Let’s say you want to shoot a moose, and you’ve got a permit to hunt one. The next step is to line up your moose hauler. Unlike a deer, which is light enough (relatively speaking) for a single hunter to drag from the woods, a moose can weigh anywhere from 600 to 800 pounds. And that’s after its entrails have been removed.
Regulations prohibit motorized vehicles on most state-owned and commercial lands in the Northeast Kingdom. This means your four-wheeler is useless for towing a carcass. But moose haulers with a draft horse and a cellphone are standing by to help drag your bull or cow moose out of the woods.
So how exactly does one contact a moose hauler? Vermont Fish & Wildlife keeps an updated list on file, or you might spot an index card with Dennis Bingham’s phone number tacked to the wall of the Lakefront Express Mart and Deli in Island Pond, like I did.
Bingham has a day job as a state highway maintenance worker, but each October he takes a week and a half off and waits with his Belgian horse, Gold Digger, for the phone to ring. Seven Days caught up with him following his hauling season.
SEVEN DAYS: Have you always had work horses?
DENNIS BINGHAM: Both my grandfathers had draft horses, and my dad hayed with horses. But I didn’t have any horses until I heard about an outfit called Spring Hill Horse Rescue in Brandon, Vt. [Spring Hill helps provide homes for unwanted male foals, the byproduct of pregnant mares whose urine is used to produce Premarin, a human female hormone replacement.] This lady was bringing 70 to 80 male horses over from Canada to find them new homes. I called her in the spring and ordered them in the summer; then I met her in the fall and bought two Belgians that were 3 months old. When I got them, they were like wild animals. I called the vet to come give them their shots, and we had to lasso them to give them vaccinations. That first night, I stayed in the barn with them, and that was the beginning.
SD: How did you become a moose hauler?
DB: In 2005 or 2006, my cousin got a moose permit, and I wanted to try it [moose hauling]. At our camp up at Unknown Pond in Avery’s Gore, my cousin shot a moose. When [Gold Digger and I] got up in there, there was blood everywhere. I didn’t know how [my horse] would react to the blood. I had a hard time getting him hooked on to the moose, but once I did, he likes to pull. I got right beside and led him.
SD: Why did you name him Gold Digger?
DB: I wondered what I was going to name him, and after I got him I saw he kept pawing the ground with his foot.
SD: Can anyone be a moose hauler? Do you just put your name out there and wait for the calls?
DB: I’m registered with the state, and I have the federal permit, too. When hunters get a moose permit, they are required to call a hauler, so I get 50 to 100 calls before the season opens.
SD: Did you have to pass a test first, like getting a driver’s license?
DB: No, it’s just paperwork, basically … My federal permit’s in the truck.
A couple of weeks before the season, I start getting [Gold Digger] ready; I hitch him to a skidder tire, which weighs roughly 600 pounds. I’ll have him pull it around the field for about an hour every day. This year we missed three calls [during bow season] because we weren’t ready yet.
Saturday morning [of opening day of moose rifle season], I already have the trailer backed out; sometimes when I get up it’s still dark out. I put his harness on — that takes a half hour to 45 minutes. Normally we go to the weigh station and wait ’til I get a call, but this year at 7:30 a.m., I already had a call.
SD: How many moose do you haul in a season? And what do you charge?
DB: I charge $100 an hour. I used to pull out 20 to 25 moose a season; then the state cut the permits. I pulled 11 last year, 12 this year.
SD: And your horse just acts like he’s pulling any kind of load?
DB: Sometimes when we first get to it, he’ll stick his nose down [at the moose] and sniff it. Then I’ll snap him on, and he’ll pull it like it’s a piece of kindling. Sometimes we’ll stop if the [moose’s] horns get caught up on the trees. I always let Gold Digger stop when he wants; he gets his breath for a few minutes and then he’s ready to go. Most times we’ll drag it out for a mile, maybe a mile and a half. The longest pull we ever did took about four hours to drag out.
Gold Digger makes it look easy — ’cause once we get the moose out, it can take seven or eight guys just to get it loaded into a trailer.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Have Horse, Will Pull"