By Michael L. Ritchie D.C.
Two Doctors encounter Divine appointments in the mountains of Wyoming.
The adrenaline was overwhelming to the rookie moose hunter, and even from the top of a ridge overlooking the dense willow swamp, I could see Dave shaking like a leaf. As the moose approached, I remember telling him “Don’t worry about locating the bull–just rattle the brush and he will find you!” It took only seconds for the bull to leave his cow and challenge the would-be interloper. Even though he was only 2.5 years old, the Shiras moose was enormous to this avid Michigan whitetail hunter.
The trip began when friend and colleague Dr. David Riffel drew a western Wyoming moose tag with less than maximum preference points. Some might call it luck, but the two doctors had divine appointments to make. As we were making the 30+ hour trip to Dave’s first Wyoming adventure, the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign was before us. “Do you know what, Dave?” I asked. “What?” He replied.“I love Wyoming!” This was to be my fourth trip to Wyoming and my first moose hunt. God had always blessed our hunts in the cowboy state with a freezer full of game and great memories. This trip would be no exception.
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On top of being a well-respected Doctor of Chiropractic, Dave is also a strong believer in Jesus Christ. He was my doctor during my high school football days and was a great example of a successful Christian man. This threefold connection–Christian, Chiropractor and crazy (about hunting) made for a great team!
Before this trip, we agreed that if one drew a tag, the other would serve as guide and caller. Thus, I was the designated guide for this trip, doing all the research on hunting locations, camping, and methods of hunting. I acquired a copy of audiotapes of Alex Gouthro’s moose calling techniques and we began to practice our calling. Our wives had to suffer through our practice sessions for weeks. Our hunt was coming together. Our plan was to hunt the last five days of bow season, and first five days of gun season, if necessary. If the Lord blessed us with a moose early, we had four doe antelope tags in our pockets for eastern plains on our way home.
Our first few days of the hunt consisted of checking likely areas and doing call setups. It seemed that the bulls would always circle around behind us in the dark timber, wind us and disappear. It was beginning to remind me of elk hunting; many setups, but always getting busted. Somewhat discouraged, we decided to go to town and do some laundry and take a hot shower. We were getting ready to leave and an old Ford sedan pulled up. The car seemed to be held together by rust and was loaded with laundry and kids. Divine appointment number one. The Lord touched our hearts and we immediately looked at how we could help these people. The first thing we thought of was the boxes and boxes of food that we had brought with us. Even if we had stayed a month, we could not have consumed all that food. Dave said, “Ma’am, I wonder if you could help us out? We have brought way too much food and wondered if you knew someone that could use it?” To see her face, you would think she had seen a ghost. “Well, my husband has been laid off work, and we could really use the food,” she said with amazement. While loading the food into her vehicle, we noticed she was washing her clothes, but not drying them. “What do you know; we have a bunch of quarters we don’t need. You can have them if you would like to dry your clothes.” I said. We gave her son a Gospel tract and said goodbye, feeling we were for once that week in the right place at the right time.
The next day we had a decision to make. We had two days left of bow-hunting, but no real hot spots. Dave thought we should go back to the place where we had seen the only two moose of the trip. I thought we should go to a spot a friend had successfully hunted in the past. “Dave, I’m the guide on this trip, trust me. I’ve done my research. You will see moose tonight!”
We decided to split up. He would go north, and I would go south around this large willow swamp. I hadn’t glassed for five minutes when the unmistakable black silhouette of a cow moose appeared in the willows in front of me. She was being followed by a young 2.5-year-old bull that I spoke of earlier. After getting Dave and returning to the hillside from which I had spotted the moose, we used hand signals to get him close to the moose (as it was impossible to see more than 10 yards in the 10-foot willows). I could see Dave and I could see the moose, but they couldn’t see each other. Remembering what I said about the bull coming to him, Dave used an old sun-bleached shoulder blade to rattle the willows. Within seconds the irritated moose closed the distance to ten yards, grunting and rocking his massive head and shoulders, ready for a fight. Watching this happen from the safety of the hillside was one of the most exciting and hilarious experiences I have had in the outdoors. Dave was facing a bull moose at ten yards with just a stick and a string. To his credit, he didn’t lose his composure, even though he was shaking uncontrollably.
I was trying to film this encounter, and I was so excited that I couldn’t keep the camera steady. After ten minutes, I finally put the camera down and enjoyed the show through my binoculars. Finally, the bull appeared to remember that his cow needed him, and he turned to leave. My partner stood calmly, drew back and shot over the bull’s back. Later, under intense cross-examination, Dave realized that he used his 45-yard pin, instead of his 20-yard pin, hence the outcome. The next day, in the same spot, we saw a 40+ inch bull following a cow moving in our direction. This encounter ended abruptly when the cow spotted us and took her suitor with her.
