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Voyageur's Best Sports of 2003

Bill Onstad

Bill Onstad's memory-making moose hunt
by John Grones  |  October 7, 2003

For 83-year-old Bill Onstad of Tamarack, the opportunity for that once-in a-lifetime moose hunt with his boys was diminishing. “I know he wrote a letter to the state when he was 80 years old,” said Bill’s son, Jim Onstad. “He asked them just how many chances they thought he might get to go hunting with his boys at that age.” Three years later, Bill got his wish. He had only been applying for the once-in-a-lifetime moose hunt for 23 years!

According to Jim, the family had been applying for a moose license since Jim was 16 years old. The wait was worth it and Jim felt pretty confident that they were due any year. He said that the chances increase with the number of times a person applies. “We were in the 20 year preference rating,” he said referring to the fact that they were in a second chance drawing.

When their names came up this year, Bill and his two boys, Jim and Kenny, went down to White Bear Lake for the four hour orientation that is required. At the orientation the three learned the basic laws, but more importantly, they realized that this hunt was not going to be easy. “An animal that size, you don’t just pick it up and walk off with it,” said Bill.

The first day of the hunt was Sat., Sept 27 and the three were placed in area 25, located north of Tofte on the Sawbill Trail. The area was familiar to Bill. He trucked pulpwood out of the area 60 years ago.

When they first arrived up the north shore, they planned on staying with friends in Schroeder, but the game warden told them that there was a campground on Windy Lake and they would be closer. It turned out the campground was full and they ended up camping a quarter mile up the road on a logging trail. This would be good fortune.

On Sat., it rained all day and on Sun., they drove around scouting the area while everything dried out. By Mon. morning they were ready to begin their hunt.

The hunt didn’t last very long, because, shortly after 8:00 a.m., Bill found himself face-to-face with a bull moose at a distance of 50 feet. “The boys had been practicing moose calls and I heard one of the boys calling,” he said. “I turned around and a big bull moose came out. He stopped and looked at me and that was a mistake.”

“I heard him shoot three times,” said Jim who was about a mile away. “I could see him shooting, but I couldn’t see the moose.” Jim was pretty happy because it has never occured to him that his dad might miss, and he was right.

“I think the first shot got him,” said Bill, “but then he started getting up and I finished him off.” The third shot was to end the suffering.

At this point Jim’s heart was a pumping and when he caught up with his dad, he saw those big horns and a big ol’ grin on his dad’s face. It is the same grin that is in the picture Jim took after they got back to Tamarack.

Bill, Jim and Kenny arrived back in Tamarack on Mon., evening at about 6:00, just in time to have the meat processed at Sam’s Grocery. Once the meat was processed it was determined that the hanging weight of the meat was 485 pounds. The Onstad’s will be well fed for quite a while.

The night wasn’t over for the Onstads. Kathy Haugse was celebrating her birthday and invited the Onstads to stay for dinner where Bill, Jim and Kenny spun their tale.

The tale, as Bill tells it, has a humble beginning. He pointed out that he didn’t even think he would shoot a moose. The boys had been working on their moose calls and, since they were all together, he thought it would be great if they shot one. “I’m 83 years old and the boys would have a much longer time to tell the story,” added Bill. An interesting thought process, but the story isn’t about who shot the moose, but how it happened.

And so for the record, these are the facts: Number of yearly permit applications, 23; Time of kill, 8:10; Who shot the moose? – Bill Onstad; Who witnessed? – Jim and Kenny Onstad.

For Jim, there are no regrets that he will never have the opportunity to shoot a moose again in his life. “This was worth the only once-in-a-lifetime-hunt to see my dad shoot that moose.”

This article first appeared in the October 7, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.