Without a doubt, there are still hunters wandering around in the woods looking for a moose.
My buddies and I were lucky this autumn; we killed a moose on each of the first two Saturdays in October — opening day and the one that followed. I say lucky, but to our own credit we did a fine job of calling bulls to the rifle.
Luring moose by mimicking their own vocalizations is a powerfully exciting way to hunt. The shots usually end up being very up close and personal.
This season the kills were at 70 feet and 62 feet. There was absolutely no need for extreme range optics or powerful, flat-shooting Magnum rifles. Calling is my favourite way to hunt moose, but it’s most effective only in early season, before rutting ends.
Nowadays I’m doing some “hook and release” moose hunting and it’s getting tougher to lure the bulls with each and every withered leaf that falls. Moose mating is drawing to a close and the bulls are more interested in hanging out with the boys in sheltered timbered valleys. Lonely cow calls are easier to ignore. By mid-November, calling will be pretty much useless. At least that’s my experience from mingling with moose a few decades. If you disagree or have stories that contradict, be sure and email me.
Hook and release; I bet you thought this modern philosophy of outdoor pursuit was unique to angling. Not so.
Why not hone your moose hunting skill by testing how close you can get to those massive, imposing critters? You don’t have to shoot them with a rifle. Why not use a camera?
I’ll write more about this topic another day. I’ll tell you how I got started on hook and release and how I ended up getting the adrenal rush of a lifetime.
This week is dedicated to those hunters still searching for the venison and what I’ve learned over the years that might help them out. I’ll assume the calling game is done for 2013 and focus on late season tactics. I’m no expert or professional hunter, but you never know, my ramblings might help fill an empty freezer.
Flushing them out
Driving moose to a waiting rifleman or riflewoman is a common plan that many employ. It works like this. The hunter with the tags waits on a knoll, cliff or rise that gives a reasonably substantial field of view. Fellow woods folk circle into a distant position and then walk in a deliberately noisy fashion toward the waiting shooter.
The plan is that there might be a moose between the drivers and the hunter and it will scare from the racket and scurry off in the direction of the waiting gun. I suppose this ruse might pay dividends on occasion, although it never has for hunts I’ve been on. We employed it with diligence quite often in my early hunting years. I think now that moose driving is a waste of hunting time, but for heaven’s sake if you try it wear blaze orange.
Moose have a tendency to circle back around approaching danger and that’s why driving seldom works. Moose cannot be forced into travelling in a straight path of your choosing. I’m thinking that on the occasion that the drive ends in a dead moose, the beast was hanging out very close to the hunter’s field of vision when the drivers startled it.
When a suspected predator rouses a browsing or resting moose, it will flee at first, but then circle around so that it is in a downwind position, an attempt to pick up the intruder’s scent. Moose depend on their noses for survival in a hostile world. I’ve observed this pattern over and over while playing hook and release tag with moose.
Wind direction is a very significant consideration in moose hunting. So if you are hunting with a buddy or two, here’s a devious plan that might work better than driving.
Have a friend or two walk through the woods into the wind ahead of you, the hunter. You hang back a few hundred yards and keep a very keen eye, like a soldier walking on point in a patrol. If there’s an opportune visual opening or rise, stop and watch for a minute or two. Move more quickly through the low-visibility thick brush and concentrate more on the openings. If the walkers startle a moose it will likely run ahead for a hundred yards or so, and then circle back in an attempt to pick up the suspect’s scent in the downwind direction. You will be waiting for the interception.
I’ve done this and it can work. A fast-handling rifle with either iron sights or a wide-angle scope is the best medicine. The opportunity will be fast, fleeting and oh so exciting. Be cautious, safe and wear bright colours.
Snow will soon make tracking moose less difficult. The same sort of moose tactics will work if you find a very fresh set of tracks. It’s rare to track a moose and shoot it by just staying in constant pursuit. You would need to be very lucky, or as quiet and stealthy as a Cree scout in moccasins.
Moose have big ears for a reason. You might stand a chance on a windy day or in very snowy woods. I’ve sneaked deadly close a few times on snowshoes, but only with snow-laden evergreens dampening the sound of my approach. My best advice is to track as a team.
Moose tend to travel the woods heading into the wind. That’s because they depend on their noses to avoid walking into danger. If you are on their trail from behind, they won’t pick up your scent, but will certainly hear you when you get close. Likely the moose will then circle downwind to investigate with their super sensitive noses.
With the tracker leading the hunter by a few hundred yards you will have a chance at a shot when the moose circles for the sniff. This technique is very effective, akin to blindly walking like I described earlier but so much more focused. This is a deadly snow hunting style.
Search and stalk
Another productive way to hunt late season moose is search and stalk. Unfortunately, this only works when the weather co-operates. For a weekend hunter this could be a bit of a problem. Come on, Ryan Snoddon, give us hunters a break.
Moose don’t like high winds; it scares them into staying put. Their big ears are useless in the wind. And they don’t like wandering about in the rain, maybe for the same reason, or they just might not like getting wet. I’d stay in the sheltered woods in a downpour if I were a moose.
To search and stalk you just sit on a high hill with a decent set of binoculars and search the land for moose. This is more of an art than you might think.
Spotting moose amongst trees, bushes and alders is a skill honed from many hours’ practice. When you locate a moose, plan and execute a stalk using an upwind approach and, in the famous words of Elmer Fudd, “be vewy, vewy quiet.”
Good luck, and hunt safely. Never pull the trigger until you are 100 per cent sure of your target.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every
opportunity. He can be contacted