The Big 3

Having taken three of North America's moose species, OL's hunting editor shares his adventures and tips.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

There's an old adage in big-game hunting: The fun is over when you pull the trigger. Apply that to moose and it becomes a profound understatement. When describing the three Boone and Crockett Club subspecies of moose in North America-the Shiras, Canada and Alaska-Yukon-there are only three words: big, bigger and biggest, in that order.

Because I have a serious weakness for moose hunting, I was overjoyed when I finally drew a tag for a Shiras bull in Utah after some 20 years of applying. The following summer, I headed to Canada for the next subspecies and a week after that I hunted Alaska for the big boy, hunting all three in the course of one year.

With 11 moose hunts under my belt, my first in 1971, I'm familiar with another adage: The best moose is the one that falls closest to the road, or at least on the uphill side of the road. When you hunt these largest members of the deer family, it's also prudent to bring along some buddies who don't have back problems.

An Easy Shiras
Utah doesn't appear to be a likely state for moose, but this arid place has an enormous amount of quality moose habitat, with millions of acres of forests and an abundance of willow-choked waterways. I'd been applying for years, first as a resident, then as a nonresident after moving to Wyoming in 1985. I finally struck pay dirt in 2001, when I received a precious once-in-a-lifetime tag in an area I was fairly well acquainted with. My original plan was to camp on public land and hunt my moose solo. Several outfitters had invited me to hunt with them, but I was determined to hunt alone. Chalk it up to the challenge of testing my physical capabilities or to advancing senility-it was something I just wanted to do.

My camping plans were dashed when 9/11 came along. I postponed the hunt for several days, staying glued to the TV, as most Americans were. Instead of overnighting in the woods by myself in my small RV travel trailer, I stayed in motels in small towns close to the hunting unit so I could keep abreast of the news.

I also have to admit that my heart wasn't in the hunt, even with that rare moose tag sitting in my pocket.

For two days I checked out willow bottoms that had plenty of moose sign. I saw several moose, but they were either small bulls or cows and calves. At one point I decided to hike up a pretty drainage. I'd walked about two miles when I suddenly wondered what I'd do if I killed a moose that far from my pickup truck. I headed to the road, concentrating my efforts where I could drive close to a moose. All my hunting was on public land.

On day three, just as shooting light arrived, I saw a bull and two cow moose walking toward me alongside the road. They quickly ducked into a willow swamp, but the bull glared at me from about 10 yards away when I stopped my truck and looked at him. He had a 40-inch rack. I passed, figuring he would be an ace in the hole if I didn't see a bigger moose and if he stayed in that spot.

The rest of the day was uneventful, and the terrorist attack was still foremost on my mind. I wanted this hunt to be over with and decided that if I saw the bull I had passed on, I'd take him. Sure enough, when I went looking for him I spotted a bedded cow staring at me about 200 yards away; I had a hunch the bull would be close. He was. Through my binoculars I saw only the tops of his antlers.

I crossed a stream, slipped through the willows and eased toward the animals. When I was out of the high brush and could see better, I spotted the cow looking directly at me. The bull was on his feet, staring at the cow. I shouldered my Remington .300 Short-Action Ultra Mag and squeezed the trigger, and my Utah moose hunt was over.

The bull fell in a place where there were no trees, just pencil-thin willow bushes. I had a lightweight pulley system to help in the field-dressing chore, but there was nothi stout enough to hook it to, and it was getting dark. With a whole lot of straining and cussing, I managed to remove the innards, finishing the job in the dark.

The next day, a man and woman stopped by and offered to help. With ropes and winches, we were able to move the carcass close to the stream, and I worked alone for the better part of the day to skin and bone it and load it in the truck.

[pagebreak] B.C. Horseback Moose
When outfitter Les Parsons (250-783-9457) suggested I try a moose hunt with him in mid-August, I thought he was kidding. The notion of hunting moose in the heat of summer with plenty of bugs was something I hadn't considered before. I took him up on it. I drove to Hudson's Hope, British Columbia, which is just off the Alaska Highway, and immediately headed to a remote cabin on horseback with my guide, A.J. Johnson. The plan was to hunt from horses as well as afoot.

Opening day was August 15. Early that morning we rode away from the cabin and eased around the woods, looking for moose around willow and alder thickets. Nothing showed, so we tried a tactic I'd never heard of before. We sat in a tree stand overlooking a mineral lick, but evidently we had arrived too late. When we slipped in to the lick, a torn-up piece of landscape measuring 30 feet square, the water was still muddy from animal activity. It looked like an army of moose had been there. We also saw fresh elk and black bear tracks. Les said that moose often used the lick all day, so A.J. and I watched, but the wind was wrong. We left the lick and looked for animals in willowy areas.

We had hardly left camp the next morning when I saw a small bull just a few hundred yards away. Nothing eventful happened the rest of the day, though we rode a dozen miles on horseback and sat over the lick. Only a cow and calf moose came in.

For two more days we rode horseback into several drainages but saw only cows and calves. We saw tracks made by mature bulls, but the animals were glued to the densest thickets.

A.J. decided to move to another camp, so we packed our gear and rode our horses to a tent camp about five miles away where a pair of 50-inch bulls were spotted when the guides were maintaining trails.

But luck wasn't with us. We saw some cows and calves, but no bulls. Les was at camp when we got in that night, and he told us he'd found several bulls in an old burn. He wanted A.J. and me to meet him in the morning at a spot where Les was guiding another hunter. The other hunter's wife had taken a bull, and they had passed on several. Les was confident that we'd see bulls in the morning.

When A.J. and I met them, they had been watching a pair of bulls a half mile away in the burn. Les asked if I'd take a bull that was about 36 inches wide, and when I emphatically agreed, we worked our way to the moose that were now out of sight.

