Moose Hunting Stories
Due South: Western Canadian Moose
Moose Hunting in the heart of Alberta, Canada.
It’s October 5th 2011 in West-Central Alberta. I just arrowed the biggest animal of my life. My hunting partner Jeff Shuler and our guide Ryan Harder are jumping in the air, yelling in excitement and high-fiving each other while I stand motionless wondering what just happened. Before I can wrap my mind around the last 45 minutes, I remember, I’m due south. My wife, back in California is expecting our 3rd daughter at any moment and I’m in the middle of Alberta hunting moose. January 2011, I wake up expecting my birthday to be just another depressing day (a day that I’m notoriously moody and grouchy on) I’m surprised by a present which I immediately knew was the new bow I’d been talking about for months. My wife, an amazing woman and an anti-hunter, had surprised me with a new Matthews Z7 bow. As I drooled over the new technology (considering my previous bow was a 20 year old Bear) I couldn’t wait to go fire it. My first call was to my friend Jeff, an avid bow hunter and veteran elk and deer hunter to tell him we were going hunting this fall I just didn’t know where yet. I quickly made sure all my tag applications were in and I got to work setting up my new bow.
The first week with my bow was spent at Predators Archery in Gilroy with Mike, a master instructor and all around good guy. As the first week with my new bow came to a close, my bow was tuned, my arrows were straight and all I could do was daydream about what adventure I was going to embark on this fall. Then suddenly, as if a storm just raced across the prairies, my wife came in holding small plastic pointer with a cross on it. We’re pregnant!
Not expecting to have another child, we both were shocked and excited at the same time. The bow hunting dreams quickly faded as I knew the chances of me being able to go hunting while my wife was at home with our other children and expecting a new baby in the middle of the rut was now just a pipedream. The first few months of the pregnancy were more difficult than either of us anticipated or wished for. The days seemed liked months to me (I can’t imagine how my wife felt) and by July I got up the courage to ask her about me possibly going on a hunt in the fall. Surprised to me she quickly encouraged me to go have my adventure (I think she was getting tired of me shooting my bow in the backyard and watching hunting programs).
Although she did stipulate what the terms of any hunt would be. The hunt must be no longer than 6 days, you must be reachable by phone, must be near an airport and most importantly, I cannot miss the birth of our third girl. I got the hall-pass and now I just had to make sure I delivered on my wife’s conditions.
I quickly called Jeff to find out what his schedule looked like and since I hadn’t drawn any tags, it would have to be an over-the-counter or guided hunt. As in most years, Jeff was packed all of September hunting elk in Arizona. So I asked him if he could make a hunt in Alberta the first week of October. I knew Alberta was going to be our best option since I used to live there and have lots of family and the costs are somewhat reasonable for a guided hunt. Starting so late in the year I knew I wouldn’t have very many options available. So I started calling and sending emails out to all the outfitters within a couple hours of Calgary. On the top of my list was Chad Lenz of Savage Encounters since I had recently watched him guide Tom Miranda and read a few comments about his moose reputation. Chad emailed me back within hours saying his just got a cancelation and he had 6 days open during the moose rut. I think I sent my check before I finished reading his email.
September rolls around and my wife still having the worst pregnancy gives me her blessing (never once did I detect that she regretted buying me a new bow) I packed up the truck and headed north picking Jeff up at his place near the Oregon border. When we arrived in camp, neither Jeff nor I have any idea what to expect. Neither of us had been on a guided hunt before and we had no idea what was in store for us.
Chad met us as we walked in the door quickly handing the reins over to the camp boss Becky (his wife) who makes everything run, who showed us to our bunk and introduced us to our guide for the week Ryan Harder. I was immediately skeptical upon seeing Ryan. Here we drove over 1000 miles to hunt moose with a kid that’s maybe 23 yrs. old. I thought to myself, we got the shorthand-of-the-stick and we would be lucky to even see a moose at 400 yards. All those feelings quickly went away the next morning.
