Updated: Sep 5, 2020
"From the stillness comes a loud rustling in the ravine next to the car. Mama muscles the shot gun into firing position, with luck not shooting my father..."
Silent now, Daddy opens his door, creeps out behind it, and kneels down. He rests the rifle on the door’s top hinge. He steadies, takes aim and fires. “Ker-pow!” Ptarmigan and ravens shoot up from the bushes, feathers and leaves fluttering in their wake. The moose looks startled, too, and then crumples in slow motion. Steam comes from his nose and mouth. In a few seconds, a thousand pounds of moose lies in the highway’s right lane, cud, green and slimy, still hanging from its mouth.
The silence returns. Or maybe we’re deaf from the rifle shot.
“Wow! Look at all that meat!” says my father. “We can eat good all winter. Safeway’s not getting all our money. Not this year. Where’s my knife?”
“What are we going to tell the police if they come by?” Mama asks. “We gonna tell them that the moose wandered up onto the road after you’d shot it?”
Even I know you aren’t supposed to hunt on the road.
“Ah, they’re not gonna be by. And we’ll worry about then if they do. Look at all that meat.” He grabs a cold one from the ice chest and strops his Herter’s hunting knife against a leather band he’s gotten from a toolbox.
How did all that stuff get into the Volkswagen? All we packed that morning was lunch and the ice chest. Where did the rest come from? Rifles, knives, tool box, leather strops? Somehow Daddy equipped the car for an expedition.
For the rest of the daylight hours Daddy butchers the steaming moose into manageable chunks. From the VW he takes a bow saw to whack off the hind-quarters. Then he grabs a regular carpenter’s hand-saw and cuts around the ribs and other parts. He pulls out tarps and sizable pieces of sheet plastic—we call it “Visqueen”—in which to wrap the moose parts.
For the rest of the daylight hours, Daddy butchers the steaming moose into manageable chunks. From the VW he takes a bow saw to whack off the hind-quarters. Then he grabs a regular carpenter’s hand-saw and cuts around the ribs and other parts. He pulls out tarps and sizable pieces of sheet plastic—we call it “Visqueen”—in which to wrap the moose parts.
The last time Mama touched a gun was at Pohick. But never mind her firearms competence or currency. She takes her post as the car’s puny six-volt headlights shine on the butchering, an occasional tendril of steam twirling up from a fresh cut of meat.
For hours my sister and I play in the back seat. The sharp, repugnant smell of moose blood, the slurp of the knife cutting meat, and the rasping sound of sawing bone fill the otherwise empty background. The hands of the wind-up alarm clock taped to the VW’s dash move very slowly.
From the stillness comes a loud rustling in the ravine next to the car. Mama muscles the shot gun into firing position, with luck not pulling the trigger en route and shooting my father. Daddy races back to the front seat to grab his loaded rifle as the thing rustles again. He points the gun into the scrub. Wide-eyed, we all expect the rush of a grizzly.
“Look!” says Mama. “It’s not a grizzly! It’s just a bird!” She lowers her gun and a great horned owl flies up and over the dismembered moose.
Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo, it says, turning its head and ear tufts toward us.
Mama laughs, sounding relieved. “I guess owls like fresh meat too,” she says. “Would’ve been funny to see that owl try to pick up a moose!” We laugh...
Watch for Russ Roberts' new memoir, Unlearning to Fly: Navigating the Turbulence and Bliss of Growing Up in the Sky, coming to Kindle, Amazon, and Audible in late 2020.
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© 2020 Russ Roberts
Moose photo by Jean Beaufort