Saturday 21 April 2018

Moose 2015

(This story was written in 2015)

I am very new to hunting. Two years ago I had never fired a gun. I went on my first hunting trip last fall and managed to punch my first tag with a nice 5x5 whitetail. Last spring I put in for my first LEH with my father in law and a family friend. We ended up getting our moose draw, so in late September we headed North to Vanderhoof. 

My father in law and I decided to prepare all our meals in advance so that we would have gourmet meals without having spend the energy cooking after a long day of hunting. My 2014 buck factored heavily into the menu with venison bourguignon and meatballs.

Once we got to Vanderhoof we filled our jerry cans, did groceries, and headed into the bush for as long as it would take to get our two moose (or until our LEH window ran out).  

Setting up camp was a quick, but the warm weather meant the flies were pretty terrible that first evening. 

The next morning we set out on our first day of hunting. Mostly just scouting the area and looking at the marshes and slashes where my father in law and his friends had pulled moose out of in the past. We saw lots of grouse, but decided we leave them until later. We were there to hunt moose.

After the first day I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go, but all we had seen was some very old moose sign and lots of bear sign. One of the guys in our group was out fishing and saw wolves along the shore that day. 

On day two we went to an area near one of the marshes and tried to set up on a game trail with some old moose sign and started calling. We spent the whole day at that spot and used some of that cow moose in heat scent attractant hanging it from wicks in that area. 

Unfortunately no luck at all that day and we decided to come back the following morning to see if the calling and scent had brought any bulls into the area. When we got back to camp our friends had managed to get a nice little 4x4 whitetail so at least we weren’t going to be going home completely skunked. 

I also managed to get my first grouse with my Ruger 10/22. My father in law pan fried the breasts in butter and onions. They were excellent.

On day three we went back to the same area near the swamp and set up for another day of cow calling every 20 minutes. My father in law dropped me off and drove about a kilometer further down the road and over the hill and set up there.  

A few hours in, one of the other hunters who was staying in the same rec. site as us, drove in their Suzuki Samurai along the logging road just up the hill from where we were, he stopped at the top and called a few times, and drove off. Then, suddenly I heard two shots in very quick succession from just over the hill where my father in law was. I was surprised that he shot twice so quickly. I turned on the radio just in case he needed a hand and I started packing my gear up. I thought to myself, if he got a moose or deer he’ll need my help dragging it out and if it was a bear he may be hurt and need my help. After reading about all the bear attacks I was pretty paranoid.

Just as I started walking along the road I see my father in law’s Toyota Tacoma scream around the corner and drive straight at me at a high rate of speed. I see it’s my father in law behind the wheel and quickly see there is no smile on his face. He screeches to a stop right next to me and half shouts “I was just charged by a f*&%ing grizzly!”. My father in law was okay, but pretty shaken. He’s been hunting deer, moose, and elk all his life, but he’s never been charged before. He recounted to me how just after the little Suzuki Samurai pulled past him a lone grizzly started walking down the trail right towards him. The path had the grizzly just about on a collision course with him so he decided to stand up and start backing away from the grizzly slowly. As soon as he stood up the grizzly began to trot towards him so he took a shot above its head and that just caused it to full on charge. So he fired one more shot into the ground ahead of it before he was going to fire the next two into the bear. Luckily that caused the grizzly to stop his charge at about 30 feet, shake his head, and turn around and run away. What a close call.

Photo taken from where my father in law took his two shots. He was sitting half way between this spot and where the Tacoma is. The grizzly came up the road from the tree line after the Suzuki Samurai drove along the road which is just inside the tree line.
After hearing this story I hopped into the truck and we went to go see where it all happened. We drove over to where my father in law was sitting and found where he was and the grizzly’s prints. Based on the size of the prints he wasn’t a very big bear, but plenty big enough to do damage. I found the two casings and from my father in law’s .30-06 and said that’s probably the best $4 you have ever spent and that you had better hang on to those for good luck. We decided to road hunt the rest of the day. We drove along and found lots more bear sign and also ended up seeing a brown phase of a black bear in the distance. 

On our way home for the afternoon I saw some movement on the side of the road and thought it might be a deer so I hopped out and loaded my .30-06. It turned out that it was a lynx. We got to watch him for a few seconds before he took off. What a beautiful animal.

