I awoke on Monday morning, the first hunting day of the trip, sometime before the generator would be started. I turned on my little bedside flashlight to dress, and made my way toward the kitchen. Marley lifted his head from where he was sleeping on the coach in the darkened common room “Hey buddy . . can you put out that light”? I hoped Trevor wasn’t counting on Marley to warn of intruders.
As promised, Craig was busy in the kitchen already. It was only a few minutes before it was time for the electric to be on. He and I talked as he toasted homemade bread and whipped up breakfast. At 5:00, he disappeared into the back of the lodge, pressed a button and started the generator. Voila! Light.
It didn’t take long for the hunters and guides to fill the room. Soon we were wolfing down breakfast anticipating who might knock down a moose that day. Perhaps a big bull would be hanging in the meat house that very night!
Once well fed (again) Joe and I went back to the room to change into hunting gear. While it was chilly, the predicted temperatures for the day would be well into the 60s (F) which is extremely warm for the time of year in Canada. For some reason, Joe and I have the uncanny ability to produce warmer-than-normal conditions wherever we hunt together. This is not ideal. Game animals in general and moose in particular aren’t moving a lot when it’s warm. Also, while cold temperatures are not a pre-requisite for the rut, it has certainly been born out over time that all species of deer (moose are the biggest deer species) seem more likely to engage in rutting behavior when it’s cold.
As mentioned previously, we had planned this hunt for two years. When given our choice of weeks we tried to pick the most likely scenario to be able to hunt during the rut (mating season). This provides the best chance for big bulls to be active and also provides the excitement of calling an amorous big bull into range with cow calls. I know it sounds like a dirty trick . . but hey. Ya play with fire, ya get burned.
As it was, I found myself wishing I had brought some of the lighter clothes from my collection of hunting apparel. I stared at the choices in front of me, and picked the lightest set before pulling a new pair of Muck boots. Joe and I had both replaced our aged rubber boots before this trip with new ones from Muck,
although we had purchased slightly different models. I spent the latter part of the summer hiking about in mine to break them in a bit. Once dressed, we wished each other luck and safety and parted ways to find our respective guides.
Wade’s hunting area was a bit North of camp. Each trip involved a 40 minute ride before turning off, most days, on one of the many “resource roads”. As I understand it, the areas around Mayflower Outfitters used to be a bit more inaccessible but as logging activity has increased so have the number of roads into remote wilderness. Even though many of these roads are dirt and mud, they are maintained by the government. If so, ATVs can not be used on them except when the person is in the act of retrieving game. The downside is, there are less and less places for a big bull to hide. They can’t go far without crossing a drivable road. It used to be that a hunter had to work a lot harder to get back where the big bulls were. There are still places in Newfoundland where this is true and even some that are only accessible by float plane.
As it was we found ourselves bouncing down a resource road. Wade explained that that particular road actually made it’s way all the way back to near the lodge though it gets pretty slim in the middle with a lot of overgrowth. I would learn during the week that a Newfoundland hunting or fishing guide can’t be too particular about his or her paint job. Or suspension. Or fillings.
As the sun began to creep up and the eastern sky turned pink, we made our way higher up and out a more remote bit of road. The road eventually turned into a grassy two-rut trail and Wade put the truck in park. It was time to moose hunt.
The technique would be simple. Wade would take point as we still-hunted slowly along the trails watching and listening. For those unfamiliar with the term, “still hunting”, it is not a state of being. (e.g. When my wife asks “Are you still hunting? When are you going to rake the leaves”!?) Rather it is a method of hunting where the hunter moves slowly through the field taking a few quiet steps then looks and listens. Movement is the key. All prey and predators watch for movement.
It is the telltale sign of life. As a predator, the trick is to move less then the prey or to move in such a way as to not be easily spotted by the prey. The direction of movement is typically into the wind. Typically, most animals trust their eyes the least and their nose the most. When big-game animals pick up the scent of a predator they don’t hang around to ask questions.
