I opened my eyes and saw a bit of light streaming onto the balcony in front of our room. I thought it odd until I realized the generator must be on. It was the first morning I’d slept this late. It was Wednesday morning. Day three of hunting and day five of our adventure. The forecast was spot on. It was just a few degrees above freezing with no wind and a thin frost on the ground. It was a hunter’s morning.
I have to admit I wolfed down breakfast quicker than usual not only because I was a bit late but also because I was anxious to head into the field. I felt that today would be the best chance so far to take a moose. The forecast for Thursday was horrible calling for wind and rain. I was hoping not to have to hunt in that.
As Wade drove along the long windy, and (thanks to the rain) increasingly bumpy driveway leading from the lodge, he explained that we’d be returning to where we began Monday morning. He knew there were moose in there. The previous week he and his hunter had walked up on 6 of them including some bulls. While the moose were uninterested in hanging around to exchange pleasantries, at least one of the bulls apparently paused long enough to present a shot. Unfortunately, the hunter failed to completely working the bolt resulting in a loud “click” as the firing pin fell on an empty chamber. Wade was certain those moose would be back.
The beginning of shooting time found us in a familiar spot parked on the two rut road from Monday. I felt supremely confident we would find a moose in short order this morning. I stuffed four rounds into the magazine of my rifle, grabbed my shooting sticks and followed Wade down the trail into the bush. This particular area was sort of open. I think it had been timbered a few years prior and was growing up nicely into a a mix of small trees and thick brush with bogs intermixed throughout. It was the kind of place one would expect to find last night’s moose lingering before taking a daytime nap.
We sneaked quietly along truly expecting to see the form of a moose to either side. Like Monday, we got to a favored stump with pretty good visibility and setup to call. As the echoes from the caller faded, I listened intently for an aggressive bull raking a tree or grunting back at us. We peered into the bogs below. Slowly I turned my head to check behind. It wouldn’t be the first time a game animal arrived from an unexpected location. Wade called again. “ooh aaahhhHHHH”. “ooh aaahhhHHHH”. “ooh aaahhhHHHH”. We watched and waited but still no moose responded. This was the first time during the trip I was a little disappointed. I felt sure the conditions were right to bring a bull boiling in seeking a girlfriend.
We packed up and continued still-hunting. We made our way past the spot where we spotted the Monday moose. I stared at the top of the bank where she had stood. We scoured the surrounding brush. No moose. We continued along expecting the giant, black body of a moose to suddenly appear almost anywhere near us.
The end of the trail, for our purposes, was the last bit of brush and trees before it opened up to a giant, flat bog. The vegetation in the bog was autumn-red. It looked like the place you would expect to see a grazing herd of caribou. I mentioned this to Wade as he hung the speaker for the caller from a branch. Once again the voice of our electric cow moose sang out over the surrounding bogs. There must be a randy bull around here somewhere.
Wade watched toward the South and I the North. I could see several hundred yards across the big bog in front of us and I carefully scanned the distant edges for signs of movement. A cow call is loud and a bull moose will come from a long way away for the chance to procreate. I panned my gaze covering 180 degrees across the horizon. Left . . right. “What is that white patch? I don’t remember seeing that before”. I watched and the white suddenly disappeared. Movement. It’s an animal. I immediately thought “paddle” but when I raised my binoculars expecting to see the head of a big bull moose I realized I was looking at the first caribou I’d ever seen in the wild. It turned out there were three or four, all cows. One cow had small antlers which is not uncommon among caribou. I wondered if there was some sort of stigma associated with this like the caribou equivalent of a female moustache. I suddenly had a Far Side-esque image of products for lady caribou for ” discreet antler removal”.
I was pretty fascinated with the caribou. I watched them for quite a while through my binoculars as Wade continued to work the caller. As far as I know, a full grown bull moose could have walked 15 yards in front of me and, unless it blocked the view through my binos I probably wouldn’t have seen it.
When we had given it enough time, Wade packed up the call and we began a rapid walk back toward the truck. He didn’t say it but it was clear to me he wanted to get somewhere else while we still had a good hunting conditions. The day promised to warm up again as the sun climbed into the sky.
Back on the main road, we drove North a bit more and turned at “the campground”. The campground, at a glance looked like a random spot along a road where a few folks stored old campers. But upon closer examination, a couple of them had decks built around them and were setup to be occupied. It occurred to me that in all of Newfoundland, this muddy hole along a main road was the last place I’d have my camper. But I suspected those that used these shelters did so for much more practical reasons than camping enjoyment.
As we made our way through the campground and continued away from the main road, a logging truck loaded with fresh cut timbers passed going the other way. Through the windshield, we could see fresh moose sign. There were fresh tracks crossing the road here and there and a fresh pile of moose poop right in the middle of the road. Clearly there was some logging traffic here yet we were finding fresh sign. We got the feeling that moose were on the move.
My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. There would only be one reason anyone would be texting me. I hurriedly pulled my phone from my pocket and read a message form Joe saying he had a bull down. I smiled and told Wade that Joe got a bull and we were now hunting any moose, bull or cow. Joe had broken his jinx and I was much more concerned with getting a freezer full of moose meat than adding another set of antlers to the pile in my garage.