When we got back to camp the all ears were on my father in law as he told the story of the bear charge. Everyone was pretty unsettled by it. None of the old timers there had ever seen as much bear sign in all their years of hunting as they had seen this year on those roads and trails.

On day four we decided to try a different area, one that had been productive in the past. We parked the truck and I walked in about 100m and my father in law walked up the back trail to circle around up the adjacent hill. Once I got in about 100m the morning’s coffee kicked in… I was so glad to have full tube of wet ones with me, so I did my business behind a sapling at the edge of a little clearing and continue my walk in for another 100m. I decided to start calling so I sat there for about an hour and a half cow calling every 20 minutes. I eventually convinced myself that I didn’t have a big enough field of view where was at the bottom of the little valley so I followed the old road up the hill to get a better look. I walked at my super slow hunting pace, still calling every 20 minutes. After about 30 minutes I had a pretty good view of the valley and where I had done my business. I was pretty convinced I had scent-ruined the area with my business so when I heard some bull grunts I thought it was just another hunter in the area, but then I heard another six bull grunts. I thought to myself, I don’t know that any of the hunters I am with would do six grunts in a row. So I waited a bit and did another cow call.
To my surprise I heard six more grunts back. So I decided to try three grunts myself and then I saw him for a second. On the adjacent hill, I caught sight of this great black beast move between two trees. Then nothing. The heart starts going up tempo. Was that a moose? I think so. I hear the grunts again and for a split second there he is again, but then vanishes. It is a moose! It must be a bull. All of a sudden I hear swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. He is raking the willows! Damn these little Christmas trees. I can’t see anything. I set up on my telescoping shooting sticks, but I am in the middle of the trail, no cover. Don’t blow this Alex, this is your chance. The heart is racing. There he is again!! He is coming towards me, but all I see is the briefest of glimpses as he is walking down the adjacent hill, down to the valley bottom directly towards me. I spot an antler and look through my scope, ready to hammer him, just waiting for the right shot. I only see one antler and it isn’t very big, but it’s bone and it’ll do just fine for me. Grunt, grunt, grunt. Run, crash, twigs snapping. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. My heart is beating in my ears and I see where he is going to pop out and start coming up the bank on a game trail right towards me. Calm down Alex. You’re shaking so hard now you won’t be able to make the shot. Just as he starts up the bank towards me he must have seen me or smelt me because as fast as it had happened he turned 90 degrees and silently started walking away, down the valley bottom to my right, out of sight. I blew it.
I settled myself down; I sat down on the edge of the road and got into a good stable shooting position. I only saw him once more as he silently walked through the Christmas trees at the bottom of the valley away from me.
Just as I was started to lose hope I see some movement in the distance. It is a nice whitetail doe and her fawn and they are standing in the little clearing right where I did my business. That right there blew my mind. I watched them for while just hanging out right next what I would have thought would scare game out of the area.

Just then I see the moose again, far away on the adjacent hill, heading right toward where my father in law is. He’s too far away for my shooting ability and I don’t seem him for more than a split second anyways.

So I watch doe and her fawn hanging around my business for another five minutes when I hear a shot. This time just one and it is right from where my father in law is. He must have got the moose I had missed my chance with. Strangely, neither the doe nor her fawn seemed to care that much about the shot. They tensed for a second, but then went right back to eat and sniffing around. I get on the radio and he tells me that the moose ran right across the road in front of him and he took a shot at it through the Christmas trees, but that it was a clean miss. So I packed up and headed to him to help him look just in case he tagged it. 

As I walked back towards the doe and her fawn neither of them seemed to care that I was coming. I watched them the whole way until I was about 50 feet from them and then they both went tails up into the tree line. This doe and her fawn changed so many of the ideas I had about hunting. They didn’t care about my smell, the shot, or me walking right towards them. We talked a lot about this doe and her fawn later.

When I got up to my father in law he had been doing circles around where the moose was when he took his shot, but there was no sign of blood at all. We decided that I would follow his tracks into the bush while my father in law would try to circle around in case I would flush him out. I followed his tracks for a while and we came to a clearing and I saw my father in law in the distance. He signalled for me to keep going, so I got back on the tracks and followed them through until we met up on the road.

