SI Vault
Charles W. Thayer
October 16, 1961
An American hunter in Russia discovered that moose are so common in some areas that they are considered pests. With the help of beaters, a jeep, a stiff hooker of vodka and 'portyanki,' he managed to shoot two big bulls
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October 16, 1961

How To Shoot A Big Red Moose

An American hunter in Russia discovered that moose are so common in some areas that they are considered pests. With the help of beaters, a jeep, a stiff hooker of vodka and 'portyanki,' he managed to shoot two big bulls

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"Take the question of trophies." he said to me. "Never in Russian history have hunters attached any value to them. Ordinarily, when they shot a deer, a moose or a boar, they carefully preserved the meat and the hide but tossed away the trophy. They did not care whether they shot a young calf or an old bull as long as they got the meat. If we can convince them of the pleasure of collecting trophies they will pay more attention to what they shoot. We should hang a fine moose head over the mantel here in the lodge just as an example."

At this point the manager of the domain came in, accompanied by his chief game warden, Nikolai Zavodov, a young man who had started his career as a fur trapper in Siberia. They carried a roll of maps, which they spread before us. Zavodov outlined the plan of campaign for the following day in crisp, almost military, sentences. On one map he showed where we were located in relation to Moscow. On another he traced the boundaries of the domain. On a third he carefully outlined the area we would hunt, indicating the location and direction of each drive and the position of each hunter.

He said that fair game for the hunt would include only bull moose and wolves. It was unlikely that wolves would appear, but some strays occasionally wandered into the area from neighboring districts. He warned us that we might encounter bears, but that these are protected on this domain because they are not numerous.

Finally he turned to me and asked whether I approved the plan. I readily did so, and the two men left us. Then we went to the gun room to go over our equipment. My Winchester .30-06 was greatly admired, and Shapatin advised me to use the heaviest ammunition I had. "Those moose are tough," he said.

Malinovsky had a very short carbine which fired a vicious-looking bullet that must have been nearly .50 caliber. Shapatin had a brand-new Russian repeater, with a Mauser action firing a .32-caliber bullet. They were the only heavy hunting guns I had seen in the Soviet Union. Generally all game are killed with smoothbores loaded with slugs. I had been told that Russian hunters consider shotguns more sporting than rifles as they require the hunter to get within closer range of his quarry. However, I am inclined to think the absence of rifles is a police security measure rather than a sporting gesture.

Shapatin took one look at my heavy homespun breeches and stalking boots and declared them inadequate. The breeches, he said, would be torn to shreds, and the boots would be useless in the knee-deep swamps. Some heavy quilted canvas breeches and a pair of high rubber boots were produced. To keep my feet warm, they gave me portyanki, strips of woolen material to wrap around one's feet in lieu of socks. Every Russian soldier, they pointed out, wore portyanki under his boots. Then they showed me the intricate way of wrapping the portyanki so that no crease could develop which might raise blisters.

Our preparations completed, we took a short stroll through the lodge. It was a two-story house with overhanging eaves and a balcony around the second floor, which gave it the look of a Swiss chalet that had somehow wandered into northern Russia. Malinovsky told me it had just been completed and that I was the first guest. Not even the peripatetic Mr. Khrushchev had visited it yet.

Finally we said good night, and I went up to my room, or rather, my suite, which consisted of a sitting room, bedroom and bath, with steaming hot water gushing from the spigots.

After a breakfast of steak and onions we made a quick tour of the camp—a pheasantry, a grouse hatchery and a stockade, where Siberian roe deer were being acclimated before being set free in the domain.

Then a Russian jeep took us to the hunting territory over roads half submerged in mud and water. Here and there were small ponds where in summer the moose immerse themselves to fend off insects.

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