Antlers and skull from dead moose

A Warden's Story

Authors and Contributors
Game Warden Corey Erck

I’m often asked what I like best about being a game warden. The answer is easy: No two days are the same and the job changes with the seasons.

Every time my phone rings, it’s only a guess if it’s a routine call about clarifying a hunting regulation or something you’d never expect. Maybe the best way to illustrate this is to relay the events of one day in November 2017.

My neighbor asked about going on a ride-along and I suggested a weekend during North Dakota’s deer gun season. When the day arrived, we met in the morning, hopped in my work truck and headed out.

Earlier, I’d made arrangements with the Game and Fish Department’s warden pilot to fly an area to search for hunting activity. It didn’t take long for him to find some.

When we were northeast of Bismarck, I received a radio call from warden pilot Jeff Sieger, who was watching what he suspected was a deer hunter driving off-trail. The next thing you know we are driving down a section line, with the suspected violator driving ahead of us, and the plane above.

The driver turned off the section line down the edge of a field to drive around the next slough that he wanted to “hunt.” I pulled in behind him and hit my lights. He stopped and I walked up to the pickup and confirmed my suspicions. Inside were two people dressed in blaze orange, with a rifle on the seat between them. After a short discussion about where you can and cannot drive while deer hunting, I issued a citation and the driver limped his old pickup back to the section line and they headed on their way.

When deer hunting activity slowed for the morning, we pulled over to grab a bite to eat. I was feeling pretty good about how the morning went. The last thing I wanted was to take someone on a ride-along and have no excitement all day.

Then the phone rang.

The call wasn’t from someone looking to get a question answered, it was a report that deer hunters found two bull moose, one of which was already dead, locked together by their antlers.

Twenty minutes later we pulled into a small grove of trees where a few vehicles had gathered. In the past I’ve used a rifle to shoot the antlers of deer locked together. With the moose, I decided to use my 12-gauge shotgun loaded with slugs.

As I approached the clearing that was once a small farmstead, I could only make out a mass of dark fur on the ground. The moose that was alive was bedded, exhausted from struggling with its rival.

Inching closer, trying to get a better look through the tall grass and brush, the surviving bull stood, giving me a better view of his burden.

Using a small tree as a shooting rest, I aimed at the antlers of the dead moose, fired … and nothing. The big bull never even flinched at the sound of the shotgun blast, so I loaded another slug. The second shot, just as loud as the first, had the same result. The moose didn’t even wiggle an ear.

Aware that my audience must have wondered if I knew what I was doing, I loaded a third slug and repositioned on the little tree. I aimed at a different spot on the antlers of the dead moose, pulled the trigger and the standing behemoth reared back, finally free from his predicament.

The next thing I know, he turned toward me and the small tree between us. Thankfully, for both of us, he whirled, cleared the trees and trotted down the edge of the field out of sight.

Our attention then turned to the dead moose. I hoped that we could salvage the meat, but it was evident by the smell that the animal had been dead too long.

It was decided that the head would be collected and taken to the Game and Fish Department’s wildlife lab for testing. As I started to cut through the thick hide it was obvious what had killed the smaller moose as the base of his skull and the first neck vertebrae weren’t connected. I also noticed two 12-gauge-sized holes about an inch apart on one of his ears. It was good to know that I had hit where I was aiming with the first two shots, but in the mass of antler, fur and brush I had mistaken the rounded edge of the ear for part of the antler.

Two moose locked at the antlers exceeded my expectations of hoping for some excitement for my neighbor to experience as we spent the day together. Later, I was told by the Department wildlife veterinarian that this was likely only the second instance of moose being locked together in North Dakota.

So, as this incident proves, the life of a game warden is one that sometimes revolves around what the next phone call will bring, and also why I don’t have to struggle to come up with an answer when asked about my favorite part of the job.