After 10 days in a British Columbia moose camp you begin to appreciate the Canadian sense of humor. Me to the outfitter: “What’s the plan for tomorrow morning?”
Outfitter: “Shoot a moose.” Me to the camp cook: “What’s for dinner tonight?”
Cook: “Something hot” Me to my guide (pictured here carefully examining maps of our hunting area): “What are we going to do today?”
Guide: “Shoot a moose.” When the hunt is post-rut and the moose aren’t punch-drunk with lust, you also begin to appreciate the survival instincts of a big bull. Here’s the story of my hunt in the mountains outside of Prince George, BC and the tactics and gear I needed to get a bull.
Moose get a bad rap for being easy to kill. They might be easy to kill during the rut when all you have to do is find fresh sign and then start calling like a moose version of Kim Kardashian. But once the rut ends, bulls become much less responsive to calling and their priorities become food and safety. They spend the middle of the day in thick timber (like the woods pictured here) and only moving at dusk and dawn. To kill one, your best option is a combination of snow tracking and spot and stalk hunting.
This is a bull moose track and for 10 straight days, the sole concern in my life. Bull tracks are bigger and more rounded in the front than a cow’s. Also, it’s more common to see the dew claws in a bull’s track. Bulls are typically heavier and push deeper into snow or mud than a cow. While it’s impossible to tell for certain whether a given print was made by a cow or bull, my guide was pretty damn good at it. With fresh snow, he could be about 90 percent sure one way or the other.
Besides being able to tell that you’re following a bull’s track, you also need to know how far ahead of you he is. Obviously fresh, warm scat is a good sign. Warm pee is good too (on a side note, a bull’s pee goes straight down so there will be one hole in the snow, cows will have a line of pee in the snow). When it comes to tracks, unmelted water at the bottom is a good sign. Snow in the bottom of the track from wind or a snowstorm is a bad sign. A good tip for beginners is too look at your own tracks in the snow. If the moose tracks look similar to yours in freshness, that’s good.
The general game plan was to glass old logging cuts for feeding bulls at first light or just before sunset and then stalk close enough for a shot. If that didn’t work, we would try to cut fresh tracks and walk down a bull. For direction, we got maps like this from the outfitter. It’s a rough sketch sure, but it’s actually incredibly accurate. The outfitter drew a bull on the map and I ended up spotting mine about 300 yards from his mark.
This sort of hunting required a lot of tough hiking. We didn’t put on a massive amount of miles, but we trekked through heavy snow, incredibly thick spruce, pine and alder willow stands and climbed up some pretty steep hills. This is outfitter Ken Watson after one especially long hike.
But the climbing afforded us some spectacular views. When most people think moose hunting, they think low-country swamps and river bottoms. But we found moose at the tops of these low mountains up at 4,000 to 5,000 feet.
Moose aren’t difficult to spot until they’re a mile away from you. Clear, light optics were a must. I was armed with a the Weaver Super Slam 8.5×45. One factor I’ve always underestimated when it comes to glass is durability. That was until this hunt. On this trip we were beating through alders, climbing over blowdowns, hunting in mud, snow and rain, so dainty glass simply would not have survived.
Another crucial piece of gear: big-ass, four-wheel drive vehicles. The general rule of thumb is to never shoot a moose more than a mile away from the road (because moose are big, very big). On hoof, bulls in the area we hunted weighed about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. That means we were packing out anywhere from 600 to 800 pounds of weight. But late in the season, smart bulls that are tired of getting chased and shot at move away from the roads.
So we amended the old rule of thumb. We would shoot a moose anywhere that was less than one mile away from a spot where we thought we could get a quad if we had to. Once a bull went down, it was time to get out the shovels and chainsaws.
This is guide Dale Orlinus, one of the best timber hunters in the area. Dale walks down moose, following them for miles until he gets up close to them and then doesn’t shoot them. He tracks and stalks them for fun. Besides having a stealthy walk, an excellent eye for game, years of bush experience, and deep understanding of animal behavior, Dale was better at stalking moose than I was because of his clothes. He wears wool for an outer layer. You’ll get wet wearing wool, but it will keep you warm and most importantly, quiet. Think that new “super quiet” rain gear of yours won’t scare game? Put your suit on and then take an alder willow and whip it against your leg. If you can hear the thwap, so can a moose.