first morning, our first set-up, Ryan made one cow call and no-kidding this bull moose came running and grunting through the bush straight at us ( It was clear to me now that Chad has the reputation of being a master bush-man and master moose guide, but he trains his guides to the high-caliber Chads reputation sits on). The vegetation was so thick that we had one 40 yard ally way opening to see what was coming. Ryan quickly told us to set up and he moved back to keep calling. We had no time to move or go more than a few steps, so I told Jeff to take the alley and I would back him up or if the bull tried to circle us, I might have a shot at a different angle. Ryan makes one more call but it’s not needed. This bull is running, grunting and beating down the bush coming straight at us. Then in a moment, I see Jeff draw. I still can’t see anything; the bush is so dense that my only view is back towards Ryan and to Jeff standing at the end of the alley at full draw. I hear the bush braking and the grunts getting louder and Jeff standing tall. Then I hear a whisper from Jeff “there he is” he’s coming straight down the alley head on. I can tell he’s moving quickly and he must be close but I still don’t see him as I peer through the thick bush. Then as if it were a figment of our imagination he was gone with not even a sound. I look at Jeff; he’s let off his bow, shaking with his eyes almost out of the sockets I ask “what happened?” After the adrenaline wears off a bit, Jeff tells me he came charging down the alley with his head down on the ground, like a hound dog and when he hit the spot where we walked in a few minutes before at 15 yards, he was gone. Not even a hesitation or an opportunity for a shot but he was gone. Day one ended with thoughts and stories of this bull around the dinner table.
The next 3 days I never saw or heard a thing. While I was sitting in a tree stand, Jeff was off with Ryan doing some calling. Jeff saw a couple of good bulls although nothing presented a shot closer than 80 yards. While I was up in the stand, as most stand hunters can attest to, I contemplated shooting the squirrel making tons of noise next to my stand. I let the squirrel go; knowing it would be my luck that I shoot an arrow and a bull is tip- toeing under my stand, but still no bull. Day four and nobody in camp had a moose down yet. It was like they just stopped moving and calling and I was getting frustrated. Ryan reassured me to be patient and the next estrus cycle would kick in today or tomorrow.
So off we went spending the morning doing set-up after set-up with no luck. It wasn’t until the last set-up before lunch did we hear a sign. No it wasn’t a monster bull moose it was again a pesky squirrel crawling up a tree. I was about 30 yards back from Jeff and Ryan and as if Jeff and I had a competition, we both drew back on that squirrel. We had joked earlier in the morning how we could get Rocky and Bullwinkle that day. And without hesitation I arrowed the squirrel at 30 yards and about 15 feet up in the tree before Jeff could settle his sight. Ryan enjoyed eating him for lunch and I gave him the tail to add to his collection.
That night, Ryan said we would do something different than the previous days. We would sit in one place and call for one or two hours before it go dark. So Jeff and I dove off this steep bank and headed down to the bottom of this clear-cut slope where the bush got thick. We sat there, about 30 yards from each other, listening to Ryan up the hillside call for what seemed like hours. I could see Jeff shaking as the cold damp air was making its way through to his bones. I have a bit more natural insulation and didn’t mind the cold damp air. Then, I hear Jeff give me the high sign like we are going to pack it in for the night. I start to walk towards Ryan and meet Jeff there and Ryan quickly says “I think I heard something”.
Whomppp, whomppp, it sounds like he’s a mile away I tell myself. Ryan says he’s coming and to cut the distance and get up higher near the bush again. We’re standing in the middle of this clear-cut and the deadfall on the ground crunches and cracks with every step. There is no way I’m going to be able to make back to the bush line without making a ton of noise. Then out of nowhere, A truck on the top of the ridge on this old logging road, comes from nowhere, screaming around the turns making all sorts of noise. It was a sign, I had my opportunity. I started to run alongside with Jeff as he dove back into the bush, the spot I was standing earlier and he urged me to get up the hill. I made it another 40 yards until the truck disappeared and I couldn’t make any more noise. I didn’t realize it at the time but I picked a spot where I was hidden in the bush and my only view was the side hill of this clear-cut. I had no shot unless he comes right in front of me skirting the bush line. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes seemed like hours. This bull was still easily a mile up the canyon working his way down through the bush line grunting and scraping along the way. As he gets closer I survey where he might come out of the bush. I have a narrow opening through the bush to about 40 yards if he stays in the bush line and tries to circle us. I look over at Jeff and he has a perfect opening and plenty of room for a close broadside shot if he stays in the bush but I’m hopeful he comes out and skirts the bush line giving me a shot. Ryan stays up on the slope lying next to a stump in the middle of the clear cut calling from underneath a camouflage poncho. Ryan at this point is still calling and the bull is walking slowly and deliberately making sure he scrapes every tree along the way. I still don’t know where he is going to come out or if I’ll ever get a chance to see him. Then I hear Ryan on the hillside move higher up the slope and calling from different spots. I look to my left and I see this dark grey thing standing on the edge of the bush line.
