Alaska students learn ins, outs of harvesting a moose

Moose's nose eaten as a means of relieving arthritis symptoms, etc.

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2006

KENAI - For one snowy day earlier this month, a group of eight Kenai and Soldotna area teenagers abandoned modern life to toil away at a warm moose carcass, tugging and slicing its flesh into pieces to take home and eat.

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Well, maybe they hadn't entirely left modern life behind. During breaks, bloody fingers reached into pockets to check cell phones, but the teens carelessly stained clothes and burned away hours of the day learning a skill passed down for generations among Alaskans using the bounty of the land to meet needs of the dinner table: how to field-dress a moose.

Early in the morning, members of the Kenai Chapter of Safari Club International, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kenai Peninsula 4-H Club had escorted the teens to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge land down Marathon Road to take them on an educational moose hunt. And by about 9:30 a.m., Safari Club member Joe Hardy spotted a lone cow standing in refuge muskeg near a thin outcrop of spruce trees.

The teens and others with the group remained behind, so as not to spook the cow, while Hardy, who had an educational hunt permit that allowed him to shoot either a barren cow or legal bull, took aim.

Hardy fired twice, the cow dropped to the ground and soon a swarm of young hands busily set to work. As their mentors guided them, the teens carefully unzipped the moose's skin in a cut that ran from the moose's head to its rear. The teens sliced away at the connective tissue binding skin to muscle and peeled the skin away.

"When you cut into it you can see the steam come out of it, it's so cool," 16-year-old Kenai Alternative high school student Amelia Leake said as she paused to nudge a pair of black-framed glasses back onto her nose with the back of a bloody hand.

As the students continued to carve at the carcass, mentors offered tips on how to handle the meat for consumption, cautioning them not to puncture the gut sack and to avoid getting hair on the meat which could result in foul tasting meat.

As they carved away at the moose carcass mentors also educated them on how to use the many parts of the moose, including the floppy nose.

Because of its high glucosamine content, the moose's nose is sometimes eaten as a means of relieving arthritis symptoms, said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician for Fish and Game.

The experts, however, were not the only ones wise to uses for moose parts.

"We call it buttock bone," 16-year-old Kenai Alternative student Amber Dawn Herrmann said as she helped carve away at the moose's rear and pointed at what appeared to be a hip and socket joint.

She said she and her relatives, Alaska Natives, cut the bone into pieces, simmer it in stew and then suck out the delicious marrow.

"We'll fight over it," she said.

At the front of the moose, 14-year-old 4-H Club member Nathan Carrico painstakingly removed the bits of meat that adhered to the moose's neck, some of the most difficult to remove. Carrico worked tirelessly on the moose from start to finish, saying the moose kept his hands from getting cold.

Eventually Lewis, Selinger, Hardy and the teens finished searching for meat and making sure nothing was wasted, but even then Selinger was not yet finished with the animal's remains.

Selinger sliced his way through various organs and explained the internal plumbing of the moose such as how bacteria and insects found in a moose's digestive tract help it break down the food it eats. And in the lungs Selinger found what he called hydatid cysts and explained that each contains thousands of immature tapeworms which can be passed on to wolves when they prey on moose.

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