Shed antler hunters score rare find: Two bull moose tangled together in death
May 14, 2017 09:54AM
When Chris Erickson saw the eagles and the turkey vultures circling, he figured something was up.
Erickson and his son Richie, 17, were paddling back to their camp north of Grand Marais on Saturday when they saw about 15 of the birds circling overhead. The Ericksons and a friend were in the area looking for shed moose antlers, a passion for the Erickson family.
The Ericksons, both of Iron, climbed over a hill and walked down to a pond, where they could see something that looked moose-like out in the water.
Moose-like, but not moving.
"I could see ribs way out in the middle of the pond," Chris Erickson said. "I couldn't see any antlers."
But walking around the pond, Erickson spied just the tip of one antler. The ice hadn't been off the pond for long, but Erickson, 42, knew he had to go out there.
What he found, upon wading chest-deep about 40 feet in the frigid water, were two moose that had apparently been inextricably entwined since last fall.
"I was pulling on this antler, rolling it around," Erickson said. "As I was doing that, a snout surfaced, and it scared me. There shouldn't have been one where it was."
That's when he realized he had found two moose locked together. One moose was significantly larger than the other, he said.
"The smaller one was, like, upside-down," Erickson said.
The head and neck of the smaller moose were wedged between the antlers of the larger moose, Erickson said.
Erickson could only surmise what had happened.
"My guess is that they probably fought in October and drowned in this pond," he said.
The Ericksons are serious hunters of shed moose antlers. Last spring, the family found 55 individual moose antlers in addition to 41 shed deer antlers. Chris' partner, Melanie Pionk, and other Erickson and Pionk kids often hunt sheds together, usually in the Grand Marais area.
On this trip — by boat, foot and canoe — just Chris and Richie were joined by a friend, Jason Lamppa of Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Using all his strength, Chris Erickson managed to tow the semi-floating moose to near the pond's shore.
"I used every ounce of everything I had," Erickson said. "When we left for the day, I had to have Richie carry everything because I was cramping so bad."
They returned to the pond the next morning with Lamppa and dragged the two moose onto the grassy shore. Although they had no ax or saw, they hoped to remove the skulls and antlers from the bodies of the two moose.
Using only a knife and, at one point, Erickson's .40-caliber pistol, they managed to remove the moose skulls and antlers. Erickson used the pistol to shoot through the spine of one moose.
They hauled the skulls and antlers out of the woods and drove them home. Immediately upon returning home, Erickson said, he notified a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer about the moose skulls. He was issued a permit allowing him to keep them.
One of the sets of moose antlers likely will make the Minnesota Official Measurers record book, "Big Game Records of Minnesota," Erickson said. The Ericksons and Pionks have many other shed antlers listed in the record book. The other pair of antlers is likely too small for the record book, Erickson said.
Erickson took many photos and plenty of video to document how the moose had been locked together. The two heads, with antlers intact, are now separated. Erickson said he would consider selling the two skulls with their antlers.
"I'd kind of like them to go to a Cabela's or something where everyone could see them," he said.
Still, he's sad about what happened to the moose.
"It's a once-in-10-lifetimes chance," Erickson said, "but if I could let them go, I would. I'd rather it didn't happen and I could have found their sheds for the next five years."