I start to think, that moose is small! I can’t even make out the size of his rack or for that matter I don’t even know if he has any antlers. I thought he was about 40 yards away but he must have been closer to 80. Ryan continues to call and the moose answers and slowly starts moving our way. What I didn’t know was there was a depression up the bush line towards me and once the moose walked down there, I wouldn’t see him again until he was 20 yards broadside in front of me. Once he started down into the depression I lost sight of him. I drew my bow back closing my left eye as I always do centering the pins and just waiting for him to come into view. I held my bow steady for what seemed like an eternity. I knew at this point that he was a bull and I was confident that he was legal since I heard the scrapes along the trees, so I waited looking through my peep until I saw his shoulder come into view. I didn’t see his head, his rack or any other part of him except my spot behind his shoulder. He stopped suddenly (I’m guessing expecting to see a cow or two) giving me the perfect opportunity for a good shot.
Then with a deep breath, I let go and immediately saw him jump in the air, picking up speed running side hill towards Ryan. Ryan jumps up yelling to keep the bull away from him, however the bull didn’t stop. The bull charged at Ryan and within inches Ryan Jumped narrowly missing the charging bull. At this point I’m dumbfounded, I have no idea what just happened. Did I hit the bull? Was my shot good? Ryan almost got trampled. I can’t see where the bull went; my view is blocked by the bush. What just happened?
Then as if my wife was right next to me saying “you did it!” I hear the yelling and screaming from Jeff and Ryan. My moose went 40 yards and now laying the bottom of this steep clear cut bank.
As all hunters will say, now the work begins and for us that saying was precisely true. The moose was 800 yards from the road which was up the tremendously steep hill side. After some pictures, I sat with the moose while Ryan and Jeff climbed up to the truck to call for some help getting him out. Normally, we would of quartered him and been done, but I wasn’t sure the pictures would come out with the lack of light we now had. So we called back to camp and before too long we had more than enough help to drag him up to the truck so we could take pictures in the morning. It took 7 guys, a winch and a four wheeler to get him to the truck and loaded. Unfortunately, as we loaded him in the truck, Jeff decided to get some stiches by slicing his finger on a hoof. 25 stiches later and zero sleep didn’t detour Jeff from going back out in the morning after his moose.
Although Jeff didn’t get his moose that week, I know he has some good memories of a fun and exciting hunt. All the other guys got their moose that week and a special thanks to the guys in camp, Jason Bleyens, Jim Hubler, Curtis Price and Brad Lockwood and his crew for helping us get this monster back to camp. And of course to my wife who gave birth to a beautiful girl just days later (which I didn’t miss), for allowing me this pleasure and for being the best wife and mother!
Tracking a dark-timber bull moose by bow
Coming eye-to-eye with the largest of North America's deer makes
A 5 a.m. wake-up alarm is always tough, but the sound of a steady rain against the cabin roof adds insult to injury. It is the sixth morning of my hunt — a tough hunt for Canadian bull moose.
I've done four previous moose hunts over the years, with no success. The joke on this entire hunt has been "my luck" with the punch line "cursed" and each of the previous days have pretty much lived up to it.
I'm hunting with veteran Alberta guide Chad Lenz, a moose expect who cut his teeth in the Yukon hunting giant bulls with the once-infamous Mackenzie Outfitters.
Lenz's nickname is "Savage" and his Savage Encounters guide service specializes in archery moose from treestands or by spot and stalk in the heated moose rut. Lenz is an expert caller, and when the moose are ready, his guide service lives up to its name.
As I dress for a wet day in the bush, my mind wonders back to yesterday's hunt.
We had approached a small pocket off a larger muskeg and Lenz bellowed a moose cow call. Using his natural voice, he quivered the sound adding realism with his nose pinched for the nasal echo of cupped hands and a megaphone volume.
Immediately we heard an answer and I scrambled to get my head net on and concealed behind a single spruce that bordered the alders surround the muskeg pocket. Lenz set his decoy and continued to call. Throwing his calls behind the felt covered decoy, Lenz brought the bull to the edge and into view. He was a whopping bull, 60 inches plus, and anxious to meet the cow sounds.
I had figured the bull to cross the 100-yard muskeg, yet this moose was not an easy read.
If he were to beeline the decoy, I would have a broadside look at about 35 yards and a clear shot. Instead, the brute busted the alder edge, staying in the cover and working the long way around the swamp edge to the decoy.
It had become apparent that my position wasn't perfect, and I would need to reposition to get a shot if the Bull continued to close.
I lost sight of his massive rack but could hear his grunts and antler pans raking through the alders. I decided to move left and pinch in on the beast, thinking his path was the higher ground behind me and a favorable wind for his huge nose.
As I pinched in, the bull appeared head on, coming straight into me, his great rack golden brown, and satellite ears pointed forward and long bell swinging. Steam rushed from both nostrils with each step, preceded by a deep, heavy grunting — ooff, ooff.
