By Tom Eastman
FRYEBURG — Seeing two massive bull moose locked by their antlers in battle is an impressive sight — imagine seeing two pair of lock-antlered moose in the same location!
That's what fairgoers will get to see at the Natural Resource Center at Maine's 163rd Fryeburg Fair, Sept. 29 through Oct. 6.
Through a new collaboration between the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and their counterparts across the border, the N.H. Fish and Game Department, two pair of antlered bull moose locked in battle are on display side by side for the first time ever.
New Hampshire's exhibit is known as “Forever Locked;” Maine's is known as “The Final Charge.” Both were funded by donations, with both existing as non-profit organizations that are able to accept tax-deductible contributions.
New Hampshire's locked pair were discovered in Gile State Forest in Springfield in mid-central New Hampshire by hunter Ray Deragon of New London on Oct. 9, 2003, with the taxidermy work completed in 2005. Maine's were discovered by a landowner in New Sweden, Maine, in 2006, with the taxidermy completed in 2009.
Both displays of the huge antler-locked animals were crafted by taxidermist Mark Dufresne of Nature's Reflections Taxidermy of Gray, Maine.
Dufresne was on hand Wednesday for a media briefing on the exhibit. He was joined by Capt. John Wimsatt of N.H. Fish and Game and Emily MacCabe and former Ch. 13 news anchor Doug Raffery of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Also present was outdoorsman Deragon, who said he discovered the New Hampshire remains of the two moose locked in a death struggle while out scouting a wooded tract.
“I was looking for some wild mushrooms, and I was doing some scouting for my daughters who hunt at about 9 in the morning, as two of my three daughters hunt,” related Deragon. “As I was walking through an old homestead in the woods, on the side of a mountain, there were some crows squawking, making all sorts of noise. When I came back about three and a half hours later, they were still making a big racket. Crows are scavengers, as we know, so I went over to investigate. There was a stone wall maybe two and a half feet above the ground. There was an antler sticking above the wall. I'm thinking, oh there's a dead moose. I walked over and stood on the wall, and there were two! I walked onto something that was rare!”
He called Wimsatt, as it was his patrol area. He walked in the next day, and he determined they died of natural causes, in battle.
“I wanted to keep the antlers. He kept asking me on the way what I planned to do with the antlers, because I knew my wife would kill me as I have no place to put them. So, I told him I guess I would probably sell them. Some where along the way, he mentioned their educational value, and that maybe it could become an exhibit. I thought that was a great idea, so that's how it started. It's great that they got to stay in New Hampshire.”
The New Hampshire's pair's primary sponsor was First Colebrook Bank, which donated $5,000. Sportsmen donated the rest.
Deragon, 72, said he gets to travel with the exhibit, often with Wimsatt. “It's great to meet new people, and to help with education about moose,” said Deragon, who has hunted since the age of 12, and who is retired from working for a small independent telephone company for 42 years.
The Maine pair were discovered in the spring of 2006 when a woman in New Sweden found the remains of two moose that died after their antlers became locked together during battle. Game wardens recovered the skulls and antlers.
Maine followed New Hampshire's example, speaking directly with their New Hampshire counterparts and with L.L. Bean being a major contributor, according to MacCabe. L.L. Bean houses the Maine display when it is not taken out to events such as the Fryeburg Fair, where it has been four times since the work was completed in 2009.
“This is the first time side by side, and it's also great to have Mark Dufresne here at the fair. We have long talked and collaborated about our projects, but this is the first time we have done this together,” said MacCabe, in explaining how this year's joint display came about. “Our former Major, [Fryeburg native] Greg Sanborn, who passed away this spring, had long talked about having this happen. With Fryeburg being his home town, we thought what better place to do this,” she added.
Wimsatt likewise said Fish and Game will be honoring late local conservation officer Sgt. Brian Abrams, a 22-year veteran and Conway resident who died from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident August.
“It will be very special to honor both Greg and Brian for all of us,” said Wimsatt.
