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"On his what?"
"On his knees. The first time in my life I ever tracked an animal who was walking across a field on his knees, but that's what that moose had done!"
Porath had for some time entertained a professional thought that perhaps the Missouri Kid was crazy, there being a parasitical roundworm that attacks hoofed stock, wild and domestic, and eventually reaches the brain. These infestations will often produce aberrant behavior in the host animals. To test this possibility, Porath sent off a bag full of scats to Karns for examination. A few weeks later Karns reported that the laboratory tests were negative. There was no evidence of brain worms, and so far as he could tell from the excrement, the Missouri Kid seemed to be perfectly healthy and sane.
The area around Moberly offers some of the best deer hunting in central Missouri, and because the season was about to open, both Jeffries and Porath were worried that the moose might be gunned down, either by accident or design. Rather than try to guard him or keep his presence secret, they decided that a full-disclosure policy might be best. Through their efforts and those of other state conservation officers, a series of stories was circulated to area newspapers, and radio and TV stations, explaining that there was indeed a moose in the vicinity; that he was a harmless animal of good character and a very rare and interesting one. It was also mentioned that he was not legal game and the law would lean heavily on anyone caught molesting him.
"It worked pretty well," Porath says of the save-the-moose publicity campaign. "We had a lot of calls and letters from people who'd seen him and were pleased and excited about it, and others from people who wanted to know where they could go to see him. I suppose you could say that now he is an object of state pride."
"What it comes down to," says Jeffries, "is that after all the commotion nobody would want to step up and say, 'I'm the dirty bastard who shot the Missouri moose.' "
Nevertheless, the Missouri Kid had at least one close call during deer season. Harold Voile is a passionate hunter who lives in the village of Jacksonville. On Nov. 18, he was hunting along Mud Creek, a small stream a few miles to the east of the place where Porath and Jeffries had tracked the Kid as he crossed the winter-wheat field on his prayer bones. "It was kind of a raw day," recalls Voile, "and I left my stand to walk around. All of a sudden I seen something sticking up out of the Mud Creek ravine, some back and a little bitty piece of antler. Now if it had been going away from me, I might have squeezed off a shot. I had the gun up. But it came toward me and got bigger, and I thought there's not a deer alive that's going to stick up that high. I thought, my God, that's the Missouri moose down there in Mud Creek.
"He was only about 100 feet or so away, standing in the rank, old slough grass. He stood about as high as a 15-16-hand horse, and I'd guess maybe he weighed 1,000 or 1,200 pounds. Those big old antlers stuck out three or four feet. He saw me all right, but wasn't a bit scared, just stood there flopping his ears, feeding a little in the slough grass. I must have watched him 30 minutes. Then I took off my hat and started waving at him. To tell you the truth, what I was trying to do was get him to charge, see what he could do. I got myself between two pretty good sized white oaks, and I figured I could dodge around them if he came at me, but he didn't do anything. After a while he just ambled away and I lost sight of him in some oak. It was getting dark and I went home, but I came back the next day with my camera, but I couldn't find him. I almost always carry the camera with me when I'm hunting, but not that day."
During the next week, perhaps traveling at night, the Missouri Kid loped northeastward unseen through some 15 miles of open fields, mostly corn and bean. On the 25th he turned up near Clarence and was spotted by two hunters who were looking for deer on a farm owned by Everett Johnson. In the winter, when farming is slow, Johnson works as a part-time bartender in a Clarence tavern and from that base added a few comments about the Kid. "I missed him the day he was at my place," he says. "It was just too cold for me to hunt, but Bud Wirt, who saw him real close, came running up all excited, and Bud has hunted all over, in Montana and Wyoming and other places out west. The moose was wandering around here for a few days, walked around through some cornfields, but nobody minded at this time of year. Besides, he's the most excitement there's been around here since the last tornado."
As he presumably has in other rural Missouri watering spots, the Kid became a general topic of conversation in the Clarence tavern. One customer brought up a subject that had crossed a good many minds. "If what you read in the papers is true," he delicately introduced the matter, "that old moose has been a long time without a lady. We may have to start watching our heifers."