An Alaskan Moose Hunt Ends in Frustration

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“Right here he comes.”

I turned to my buddy Frank and his dad, Hugh. Hugh had his pre-64 Model 70 Winchester .30/06 rested atop the canoe paddle that we’d been utilizing to rake brush. The guttural grunts of the bull moose have been getting sharper and louder in a steady cadence that was solely interrupted by the beating of brush and his antlers pinging on the spruce bushes he was plowing by means of—and proper towards us.

Not 50 yards from our tent, we stood beside a bundle of younger birch saplings, trying by means of a tangle of pecker poles, a still-standing thicket of black spruce that had been stripped of their limbs and bark by a wildfire. We have been simply ending establishing camp once I first heard the bull raking his antlers a number of hundred yards away. Now we had him approaching a string.

I noticed certainly one of his antler paddles move by means of a gap in a thick patch of bushes, maybe 150 yards away. He effortlessly pushed by means of the timber, and when he emerged, his huge antlers have been rocking forwards and backwards. Every gentle grunt we made was echoed with a gentle stream of grunts and snorts. The bull was getting shut, and we would have liked him shut for Hugh to get a shot by means of the tangle of burnt bushes. I held a material bull moose decoy to problem the bull. He’d count on to see his challenger and, usually, the sight of a pair of white antler paddles will suck them in like a tractor beam—some hunters even decoy bulls with a pair of white 5-gallon bucket lids. It didn’t work.

The bull was solely about 60 yards away, and his antlers stretched wider than the sphere of view of Frank’s binoculars. Frank might see the bull clearly whereas kneeling, however Hugh didn’t have a shot from his place. The bull stopped, staring in our path, then slowly turned and stepped towards the sound of one other bull raking its antlers off to our left. Making an attempt to impress the bull, I took just a few steps, grunting and rocking the decoy forwards and backwards. He spooked, working solely about 20 yards however behind thicker cowl. Then he merely walked off towards the opposite bull.

A Misplaced Confidence

The bull that had narrowly escaped was a very good one, and we estimated him to have 58-inch-wide antlers. However the missed alternative didn’t dampen our spirits a lot. It was our first evening in moose camp, and that is the sort of motion that we anticipated for the following 10 days.

The next day introduced a gentle downpour; on the third night we had one other shut name. To hunt moose on this little spot of inside Alaska, we’re virtually utterly reliant on calling. The realm holds a lot of moose, however is swampy, brushy, flat, and customarily robust to maneuver by means of. We name for a number of hours every morning and night from the identical spot, utilizing an elevated stand for a greater view and taking pictures alternatives within the 6-foot-tall dwarf birch and alder brush.

On that third night, a bull got here in silently. Frank noticed the bull, which he put wherever from 52 to 54 inches huge, coming from about 300 yards. Hugh received prepared. We set free just a few provocative grunts, and the bull started grunting steadily again to us, and we have been already hanging quarters on the meat rack in our minds. As a substitute of beelining for us although, the bull skirted round us and behind a display of scorched timber, which prevented a very good shot alternative.

A moose Hunter watches for an approaching bull
Hugh sits in an elevated stand, overlooking a sea of brush and burnt bushes. Frank Schultz

The bull’s give attention to us appeared to vanish, and I keep in mind pondering, He’s not coming, he’s going to cross the path. A transparent-cut path bisected his path of journey, and I had a very good likelihood of reaching it earlier than he did, doubtlessly giving me a 150–200-yard shot as he stepped into the open. However we needed Hugh to take the shot, so I set that notion apart and tried to show the bull round with some gentle cow calling. 

The bull didn’t come again. The truth is, that may be the one bull we’d name in for the remainder of our 12-day journey. It wasn’t for lack of bulls. We heard bulls virtually each calling session, typically a number of bulls. They only wouldn’t come. We’d hear a collection or two of grunts from a bull, which usually ends in a protracted dialog and an up-close encounter with bull moose in mid-September. As a substitute, they’d simply shut up. There’s a myriad of excuses and speculations that an unsuccessful hunter can spin up—particularly moose hunters—and I nonetheless discover myself in a fog of disbelief that we have been unable to name even a younger lovestruck bull in after the primary couple days. 

