Lessons Moose Have Taught Me

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In the first light of day and the last grayness of evening, there are imagined sounds which seem real and real sounds which might be imagined. And between the two is the muffled silence of the northwoods in autumn, sodden still from the pre-dawn drizzle and musty already with the change of the season. Somewhere in the distance drifted the faint song of high flying geese headed south.

But my mind had registered another sound, the sharp snap of a twig behind the screen of alders that crowded the edge of the marsh. My ears scarcely heard it and the longer I strained to hear it again, the longer I strained to see movement behind the brush, the more certain I became that the sound had been imagined. A figment of my imagination created by my eagerness to see game. As I relaxed the grip on my compound bow and I settled back to my silent vigil, I felt the morning chill crawl down my spine. Ducking a bit deeper into the warmth of the wool jacket, I gathered up the loose ends of earlier thoughts left dangling.

Somehow it seemed as if autumn had come earlier, that it was a bit cooler than the autumns I had remembered, and a bit damper too. Or perhaps, things were still as they were, but in the course of four decades, my ears are no longer as keen as they once were and the dampness of early morning is heavier than it once was. At the same time, I was better prepared, better equipped and more experienced than during my seasons of bowhunting when I relied on the exuberance of youth to decide the success and failure of an outing.

It's true that I got lucky from time to time during those first seasons but, though I didn't realize it at the time, that luck was partially thanks to the guidance of the more experienced hunters in our party and partially thanks to the energy of youth. Spend enough time in the bush, especially in prime hunting areas, and you're bound to hit the jackpot every now and then.

Thinking back, I saw a pattern emerge in the second decade. Luck was on my side more and more often, it seemed. At the same time, my equipment had improved, my clothing was better suited to the conditions and I spent more time honing my skills. Instead of making the hills ring with the echoes of my cow calls, I finally came to understand what my hunting elders meant when they tried to tell me, years earlier, to call softly but well. I also realized that, for all their size, moose are shy, retiring creatures that will withdraw quietly at the first hint of human intrusion into their territory. I wondered how many moose I had spooked during my first decade of apprenticeship and how many opportunities I had muffed with that youthful impatience. At the same time, I also realized that I had finally grasped some of the basic truths about moose and bowhunting for these magnificent animals of our hinterlands.

Start Earlier
What do I do differently? Well, I start my moose hunting season much earlier than I ever did; usually in spring when the outdoor archery ranges, especially those with field archery circuits, open their doors. With today's compound bows, calibrated sights, trigger releases and carbon shafts, virtually anybody can drive a half dozen arrows into a pie plate at 30 yards after just a few sessions at the range, but that's not what makes a good bowhunter. And with moose, you want to be the best you can be because you don't get a lot of opportunities in the course of a lifetime.

One of the worst mistakes I've seen bowhunters make is to consistently practice from fixed distances, another is to shoot with multiple bead sights. Game - be it moose, elk, bear or deer - does not present itself at fixed ranges of 20, 25, 30 or 40 yards and accurately judging distance is almost impossible when a big bull suddenly appears in front of you. Remembering which pin to use requires even steadier nerves. Stop and think back to all the stories you've heard about missed shots-nine out of ten times the arrow missed its mark because the hunter either misjudged the distance or, in the excitement of the moment, lined up with the wrong bead.

I started bowhunting before compound bows became popular and in those days we shot bare bow without any kind of sight. With enough commitment and practice, instinctive shooting can be surprisingly accurate at most reasonable distances. When I finally made the switch to compound, I also switched from instinctive shooting to shooting with sights. The advantage, I found, was that I could shoot better with less practice, but thanks to my earlier training, I realized the importance of using only one sight and learned to use it at various and unspecified distances. I couldn't tell you how high you have to hold to hit a pie plate at 30 yards, but I can show you.


Moose do not step out at fixed ranges and you need be adept at estimating distances quickly and accurately.

The key factor with single bead shooting is that knowing how high or low to hold must become second nature and the only way to achieve this is to spend time at an archery range where you can shoot from various distances. The problem with most organized ranges is that, for safety's sake, everyone shoots from a specified distance and that is a distinct disadvantage for the bowhunter who must invariably judge and adjust for a variety of situations.