Moose are not dumb. For tens of thousands of years moose have only had to deal with predators that were within 50 yards of them, so they generally don’t pay a lot of attention to a hunter stalking in from 200 yards off. And from an evolutionary standpoint, they’re actually brilliant. Most scientists agree that moose travelled across the Bering Strait to North America about 14,000 years ago as the glaciers retreated back to the poles from the last ice age. Along with moose came wooly mammoths, mastodons, giant beavers, giant armadillos and saber-tooth tigers. Mammals were generally larger during that time period (including the moose, which was 1.25 times larger) but now almost all of those large mammals have gone extinct. Except of course, for the moose, the largest member of the deer family, which are still going strong.
While moose have an incredible sense of smell, hearing and can run 35 mph, they don’t have very good eyesight. This cow was only about 30 yards away and she never saw me, even though I was only sitting behind one thin pine tree.
I began to see just how smart moose are after hunting them hard for five days, and seeing just one shooter bull through a spotting scope from a mile away. We tried tracking in the timber. We hiked and glassed, drove and glassed. We tried calling. We tried sitting and waiting. But we saw no bulls. We put elk hunting numbers on our boots, and trekked about 20 kilometers on day three. I knew we were hunting hard when my guide Colin Niemeyer (who made his career guiding sheep in the BC mountains) wanted to take a 10-minute siesta after lunch on the fourth day. I didn’t complain.
But that’s not to say we didn’t get close to bulls. On the second day we cut two fresh bull tracks going up a logging road with about two hours left of daylight. The bulls were headed up the mountain to a logging cut to feed for the night. We slipped in on them and followed them into the cut when a freak thunderstorm rolled in on us. Not sure what to do, we kept moving up on the track as the sky flashed above us. With the crashing thunder, the bulls headed into thick, un-stalkable timber and left us with two miles to hike back to camp as the storm cleared up. This photo is of the sunset we left behind.
Then early on the sixth day, Colin spotted a big bull on a ridge across from us. The bull was working his way across the top of a logging cut at the edge of the timber a little less than a mile away. Hoping to catch him before he headed into the timber we dropped all our gear, minus a rifle and range finder, and booked it down our ridge and up the other one. But we were too late. By the time we got up there the only trace of him was his tracks.
I climbed on top of a stump and Colin gave a cow call. We waited about 10 minutes hoping the bull would come out but he didn’t. “Now the fun starts,” he said and we quietly slipped into the timber.
After about 45 minutes we crested the ridge and the timber gave way to another old logging cut. Colin got out to the cut first, glimpsed to his left and put up his hands as if he were holding an imaginary gun. We were on the bull. I moved as quickly and quietly as I could and turned the corner to see a beautiful bull moose standing broadside, 20 yards away. At 20 yards a bull moose with his towering rack looks about the size of a stegosaurus and even at two power he filled my scope. The bull had heard Colin’s cow calls and was puffed up on display, his rack rocking slowly back and forth. But there was a clump of alders infront of his vitals and I hesitated on the shot.
It’s hard to comprehend just how massive a moose actually is. When you walk up to a bull that you’ve shot, it puts you in a state of awe. You want to just sit for a second and soak up the experience, and that’s exactly what we did. Then we got to the business of quartering and packing the animal, which was an experience I was thankful to have had, but not one I wanted to soak up. When we finally got the bull back to camp, I didn’t feel some swell of accomplishment like one would expect after taking such a massive animal at the end of a hard hunt. No chest pumping pride here. What I actually felt was exhausted, and truly thankful to have been able to follow the tracks of these great deer of the North.
About the Gun
Make/Model: Kimber Model 8400 Magnum
Caliber: 300 Win. Mag The Montana was the perfect kind of gun this sort of a hunt. It’s stainless steel barreled action and Kevlar-carbon fiber stock stood up to the punishment I put it through (at one point I had it bungee corded to the back of a quad while I was ripping through alder willows).
About the Bullet
I shot Federal’s Trophy Bonded Tip at 180 grains. The bullet has been out since 2008 and is the successor of the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw. The bullet’s jacket is bonded to it’s core for high weight retention and has a solid copper core to prevent over expansion. This is a fancy way of saying that if you shoot a moose in the shoulder at 20 yards, your bullet won’t fracture to pieces when it hits bone. As you can see from this upset we took out of my moose, they actually do work.
If You Go …
Opatcho Lake Outfitters
Outfitter Ken Watson has been working in the area for 21 years and specializes in moose. His lodge is clean and comfortable and he’s got the nicest camp shower that I’ve ever seen. His guides are all friendly and highly skilled in all matters of moose hunting. One of the guys had his truck die and was able to drive it backwards down a hill at 25 mph with limited brakes. Needless to say, I was impressed by the whole operation.
When the rut is over, tracking an old bull through the timber is your best option.