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Young moose rescued after falling through ice

Residents along one of Minnesota's most remote stretches of road are accustomed to helping neighbors in need, whether it's truck trouble or a forest fire or a white pine down across the road.On Monday, Gunflint Trail residents added moose rescue ...

Dave Seaton looks at a young moose that he and several other Gunflint Trail residents helped rescue after it fell through deteriorating ice on Hungry Jack Lake. The moose walked away apparently unharmed. Photo courtesy of Jim Morrison
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Residents along one of Minnesota's most remote stretches of road are accustomed to helping neighbors in need, whether it’s truck trouble or a forest fire or a white pine down across the road.
On Monday, Gunflint Trail residents added moose rescue to their resumes.
A young moose walked onto the ice of Hungry Jack Lake, hit a soft spot and fell through, unable to get out on its own.
Dave Seaton lives on the lake got a call from a neighbor who saw the moose struggling at about 7:30 a.m. By the time he and his wife, Nancy, drove to see the trouble, another group of potential rescuers was ready to join them.
“When I first saw it, it was struggling and swimming and thrashing around. By the time we got out there, it wasn’t moving at all. I thought maybe we were too late,” Dave Seaton said.
Hungry Jack Lake is 32 miles north of Grand Marais, about halfway up the Gunflint Trail. The ice, even on this far northern Minnesota lake, is melting away to open water in the inevitable spring thaw.
“It’s going fast. It’s starting to candle and it looks dark,” Nancy Seaton said, who co-owns Hungry Jack Outfitters with Dave. “But it was good enough right next to the hole to hold” the rescuers’ weight and the canoes.
Four rescuers - Dave Seaton, Forrest Parson of Hungry Jack Lodge, local fire chief Jim Morrison and Bob McCloughan of Bearskin Lodge - used two canoes and two tow straps in the rescue effort.
Parson used his truck to plow snow out of the driveway of a cabin that was closest where the moose was in the water.
“It was probably 40 minutes or more from when it fell in to when we got out there,” Parson said.
The moose was about 50 yards from shore in water about 50 feet deep, unable to move. Seaton estimated she weighed more than 600 pounds.
“I just sort of scooted the canoe out and looped the strap over her head. But then I was talking to her and her eyes were open but she was totally still,” Seaton said. “The only part of her out of the water really was her head. She was sort of resting her head on the ice to hold her up.”
Eventually the group got two straps around the moose and managed to get her front legs out of the hole and onto the ice. They edged her onto her side and out of the water.
“She just laid there at first, absolutely exhausted. We got the straps off ... and about five minutes later she stood up,” Seaton said.
The exhausted and likely hypothermic moose just stood there, on the ice, for about an hour. The group tried to lead it toward shore but couldn’t get it to budge.
“I tried spanking it with a paddle: nothing. We tried pulling it with the straps. It wouldn't move,’’ Seaton said.
“It was lethargic,” Parson said.
The moose eventually started to walk, but fell in again right next to the first hole. So the guys repeated the rescue. Again, the moose popped up on all fours but wouldn’t move. So they decided to leave the moose standing there on the ice. Oddly, the moose started to follow the rescuers, but then fell in again near shore.
“Obviously we weighed less than the moose,” Parson said with a laugh.
That time the moose was in water shallow enough for it to stand on the bottom of the lake, and it was able to get out of the hole on its own.
Again, it didn’t move, now only 25 feet from shore.
“We packed up our stuff and left her there. ... I looked back about 10:30 or 11 and she was gone,” Seaton said, saying he went back to see if the moose was on shore. “She walked along the shore until she found some solid, white ice and then went into the woods.”
With Northeastern Minnesota’s moose herd declining over the past decade, Parson was glad they could help at least one of the big animals. Neither Parson nor Seaton said they thought twice about going out on the deteriorating ice.
“The moose are our neighbors too,” Seaton said. “Of course we tried to help.”

Dave Seaton (left) and Jim Morrison use straps to rescue a young female moose that broke through the ice in Hungry Jack Lake Monday. Photo by Bob McCloughan

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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