They say the best trait for any hunter is patience. Hod Bolinger of Albert Lea has plenty of it. In 1971, the first year Minnesota held a modern moose season, he applied in the lottery for a hunting permit. He continued to apply for permit every year a moose season was held since then, but was never drawn for a permit.
“I always applied for the zone near my cabin,” says Hod, who has a place on Tom Lake north of Hovland. “I knew the country and thought I could get a moose there,”
Finally, after 40 years of applying, Bolinger was chosen for a moose permit in 2011. Hod, 85, was joined on his once-in-a-lifetime license by his son Joe, 50, of Alden. Since he spends the summer at his cabin, Hod began scouting for the upcoming hunt soon after he was notified of being drawn for the permit. He discovered locating moose in the North Shore’s forests is a more difficult task than it used to be.
“When the moose hunt started, you could kill a moose of either sex and the success rate was over 90 percent,” he said. “Now it’s bulls only because there are fewer moose. But they’re still there if you go out and find them.”
In July, Bolinger set up two trail cameras in locations near Tom Lake, including a beaver pond be believed was frequented by moose. The cameras were out from July through September and he checked them once a week. Most of the images he captured were of deer, which have become more numerous in recent years. Far less common were pictures of moose.
“I got pictures of a couple of cow moose and a couple of cows with calves,” he says. “I didn’t get any pictures of bulls until the last two weeks of September and then only at night. We expected to see more moose, especially at the camera set up near the beaver pond.”
The lack of trail camera images didn’t damper he and Joe’s enthusiasm. On the first morning of their October hunt, they went to the beaver pond. Joe called like a lonely cow moose for 10 or 15 minutes, only to be answered by another lonely cow in the distance. Then the duo heard a grunting bull. Shortly thereafter they heard a shot. Unbeknownst to them, another hunting party had approached the pond from the opposite direction to call in and shoot a bull with an antler spread of 60 inches.
“We thought we had the area to ourselves,” Hod said.
It was bad luck for the Bolingers, but they weren’t disheartened. On the second day of the season Joe called in a small bull that came very close to Hod, but he was unable to get a clear shot. Finally, the moose smelled them, spooked and ran off.
“That was the last one we saw,” Hod said.
Joe had to go home after the first week of the season, so Hod hunted alone during the second week until Joe returned for the final weekend of the season. On Saturday morning, they checked out a place they hadn’t hunted previously, but didn’t see anything. On their way back to the cabin, Joe decided to walk the road where the beaver pond was located while Hod returned to the cabin to get a four-wheeler and pick him up.
Before Joe reached the pond, he paused at a rock outcrop where a relative had killed a moose in 2006. A bull responded to his calls, but stayed in thick brush and didn’t present Joe with an opportunity to shoot. Finally, the bull wandered off. After waiting a half hour to see if the bull would return, Joe continued toward the pond.
Approaching the pond, he saw movement in the water, but assumed it was a flock of black ducks he’d seen previously. As he sneaked closer for a better look, Joe saw it was a bull moose drinking water. He fired at the bull while it was standing in the water, making what he later learned was a heart shot. The bull ran toward him and he shot a second time when it was about 15 yards away. The animal continued a few feet and then fell dead on dry ground.
Meanwhile, back at the cabin, a friend named Tommy offered to go and pick up Joe while Hod stayed behind. When Tommy reached the pond, he discovered Joe and the moose were on the opposite side. This presented a logistical problem because, as Hod later explained, “There’s nothing in the world bigger than a dead moose.”
Hod came to help with the task of hauling out the moose. A fellow who had a cabin not far from the pond had a small aluminum boat, which they used to float the field-dressed moose across the pond. Then they brought the carcass back to Hod’s cabin to skin it. From there, the moose traveled across the state to a locker plant in Conger. After it had hung for a week, Hod and Joe butchered it.
“We got 150 pounds of burger and 350 pounds of steaks and roasts,” Hod said. “It’s really good.”
Was the moose hunt worth the 40-year wait for a license?
“Oh yes,” says Hod. “It was a thrill to be able to go hunting after all these years. I’m not sorry Joe shot the moose instead of me, but I would have liked to have been standing beside him when he did.”
The bull had a 42-inch antler spread with one downturned “drop” tine. Hod recognized it as one of the bulls he’d seen on his trail camera. He plans to hang the antlers in his cabin as a memento from his once-in-a-lifetime moose hunt.