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Our Family Moose - 2018 Edition

Sometimes in our adventures, things don’t go exactly as planned.  A couple of years back, we travelled to Quebec on a fly-in Moose Hunting trip where it rained, torrentially, for 7 days straight.  We found a mature bull’s bedroom, but couldn’t get the meeting organized. The water in the lake raised 15 feet during the period we were there, and clearly it just wasn’t meant to be.  The next group managed to harvest the bull we were after on their last day only a few yards from where we had been chasing him. Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly what we had planned.  

Or how about the time I chased a mature 9 point buck throughout the fall not far from my home, never able to be in the stand at the same time he would make an appearance.  Finally, with only three days left in the season, I decided it wasn’t going to happen and spent the last three days of the season at our family hunting camp halfway across the province.  Wouldn’t you know it, he spent an hour that morning hanging out in front of the camera at my favourite stand. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve zigged when I should have zagged when it comes to hunting, but thankfully, this year’s moose story went a little bit differently.

The Friday after we left Quebec, the moose we had been chasing was taken down while crossing the lake

Here in New Brunswick, as I’m sure many are familiar with, we have a “moose draw” for an opportunity to take part in the annual Moose Hunt.  As with most lottery style tag draws, the odds of drawing a tag aren’t the best; with many people waiting 20 more years to get drawn personally.  Myself, I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in several moose hunts over the years, but never had I drawn a tag myself until 2018. This was my 17th year applying for the moose draw, and finally it happened.

To increase the odds in my favour this year, we decided to apply in a zone which hasn’t yet been as ravaged by the combination of winter ticks and clear-cutting/spraying (amongst other things) which has seen the Moose population in southern areas of New Brunswick plummet.  Tags available in my home zone of 23 have gone from as high as 230 available to hunters in 2001 to only 110 available in 2018.  The zone where we harvested “The family moose” in 2010 has been hit even harder, with 477 tags available there in 2001 down to only 150 this year.  Because of this, we decided to hopefully buck the trend and apply in one of the zones with a growing population.

You may have noticed, the Wilderness Obsession crew has been fairly quiet this year, spending most of our time building a camp (more on that coming soon) which hadn’t left us much time to do scouting and truly get ready for Moose Season this fall.  Because of this, we decided we would start this adventure several days early, and get up and spend a few days before the season looking around to try to find our spot.

When you are halfway across the province, the buck you dream about is at your stand

The day before we arrived, heavy rains (sounds familiar) had washed away most of the tracks in the area, so scouting proved mostly uneventful that first day.  We did come across an area which clearly had some recent bull activity, as evidenced by rubs on many of the nearby trees. We marked this location on our GPS and decided we would come back here and set up a trail camera the next day.  The rest of the day wasn’t nearly as exciting, we found lots of evidence of moose in the area, but didn’t see any. We ended that day with a bit of broken ATV drama, but still eager to keep scouting the area in the days before the season and making a plan.

The Sunday before the season saw much more moose activity, with Wayne and I spending the day placing some trail cameras at various locations and finding that the moose had really been moving around in the last 24 hours.  One of the sites we kept being drawn to was our initial bull rub. We were a good bit off the beaten path, but we still had trepidation that “we aren’t the only people who know about this”. During that afternoon, we came across a small bog and while we were setting up a camera on a well defined moose trail into the bog, a bull started gruffing at us and was clearly just outside of the bog.  Being close to a bull with only a day to go before the season, we made our way out of there quickly and quietly hoping not to disturb him. So far so good, we found ourselves 3 potential sites where we felt confident we could call out a moose in the 5 day season. Site A, where we knew the bull rubs were; Site B, an intersection between the bog where the bull had grunted at us and another bog 100 yards away, and Site C, directly in the “bull bog”.  Site B was leading the pack as it offered a fantastic 360 degree vantage point overlooking several natural trails.


Monday came, and as mentioned, we had an ATV to repair, so we headed into the local Can-Am dealership and were very pleased when they told us they could replace the faulty fuel pump and have us back in the woods in only an hour or so.  Crisis averted, we were back to our final day of preparation before lunch time. Travelling around to each of our pre-selected possible sites to check our trail cameras, we were surprised to only see deer. None of the cameras were empty, but none of the cameras contained pictures of Moose, only their smaller cousins.  Not easily discouraged, we made a plan to hunt Site B, thinking that offered us the best opportunity to cross paths with a moose.