When the bull saw me, he was at 18 yards face on and locked in on what was one excited bowhunter. With no tension on my bow string the arrow lay knocked but worthless. The bull stared at me for thirty seconds, then made a quick exit.
I drew in vain, maybe just to see if I had the strength after such an exciting encounter, yet I hoped that the beast might look back one last time and offer a shoulder.
But he continued to put distance between us and offer no shot. My moose, my one chance at a big bull — usually the only chance you get on a hunt — ran back into the dark timber and vanished.
As the wipers cleaned the windshield, Lenz and I were off for the final day of the hunt. Lenz's area is located in the mountain fringes of western Alberta, northwest of Calgary.
Dressed in new hunting apparel, my good-luck leafy suit was left in camp. I'm not superstitious, yet when it comes to moose I need all the help I can get.
As we drove, the muddy roads climbed into the mountains and the rain turned to slush, then snow. Stopping to call several times with no answers, Lenz raised a brow and I knew he was discouraged.
Moose hunting can be tricky business.
The cow calls are thought by many as mating cries, yet in moose language the cow is actually perturbed with a bull that is bothering her. Bulls that hear these calls come to the cow's "aid." Calling is very effective for a short window of time and also only if the bull that hears it is not with a cow.
Bulls that have cows are usually unresponsive and never leave the security of the dark timber.
Parking the truck at a new area, we walk down and across a bog to the back side along a stream bordering deep timber. Lenz calls; we both listen and he calls again. Then, a finger rises and points to the dark timber.
"There's a bull grunt," Lenz whispers. He calls several more times and we wait for nearly 30 minutes.
"That bull has cows and we need to pressure him if we want to see him" whispers my guide, and, with that, I check the wind and we begin to pull a long circle around the thicket of spruce.
Two inches of fresh snow lie on the ground and give a magical look to the thick, pine forest. Alternating quiet calling and quieter moving, we swing with favorable wind into the moose hideout.
After over a mile of tough walking, Lenz and I can see ahead a set of perfect moose tracks. One track after the other leads into the deep woods ahead. Having cut the fresh trail, Lenz gives me the thumbs up and we sneak on the trail of the bull.
There are several sets of moose tracks disappearing into the spruce, and the bull's print is unmistakable: large like a giant deer, with even more impressive dew claws. The prints weave between the cow prints as if he is herding them to the thickest parts of the forest.
Suddenly Lenz drops to his knees and whispers, "Cow."
I immediately follow suit, grabbing for my head net and knocking carbon tipped with razor. As I gear up, Lenz calls softly using cow calls, then gives off a loud bull grunt. Two small bulls appear out of the timber to my right. Traveling like brothers together, these bulls are curious and closing in fast.
I worry that they may bust us, yet it's only for a second, as on the left a big bull appears walking straight into our position.
Lenz cow calls softly and the bull stops but briefly to listen. The wind ever so soft on my head net, I know it's about crunch time. Hidden by a small spruce I slowly stand and draw. I like shooting from the kneel; yet a large deadfall lay across my arrow path and shooting over it is the only option.
The bull's antlers are large and a brown-rust color to highlight his chocolate-black coat. His rack is wide and brow tines long, and I know as he enters my sight picture he is above the Pope and Young minimum and a trophy shooter.
As Lenz muffles one last cow call; the bull stops some 30 yards away. At full broad side his head is turned, his eyes and ears focused on our final position.
I could see snow in his antler pans. But as if in slow motion, I looked to his shoulder and picked a tuff of dark hair centering my sight pin. As the string slams forward, the arrow shaft is sent on a collision course with the big bull.
Arcing across the woods floor the arrow pounds the brute, hitting its mark and sending a rush of hooves and horns into motion. The bull lunges and runs, yet Lenz and I both know his flight will be short. Within seconds we hear the collapse of the moose and the woods fall silent.
There's not mistaking the outcome and yet my moose curse will not be broken until I actually see the beast on the ground.
Giving the arrow time to work is crucial to a successful bow hunt, and the 30 minutes or so we waited before tracking was filled with joy and anticipation.
Before I could only imagine this feeling. But now it was all too real as we follow up the blood-stained snow that lead to the big bull.
He is everything I ever wanted in a Canadian moose — more than 1,500 pounds on the hoof and a fantastic big-racked bull.
Congrats went out to Lenz and his magnificent calling abilities, and for a moment I sat in awe of this huge forest creature that had eluded my bowhunting skills for so long.
The excitement of moose hunting can only be compared to the full-on rush of a big bull elk racing to the call or a full-strut gobbler running to a death wish.
Indded, coming eye-to-eye with the largest of North America's deer makes for a challenging adventure in Canada's wilderness.