Opening day of gun season found some Wyoming natives that we had dinner with the night before standing in the exact spot we told them we would be hunting. Having felt that we had already been blessed beyond what we could pray for, we left them with our hillside glassing spot and headed for the dark timber. Cresting the top of a butte, we began to find “moosy-smelling” urination pits. They were 1.5 feet deep and 3 feet long and two feet wide and looked like super-sized buck scrapes. We began to set up for a calling sequence and the 3.5-year-old 33″ bull was right on time for appointment #2. Dave took the bull with a 165-grain sierra bullet out of his 300 Winchester Mag rifle. After the pictures and celebrating were over, the reality began to set in that this moose hunting was going to be a lot of work. With me packing and Dave butchering, our first bull moose that was shot at 10 a.m. was finally in the truck by 4 p.m.
Our moose hunt was finished early, and our pronghorn hunt didn’t start for 3 days, so we decided to bring the bull to the processor. Then we would spend two days at Yellowstone and watch the elk rut and buffalo roam. Now to say that Dave was a camera buff is to put it mildly. During our stay at Yellowstone, his digital camera went off 1,100 times. Why not? We were not in a hurry, so we watched fly fishermen on the Madison River and my camera-clicking friend caught a picture you could only get in Yellowstone. Cresting the hill to take a picture of the fly fisherman on a foggy morning, he finds a bull elk lying on the shore in front of the fisherman. The picture with the angler framed between the heavy beams of the elk’s rack is one a photographer lives for. We decided to spend the night in luxury, instead of camping out, we went to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel to spend the night. Pulling into the parking lot, we were greeted by the famous Number 6, a bull elk that is known for taking out his rut-frustration on cars and people. The clerk at the registration desk said that Number 6 had his antlers cut off two weeks ago after mauling someone that got too close with his camera. The clerk also said that the power was out in the entire area because of heavy snow. With no power, and no shower, we grabbed a bite to eat and hung out in the huge ballroom with many other guests. Everyone was holding candles, but as hunters, we were wearing headlights, which brought a lot of comments from the jovial crowd. Someone asked if I was a miner and I replied, “No, I’m over 21, but thanks for the compliment.”
Besides his many other talents, Dave is an accomplished pianist. Seeing a baby grand piano in the corner, he sat down and began to play. With nothing else to do, people began to congregate near us, a few singing along. The night passed quickly, and the concierge asked us to stop playing as 10 p.m. was quiet time. People dispersed to their rooms, and Dave and I talked about what an amazing day the Lord had given us. I then noticed a woman who had not left the room. I was a little uncomfortable, but I asked her “What’s going on?” She began to share why she stuck around. “You guys seemed to be enjoying yourselves so much, I wondered why you were so happy.” She told us that Mammoth Springs was a special place to her and when her world came apart recently, she came to get away from it all. The scripture came to my mind to “be ready to give reason for the hope that is in you.” We shared Jesus Christ with her that night and gave her a New Testament. God is always at work and His timing is perfect. I just know that was divine appointment number 3.
The next day we visited Old Faithful and just before our turn, I noticed a coyote on the side of the road carrying something. “Dave, get that picture!” Dave took a beautiful picture of the coyote carrying a pine marten, which made the cover of Christian Bowhunting Magazine.
Enroute south from Yellowstone we passed Jackson Hole’s airport which is ringed by mountains. Dave, a private pilot, couldn’t resist and he rented an airplane for an hour and took us on a scenic flight, viewing spectacular mountain and lake scenery as viewed from “God’s perspective.” We picked up our moose on the way East to fill our antelope tags with our cups full of the experiences of the past 8 days. God had one more appointment for us as we filled up at a gas station. The clerk asked us if we were hunters and if we had seen anything.
“Well, we have seen tons of pronghorn on private land, but very little on state land. Unfortunately, we don’t have permission on any private land,” I said. “How would you like to hunt 30,000 acres of private land?” She asked. “Where do we sign up?” She had noticed that I had a decal on my truck that I was a chiropractor. She said that her back was killing her, and she could use an adjustment. The next day we were hunting 30k of private land and filled all four tags and were on our way home with another full freezer and a lot of good memories. The Bible says, “We are created to do good works which God has planned for us ahead of time.” In other words, “Divine appointments!” I hope you see your hunting adventures as opportunities to share the love of the Savior with someone.
Dave was driving through a long, boring stretch of Iowa and said, “Mike, do you know what?” “What?” I replied. “I love Wyoming,” he said. Me too!