Newfoundland Moose Trip 2015
In August of 2015, I was invited to head to Newfoundland to accompany a friend on his archery bull moose hunt. His son was unavailable, and due to the rugged and remote terrain he would be hunted, he wanted to have help if he was successful to pack out the meat and make sure it wouldn't spoil. He said he would pick me up at the airport and take care of everything once I was there. Even though I wasn't going to be hunting, I quickly accepted (so quickly that I believe I caught him off guard). A chance to go to a remote cabin on the Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland, fishing, scouting, and accompanying an accomplished moose caller and hunter on his bow hunt? Sign me up!
Plans were made, equipment was organized, and September couldn't come soon enough for me! I absolutely love the province of Newfoundland. Ever since I visited there as a teenager with my family I've always had a deep appreciation for the land and the residents. It is simply like no place else that I have ever visited. Outside the large and modern city of St. John's, the province is largely unspoiled and sparsely inhabited. The terrain is often difficult and the wilderness is vast. They have an impressive moose population along with some of the largest black bears in North America, along with amazing trout and salmon fishing. In addition to this they have some great waterfowl hunting, an abundant snowshoe hare population, and the list goes on. The people are amazingly welcoming and they have a richness of culture and a love for their traditions that is perhaps unrivaled in the rest of Canada. Any chance I get to travel to Newfoundland through business, I take it... and my wife knows I unabashedly hope to retire there one day...
On Thursday, September 3rd the day of departure had finally arrived. My flights went well and I arrived in Deer Lake at about 2:30pm local time. After picking up my luggage my friend was waiting, loaded with an amazing supply of food and equipment for the drive north to his cabin. It was nearly a 6 hour journey north to his cabin, with a couple of short stops for ice and sandwiches. My friend Ray has everything down to a science. Watching them load ice in his fish cooler in a remote and absolutely beautiful village was an early highlight of our journey. He keeps the cooler at the ready so that he can quarter the moose and make sure it doesn't spoil before his long journey home.
Ray's cabin is a little piece of paradise, off the grid on his “crown lease” on the Northern Peninsula. It is actually surrounded by three different ponds and the view is astounding. To give you an idea of how remote it is, when we arrived at the drop-off spot, then we had to pack in the supplies to a waiting boat he has moored in order to cross to his cabin. When people joke about living “so far in the woods you have to come in to go hunting”... this is close to the same situation! We had steady rain through packing the supplies in, but it certainly didn't diminish our spirit and we got everything set up and made some plans. His cabin is two levels with six bunks upstairs in a loft and a bedroom downstairs. He's done a number of renovations giving him a small kitchen, a bathroom with flush toilet, and even a shower. It's wired for a generator and he has propane fridge and stove and a wood-stove for heat. Unbelievable comforts away from home!
On Friday morning it was marked by heavy rain so we continued setting up the cabin, then did some scouting and set up a ground blind. I also got a chance to do a bit of fishing and caught a few small trout that were all released. The afternoon I accompanied him to the ground blind and although we heard some serious cracking from something walking through the woods behind us, nothing appeared.
Saturday we headed out early in the morning to a spot where Ray left me in the truck while he slowly walked a wood road spotting for moose. It was a cold morning with steady drizzle. He had a walkie so he could call me to come and get him when he got to the end of his trek. He explained that the moose associate vehicles with hunters, and the bedding areas are so close to the road that there would be no way to get a good stalk on a moose if they heard the truck coming. On this walk, he sees a bull that was bedded but he didn't see it until he was past it and although he was in range his calling couldn't make it stop and he didn't get a shot. Later in the morning when driving I spotted a nice bull bedded at about 300 yards away. It saw the truck and when it stood up, we could see that there was another young bull accompanying it. They walked off slowly into the woods and though we went for a walk to try to get in front of them and call them in, we didn't see them again. Ray was a bit disappointed only seeing 3 bulls but I was ecstatic. He said 10 years ago he might see 30 in a day but being from New Brunswick I was still very excited. We headed back to the cabin for lunch and then did some exploring around the area where he told stories and we did some berry picking. In the afternoon we sat in his ground blind but it was uneventful.
On Monday we had heavy rain again, but we saw four bulls and a cow in the morning. I accompanied him on three stalks but none would let him get close enough for a shot. The first bull we saw was when we were heading down a logging road and he was standing on the edge of the road. I stayed in the truck while he followed it into the woods and while I watched the moose circled behind him and walked back out onto the road about 20 yards in front of me, standing broadside and watching the truck for at least a minute before he leisurely headed the other direction and into the woods. It was a fun experience but definitely shows how unpredictable these animals can be. The rain changed from heavy to torrential in the afternoon and we chose to stay in the cabin playing music and telling stories.
