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British Columbia Backcountry: The Moose Hunt

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October 24, 2013
British Columbia Backcountry: The Moose Hunt - 10

Editor's Note: Outdoor Life Editor Andrew McKean traveled to extreme northern British Columbia earlier this month for two weeks of hunting big Canadian moose, mountain caribou, and grizzly bears. Here’s the story of his moose hunt. Stay tuned for galleries of his experiences in caribou and grizzly country.

Everything used in Reg and Ray Collingwood’s camps (www.collingwoodbros.com) gets there either on horseback, on a jetboat, or in the cargo hold of a backcountry plane. Here, we load essentials—groceries, toilet paper, and guns—into a Cessna Caravan for the 210-mile flight from Smithers, British Columbia to the Collingwood Brothers base camp at Hyland Post, an old log-cabin trading post on the banks of the Spatsizi River that serves as the home base for Collingwood’s various hunting camps.

No plane trip into the wilderness is wasted. The airplane that brings us in is immediately prepped to take out hunters from the previous week. What I see—bags of moose and caribou meat and some truly remarkable antlers—encourages me for my own hunt. I’ll be in the Spatsizi for the next two weeks, with tags for moose, mountain caribou, grizzly bear, and wolf in my pocket.


My cabin at base camp. I won’t be here long. Soon after I settle in I learn that tomorrow I’ll be riding a saddle horse more than 20 miles to the moose spike camp.


And I have another surprise. Shortly after I sight in my rifle, a Savage Model 116 chambered in .300 Win. Mag, my guide, a French-Canadian cowboy named Max Gauthier, finds me to tell me to get my rifle and hunting pack together. We’re going to hike above Hyland Post to see if we can find a bull moose that had seen a few days prior. We climb above the airstrip and call to a lone cow. It’s the height of the moose rut, and wherever you find cows, rutting bulls should be nearby. Here, Max displays his homemade moose antlers while he grunts. But his performance gets no attention. There’s no bull within earshot.


The next day we prepare our pack string for the trail. Here, Max balances panniers that we’ll load on the pack stock.


Three of us saddle up for the trail: Max, myself, and our wrangler, Tania Millen. Here, Millen leads her part of the string across the Spatsizi River. We have enough gear and groceries to stay out for 9 nights. Just how long we spend in spike camp depends on the amount of game we see, and collect.


It’s hard describe just how big this country is. The best way to measure it is in the context of our mode of transportation. We rode a full day to reach our spike camp. But the area we’ll be hunting extends another two days horseback ride. There’s not another hunter in this entire drainage. But the epic scale of it puts a premium on good optics. Max and I spend a lot of time behind our binoculars, both in the saddle and on the ground.


On our first day of hunting, Max and I were planning to ride half a day and glass an immensity of blueberry bushes for bear. But we were only about three miles from camp when I looked to my right and spotted a pair of creamy antlers against a dark spruce tree. A second look confirmed they belonged to a good bull moose. How good? I had to bail off my horse, Amos, for a closer look. Max confirmed that he was a great bull, and after I put two 180-grain Federal Trophy Copper bullets into him from inside 200 yards, I could see up close just how big his antlers were.


He’s a grand old bull, and one of the largest mammals I’ve brought to earth. It takes some real horsepower to move his carcass so we can position him for photos and start taking apart his quarters.


We tape his spread at 59-5/8 inches. Since then, I’ve been rounding up. A 60-inch bull is the gold standard of trophy moose from this part of B.C. He’s simply immense, with huge double 4-point fronts and paddles that extend way beyond the length of my rifle.


Time—and daylight—is going fast, so we make quick work of our other chores: tagging the moose and removing his quarters, backstrap, and tenderloins. We have no pack horses with us, so we’ll have to return in the morning for the meat. We cut branches from nearby aspen trees and build simple platforms for the quarters. They allow the cool night air to circulate under the meat and cool it down. We hang vests above the carcass. Both Max and I are nervous about leaving so much meat in the field, where it’s easily available to bears, wolves, and even wolverines.


But we return early in the morning to the welcome sight of unmolested meat. It’s cooled down beautifully, and so we begin the welcome chore of packing heavy quarters in panniers. Here, Max and I “short-quarter” the hind sections, cutting away the lower leg bone.


We pack the meat—well over 300 pounds in all—in panniers on two horses, and add the rack to the top of Archie’s load.


Back at camp, I prep the skull and rack for a European mount. While this is my largest moose, I resist the urge to cape him out for a shoulder mount. To my eye, a skull mount shows off the size and nobility of a moose better than the bulbous nose and pendulous dewlap of a big bull.


We hunt a few more days for grizzly and caribou, but that experience is the stuff of another gallery. With full packs of moose meat, the return ride to Hyland Post is slow.


And it ends with another crossing of the Spatsizi River. To my mind, there is no more classic big-game scene than this: leading a pack horse laden with meat and antlers across a big wild river.