I can’t blame wolves or a tough winter as a result of the moose have been there. All I do know is that they weren’t performing or responding as they usually do. They have been rutting, chasing cows, and preventing—we might hear and catch glimpses of this occurring throughout us. We have been pigeonholed into calling in that spot. And calling simply wasn’t working.

Second-Guessing and Remorse

Moose searching is often boring, till it isn’t. Kicking off a visit with near-instant motion gave us each motive to chill out and let the hunt unfold as it will. How have been we to know that first bull can be the one bull that responded as we anticipated? We couldn’t, however with every day that burned away, each Frank and I replayed the shut calls we’d had.

I started wishing that I had set myself again 100 yards from Frank and Hugh whereas the primary bull was coming in. Absolutely that may have drawn him an extra 10 or 20 yards and allowed Hugh to get a shot. Frank started questioning if, upon seeing the bull grasp up, he ought to have simply shot him by means of the hole within the bushes that he might see. I questioned if I ought to have run over to the path to attempt to shoot the second bull as he crossed into one other patch of timber, or tried to pursue him on foot, sounding like a bull attempting to problem him—a tactic that typically works.

We should always have achieved this completely different, or that. One thing, something, may need made the distinction. I believe that second-guessing is one thing most hunters expertise. Though it serves no sensible objective, sometime you’ll want you’d zigged whenever you zagged.

However as Frank typically says once we speak about what we want we’d achieved on a hunt, “You possibly can want in a single hand and shit within the different and see which one fills up sooner.”

Selections, Selections

If there’s a attribute that I’ve discovered that almost all persistently efficient hunters possess, it’s the arrogance to make sound selections within the warmth of the second, to stay with them, and to strike whereas the iron is sizzling. Such hunters seize alternative when it arrives. That is particularly needed for DIY hunters.

A lot of the selections you make throughout a hunt will, after all, immediately have an effect on the end result of your hunt. So hopefully you’ll be taught to persistently make the correct decisions. The reality is, although, that one of the best you are able to do is make these selections based mostly on the knowledge you could have and your expertise. Even in case you do the whole lot “proper,” typically your efforts nonetheless gained’t work.

I’ve discovered that there’s often one thing I can be taught from missed alternatives, but additionally that bizarre issues simply occur typically. My confidence that we’d kill no less than two bulls didn’t even begin to dwindle till the ultimate few days of the hunt. My years of moose searching expertise and our first two encounters indicated that we had nothing to fret about. There was nonetheless time. Even now, understanding that we didn’t kill something, I can’t say I’d have achieved something in another way based mostly on the knowledge we had on the time.

Hanging meat from a bull moose
For people who rely upon moose meat, “getting one hanging” is a good sense of aid—one we didn’t expertise this 12 months. Tyler Freel

An empty meat pole stings a little bit bit extra for a lot of Alaskans (together with me) in the case of moose. Meat from different hunts is a bonus, however moose is a staple. Some of us pack their freezers with caribou, deer, or elk. I like these simply superb, however issues get sparse by springtime with no moose within the deep freeze. As soon as it’s reduce and wrapped, placing away a good-sized Alaska bull moose is roughly equal to 2 or three massive Rocky Mountain bull elk. One bull will hold my household in meat for the higher a part of a 12 months, and usually we are able to every deliver one residence.

As at all times, moose camp was a incredible expertise, and an opportunity to chill out, nap, and sit within the still-cold air, straining to listen to the faintest bull grunt. Some mornings and evenings, it’s so quiet that your ears ring. While you do hear a bull grunting within the stillness, it’s exhilarating.

There are little issues we plan on doing in another way subsequent 12 months. Perhaps we regulate our calling location barely, add some fiberglass to bolster our canoe paddles that we use to rake brush (and inevitably break annually), and possibly discover a flatter spot for the tent.

We plan on searching the identical manner as a result of it really works virtually each time. Annually we alternate turns as first shooter, and subsequent 12 months I’m up. After this season, I might solely do one factor completely different subsequent 12 months. If I’m planning to shoot an enormous bull that hangs up in a tangle of burnt toothpicks, and Frank tells me he has a transparent shot, I’m going to say, “Dump him.”

Getting meat hanging is extra essential than killing one myself. Even when years previous introduced loads of alternative, nothing is assured, and each bull that disappears again into the bush is one which gained’t be in your freezer.



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