I said to my father in law that I think perhaps we have spooked him and should go back to camp for lunch to let the area calm down and try again in the afternoon. We chatted a bit in a quiet voice and then my father in law said he through we should give it another 20 minutes. He gave a nice long cow call and we just stood there in the open scanning the tree line.

Just as I swing around, I see something big and black standing on the ridgeline about 150m away. “Is that a moose?” I said out loud. “Where?” “On the ridgeline over there… It is a moose. He’s got antlers.” As I say it I lift up my rifle and look through the scope, it’s a front on shot and I decide instinctively that I would be better off kneeling. I take a knee, safety off, breath out, line up, BOOM! He drops on the spot like a sack of hammers as I rack another, and after a second or two put the safety back on. Now the adrenaline hits and my heart is beating in my ears. Did that just happen? My father in law tells me that he didn’t even see the moose until I took a knee and as soon as he realized I was about to shoot all he could do was put his fingers in his ears.

With my heart pounding I started second guessing myself. Were those antlers or just really big ears? Oh no, did I just shoot a cow? Did I rush that too much? I see him thrash about for a second. I look through my scope and I see his head and antlers. Thank goodness. Probably unnecessarily, I flip the safety off and put a round right between his eyes just to make sure it’s over and he isn’t suffering. I’ll reassemble the skull bits later to mount the antlers.

Notice the flies around my head.  It was the warmest day of the trip.  Also note the broken tines on his right side.
As I walk up to him I check my GPS and see that it was 155m from where I shot to where he was. I found that my first shot was right into his collar, hit his spine and blew out his lungs, the second shot really wasn’t necessary, but everything I have read is to hammer it again if it is still moving just in case and the last thing I wanted was for him to suffer at all. I could tell once I got up to him that it was the same moose I had been called in before because he had broken off the paddle on his right side, probably in a fight of some kind. He was nicely on a slope so we were able to field dress him easily before heading back to camp to grab some guys to help us load him into the truck. My father in law stood guard with the rifle and I had a can of bear spray at the ready in case the shots were interpreted as a dinner bell by one of the bears in the area. It was an easy pull down hill and we used a deactivation ditch in the road to slide him right into the bed of the truck. That could have been so much harder. The only difficult part was the flies were out and they were right in your nose and eyes the whole time.
My moose in a friend's truck

Just as we were finishing up, our friends hunting the neighbouring management unit got a nice big moose, and as it turned out just two hours after I got mine.

 We celebrated that night and I felt really fortunate to have been able to get my first moose with my father in law and that we had worked so well as a team to get him. It’s not the prettiest, or the biggest rack by any stretch, but the memories from getting my first moose are priceless to me. 

The next day we walked into another area and heard wolves all around us. We waited a while but none of them came out. We decided to go back to the area where the guys had gotten the whitetail and as we drove in with the truck we saw another grizzly in the middle of the slash where the gut pile was. We decided to fish the rest of the afternoon and caught our limit.

The next day while I was doing my business, this time in the outhouse, I heard two shots ring out. It was our family friend and he had gotten his moose! It turns out it was in the slash where the whitetail gut pile was and the grizzly was the day before. I loaded the defender with slugs and was on bear patrol while they field dressed it and pulled it out. 

The trip was a raging success. We filled our two LEH tags for the three of us in our group and our friends got one of their two moose, and apart from the close encounter with the grizzlies I wouldn’t have changed a thing. As a bonus we also caught lots of trout. I can’t wait for whitetail in November. 

Two moose hanging in quarters
Once we got home I set to work cooking moose and trout and mounting the antlers to commemorate my first moose.

I did the mount myself and it now adorns my workshop

Moose sirloin steak
Moose sirloin steak
Lemon Rainbow Trout

Moose - Korean Short Ribs
Moose - Korean Short Ribs

Moose - Korean Short Ribs

Moose - Korean Short Ribs

Moose - Dutch Meatballs
  To note, it is 2018 now and I have still been enjoying this moose.  Yes, it has kept well in my freezer with no noticeable deterioration.  It was a lot of meat to share with my father in law! It was a trip of a lifetime and I remember it fondly with every meal.


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