Comments (10)

Top Rated
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from HuntingEditor wrote 37 weeks 22 hours ago

Good call, LovesOutdoors. I'm going to suggest that to Max.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from LovesOutdoors wrote 37 weeks 2 days ago

Andrew, Guide Max Gauthier is dressed in a moose brown shirt and holding up fake wooden moose palm antlers in one of your photos.

I realize your back in the wilderness but another hunter from another guided camp, seeing Gauthier from a distance could mistakenly shoot at the man. If moose are color blind I would wear an orange hat for safety or paint the wood palms orange.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 37 weeks 3 days ago

...and Schmakenzie - I realize (most) every day how lucky I am. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this British Columbia hunt - a high and wild hunt for mountain caribou. Not quite so lucky!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 37 weeks 3 days ago

A couple things:
First, Gary - yes, we agree with you that this scrolling read is the best way to present photo galleries. I'm with you - the click-through galleries get pretty tedious. So look for more of this sort of presentation. Thanks for your comments. We are listening.

Second, the Savage worked marvelously. It's not a lovely gun, but the stainless steel barrel and action and the hard-wearing synthetic stock is what you want in the North Country in the snowy, drippy fall. It rained on us every day, but the rifle never rusted or malfunctioned because of the elements. It's a little heavy, but a great scabbard rifle, especially when you are riding for hours through whippy, dripping willows and spruce limbs.

Andrew McKean

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from LovesOutdoors wrote 37 weeks 4 days ago

Andrew McKean Congratulations on your trophy bull moose.
Your first photo shown with your moose and the snow capped mountains in the background is awesome picture.
It sounds like it was a super hunting trip in a beautiful wilderness.

Outdoor Life Staff, I like being able to scroll down viewing all the photos and reading the story at the same time. It is so much better then clicking on one photo at a time and waiting for each photo to appear.
Thank You, Gary

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from superdough wrote 37 weeks 6 days ago

Awesome experience, awesome Moose. Congrats.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 38 weeks 4 hours ago

You not only get a dream job, but dream hunts too? I hope you know how lucky of a guy you are. Nice read too.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 38 weeks 8 hours ago

I agree, this is great. What a moose! Perhaps you could comment on how the Savage worked for you on the hunt?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from The Captain wrote 38 weeks 18 hours ago

Great story! I really want a moose, but I am afraid that trip is still a few years away.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from cjohnsrud wrote 38 weeks 21 hours ago

That is freakin awesome! Great story with pictures to enhance the feeling of being there.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from cjohnsrud wrote 38 weeks 21 hours ago

That is freakin awesome! Great story with pictures to enhance the feeling of being there.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from The Captain wrote 38 weeks 18 hours ago

Great story! I really want a moose, but I am afraid that trip is still a few years away.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 38 weeks 4 hours ago

You not only get a dream job, but dream hunts too? I hope you know how lucky of a guy you are. Nice read too.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 37 weeks 3 days ago

A couple things:
First, Gary - yes, we agree with you that this scrolling read is the best way to present photo galleries. I'm with you - the click-through galleries get pretty tedious. So look for more of this sort of presentation. Thanks for your comments. We are listening.

Second, the Savage worked marvelously. It's not a lovely gun, but the stainless steel barrel and action and the hard-wearing synthetic stock is what you want in the North Country in the snowy, drippy fall. It rained on us every day, but the rifle never rusted or malfunctioned because of the elements. It's a little heavy, but a great scabbard rifle, especially when you are riding for hours through whippy, dripping willows and spruce limbs.

Andrew McKean

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 38 weeks 8 hours ago

I agree, this is great. What a moose! Perhaps you could comment on how the Savage worked for you on the hunt?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from superdough wrote 37 weeks 6 days ago

Awesome experience, awesome Moose. Congrats.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from LovesOutdoors wrote 37 weeks 4 days ago

Andrew McKean Congratulations on your trophy bull moose.
Your first photo shown with your moose and the snow capped mountains in the background is awesome picture.
It sounds like it was a super hunting trip in a beautiful wilderness.

Outdoor Life Staff, I like being able to scroll down viewing all the photos and reading the story at the same time. It is so much better then clicking on one photo at a time and waiting for each photo to appear.
Thank You, Gary

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 37 weeks 3 days ago

...and Schmakenzie - I realize (most) every day how lucky I am. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this British Columbia hunt - a high and wild hunt for mountain caribou. Not quite so lucky!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from LovesOutdoors wrote 37 weeks 2 days ago

Andrew, Guide Max Gauthier is dressed in a moose brown shirt and holding up fake wooden moose palm antlers in one of your photos.

I realize your back in the wilderness but another hunter from another guided camp, seeing Gauthier from a distance could mistakenly shoot at the man. If moose are color blind I would wear an orange hat for safety or paint the wood palms orange.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 37 weeks 22 hours ago

Good call, LovesOutdoors. I'm going to suggest that to Max.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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