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PAUL SMITH: Modern moose hunting — still a challenge at times

Matt Brazil with this autumn’s moose he shot. — Paul Smith photo
Matt Brazil with this autumn’s moose he shot. — Paul Smith photo

It’s mid-October, nigh on frost covered bogs and iced over puddles, about time for a good moose hunting tale.

I’ve been moose hunting each and every autumn, as lingering summer slips away and the foliage transforms to brilliant earthy tones, yes without a break since I was 18 tender years old.

I love everything about it: the smell of the woods, the foreshadowing of approaching winter intertwined subtly in the autumn afternoon breeze, the echoing crack of a high powered rifle, and the lingering aroma of burnt gunpowder hanging in the still morning air.

And then there’s the bloody, brutal, hard work that is inevitable when the killing deed is done, but I love that, too. Although with age it isn’t getting any easier.

I’ve been writing for this publication for almost a decade now. I’ve certainly touched on the topic of big game hunting a time or two.

Tagging a quarter. — Paul Smith photo - Paul Smith
Tagging a quarter. — Paul Smith photo 

 

Not everybody likes the idea of killing a moose, such a beautiful and majestic animal, but I haven’t received much in the way of criticism concerning my love of hunting. I’m a hunter and that’s that. I don’t sugarcoat it.

I’m also a hiker, photographer and all around outdoors person. But fishing and hunting are indeed my first loves. It’s visceral and makes me feel closest to the Earth. Hunting and gathering food flows in my blood.

Anyway, before The Telegram I wrote an outdoor column for a newspaper called The Independent. Of course I would tell tales of hunting moose. There was a man, also who did a bit of writing, that would call me down to the dirt for being a hunter. He never missed an opportunity.

And it was OK, because I have a thick hide. He popped into my mind last Saturday when we were hauling out our moose.

The ATV trail was mighty rough and my 60-year-old body was taking a beating. Like I said, it isn’t getting any easier.

I love moose. I must, why else would I do this. I could buy a rack of ribs at Costco and have a Saturday afternoon barbecue with a few cold brews.

My mind wandered to my old critic on a particularly nasty patch of boulders sticking up through the forest floor, where our hastily cut trail meandered through the trees, following optimistically the path of somewhat least resistance. He once authored a response that singled out the use of ATV’s in moose hunting most aggressively. I don’t think he ever rode an ATV, let alone handled one on rough terrain. If he did he would have surmised the weakness in his point of view.

The going can be quite challenging. — Paul Smith photo - Paul Smith
The going can be quite challenging. — Paul Smith photo 

 

While cutting some slack for those who hunt without mechanical aid, which I say are as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays, he portrayed a stereotype of modern hunters. My adversary painted a prose image of overweight, out-of-shape men riding casually deep into the woods and blasting merrily away at moose without any need of skill or craft. The effort was minimal, the quest unworthy, and connection to our hunting and gathering ancestors deemed ridiculous.

Or so said my relentless philosophical opposite.

Of course you can’t just ride through the woods on a quad and shoot a moose like he described.

Moose aren’t that dumb and it isn’t near that easy. I suppose you could drive along a woods rode and be lucky enough to make a kill, but I don’t hunt that way ever.

Some folks do but you are handing your hunting success or failure over to the gods of gaming and chance.

That is not my deal. We prefer hunting on foot, calling, stalking and tracking. That hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

For me, that is the essence of hunting. Not many hunters fit into stereotypes dreamed up in the fantasy and narrative of folks who wear out boots on city sidewalks.

So we still have this business of game retrieval and ATV use. After all, real men and true hunters need no contraptions with wheels and engines.

Maybe not, maybe I’d still be a moose hunter if the trike were never invented. I’m not sure. I suppose I could carry a moose out with a good strong buddy and a handbarrow.

That’s our moose hunting lookout. — Paul Smith photo - Paul Smith
That’s our moose hunting lookout. — Paul Smith photo 

 

When I was young I used to lug a full quarter on my shoulder. I suppose I still could for a little ways but the risk of injury just isn’t worth it. I fell headlong in a bog once with a 120-lb quarter on my shoulder.

I was 25 and survived with just a bump and bruise. I am lugging no more moose, end of story.

So the ATV makes it easy right?

No, doable but far from easy. My old critic friend should have been with us last Saturday. And I truly do hope that he is doing well and reads this story.

Matt shot his moose, well, our moose because we share, at about 7:30 in the morning. He made a perfect lung shot from our cabin lookout tower at a range of about 300 yards.

Great shot Matt.

Calling them out is my favourite way to hunt. — Paul Smith photo - Paul Smith
Calling them out is my favourite way to hunt. — Paul Smith photo 

 

We hiked our way over and began the field dressing, quite a bit of manual labour in itself. We went back to the cabin for a cup of tea and a lunch before tackling the toughest part of the hunt. That is getting our quads to the moose and then hauling it out.

This moose had fallen off our beaten system of trails so chopping and clearing had to done. It took us about an hour with axes to clear the way though a few necks of woods that joined the stretches of bog leading to the moose.

One soft marshy spot we feared most. Luckily we all got across going in by using low range and just a tad of throttle to stay afloat. Retuning with the moose would not likely go as well. Just as suspected, with the full moose behind in my trailer Matt got stuck solid.

We had planned strategically. Matt was riding in the middle between rob and me. Rob could tow him forward if need be and me backward. Rob’s winch failed. Matt snapped the cable on his. I rode around the two of them and used my winch and luckily got Matt moving without further incident. Then all went well besides the bone-jarring trail. My core was getting a blast of a workout, wrestling my Grizzly 700 over the freshly cut stumps and endless rocks.

It’s not easy on the body, but hey, I lugged my first moose a two-hour walk. It’s not that extreme and I’m still hunting.

But going back many years my friend, the rosy picture you painted with your words is far from true. Some guys and girls luck into an easy moose by the roadside sometimes. Most hunters work hard for their wild meat. It means a lot to them and it a special privilege to have opportunity to hunt.

No snow hunting this time around. That’s fun, too.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at [email protected] or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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