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Saturday kicks off the two-week hunting season in Northeast Minnesota, and hunters aren't exaggerating when they call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Since 1993, the highly sought-after moose permits have been awarded by lottery, and there's a lifetime limit of one license per hunter.
AT A SPORTING GOODS STORE in Duluth, Mark Braaten is educating a group of hunters in the art of moose calling. By imitating a female moose in heat, Braaten says hunters can inspire a dogged termination in bull moose to, as he puts it, "get lucky."
Listen to a moose call.
Braaten: You want to do it as hard and as loud and as long as you possibly can.
He projects his voice through a birch bark cone, a creation of traditional Native American hunters.
Braaten: Then just little love whispers... keep him interested.
Braaten shows a videotape he made of a bull moose approaching through the brush. Even when the bull turns away, Braaten can stop him in his tracks with a cow call. The hunters are impressed. Braaten says he thought the idea of moose calling was hilarious, until tried it.
Braaten: And we thought it was a joke, and then the first bull I called in was a 53-inch bull for the Minnesota season, and after that, I was hooked.
Dick Taival, from Duluth, got a license this year with his friend; he says he's been watching Braaten's videotapes in preparation.
Taival: This is only the third year we've applied. We consider ourselves fortunate to get one early. Other guys average ten to twelve years before they get a license.
There are about 4,000 moose in Northeast Minnesota, and the Department of Natural Resources allows about 5% of those animals to be killed each year by hunters. Usually there is a comparable season in Northwest Minnesota, but this year, that season was cancelled because population numbers were too low. Even in a normal year, the competition for permits is intense. Fred Thunhorst, with the DNR in Ely, says they usually get 25,000 - 35,000 applications for about 200 available permits.
Thunhorst: And after the application deadline is over and all the applications are in, they put in random numbers and pull the successful hunters out of the computer.
Hunters apply in groups of two or four, but each group can kill only one moose. Braaten says hunting in groups is important after a call is successful: a trophy moose can mean 600 pounds of meat to carry out of the woods.