This year, the brothers finally got a chance at a $310 license. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime hunt," said Steve, who still operates the farm near Lake Henry where he and his brother grew up. "Being that way, we both wanted to shoot it, and we both wanted it to be a bull."
They got their wish.
Six moose licenses are issued for ten square mile areas in northeastern Minnesota. Hunting parties can have up to four people, but the Nietfelds chose to hunt as a duo. Over 10,000 hunters apply for licenses and only 180 groups get one each year.
Brian and Steve Nietfeld got a once-in-a-lifetime permit this year, after applying for a moose permit for more than 20 years. They used it to shoot a bull moose on Monday, Oct. 1, in northeastern Minnesota. The moose had a 52" antler spread.
They traveled to the arrowhead in early September for orientation and instruction from the Department of Natural Resources. "They want you to get a moose," explained Steve. "The DNR officials are very helpful."
The DNR officials also helped the hunters learn about calling, in an effort to help them lure and shoot a bull moose. "If you shoot a cow, the calf will die. They stressed that a calf wouldn't make it through the first winter alone," said Steve.
The 16-day moose season opens on Saturday, Sept. 29, and the Nietfelds didn't see or hear a moose over the weekend. "We were almost getting discouraged," said Steve.
They planned to hunt on Monday, head back home later that day to work the rest of the week, and return the next weekend to continue their quest for a moose. "We were going to hunt until we got one because you only get to do this once," said Steve.
The Nietfelds set out on Monday morning armed with their 30.06 rifles and with an empty two-pound Folger's coffee can, which a local had modified for them into a moose call. The call worked by wetting a two-foot leather strap and pulling it between your thumb and forefinger. That sound, and its echo in the coffee can, mimicked a cow call during the rutting season. "I was a mile away from Brian one night and I could hear him plain as day," said Steve.
The brothers were trying their third spot on that Monday morning, a patch of forest that had been clear cut a few years earlier. When the young trees get about two or three years old, the moose like to eat the leaves, the DNR had told them.
"I called and (the moose) responded, and he kept calling," said Steve.
By calling, hunters try to lure moose from the deep timber into open areas. "If it wouldn't be for the calling you wouldn't get them out in the open," Steve explained. "They say that (a bull moose) will travel a long way for a cow. When a cow bellows three times, she's in heat. She's looking for a bull."
The brothers saw a sight they'll never forget when they spotted a bull moose about 200 yards away. Imagine the body of a Holstein cow on long legs with antlers that must have reached at least ten feet into the air, according to Steve's description of the moose.
Brian said the most memorable part of the hunt was the first sight of the bull moose "and hearing it come. It was calling to us," he said. "That was neat all by itself."
Both Brian and Steve fired at it, and they both hit it. They figure that Brian hit it in the back, and Steve hit it in the rib cage. A third shot into its neck finished the job.
"They're not an animal for running. A jog is the most they'll do," said Steve. "So once you get them in the open you should get them."
Then the work began. Their bull moose had a spread on its antlers of 52 inches. Later, the owner of the registration station estimated the moose's weight between 850 and 1000 pounds. It took two hours to dress the moose, pull it to the road, and load it in the truck.
The moose didn't move the first time that they tried to pull it with their four-wheeler, and Brian had to rev the engine to pull the carcass the couple hundred yards to their truck. "I thought he was going to tear his four-wheeler in half," recalled Steve. "He gave it hell, mud went flying, and the moose was pulled three to five feet each time."
They were glad they hadn't shot their moose in a cattail slough like some other hunters in the area, said Steve. The DNR officers had warned them not to shoot a moose in water.
Their moose, estimated by the rings on its front teeth to be six and a half years old, was the biggest one brought to the registration station that weekend. A reporter from the Duluth News Tribune was at that particular station, so the Nietfelds and their moose were pictured in that newspaper. Only one moose larger than theirs was shot on the opening weekend, according to the News Tribune.
The trip home was a little different, too, with a huge moose in the back of the truck. "You could tell whoever was a hunter because they caught up to look at it," said Steve. "Getting gas at a gas station took half an hour because everybody wanted to look at it."
The Nietfeld brothers skinned and butchered the moose themselves into canned meat, roasts, steaks, and hamburger. They had a series of onlookers for the butchering and gave their audience samples of meat.
The taste is close to beef, according to Steve. "It's pretty good," he said. The brothers have hunted small game and deer around Paynesville since they were young. They have even gone west on hunting trips for elk, mule deer, and antelope.
But the moose hunt was special. "Every hunter should get this opportunity to shoot a big game animal," Steve said.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal," agreed Brian. "Now it's done."