Tuesday we finally had a day of hunting without the steady rain, and it was below zero degrees in the morning. On this day, we saw 8 bulls, and had two good stalks. I took some video of them, and on one of the stalks I was sure a pair of bulls were going to give him a chance. They didn't seem concerned as we stalked within about 80 yards of them, and then his calling had one come about 10 yards closer before they both decided it was time to get out of there. What an experience getting that close to these animals with him armed with just a bow and myself carrying a camera! On another stalk we had seen an absolute monster bull across a ravine raking his antlers against the small spruce trees and decided to try to close the more than 300 yards to him. When we got to the bottom of the ravine, a bull stood up to the left of us maybe 60 yards away. We tried to slowly close the distance to him but the wind was not in our favour and the bull decided he had better get out of there after only 5 yards or so, and Ray's calling couldn't change his opinion. In the afternoon when we got to the ground blind we found that it had been nearly torn down. All the windows were open and one of the sides was pushed in. The evening hunt was uneventful but when we checked the camera we figured out what had happened. Two bears had visited the area, and it appears that one of them had decided to investigate the ground blind. Thankfully no damage was done. Ray had a bear tag for that area so if one were to show up, he could harvest that too.
On Wednesday we finally had a successful stalk. It happened early on the morning, at our first stop. There were two bulls in a field feeding, and we were able to stalk into some good cover. Ray began calling and the moose both took notice and started coming in. He got into place, with me videotaping the experience. They came steadily in and he took his shot at 40 yards with the moose broadside. It looked like a good shot and he had a foot of penetration on the arrow. Unfortunately after about 150 yards the blood trail completely stopped, and we were not able to pick it up again. We looked for the moose across the bog for the rest of the day, and were joined by help, but we were unable to recover the animal. It was a crushingly disappointing day for both of us, and especially for Ray. However we had done our ethical best to recover the moose and there was nothing more we could do. The Northern Peninsula is a difficult and rugged terrain and with no blood trail we simply couldn't locate the animal.
The final Thursday morning of our trip was great cold weather again, and clear with another storm front forecast for the coming day. We knew the animals should be moving to get out and feed before the bad weather. We ended up having two good stalks when I was present, and he had a good chance on his own while walking again (and me in the truck). He told me how he had a bull coming to his calling that was accompanied by a cow. He moved steadily towards him until it had closed to within 100 yards but the cow finally had enough of that behaviour and got right between the bull and his calling and lay her head across his shoulder... so they finally left. On this day we saw 6 bulls, 4 cows, and a calf.
The grand total for my trip was 29 moose: 23 bulls, 5 cows, and a calf. I have no doubt we could have seen more if not for spending much of the time involved in stalks. It was a great week, and one that made more fall more in love with the province of Newfoundland. My trip home was a six-hour bus ride back to the airport, that even cemented more of how unique and wonderful the people and province are. The beauty of the Gross Morne park is something everyone should experience, and the lively stories and discussions from the people on the bus kept me constantly entertained. I even got several offers from strangers on the bus to come over and stay/hunt with them in the future, including one who was serious enough to give me their contact information. The people are amazing! (In an also uniquely Newfoundland experience, the bus driver pulled over halfway through for a quick nap).
Beyond the hunting experiences what I will remember of this trip are the times back at the cabin. Oh how we ate... Ray is an amazing cook and he treated me to some true Newfoundland delicacies. One night he made “corned cod” with potatoes, scrunchions, and onions (he explained that corned cod is salted for just one day unlike “salt cod” which uses more salt for longer). Another day he cooked me up a foot-long brook trout that he caught that morning (a little one he said). He brought moose stew and moose chili for us to share. And other Newfoundland fare included jig's dinner (cabbage, turnip, carrots, and salt meat) and one time we went out harvesting mussels and then he garnished a pasta meal with them and his homemade sauce. And we harvested lots of berries from around the cabin. Raspberries, blueberries, snow berries... and even partridge berries.
Having a generator meant we had lights to stay up telling stories and either listening to Newfoundland music or even playing it. Ray brought his accordion and brought some spoons for me to accompany him. Although I'm not very musical I did my best and he was very gracious. It was a time!
I will always remember and appreciate the trip with my friend Ray, and even though we weren't successful in harvesting a moose that week, it couldn't have been much better. Ray was able to fill his tag the first week that rifle season opened. I will continue to work on convincing my wife to move to Newfoundland and will plan for my next return to the wonderful province and the amazing people and culture! If you ever get a chance to go on a hunt there, don't pass it up. You will never be the same!
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