Wade and I edged forward in such a way. It was a cold, quiet morning. We listened intently for moose sounds hearing only distant crow calls. After a few hundred yards, Wade stepped off the trail and indicated a stump that I should sit on while he called. I sat and watched as he produced a megaphone type of device with a small hand-held remote. It was an electronic call (legal in Newfoundland). He hung the caller from a branch, turned on the remote and pressed a button producing the mournful sound of a cow moose in heat. “ooh ahhhHHHH”. Wade repeated the call 3 times, the sound echoing out over the quiet valley before us. I secretly thought that the call would be a great addition for any of the halloween fanatics that decorate their houses and yards to the nines. It is a bit of a creepy, moaning sound that could only really sound attractive to a moose.
The area we were in looked so promising I expected a bull to pop out at any moment. This was a feeling I would have no matter where we hunting throughout the week. Newfoundland has a lot of places that look like moose should alway be standing in them.
After a few call attempts with no response, Wade packed up the call and we moved on. Back on the trail, we had made our way a couple hundred yards from our calling spot when Wade stopped, turned, and urged me forward. He pointed “See it”? Apparently there was a moose. I didn’t see it. A moose is pretty damned big. How could I not see it!? Then Wade said “Up on the bank”. I raised the level of my gaze and saw a moose! It looked smaller than I expected but I only looked for a second before looking down to chamber a round in my rifle. Typically, I would have a round in the gun while still hunting but Mayflower policy is “No round in the chamber until ready to shoot”. The metallic clacking of the bolt as it opened and picked up a round from the magazine sounded like fireworks on the quiet morning.
The moose didn’t stick around. It had seen us first and was watching. The sound of it’s pending doom being loaded into the breech of my rifle was enough to send it on it’s way. We saw it one more time as it left poste-haste. It appeared to be a cow which I wasn’t quite ready to shoot yet anyway, but I thought “Wow. A moose already in the first hour. This is going to be a short hunt”. Mother nature hates arrogance.
After the moose departed, we continued to still hunt and try a few more calling setups but to no avail. We found no more moose or other animals that morning. But I was in Newfoundland in truly beautiful country with animals I’d rarely seen before. It was a happy place.
We returned to the truck and made the long drive back to camp for lunch and to learn if anyone else found success that morning. We had 8 hunters in camp. Chances are at least one of them tagged an animal on this beautiful morning.
That turned out not to be the case. Surprisingly, while several moose were seen, none were shot. Bert did have a shot at a bull but a couple hours of searching revealed no indication of a hit. He wasn’t sure what happened. They had stopped at the range on the way back to the lodge and his rifle was still sighted properly. He was a little frustrated but you could tell he was an experienced hunters when we shrugged it off with an “it happens”.
The range. Holy smokes! Wade and I looked at each other and realized we forgot to stop on the way back. Oh well. It was a warm day. There would be plenty of time to go on the way to our afternoon hunting spot. In the meantime, perhaps a nap and another of Craig’s fine offerings.
In the afternoon, we did take the time to stop at the nearby range. Trevor and the guides have a simple setup with a bench and a place to mount a target at just under 100 yards.
Nobody is there sighting in a new rifle. The purpose is to make sure the rifle is “on” after the planes, trains, boats, and automobiles required to reach Mayflower Outfitters and the surronding hunting grounds. After Wade hung a target, I lined up a shot and put a few rounds a couple inches high. My rifle was “zeroed” at 200 (meaning it hits dead on at 200 yards). Perfect. “Let’s go find a moose”.
That afternoon we hunted much more classic looking moose grounds. Or at least more classic in my mind. We actually went with plan B because somebody else was hunting where Wade wanted to start. It didn’t seem to matter though.
Everywhere we went there was moose sign. Moose tracks, moose poop, and moose rubs. A “rub” is where a bull moose (or any male deer) has used a tree as sort of it’s own personal home gym. By wedging their antlers against the tree and shoving with their neck and shoulder muscles. This is how the necks of the deer species get so big and swollen during the rut. They essentially become body builders. A moose rub is something to behold for a whitetail hunter. I thought elk rubs were big . . until I saw a moose rub. Of course I failed to take a picture of one but here is an example provided by Google.
We saw super fresh moose sign every where we went that afternoon. In fact we saw all the fresh moose sign one could see without actually seeing a moose. We didn’t even hear a moose. Several times I imagined I heard a cow call but each time it turned out to be an annoying mosquito buzzing in my ear. It seemed like the perfect evening to shoot a moose. The temperatures dropped with the sun, it was quiet, it was time for the peak rut. But nobody told the moose.
Next up: Rain.