help those who didn't bring the right equipment.

"It's amazing how unprepared a lot of people are for what they are after," said Nichols. "Last year the temperature was in the 80s and you only had hours to cool the meat to preserve it,"

For a rifle, Nichols uses a .300 Winchester magnum.

By law, the shooter must stay with the kill. So, it's recommended that moose hunting parties include an assistant in addition to the guide. It's the assistant's job to go back and get the truck after a kill is made. Nichols has a few assistants to call on during moose season.

The October weather can also be challenging. Nichols said he has to prepare for heat, rain, snow and sleet. In addition to lugging all the hunting and safety gear, Nichols is also responsible for booking the lodging and arranging the meals.

The meat is a great reason to go moose hunting. Moose is lean compared to venison.

"If you've had moose, you'd give up venison," said Nichols who shot his first deer at 14 years old. As a boy hunting wasn't just for sport it was done simply to eat.

"I've always hunted for meat," said Nichols. "I came from a poor family and venison was a necessity to get though the winter."

Today, he tells his clients not to kill a moose unless they want it for food.

"If you're not going to eat it, don't shoot it," he said.

Nichols said he doesn't like the auction system for the extra permits because it puts the rich ahead of other people who have been waiting for decades for the chance.

"It makes it a rich man's game," said Nichols. "If you've got the money you can have one. They are buying a moose and not standing in line like everyone else."

This year, Nichols is still looking for clients. He said in a normal year he has to turn potential clients away, but because of the recession there doesn't seem to be as much demands for guides.

The biggest moose shot by one of clients weighed 825 pounds field dressed (without the innards).

Nichols said he's won the moose lottery twice. But the first time in 2004, he didn't get to go because he and his wife, Peg, made plans to go on a cruise since he didn't expect to win. In 2006, he won again and was able to shoot a moose that weighed 650 pounds after being field dressed and produced 400 pounds of boneless meat.

"I've met some real nice people and we have a good time," said Nichols.

All funds generated from auction of the permits will be used by the Wildlife Heritage Foundation to fund N.H. Fish and Game conservation programs that might not otherwise be possible.

The Wildlife Heritage Foundation of New Hampshire is a private, 501c3 non-profit organization created in September 2006 to work with scientists and educators to fund wildlife conservation efforts in support of activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing and watching wildlife.

For more information on the auction, or to request an official bidders packet, write to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation of NH, PO Box 3993, Concord, NH 03302-3993, or email foundation@wildlife.nh.gov.

Tilton School
Martin Lord Osman
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