A record-book bull moose native to Alaska whose DNA quite probably was infused with an innate fear of predators now stands lifelike and seemingly unafraid in Ely … surrounded by wolves.
Part of an educational exhibit opening in coming days at the International Wolf Center, the moose arrived in Ely by truck last week after more than two years of work by taxidermists in Burnsville.
The result is an animal rendered as majestic and regal as he was during his long life in the wilds of the nation’s 49th state.
The moose’s trip from Alaska to Ely was as circuitous as the distance between the two locales might suggest. It began five years ago when Jerry Hennessey, 55, of Dalton, Minn., and his hunting guide were dropped by airplane deep into the Alaskan bush.
“It was supposed to be a 10-day hunt, but as soon as we were dropped off it started raining and kept raining,” Hennessey said. “My guide and I did a lot of hiking and a lot of calling [to bull moose], but we didn’t see anything. So four days in, my guide and I got picked up by plane and moved to a new area about 60 miles away.”
Hennessey, who operates a grain elevator, was seeking an older moose with sizable antlers, and in the new hunting area, he passed on two animals whose racks he and his guide estimated to measure about 60 inches, which generally is a trophy benchmark.
“We did a lot of calling, and would alternate, the guide and I, between calling and climbing trees so we could see any moose that might be around us,” Hennessey said. “We weren’t having much luck.”
On the hunt’s eighth day, soaking wet, the two men were about 3 miles from their tent, calling.
“Finally, we started hiking to our camp, and just as we did, about 35 yards away, we saw this huge moose lying down,” Hennessey said. “He got up, and right away I could see the size of his rack and how unusual it was with its double palms.”
Dropping the moose where it stood with his rifle was the easy part for Hennessey. Much more difficult was packing the field-dressed and deboned animal to the hunters’ camp — a project that took three days, all of it in monsoon-like rains. So heavy were the downpours, in fact, that a bush plane couldn’t retrieve them and Hennessey’s moose until Day 14.
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Marv Gaston, his wife, Betty, and son, Alan, are owners and artists-in-residence at Taxidermy Unlimited in Burnsville.
The “artists-in-residence” description isn’t a stretch. Creating lifelike renditions of fish and game, whether walleyes from Minnesota, rooster fish from Mexico, sailfish from the Caribbean — or moose from Alaska — is as challenging as painting, sculpting or any other art form.
“A while back, we did a traveling display called ‘Wolves of the World’ in which we recreated for an educational exhibit not only wolves like those in Minnesota, but Chinese wolves and Mexican wolves, too,” Marv Gaston said. “We worked closely on the exhibit with wolf expert Dr. David Mech, who showed us how the different animals posture themselves so we could make the animals as realistic as possible.”
Nancy Gibson is a board member of the International Wolf Center in Ely, and met Marv, Betty and Alan Gaston during their work on the Wolves of the World exhibit. Subsequent to that, a couple of years ago, she was at Taxidermy Unlimited with a gray fox that had been killed by a vehicle that she wanted mounted for display at the wolf center.
“While I was there,” Gibson said, “I happened to ask Marv if he knew where we might get a mounted moose. Each year at the wolf center we have a different educational exhibit, and this year, with the moose-and-wolf controversy at Isle Royale particularly as a stimulus, we wanted to have a displayed moose.”
Gaston immediately thought of Hennessey’s Alaskan souvenir. But there were complications. Hennessey had only had a head-and-shoulder mount done of the animal. So a moose hide would have to be acquired. Plus, the animal’s rack, which had been declared by Boone and Crockett to be the No. 1 nontypical for moose, measuring 296 4/8 inches, with an outside spread of 66 5/8 inches, was too valuable to be displayed in public. Thus, a replica set would have to be made.
“I knew we could do it,” Gaston said. “It would just take time and money. We got the hide out of Alaska. That was $5,400. I’m not sure how much was paid for the replica antlers. But Jerry [Hennessey] agreed to cover the costs so the wolf center could have its exhibit.”
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Last week, in a nondescript panel truck, Hennessey’s moose — or, more accurately, a replica thereof — arrived in Ely, padded carefully and lying on its side. Its duplicate antlers had been removed for the trip, and were reattached when the animal was standing upright in the special place reserved for it at the wolf center.
As many as 500 people visit the center daily on busy summer weekends, many drawn there by a chance to see the live “ambassador” wolves that are kept in expansive adjoining enclosures.
For the next year — the duration of the wolf-moose exhibit — center visitors also will have a chance to learn about interactions between wolves and moose, one of history’s most storied predator-prey relationships.
Adult admission to Ely’s International Wolf Center is $13, with seniors $11 and children ages 4-12, $7. wolf.org