Moose in the Back Country
An Out-of-Shape Hunt
Buk picked me up in his big, white, Ford F-250 power stroke diesel at the airport early Sunday morning. The truck blended in with the heavy morning snow that was falling from the sky above. It was a welcome site after a long 23 hour trip from Washington, D.C. What should have been a simple six and half hour direct flight, turned into one cancelled flight after another, and a ton of delays. Luckily, all of my luggage made it safely.
As we rumbled the hundred miles northwest of Edmonton, Canada, over a combination of paved and unpaved highways, and single lane roads, the big diesel engine purred like a snuggling kitten. When we arrived at his lodge about two hours later, I was exhausted, and beaten down from the bumpy ride. I was happy to be at the lodge where I would spend the next two weeks hunting. I was greeted by Andrew and his wife, Beth. Buk informed me that I would be the only hunter in camp for the first week, as most hunters would be arriving for the second and third week of the moose season, when the rut was thought to be at its peak. I had both a mule deer tag and a moose tag. Because, the weather being as it was, the plan was to concentrate on finding a Shiras moose first, then, if time permitted, going out and harvesting a mule deer. The Shiras moose is the largest of the sub-species of deer in North America. Because they are a solitary animal, unlike most other deer species, I knew it would be a challenge. Additionally, the lodge where I was staying, specialized in gun hunters, and while they had never guided a bow hunter before, they were willing to give it a shot. As a rule, I never book ‘gun only outfitters’ and always try to find someone who specializes in archery hunting; at the very least, someone who has experience with bow hunters, but after talking to everyone at an outdoor show, my gut was telling me to go for it. So I did. I learned that Andrew would serve as my guide, as well as, my host.
It was a first class operation all the way. The lodge was a spacious open log cabin with the kitchen, great room, and rec room all connected to one other. The guest bunks were up a flight of steps, just off to a loft area. Normally, these spaces were filled with hunters trading stories from the days hunt, however I had the whole place to myself. The only problem, I foresaw, was an argument over which hockey game to watch, but that argument was avoided when the Flyers road trip through Edmonton coincided with my moose hunt.
The first morning of my hunt, Andrew and I decided to walk out of camp and head for some old timber lanes. I cautioned him the night before when we were laying out our plan that my physical conditioning was not what I wanted it to be, and that would limit the distance I would be able to walk. Due to the birth of my second child, the time I normally spent conditioning, was spent taking care of my then wife and two daughters. Of course, that also meant I was fifty pounds heavier than I planned to be on this trip. At six feet three inches and three hundred pounds, I told Andrew to warn his friends that if they saw us in the woods not to mistake me for Sasquatch.
My plan was to pace myself so that I would last all day. The terrain was much different than I was used to, since most of my hunting had been in the eastern part of the U.S. that year. Short walks to tree stands were not an option on this hunt. The bush was thick with tamarack trees, willow trees, and other evergreen trees. As I walked, it seemed as if I was constantly being hit in the knees by low hanging branches. Eventually, we got to an old logging road which vastly improved the long hikes. Even though it was late October, the air around me smelled more like Christmas. The Rocky Mountains in this part of Canada seemed to only go in two directions: straight up and straight down. Andrew figured our only chance of seeing a moose would be in the cut lines of forested trees, which we found going in various directions about every half mile to mile. The plan was that we would walk down these cut lines and cautiously approach all intersections looking each way down them, hoping we would spot a moose feeding. My feet seemed to ache more with each step we took. The extra weight I was carrying around my waste was not helping. I thought I had broken in my boots well before leaving for Canada, however, I should have probably worn them more, on longer hikes, knowing how much ground we were going to cover on foot. We covered a lot of territory the first day, with me taking several rests; by late afternoon we were still a mile or two from camp and my feet were on fire. I had to request that Andrew return to camp, get his pick up, and come back to get me. It was pathetic, I know, but the ten miles we had hiked on the first day had done me in. My plan, since I was so tired, was to sit on a small hillside looking down on a small lake hoping to spot a moose, and if nothing else, I would enjoy the crisp, clean scent of the spruce trees I was sitting in. Even though I wished with all my might, nothing appeared; but I did get some much needed rest.
We were unsuccessful that first day, as I had only seen one small Whitetail buck. I was really pissed at myself for being in such bad shape. At that point, I had just made a commitment that I would try to go further each day.
We spent a second day driving around on many of the logging roads and trails, covering a lot of areas that looked good. My legs and feet were thankful for the change in tactics. We took one or two long hikes of two to three miles, and saw a lot of signs of moose, but we never did spot one. I was beginning to wonder if and when we would ever spot a moose. We took a drive west to the river, where it had been reported that there were a lot of Mule deer. We spent the last ninety minutes of day light glassing the valley around the river. We ended the day with no luck on either species.
