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Moose Callers Sound Off

April 27, 1987

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ The perspiring man pressed a tiny megaphone to his lips and cut loose. The sound - like a choking cat being dragged behind a car - would get most small children slapped silly.

But the guy was a star. After all, he was in the big time, the final cut in the Fourth Annual International Moose Federation Moose Calling Championships. This was serious moose calling for those unashamed to stand behind a black curtain in front of a huge crowd and make wierd sounds.

The calls ranged from ″Meeeuuuuwwww. Muh 3/8 Muh 3/8 Muh 3/8″ to ″Here moosie, here moosie.″

The idea was to make calls that would convince a moose it was communicating with another of its 80,000 or so homely relatives meandering all over Alaska. Calling mostly is effective only for a few weeks during the rut in late fall. Hormones at that time make the animals send their brains out to the cleaners.

But making even lovesick moose respond to a call is tricky business. It’s even harder with family, friends and strangers laughing and pointing.

″It’s embarrassing, sometimes humilitating. It’s tough to get people up there to do it,″ said Stan Smith, the 32-year-old president of the federation. ″We found we got a better response with the black curtain, if they didn’t have to stand up and do it before God and everybody.″

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday night for the championships in the plush ballroom of a downtown hotel. The waiters were among the few attending who wore ties.

The federation, with 500 members devoted to the idea of protecting critical habitat for moose and enhancing hunting and viewing opportunities, gave away about $11,000 in prizes and raffle items. They ranged from cases of beer emblazoned with pictures of moose heads, to clocks and mirrors with pictures of moose heads, to expensive fishing trips where moose are known to roam and a free root canal by a dentist who hunts moose.

But the crowd clearly had come for noises.

In the men’s division, the five finalists were to give the three judges a bull’s response to a cow and a bull’s response to another bull.

The finalists stomped their feet on the floor, and grunted, wailed and snorted into a microphone. One used a small birchbark megaphone wrapped in duct tape, another a long plastic tube to amplify the sound. Others just cupped their hands in front of their faces and gave it their best.

The sounds often were indescribable, ranging from water burbling through bathroom pipes to the choking cat.

In the end, it was Pat Sawyer, a 38-year-old artist from Wasilla, who put together the combination of groans and grunts to come up with the right stuff.

″I’ve been doing this off and on for about four years,″ he said. ″It’s good practice to go out in the woods and try out the calls.″

For his first-place performance, Sawyer won a trophy and a custom knife.

The judges ordered two grunt-offs between Air Force communications specialist Rocky Rhoades and Bob Jewett, 26, of Wasilla, for second- and third-place. They had to do a moose calf in distress, which apparently sounds like a small animal wired on dangerous drugs, and a big bull and a little bull.

Rhoades finished second, and Jewett finished third.

Rocky Poole of Soldotna, whose father was the 1985 champion, won the youth division.

Jewett’s wife, Bonnie, took first place in the women’s division.

She and three other women braved the microphone to deliver some fairly unusual calls, including Cathy Fast’s ″Here moosie.″

″You don’t know what’s going to come out of your mouth up there,″ said Patty Kennedy, another contestant.