Students to Learn the Ins and Outs of Harvesting a Moose
Thousands of immature tapeworms which can be passed on to wolves when they prey on moose
Patrice Kohl / Peninsula Clarion / December 22, 2006
For one snowy day earlier this month, a group of eight Kenai and Soldotna area teenagers abandoned modern life to toil away at a warm moose carcass, tugging and slicing its flesh into pieces to take home and eat.
Well, maybe they hadn't entirely left modern life behind. During breaks, bloody fingers reached into pockets to check cell phones, but the teens carelessly stained clothes and burned away hours of the day learning a skill passed down for generations among Alaskans using the bounty of the land to meet needs of the dinner table: how to field-dress a moose.
Early in the morning, members of the Kenai Chapter of Safari Club International, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kenai Peninsula 4-H Club had escorted the teens to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge land down Marathon Road to take them on an educational moose hunt. And by about 9:30 a.m., Safari Club member Joe Hardy spotted a lone cow standing in refuge muskeg near a thin outcrop of spruce trees.
The teens and others with the group remained behind, so as not to spook the cow, while Hardy, who had an educational hunt permit that allowed him to shoot either a barren cow or legal bull, took aim.
Hardy fired twice, the cow dropped to the ground and soon a swarm of young hands busily set to work. As their mentors guided them, the teens carefully unzipped the moose's skin in a cut that ran from the moose's head to its rear. The teens sliced away at the connective tissue binding skin to muscle and peeled the skin away.
"When you cut into it you can see the steam come out of it, it's so cool," 16-year-old Kenai Alternative high school student Amelia Leake said as she paused to nudge a pair of black-framed glasses back onto her nose with the back of a bloody hand.
As the students continued to carve at the carcass, mentors offered tips on how to handle the meat for consumption, cautioning them not to puncture the gut sack and to avoid getting hair on the meat which could result in foul tasting meat.
Five of the eight teens were from Kenai Alternative High School and three were 4-H Club members, and as they carved away at the moose carcass mentors also educated them on how to use the many parts of the moose, including the floppy nose.
Because of its high glucosamine content, the moose's nose is sometime's eaten as a means of relieving arthritis symptoms, said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician for Fish and Game.
The experts, however, were not the only ones wise to uses for moose parts.
"We call it buttock bone," 16-year-old Kenai Alternative student Amber Dawn Herrmann said as she helped carve away at the moose's rear and pointed at what appeared to be a hip and socket joint.
She said she and her relatives, Alaska Natives, cut the bone into pieces, simmer it in stew and then suck out the delicious marrow.
"We'll fight over it," she said.
At the front of the moose, 14-year-old 4-H Club member Nathan Carrico painstakingly removed the bits of meat that adhered to the moose's neck, some of the most difficult to remove. Carrico worked tirelessly on the moose from start to finish, saying the moose kept his hands from getting cold.
Some teens kept themselves busy by examining the moose's head. After Fish and Game area management biologist Jeff Selinger had sawed away the lower jaw so that the teens could extract the teeth and take them home as trophies, some of the teens also wanted to see the brain and Selinger cut into the skull. Once Selinger had opened the skull, Leake reached into the fist-sized cavity and scooped out pieces of brain.
Even after the lower jaw and brain had been removed the moose's head remained an object of curiosity and 17-year-old Kenai Alternative student Stoney Wall wedged a knife into one of its eye sockets to extract an eye.
Once nearly all the meat had been removed from the carcass and little remained of the moose besides the rib cage and organs inside, Lewis knelt down beside the remains and began ferreting around among the organs like he was on a treasure hunt. Finally, Lewis found what he was looking for. Hardy and Selinger approached, eagerly watching for the red morsel Lewis produced, but all were soon disappointed.
"Oh Joe," Lewis and Selinger moaned as Lewis held up the heart torn by one of the two bullets Hardy had shot into the moose.
Eventually Lewis, Selinger, Hardy and the teens finished searching for meat and making sure nothing was wasted, but even then Selinger was not yet finished with the animal's remains.
Selinger sliced his way through various organs and explained the internal plumbing of the moose such as how bacteria and insects found in a moose's digestive tract help it break down the food it eats. And in the the lungs Selinger found what he called hydatid cysts and explained that each contains thousands of immature tapeworms which can be passed on to wolves when they prey on moose.
The tapeworms mature inside of wolves and produce eggs. The wolves then excrete the eggs in their feces onto grasses and shrubs, and when moose eat the contaminated vegetation the whole parasitic cycle starts all over again.
Patrice Kohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.