We reached a spot in the road where Wade pointed to a trail and said, in his clearest Newfie accent, that we would be coming back to walk that in a bit but he wanted to drive out the road and see if they were still logging. While most of the land is opened all the time to hunting, the exception is when logging is happening. For the safety of the workers, hunting is not allowed in these areas. Yes, we had seen a logging truck exiting but removing logged timber and actively logging are two different things.
It was a beautiful morning. I was in a beautiful place. Wade and I got along well and I was enjoying my week immensely. I daydreamed a bit as we moved along. Somewhere in my head I heard Wade speaking Newfoundland . . something about moose. I assumed he was referring to the moose tracks in the road. My daydream continued . . . more Newfie-speak and the word “moose”, more urgently this time. I looked to the left where there was a large clear cut. In the middle of the clear cut I saw two camels. I realized suddenly there are no camels in my daydream or in Newfoundland. HOLY SMOKES! MOOSE!!!!
Sure enough, there were two giant cow moose standing in the clear cut watching our vehicle. Of all the likely places we expected to find moose this was pretty far down the list. We didn’t expect them to stand around once we stopped the truck and certainly not while I got out with my rifle. But what the heck, why not try? Moose were proving tough to come by. It was perfectly legal to exit the vehicle, cross the road, and try to get a shot. Wade pulled over, I slipped out and softly shut the door. The animals were not likely to put up with our activity for long so I slipped two rounds into my rifle and closed the bolt. I kept as low as I could, crept across the road and surveyed the scene. The moose were intently watching the vehicle. They were only a 120 yards or so off the road. It wasn’t a long shot. I spied a big, flat rock about 15 yards off the road. If I could slip up to that without spooking the moose it would make for a great rest for a stable shot. Keeping low, I crept slowly forward. The moose didn’t seem alarmed. Wade would tell me later they usually don’t stick around that long. As luck would have it, I got to the rock, pulled a glove out of my pocket to pad the rifle stock and hunkered down behind the stock for a prone shot.
I am an experienced enough shooter not to get too close to the scope when shooting prone. Virtually every rifleman out there at one point receives a scope shiner.
This occurs most often when shooting prone because the nature of the position puts the shooter’s eye much closer to the scope. All is well until the trigger is pulled and the gun recoils rearward driving the rim of the scope into the eyebrow. This is a mistake only made once.
Keeping my eye safely back from the scope, I picked out the right most moose. The other was obscured behind a cluster of small birch trees. These small birches were left standing throughout the clear cut and one of them was directly behind the shoulder of the moose I planned to shoot. I had two choices. I could either wait for it to take a step forward or aim slightly in front of the shoulder. I felt that if she took a step she wasn’t going to stop for a while. I also had a slight quartering-toward angle so felt shooting in front of the shoulder would get the job done. I could shoot the shoulder itself but it was awfully close to that tree and shooting the shoulder tends to break bone and destroy a lot of meat.
I put my cross hairs low and just in front of the shoulder, took a breath, let part out and squeezed the trigger. The rifle barked and the report from my faithful .30-06 echoed across the clear cut. The moose didn’t flinch. It turned toward me and then began a trot to the left. I worked the bolt, stood and shot again. Again the moose didn’t react. I was cursing the the fact that I only loaded two rounds and was also considering putting my hand over the end of the barrel to see if anything was coming out. I focused on jamming a couple more rounds into the gun as the moose departed uphill toward the tree line. I raised the rifle and found it in the scope. It slowed as it neared the trees. My theory has always been when I think I’ve hit an animal, to keep shooting as long as it is upright, moving, and I can safely shoot. The moose turned slightly and I could see the side a bit. I squeezed off an ineffective shot as it disappeared into the woods.
I turned and looked at Wade. We were both pretty sure I had hit the moose with the first shot and probably the second. It was only a bit after 9:00 a.m. We had all day and it was not going to rain. We decided to wait a half hour before nearing the woods. That timber was thick, and if the moose was hit, and still alive when we neared it, it was likely to disappear into the thick timber never to be seen again.
I suggested we go examine the spot where it was standingwhen I shot. We could look for blood or other signs of a hit. Wade agreed that that was far enough from where we last saw the animal that we wouldn’t disturb anything. We walked into the clear cut and I was immediately disheartened. Nothing. We found no blood where I thought she was standing. We found a fresh set of tracks that appeared to be the right ones and followed them a bit. The clear cut was covered in down tree tops, holes, and rocks. To see the moose cross it gave the impression that it was flat and smooth but it was difficult to walk through. Following the tracks we suddenly found a big wad of hair from the moose’s mane. This wasn’t good, not a fatal hit at all. But was that the first or second shot? I looked back toward the rock I had shot from and felt pretty confident that this must be the second shot. Still, why was there no sign of a hit from the first shot?