As the moon began to set, and the sun began to rise, the third morning was filled with promise. We were up early and planned to take a ride towards the river where some hunters in a camp north of our lodge had reported seeing a moose on their return the second evening. After a warm cup of coffee, and one of Beth’s big breakfasts, we headed out the door. The smell of the fresh brewed coffee, crisp bacon and scrambled eggs would have to carry me through the frigid morning. The temperature was extremely cold with an expected high of only five degrees. It seemed as if my breath froze as soon as it exited my mouth. I was in my very own snow machine.
We had just left Andrew’s property line and were heading down a dirt road toward the spot where we were glassing the river valley last night. I guess I was a little sleepy, or not paying much attention, but we had only gone about two miles when Andrew hit the brakes screaming, “Moose! Moose! They’re running down the cut line on your right!”
That was enough to get my heart racing, and get me wide awake. As I was grabbing for the door, he quickly backed up the truck and reminded me to make sure it was a bull moose. When he backed up, I spotted a moose standing in the cut line at the edge of the thick bush. I quickly jumped out, looking through my binoculars to see whether it was a bull. In the dim morning light, I could barely make out a small set of antlers, confirming that it was indeed a bull. That was all I needed to get me going. I quickly closed distance on the moose without him spotting me. My heart was beating out of my chest as I closed from 700 yards to 50 in the knee deep snow. As I got closer, I could see that this was a much bigger moose than what I had thought. The fast pace to close the distance on the moose made me feel a little light-headed, and I was sweating profusely despite the cold, morning air. The last twenty yards, I crawled along the snowy ground on my stomach, inching closer to the bull. Finally, when I got within 30 yards, I got on my knees behind a thick spruce tree and unleashed an arrow undetected by the bull. BINGO! My Carbon Express Pile Driver and Helix broad head tore through the moose. The bull stumbled for a few steps and quickly turned towards the bush. Andrew and I headed to the spot where we had last seen the moose before he went into the thick dense cover. We scanned the area looking for my arrow, and discussed what we had just seen, trying to play back the blurry events of the last hour. As we walked towards the spot where we had seen him stumble into the brush, we assured ourselves that he had been hit, but were still unaware of just how well. We could not find my arrow as it probably buried itself in the deep snow, but we did find a good blood trail and began combing the thick bush to see if he was there. I could not see anything once we were ten yards into the brush since it was so thick and dark. You could smell the decay of the world under foot, in the cold, dark, moist environment. Andrew insisted the he could see a moose standing about 20 yards away. At least he was able to make out a hind leg of what he thought was a moose. We both scrambled around in the brush attempting to see him in hopes of getting a second shot, if necessary, but I was unable to get a clear shot through the thick brush before the moose took off. Banging into the thick brush and trees that surrounded all, he and his horns made a racket throughout the bush as he rushed away from us. I was sick to my stomach, I knew I had made what I thought was a great shot, yet the moose did not fall.
Andrew, being the expert moose hunter, felt that it was useless for the two of us to pursue the moose any longer without help from others. I yielded to his experience and local knowledge. He suggested that we go back to the lodge and call his cousin Petey, and any other friends that he could round up. Petey and his dad were local legends and were like well-trained blood hounds, and were the best two trackers Andrew knew. They had some sort of weird sixth sense that made them so good at finding moose. We could tell from the blood sign that the moose was hit pretty well, and he should not be able to go much further. Andrew and I decided it was best to position ourselves on the cut lines while others would push the moose out of the thick bush towards us. It sounded simple enough.
About two hours later, Petey, and his father Boone, the super trackers, had finally arrived at the lodge. I thanked them for dropping everything to come help us. We took them back to the spot where we had first seen the moose, and showed them where it had entered the brush. The plan was that I would walk down the cut line until I got to another large cut line, which was actually a power line right of way and twice the width of most cuts. If the moose had laid down, Andrew and Boone would track him, find him, and push him towards the east to me in order to get another shot as he crossed the cut line. Petey would position himself about halfway on the east-west line, and Nick, one of Petey’s brothers, would drive the pickup halfway down the north side of the bush to watch in case the moose went either north or south, instead of east, towards me. The plan sounded good and we all got into position. I waited anxiously for about half hour, hoping that at any moment the moose would explode or stumble out into the open and give me a chance to finish him off, or that I would hear Andrew yell that they had found him.
Soon, I saw Andrew and Boone coming out of the bush towards the cut line. They had reported over the walkie talkies that they had indeed been able to follow the blood trail and had even found where the moose had laid down a couple of times. It appeared that he had already moved across the cut line before I had got into position. Onto plan C we went. It was for me to go back and get Petey, and the two of us would spread out on this power line cut heading south. Andrew and Boone would continue to follow the trail, which by all indications, appeared that the moose was headed south. We would watch in case the moose came across the cut line. I walked about a mile south and positioned myself, and Petey continued towards the dirt road another mile beyond where I stopped. Again, I waited, and after an hour of not hearing or seeing any sign of the moose, I returned to where I had originally taken my shot.