By teaming up, he said the collective power of the two displays will accomplish many goals.
“You know, conservation departments are struggling financially. Many donors have made this possible for us to be here. Both of our agencies by being here are able to reach out to our core constituents. But a big part of displays is they reach out to non-hunters as well. A lot of times, people will walk up to the display and initially balk at it thinking, 'My God, why would you kill these moose to create this display?' But if they take a moment to read the displays and read that both were natural events that had no human intervention, it really helps people understand that natural process. And while here, they will read about the importance of habitat connections and we have managed moose hunts that give us the data that we need.”
Dufresne said when he performed the taxidermy work on the locked New Hampshire antlers, it took “a good 1,000 hours” of labor. Using many of the lessons learned in the first project, he was able to perform the subsequent Maine project in half the time.
“It was a huge challenge, in many ways. To do one is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — to get to do two is really once in a lifetime,” said Dufresne. “Nobody else in the country has done two mounts like this, as far as I know.”
New Hampshire's locked antlers have a spread of 61 and 53 inches, and Maine's are 55 and 63. Both were estimated to be 900-pounds plus. The New Hampshire bulls were 7.5 and 5.5 years old, as determined by their jaw bones. The age is not known for the Maine bulls.
Dufresne said the locked antlers and skull plate are original from the two fighting pair and that the antlers were never separated. The remains of both pair were badly decayed, so new moose hides were donated by hunters in each state's respective moose hunt.
He said the antlers for the Maine pair were locked at an odd angle, while the New Hampshire pair are more straight on.
They were then fitted to a foam form onto which the hides are stretched. Steel is used to help provide skeletal support to the structures.
“There are a few major hurdles when you do a project like this. First off, the antlers on both of these stayed locked. So when you mount them you have to do two at the same time. Normally, one moose is a big job, but two of them means their heads have to be put together at the same time. So, the fact that both of these mounts were to be taken on the road, that causes a lot of unknown stresses when you think of frost heaves and Maine roads being rough.
“There is a welded steel superstructure and welded base.” he added. “There's no skeleton — there is the skull plate and the antlers, but there is a urethane foam form manikin in each bull, and a steel structure that goes through the legs and up through the bodies to hold the manikins rigid. The foam is fragile, but once you put the steel structure under neath it it becomes very strong.”
The pair of locked-antlered bull moose models weigh 1,300 pounds whereas a live bull moose alone could weigh that much.
Dufresne said he is awed by the power death struggle depicted in the respective models.
“The way the antlers lock together is such a freak of nature. There are no two alike. You look at both of these sets, they are very unique how they locked together,” said Dufresne. “They probably perished within 24 to 48 hours from mostly exhaustion before water and food. if you have ever witnessed two moose fighting — they can destroy a car.”
He said moose during the rut will normally do a lot of circling of one another, rubbing on trees. “If neither backs down, they go at it,” said Dufresne, who witnessed such a battle in Andover two or three years ago.
“I came around the corner of the road and two bulls were not locked up solid but they had their horns together. I got this close, taking pictures of them. The power was amazing,” said Dufresne.
The exhibits contain educational panels not only about the art of taxidermy, as practiced by Dufresne, but also about Maine and New Hampshire's moose herd.
Unlike many other states such as Minnesota, where the population has been decimated by the impacts of deer ticks and warmer winters, the moose herd in Maine stands at about 76,000, according to MacCabe of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
New Hampshire's moose herd, by comparison, has dropped from 7,500 to 4,500, according to Wimsatt of N.H. Fish and Game.
Fish and Game recently embarked on a $700,000 study to determine the causes behind New Hampshire's moose population decline.
New Hampshire's moose hunt is set for Oct. 19-27, with 275 permits issued in a lottery. Maine's is spread over four sessions between Sept. 23 and the end of November, with a record 4,110 permits issued in the lottery this year.
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For further information, visit www.foreverlocked.org or The Final Charge on Facebook. For fair information, call (207) 935-3268 or visit www.fryeburgfair.com.