Rich Luzovich, his wife Nicole, and their two daughters, Grayce and Lilly, have made a lot of memories at their hunting shack near Buyck.
The Gilbert family spends as much time as possible there year-round hunting, on their ATVs, sitting around the bonfire, or just generally enjoying time spent away from electronics and on the trails that wind through the property.
But this past weekend Luzovich and his wife happened upon a most amazing and – ultimately – tragic experience during a routine getaway up north.
The couple had planned to do a little spring cleaning and headed to the shack with their three dogs, Rosie, Lou and Remington – all of which love to run with them when they are wheeling – but an issue with their generator opened up a little free time to explore the woods.
“We decided to take the dogs on a run down the trail behind the shack. They always run up ahead of us, not too far, though. When I noticed they had stopped dead in their tracks, I said to Nicole, ‘there must be something up there.’ We stopped, shut off the wheeler, and Nicole said, ‘I think I see something flopping around,’” Rich Luzovich said. “I told her to stay back, I’d go check it out. The dogs were going nuts, of course. I yelled to Nicole, ‘holy God, it’s a moose, bring my phone, she’s stuck in deep mud and tree roots, you gotta video this, we have to try and help her.’”
Luzovich said her leg was caught up in deep, thick mud, tangled in the roots of a tree. He approached the cow and managed to dig in the mud and get her leg free.
“It was so sad, she was very thin, and very, very tired. She let me grab her leg, and dig it out, I think she knew we were trying to help her. I got her leg free, she tried once to get up, but she was just so exhausted. We have no idea how long she’d been there for,” he said. “I told Nicole we needed to go try to find help.”
With no cell service in the area the couple headed to their neighbor’s home (Barb and Brian Eggert) and explained the situation. Barb Eggert had the number for Troy Fondie, the local Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, and so they gave him a call. Luzovich said Fondie wasn’t in the area and advised them to let the moose rest and check on her later in the evening.
Rich and Nicole had to return to town to attend their daughters’ softball game and so the Eggerts took over the watch.
“When (Brian) got to the trail that evening, (he said) she had moved a little bit, so we were hopeful she’d be ok. Brian hung bed sheets all around her, to try and keep the wolves away, propped up her head onto a piece of wood (out of the mud) and left her for morning. Again, hoping she’d rest and be able to get up,” Luzovich said.
The next morning, Brian Eggert checked on her again but unfortunately, she was still down and wasn’t even trying to move, although it looked like she had tried during the night.
“Brian tried to help her up, but she just wouldn’t go. He walked back out of the woods and called Fondie again. Fondie told him if she was still there around noon, he’d authorize a permit, to put her down, to not suffer,” Luzovich said.
Later that day, fearing the moose had a broken leg or hip, and seeing that recovery was probably not going to happen, they put the animal down and hauled it out of the woods. Luzovich added that the DNR took the head for testing.
Even though the story seems to have a sad ending, in reality, it has the elements of a feel-good story. All involved did as much as they could to help the suffering animal, Luzovich said, and they were able to butcher it and give the meat to two different families in Buyck. They also felt good about protecting it from the wolves.
It also made for an adventure they won’t soon forget.
“That’s the craziest memory we’ve had so far, and a once in a lifetime experience,” Luzovich said, adding that it wasn’t, however, the first time they had run into a moose at the shack.
Nicole’s dad, Jerry, passed away from cancer in June of 2012. He was an avid outdoorsman, Luzovich said. That fall they were at the shack and Nicole was standing outside “talking to her dad, asking him to send her a sign that he was still with her, when a sign appeared.
“A few minutes later, she looked out into our field, and saw a huge bull moose. We watched it for quite a while, and he went into the woods. It was amazing,” Luzovich said. “We love being at the shack, and all of our friends in Buyck. We say all the time, it’s ‘our happy place.’”