Fresh rubs, best friends to a moose hunter

However, in camp that evening at about 10pm, one of the guys staying at the camp next door was just over chatting with us about his plans for the next day, and he let us know he thought we should have put our scent out already in an attempt to draw a bull nearby and he has had luck over the years having this pay off.  That was enough motivation for us, Wayne and I grab the scent, hop on the ATV and head in. Just as we’re about to drive past the road to Site A, we made a last minute change of plans, and turned up that road. The allure of the dominant bull that was very clearly marking his territory was just too strong. We snuck in, placed our scent and waited about 20 minutes for the area to cool down before heading back to camp.  By the time we got back to our camp, it was midnight, but as any truly passionate hunter knows, trying on the night before a hunt is much like a 7 year old trying to sleep on Christmas Eve. You toss and turn and before you know it, your alarm is going off.

The opening day of Moose season for us was textbook.  A cold morning, fairly heavy frost on the ground and no wind to speak of.  We had a feeling this would be a great day to call a moose out. We arrived where we had put out our scent and went to freshen that up just as legal hunting time arrived.  While Wayne freshened up the scent rag, I started calling. I raked bushes and let out several cow estrous calls, and then we walked to the ground hub blind Dad had set up while we called.  Moments after sitting down inside the blind, we thought we could hear a moose grunting. Dad grunted back a couple of times, and sure enough, an answer. There was a moose coming in directly behind us.  He was coming on a string, grunting the whole way: “ohh waah, ohh waah, ohh waah”. Because Wayne was the second gun, we did some chair adjustments so he and I were both ready and looking in that direction.  A couple of minutes after the switch, Wayne could see the spruce trees shaking and moving; the moose was here! The first glimpse I caught was antler, and when we saw his body, he was only 75-80 yards away, and broadside.  

Tracking was not required, but the blood trail was significant

As he weaved his way through some young saplings and spruce trees, we waited for a clear shot, and when it made itself available, I fired with Wayne firing a split second later.  The moose jolted forward maybe 5 yards and stood still. It was apparent our first shots had found their mark, but just for good measure, I racked another round and hit him again.  He toppled over, and at 7:30 on opening morning, a mere 45 minutes into the season I had waited 17 years for, it was all over. This time, we didn’t zig when we should have zagged, we called an audible and it resulted in a first quarter touchdown.

Walking up on a mature bull during the rut is something that you can’t really explain in words.  This big boy was ripe! A blind person could have lead you straight across the cut to him based on the smell alone.  Interestingly, just as we got up to where the bull lay, we could hear another bull grunting, just a short distance away.  We never did catch a glimpse of this other bull, but that may be for the best, the elation over this harvest may have been tempered if a 65” bull that Jim Shockey would be jealous of came stomping out.

Moose Hunters have a saying; “once you pull the trigger the fun and games are over and the work starts”, and that rings very true.  This moose piled up only 80 yards across a winter cut, but from the time we shot until we had him loaded on the back of the truck was nearly three hours.  Luckily, as I mentioned, this was a nice cold morning so we had no worries keeping the meat cold, clean, and dry to prevent spoilage. It is a fun job, but lots of work nonetheless.  

An antler is visible where the moose went down

Readers may remember that in 2010 I was also blessed with harvesting “a Family Moose” with Dad and Wayne, and that was a memory I’ll never forget.  Back then, we didn’t have much experience with hunting moose and felt really lucky to have this young bull get interested enough in the calling we were doing to come and check us out.  Since then, however, we’ve each been involved in several moose hunts, and one thing that sticks with us is that every time you get to do it, you learn a little more. I learned a lot about moose curiosity a couple of years back when I was able to help some friends harvest two bulls in 3 days, and Wayne learned a lot about calling when he travelled to Newfoundland archery hunting with his friend Ray (a video of that experience can be found here).

 

No matter what, these big beautiful animals teach you something every time, even the times you come home and don’t have a freezer full.  Moose meat, in my humble opinion, is the best of all meats, and my family has already had several delicious meals from this harvest. We can look forward to eating many more burgers, steaks and roasts throughout the winter, and that is definitely something to get excited for! A lot has changed since our last "Family Moose Hunt" in 2010 (we all managed to get more handsome, believe it or not), but thankfully our passion for hunting and spending this time together as a family hasn't ever dwindled. I can only hope that we pass this on to our children and grandchildren the way our forefathers did for us.
 

A lot has changed since 2010, but not our passion for hunting and family

In the 5 day season in 2018 there were 4,465 Moose Licenses available here in New Brunswick, and 3528 Moose harvested.  This equated to 289 fewer than last year, and approximately a 79% success rate. Thankfully, we were part of the 79% and not the unfortunate 21% this time around.  

 

2018-10-10 05:31:30

 

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