I never was a moose

Paul Smith
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Lack of sign has me totally baffled

I drove my ATV to my cabin last Saturday just to have a look around the territory, search for tracks, see what’s on the go with the local critters, and partake in a little mock moose hunting.

I parked the bike and lit the woodstove to warm up the place a bit. The deck thermometer read -7 C, a bitter cold day compared to recent daytime highs. In fact, the day before (Jan. 24) had been the first time the mercury stayed below the freezing point for the whole day in a couple of weeks.

I would have never imagined this massive mid-winter thaw back in December while snowshoeing over mountains of snow in -30 wind chills. Nor did I entertain the notion of driving on wheels to the cabin anytime before April or May.

I hiked to the cabin on snowshoes the day before the January rains came and it was the most snow I’d seen in many, many years. But there indeed sat my decade old Arctic Cat, parked by the cabin.

I puffed my pipe while the cabin warmed up. In spite of the thaw, there was still quite a bit of snow in places. The bike would never have made it in if we hadn’t been tramping to and fro on racquets. The deep snow sections in the path were as hard as concrete. I drove over some still quite large drifts.

There was one spot that I’d dropped my machine straight down about two feet off a drift that I’d high jumped from a few weeks earlier. In fact I was entertaining the idea of hollowing out a cave and spending the night — just one of those survival sorts of things I’d like to have a go at some day.

The rain wiped out those wild notions. A fox might fit in there now, but he’d need a jackhammer to dent the snow.

So, on the way out, I had to get my 500 lb. machine up over that two-foot wall. My plastic shovel, standard for winter ATV travel, would not put a dent in it. There were three options I considered while the crackling fire warmed me up. I could make a run for it and risk taking a toss, winching slowly and surely, or beating down that snow bank with my axe.  Later this week I’m checking out folding metal shovels online.

By the time I enjoyed a nice half-hour smoke, the cabin was toasty. I went out to the shed and picked out a couple of big unsplit juniper.  We store these in a separate pile to hold the fire while we’re off hunting, or to keep the stove going on frosty winter nights.

I figured I’d be off trekking about for a couple of hours. This was the last day of moose season and I figured I’d see if I could actually get a moose if I needed one. In fact, I’d almost talked a buddy with a license and no meat in the freezer into accompanying me to see if he could fill his tags. He’d had a busy fall and didn’t log much time in the woods. This was his last chance, but something unforeseen foiled his final opportunity. So I went alone to do some pretend hunting.

It’s just as well my buddy didn’t tag along. I didn’t see as much as a fresh moose track; no droppings, absolutely nothing. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought there wasn’t a bloody moose in the area. But I know much better.

Just a week earlier, Robert and I had walked in on snowshoes and there were fresh tracks all over the place. I got to thinking too much and figured I’d come close to understanding the ways of Mr. Moose. They do that to me all the time: just as I think I have their number, they pull a complete 180-degree behaviour turn and mess me up again.

First of all, it’s a given that there are plenty of moose in the area. I’d been back and forth to the cabin all through Christmas scouting for tracks and the like.

Once the snow got really deep, the moose were just not moving about. That makes perfect sense. With so much snow underfoot, a moose would burn more calories walking than it would eating any new food that it might find.

It’s well known that moose choose an area and stick to it while winter rages and snow piles up. We hunters and amateur moose psychologists refer to it as yarding up. I have no idea what the moose call it, but they can gather in pretty large numbers.

I figure that they hang out in an area with a decent supply of food plus a degree of shelter, and then keep the snow trampled down so they can get around a bit. Amongst tall larger trees far from roads and trails is a common preference. I’ve seen these places far back in the woods and it is quite impressive.

My theory fits perfect with the deep December snow. Moose usually don’t yard up before mid-winter around these parts, but that’s because we don’t generally get much snow before the middle of January.

This year was obviously different and the moose disappeared from around the cabin early, or at least weren’t moving about and leaving tracks for me to see. The snow melted and the moose snapped out of their deep snow winter living strategy.

“Come on, guys, let’s get on the go and fatten up a bit more while we have the chance,” says the wise old moose to those less experienced. So the moose scatter all over the place behaving like it’s autumn all over again. That was last Saturday.

I told my buddy that he’d have a 50-50 chance at a moose if he’d come to the cabin with me.

I’m glad he didn’t; he might have thought I was filling him full of bull.

As I said, this Saturday I didn’t see one measly moose track, not a sign anywhere.  

I left the cabin and walked about for two hours; not a fresh moose track anywhere. I climbed up on the lookout and glassed over the countryside for pretty near a full hour with my binoculars; still nothing. I just couldn’t understand.

Why would the moose be moving about in masses last Saturday and not a sign of life anywhere a week later? If we’d had a huge snowfall I’d understand.

The conditions have hardly changed at all. This just doesn’t fit with my theory, so I guess out it goes. My thinking had the moose still on the move, fattening up in preparation for whatever winter might muster in the coming weeks. The opportunity is there to get around the woods quite easily. I wasn’t even wearing snowshoes.

If I were a moose, I’d be out and about eating all I could and enjoying the thaw. But alas, I am not a moose and as far as I know, never will be. I guess I will never fully understand them in this life as a human.

Upon encountering remarkable and puzzling behaviour in Atlantic salmon, my one time mentor and fine fishing buddy would comment, “I just don’t know; I never was a salmon.” Well the same axiom of desperation applies here; I never was a moose.

You might be wondering if I flipped my ATV trying to navigate my way home past that snowdrift. There was a time I might have gunned her and held on for dear life. Not today. I’m not ready to be reincarnated as a moose just yet. Never use an ATV in the backwoods without a winch.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted

at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: Arctic Cat

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