The wind blew cold and we decided to sit in the truck while we waited. When I was a child, I thought the time spent waiting for Santa were the slowest minutes to ever tick by. But this 30 minute wait was agonizing. No hunter likes the thought of wounding an animal. We strive for a quick, clean kill. If the moose wasn’t dead in the edge of the woods I hoped I had missed altogether. But my gun and I are a pretty accurate combination and it had been an easy shot. I was puzzled by the lack of a reaction. Wade mentioned that the moose looked to be slowing down a good bit as it neared the woods. I had thought the same.
Finally, at 9:30 I loaded my rifle and headed toward the woods. Wade had marked the last spot he had seen the moose and directed me as I neared the wood line. A little more East. A little more. GOOD! Wade waved his arms to indicate I was there. I turned back toward the trees, looked down and there on a green leaf was a bright red splash of blood. Wade was making his way through the clear cut to where I was. While I waited I scanned the thick woods. There was no sign of a dead moose but I couldn’t see that far either. The forest was covered with a mint green, spongy moss. I blood trailed with my eyes seeing increasingly bigger splashes of blood here and there on the moss ahead of me. I was starting to feel optimistic.
Wade arrived and, after pointing out the blood trail, I whispered that I thought I should take point with a loaded round in the chamber. As an experienced bowhunter I am a pretty good blood trailer and if the moose made a run for it there wouldn’t be much time to get off another shot. Wade agreed and we proceeded into the dense timber. Step by step, I’d spot the next bit of blood and move forward. Wade marked the trail behind with orange surveyors tape. We made our way slowly about 25 yards from the edge when Wade said “Pete”! I looked back and he was pointing ahead through the dense trees. I peered in the direction he pointed searching for a body.
With dozens of dead deer under my belt, I’m pre-programmed to look close to the ground. Deer tend to make themselves small when they die often using a last gasp to dive into thick cover. I searched the dark woods ahead but wasn’t immediately seeing what Wade had. I tried to look past the big dark mound of dirt that obscured the trail. Mound of dirt!? That’s a moose on the ground! Wade asked if it was dead. I studied it with my binoculars and could see the legs sprawled out as if it went down in stride. I watched the body for telltale signs of breathing. There was no movement. “I think so”, I said. Wade looked as well, and then said out loud. “It’s dead”. We had our moose!
I was elated as I unloaded my rifle, high-fived Wade, and moved forward. I came up behind the moose and thought that it looked a lot like a hippo from behind. It was enormous. Suddenly, I got hit with a tremendous case of freezer panic. This was going to produce a lot of meat! Wade and I shook hands and the next thing I knew he was on the phone and Jake was on his way. Out of nowhere, Wade produced a full sized cross cut saw. The moose lay in some fairly thick trees, fortunately none big. Wade cut the few immediately around the cow to give us some room to work. Once done, we snapped a few pictures and then the work of gutting the animal began. Now that we were hanging my tag on a moose Wade became a talker. Apparently he had been saving up because we talked the whole time he worked.
We got the animal field dressed, and ready to be quartered, and scouted out the path of least resistance back to the clearing.
When Jake arrived, he had a chain saw that would be used to a) clear enough trees to get the ATV in to where he moose was b) quickly quarter up the big animal to bite-sized pieces. Or at least ATV-sized pieces. I was amazed how efficiently Wade and Jake worked to get the usable parts of the moose cut up and loaded into the big ATV. Within 90 minutes of my shot, we were riding back out the resource road with four big hunks of moose.
While Wade and Jake worked, I had taken the opportunity to perform a bit of an autopsy. I was curious why the moose had not reacted at all to the shots and while it was able to go so far without showing signs of being hit. I also wanted to know where the killing shot was. It turns out the first shot was a winner hitting right where I aimed, and taking out the lungs. Despite it’s last march into the trees, the moose had died quickly. That was a bit of a relief. The mane hair we found could be explained by the second shot which hit near the top of the shoulder and skimmed the moose’s back. By itself it would not have been lethal. Despite the first shot being solid, I was a bit annoyed with the second one. I am typically a pretty fair shot offhand.
It was clear that I had made a poor bullet choice. In the aforementioned elk hunt when we first met John, I had killed a bull elk with the same rifle using 180 grain Remington Core-Lokt. Core-Lokt are my go-to bullet for deer but in the 150 grain variety. The 180 grain are built for tougher animals and they had done a superb job anchoring my elk almost where it stood.
But in the process of removing the front quarters of the elk we had recovered what was left of both rounds. They had completely expended themselves with no exit hole. I had been concerned that moose were bigger, tougher animals than elk and perhaps I should choose a more stout bullet. After a bit of research and testing I landed on the 180 grain Barnes Vor-tx. This round uses a solid copper expanding bullet
instead of the traditional jacketed lead two-piece construction of the Core-Lokt. I had read impressive reports of this round’s ability to expand, do solid damage to moose-sized game, yet not destroy a bunch of meat. But on my moose, the bullet clearly never opened. The ribs on either side showed the same size hole for both the entrance and exit. While the bullet did pass completely through, it had made a very small impact providing no shock since the bullet never mushroomed. Perhaps if I had chosen to shoot through the shoulder results may have been different, but I decided I’d have been ultimately better off staying with the tried and true Remington Core-Lokt.
Next: What to do after a successful hunt?