We had gone several hundred yards when a fog bank rolled in. Unable to continue, we waited for it to waft away. An hour later we could see more clearly and headed for where the moose were last spotted.

As luck would have it, both moose suddenly appeared no more than 60 yards away. Coordinating our efforts, the other hunter shot the first and I took the second. I used the same Remington .300 I'd hunted with in Utah, and both moose dropped instantly. That was the first time I ever saw a double on moose, and it was a first for Les as well.

[pagebreak] An Alaska Monster
Kelly Vrem flew the little Super Cub low over the tundra and pointed out our camp, which consisted of a pair of small two-man tents. After making a circle, the outfitter put the plane down on the tundra, and we were greeted by my guide, Jack Preston. Preston is a tall, tough guy who knows his way around Alaska. He came highly regarded, and I was impressed with him from the outset. When you're in a place where help is 50 miles away, you want to be with someone who knows what to do when the chips are down.

Soon after my arrival, my good buddy and booking agent Jack Atcheson Sr. (406-782-3498) was flown in by Kelly in his Cub, which accommodated only one person beside the pilot. Next, Kelly flew in Dwight Van Brunt, head of public relations for Kimber Arms.

We were hunting moose in a remote part of Alaska accessible only by airplane. Atcheson came along to hang out with me-he wasn't interested in shooting a moose. The veteran hunter and I are pals, and it was always good to have him along as a companion. Dwight was looking for a moose bigger than the 63-incher he had shot in Alaska the year before.

The strategy was simple. We'd climb each morning to the top of a mountain, where we'd look for moose. It would be a glassing game, and we wouldn't make a move until we spotted an interesting bull. The area we hunted required a bull to be 50 inches wide, but I was hoping for something similar to my best, a 63-incher I'd taken in Alaska a few years back.

For eight days we climbed the mountain behind camp and glassed, and sometimes we hiked several miles to other mountains. On several occasions we worked our way through a horrid tangle of alders that almost defied human penetration. We crawled through wicked clumps of saplings that twisted and turned out of the ground, creating a mosaic of gnarly, nasty walls of vegetation that make you want to say uncle.

We saw plenty of moose, several better than 50 inches, but none wore the kind of antlers that motivated us to stalk into the brush. Rain was an everyday occurrence. We learned to live with wet socks and damp sleeping bags. Our spike camp was comfortable, but we had to tolerate the soggy climate. I often longed for dry clothes, wondering what it would be like to truly be warm again.

On the ninth day, Kelly flew in and suggested that Preston and I try a new drainage. The wind was dicey, and Kelly told us we'd need to travel as light as possible to make a safe landing. Preston and I packed up a tent, our sleeping bags and a bare minimum of gear. Soon we were ferried to the new drainage. Atcheson opted to stay in camp with Dwight and another guide that Kelly had flown in.

We had only one more day to hunt when my guide and I crawled out of the tent into the wet darkness. Dawn was just a hint of gray when we climbed a slope above camp, but only after fighting our way through a confounded alder jungle.

Preston and I had hiked about 400 yards above the valley we were camped in when I heard a moose grunting below us. In the dim light I could see the pale antlers of a big bull. The bull was watching us, apparently unaware of our identity.

Using vegetation as a screen, we slid down the mountain, and the bull never moved. When we were 200 yards away, I is 50 miles away, you want to be with someone who knows what to do when the chips are down.

Soon after my arrival, my good buddy and booking agent Jack Atcheson Sr. (406-782-3498) was flown in by Kelly in his Cub, which accommodated only one person beside the pilot. Next, Kelly flew in Dwight Van Brunt, head of public relations for Kimber Arms.

We were hunting moose in a remote part of Alaska accessible only by airplane. Atcheson came along to hang out with me-he wasn't interested in shooting a moose. The veteran hunter and I are pals, and it was always good to have him along as a companion. Dwight was looking for a moose bigger than the 63-incher he had shot in Alaska the year before.

The strategy was simple. We'd climb each morning to the top of a mountain, where we'd look for moose. It would be a glassing game, and we wouldn't make a move until we spotted an interesting bull. The area we hunted required a bull to be 50 inches wide, but I was hoping for something similar to my best, a 63-incher I'd taken in Alaska a few years back.

For eight days we climbed the mountain behind camp and glassed, and sometimes we hiked several miles to other mountains. On several occasions we worked our way through a horrid tangle of alders that almost defied human penetration. We crawled through wicked clumps of saplings that twisted and turned out of the ground, creating a mosaic of gnarly, nasty walls of vegetation that make you want to say uncle.

We saw plenty of moose, several better than 50 inches, but none wore the kind of antlers that motivated us to stalk into the brush. Rain was an everyday occurrence. We learned to live with wet socks and damp sleeping bags. Our spike camp was comfortable, but we had to tolerate the soggy climate. I often longed for dry clothes, wondering what it would be like to truly be warm again.

On the ninth day, Kelly flew in and suggested that Preston and I try a new drainage. The wind was dicey, and Kelly told us we'd need to travel as light as possible to make a safe landing. Preston and I packed up a tent, our sleeping bags and a bare minimum of gear. Soon we were ferried to the new drainage. Atcheson opted to stay in camp with Dwight and another guide that Kelly had flown in.

We had only one more day to hunt when my guide and I crawled out of the tent into the wet darkness. Dawn was just a hint of gray when we climbed a slope above camp, but only after fighting our way through a confounded alder jungle.

Preston and I had hiked about 400 yards above the valley we were camped in when I heard a moose grunting below us. In the dim light I could see the pale antlers of a big bull. The bull was watching us, apparently unaware of our identity.

Using vegetation as a screen, we slid down the mountain, and the bull never moved. When we were 200 yards away, I