It was now around two in the afternoon when all of us joined up again on the dirt road. The old road ran east and west, and Petey had been watching it to see if the moose had been pushed that far south. We were now about one mile east, and three miles south, of where my original shot had been taken. By this time, Buk and another guide named Joe, had showed up at the lodge and learned of the moose push underway. The temperature had barley raised above zero, and I was thankful that so many people were willing to help us. Andrew and Boone had been successful in tracking the moose south and had even found that he had laid down a couple more times. They were convinced that since he had not seemed to cross the dirt road, he must have stopped and was likely lying somewhere within the half mile section of bush just north of where we were all standing. Our plan (now plan “D”) was to have a meal at the lodge and then all five of them would attempt to make a push through the bush towards me, and I would set up in the southeast corner. The moose had been consistent, for the last several hours continuing in a southerly direction. If we let him alone, we would either find him or get behind him with five pushers and get him further south until he would cross the dirt road, giving me another shot. Hopefully, this time it would be a fatal one.
After a hot meal, we arrived back at the section of bush, and Buk stationed himself on the southwest corner so the he could see if the moose went south or west. I was positioned in the southeast corner so that I could watch in both directions. Boone would stay in the truck about half way down and honk if he saw anything. Everyone else went into the bush on the north side of the section, spread out, and made a push for the south in hopes of driving the moose in my direction. I stood anxiously for 20 minutes awaiting the outcome, all the while hearing voices and the sounds of the men walking through the bush. I paced up and down, checking for the most open spot where the moose might emerge.
Then I heard a faint crashing sound that gradually grew louder, I heard a crashing noise not too far from where I was standing and looked up just in time to see the moose hobbling out of the bush and heading across the cut line. I quickly raised my bow and lined him up in the peep sight as he was coming across the opening. For the first time, I got to see him and I could tell that I had only hit him in the right shoulder with my first shot this morning. It was hardly lethal, but had provided us a blood trail for four miles. I will never know whether it was because I was so anxious or excited or what, but somehow my shot totally missed! I couldn’t believe that I had MISSED the moose! It is like missing a minivan. The moose was back in the bush and heading south!
Seeing my shot, and hearing the moose moan, everyone quickly arrived where I had been positioned, thinking the moose must be laying down and that this day’s hunt would be over. Unfortunately, no such luck. He had quickly disappeared into the bush, still heading south. It didn’t take long to have everyone take up positions on the east and west side of the bush, as well as behind him, to continue pushing him south towards a couple of open meadows, again giving me a another chance. In his continued push south, he would pass by just east of the lodge and end up at a small lake.
I walked along with Pete, following the blood trail to where it intersected with a small dirt road running north and south. Buk and Andrew had taken the pickup truck down this road to end up at the small lake, keeping an eye out to see if the moose would come out of the bush there. By the time I had arrived where they had parked the pickup, Buk was already walking back to the truck from where he had just sighted the moose moving across a cut line. We suspected he would either hold up in the bush again or possibly continue towards the lake. Our only chance now was to get in the truck and head south far enough that we could catch a small dirt road heading west along the south end of the lake. We would get to see him unless he stopped in the bush and bedded down.
As we were heading west along the side of the lake, the moose was spotted on the west side, still hobbling. Now was the time for redemption! Either we could get a successful kill shot or we would probably lose him into the bush for the night. Finally, luck was back on my side. I jumped out of the truck and got into position; I drew back on my bow and hit the moose perfectly with a double-long shot. The moose continued to stumble for another fifty yards before collapsing in the fresh white snow. We now had our moose down, right next to the lake. When we all finally got back to the lodge, we were telling and retelling all the aspects of the day’s events. We couldn’t believe it! We had started early in the morning and had been tracking and pushing the moose all day. It was a full day of excitement! Twelve hours of hunting, tracking and pushing to get our moose. I say “our” because without the help of everyone involved I may not have ever found the moose. We all commented on how much fun and excitement we had had! All in all, it confirmed what all hunters know…it is the excitement of the hunt, not the kill, which we all enjoy. All of us had a great day and enjoyed the hunt.
For me, I kept thinking of what we all would have missed if my first shot had been placed perfectly and the hunt would have been over in the first 15 minutes of the day. We would not have had this day of excitement, the fun of the pursuit, nor the companionship this one hunt provided. I guess I was not destined to finish the hunt early in the afternoon either because our day went well into the dark.
Indeed, Boone was a super tracker who never gave up, Andrew had proven to be an experienced hunter, and Pete, Buk, and Joe were great pushers.
What it took to get the moose out the bog by the lake and to the skinning shed is another story in and of itself! We had started at 6:00 am the next morning and finished at 11:00 pm. There is no way to pack anymore excitement into a day of hunting than what I experienced with Big Buk’s Guide Services that day. This had indeed been a push through the bush for moose that I will never forget, and will cherish as one of my greatest hunts ever.
Man, what a great day.