September 29 through October 14th 2007 is the annual moose harvest on the Gunflint Trail. This is when 21 lucky groups of hunters are able to shoot moose along the Gunflint Trail and its side roads. The only thing remotely resembling a hunt when it comes to the 3 zones along the Gunflint Trail is hunting for a place to pull over on the side of the road.
Last year a group of hunters pulled up alongside of a group of tourists watching a moose browsing in a pond. As the people took photos the hunters took their guns out and blasted away at the unsuspecting moose. This was legal because the hunters stepped far enough off of the road before they shot the moose. Unfortunately the moose wasn’t killed instantly and it ran off into the woods to die and never be seen again. I would like to say this was a one time occurrence like the once in a lifetime moose hunt for Minnesota Residents but then I would be lying.
Another similar incident occurred last year when hunters pulled over to the side of the Gunflint Trail and prepared to shoot. This time there weren’t tourists watching because the moose was on private property just off of the Gunflint Trail. In both of these incidences the hunters didn’t break any laws but what they did wouldn’t be called hunting in my book.
I confess, I have been on my once in a lifetime moose hunt. I even have the moose head hanging in our lodge to prove it. In 1993 Mike, his dad, his brother and I had our opportunity to moose hunt in the Boundary Waters Zone. We paddled and camped in 18 degree weather with snow squalls surrounding us. We all saw the moose about the same time on our last day, last hour of hunting. Mike and I were too far away to get a shot but his dad and brother were close enough and shot the moose.
The shooting of the moose was the easiest part of the moose hunt. Attempting to move the moose was a chore that involved a come a long and lots of muscle. The butchering of this humungous animal was not an easy feat and trying to stuff over 800 pounds of moose in two canoes with all of our camping gear was even more of a challenge. Paddling out of the BWCA while hoping a wave wouldn’t come over the side of the canoe and swamp us was a bit hairy. We had what I call a successful moose hunt.
I’m not against hunting. I’m not even against moose hunting if the DNR manages the population and the hunt responsibly. I am against people stopping alongside the road and shooting a moose like its a cow standing in a pasture next to it’s farmer. The DNR regulations allow a person to do this so I guess I shouldn’t be angry at the hunter.
Is the Minnesota DNR managing the moose population responsibly? This is the question many of the residents of the Gunflint Trail are asking. The moose population dropped 23 percent from 2006 to 2007 and no one knows why. There are speculations involving a winter tick, liver fluke, brain worm, increased wolf population and even global warming but these are just speculations. The moose population is like a sled on a downhill slide picking up speed and instead of trying to slow it down or stop it the DNR is giving it a big shove by allowing a hunting season.
The Minnesota DNR did make a few adjustments this year after receiving a number of complaints from businesses and residents on the Gunflint Trail. This is the first year hunters can only shoot a bull, no cows are allowed. There are fewer licenses this year too, only 233 for the whole area and the number of licenses along the Trail were decreased as well. The problem with hunting is you don’t just take the old, sick and weak animals.
The folks on the Gunflint Trail love their moose and a main goal of many visitors to the area is to see a moose. The deer population on the Trail is thriving and is increasing at an alarming rate. Between the overabundance of deer and the mysterious deaths of "healthy" moose the hairs on my neck are standing up.
Can something be done that will help slow the dwindling moose population down? I see a couple of areas where something can be done if the DNR is willing. I know the DNR can’t change the climate or prevent deaths from mysterious illnesses but they can do something about the deer population and the moose harvest season. Hopefully they will choose to do it before it is too late.