Moose watching too close to the border

I recently posted about my 1993 moose spotting trip in very northern New Hampshire. On a subsequent trip in the mid 1990s, I picked up the book Maine Moose Watcher’s Guide to get some ideas for additional, err, moose watching locales. From Moose Alley outside of Pittsburg, NH, it seemed like the easiest way to get to some of the cited areas was by driving a short distance into Canada, heading a short distance east, and crossing south into Maine. I decided to give it a try.

I had no trouble exiting the country. Crossing back into the country at a small northwestern Maine junction is where things got interesting.

It was a nice day, so I was driving with my moon roof open. As I slowed up to their gate, a Customs agent approached me on the passenger side of the car. I started to roll down the window, but he leaned over and looked down at me through the roof. He simply offered some civility and followed it up with this question: “Are you carrying more than $10,000 in money or possessions?” I thought for a second, because I certainly had a few thousand dollars worth of camera equipment on me, but my quick math resulted in a courteous response along the lines of “No, sir.” He then asked me to come into the Customs office.

That seemed odd to me, but what could I do? I was asked to empty my pockets, undo my belt, and then spread my arms and legs and lean against a counter to be frisked. At this point I was growing nervous. The inspector patted me down pretty thoroughly and went through every single fold of my wallet. When nothing was found, I was told to gather my belongings and follow him back out to my car.

As we stepped outside, I saw that two other inspectors were already going through my car. It occurred to me that they could have very easily planted something while I was inside being frisked, and I would have been defenseless. Did I mention that I was getting nervous? They looked under my car with large mirrors, they popped the trunk and hood, and they basically turned my luggage and car inside out. The guy who had frisked me asked me some questions about what I was doing, and I think sensed that I was doing just what I said—moose watching.

After watching a number of cars effectively sail through the Customs area while I was undergoing this search, I calmly asked if they would mind explaining what they were doing. The one inspector replied that it was a slow day, and they were “practicing” by searching one out of every “five or so cars”. I guess I was one of the lucky ones. When the moose guidebook was noticed on the back seat of the car, they had the audacity to suggest locations as to where I might find them. I think they were just about to let me go at that point, but then they opened the glove compartment, pulled out a few things, and noticed some white powder at the bottom of it. When they said that they were going to do a cocaine test on it, I think I turned green.

Now, about a month earlier, my car had been in a pretty severe accident and in the possession of auto body mechanics in a fairly seedy area. I had no idea what might have gone on in my car during that stretch, and thought it possible that these inspectors had found narcotics. As the test was coming back negative, they asked if I knew what the powder might be, and then it clicked: it was debris from when the car had been stripped and repainted. Talk about relief!

I was let go at that point, and swore off Canada for the rest of my life.

I had planned to post this story soon, but jumped to do it when one of my favorite bloggers posted about his similar experience when crossing into Canada, which led to a rash of comments from others who have had the same experience. Even though I “swore off Canada”, my next post will be on the same topic and involve another adventure with Customs, this time on our side of the border.


  1. Your mouth said "moose-watch," but your eyes said "strip-search."
    Good story well told.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


The great state-border-crossing challenge

A whale of a tail...tale?, tail...