Even with modern cam bows, the range is limited and an almost compulsive attention to detail is the secret to success.

Bowhunters with access to an informal archery range on their out-of-town property can easily practice a variety of distances, but those who do not should try to plan their practice sessions during times when the facility is least used by other archers. On those lucky days when I have a range to myself, I like to practice shooting at unspecified distances by sticking the arrows randomly in the turf at irregular intervals on my way back from the target butts and then shooting them one by one from those distances. After a while, the mind knows instinctively where on the target to put the pin.

Field archery courses are great practice for the hunting season because they try to recreate actual game situations; some ranges even provide elevated platforms to provide stand hunting practice. I try to visit these field courses during the week and on days when the weather discourages most other people. That way I have the range mostly to myself and can practice some of the more troublesome situations without being forced to move on.

An indirect benefit from field archery practice is the exercise it provides. I like to shoot my compound bow set at 70 pounds for both moose and deer because it provides better trajectory. When I started hunting moose with a bow, I used a 55 pound draw which was perfect for whitetails, but I quickly found out that it takes substantially more pressure to punch through the rib cage of a moose. My next mistake was to crank up the pressure for moose and then drop it back down for deer. Not a good plan because, in the excitement of the moment, muscle memory takes over and I would forget to compensate for the new trajectory and completely miss my target. To hold a bow at 70 pounds, even today's sophisticated cam bows, requires considerable upper torso strength-the kind of strength that develops through a regular shooting schedule.


With practice, experience and a touch of luck, bowhunting is both effective and exciting.

Travel Corridors
I also start my moose hunting season at the opening of the fishing season. Fishing is an excellent opportunity to scout new territories or those you hunt year after year and to become familiar with the animals that roam there. While it's true that moose do change their habits and movements according to the time of year, they spend their entire lives within a relatively small area. They may prefer one corner over another during a given period of the year, but they will nevertheless be within that area. If you regularly see a good bull during your summer's fishing, chances are good you'll see the same bull during the fall bow season, provided nobody has spooked the animal before you get there. Getting a shot is another matter, but at least you can hunt with the confidence that there is a bull in the area.


Late summer fishing trips in your intended hunting area will provide a wealth of
information about the number of animals and their habits.

During these regular visits to the hunting territory in the course of the fishing season, try to find the travel corridors the moose use on a regular basis and also scout around for good stand locations. Mark the sightings as well as the potential stands on your GPS. As is the case with deer hunting, the ideal situation is to find an area where one or more heavily used trails meet or cross, but a couple of other factors are equally important. For instance, prevailing winds during both fair and inclement weather dictate a stand location. I like a fairly low stand no more than about 12 feet off the ground and, since the breeze will carry the hunter's scent downward to some degree, I pick a stand location on the east side of a travel corridor for fair weather days when westerly winds prevail. I also select an alternate location for days when the wind turns to the east and blows in weather. Though wind direction is not nearly as dependable under these circumstances, a good bet is to pick a spot on the west side of a travel corridor so that the easterly winds carry your scent away.


Moose have browsed heavily in this area, likely during the preceding winter,
but are they in the area when the hunting season opens?

Other factors you'll need to keep in mind is the relatively limited effective range of a bow and the amount of brush between you and the target. Moose travel along the lines of least resistance, so pick your stand sites accordingly and trim any brush that might deflect your arrow judiciously rather than completely.

With a month to go before the start of the season, I try to go over all my gear from bow strings to cook stoves to make sure that I have enough of everything and that everything is in working order. The problem with leaving things to the last moment is that your usual supply house is bound to be sold out of that one particular weight and spine arrow which you've been shooting and you might have to order them from some far-away mail-order house. I also take my bow in for a full overhaul about a month prior to the season to make sure that everything is in prime working order and, at the same time get it back with time to spare so that I can get used to any subtle changes in the way the bow shoots after having worn parts-especially worn bow strings-replaced. As part of the overhaul, be sure all brush buttons and silencers are put back on the bow string and that the nocks are properly squared. It's entirely possible that the nocks might have been slightly out of alignment on the old, worn bowstring so you may have to reset your sight.

Softer Is Better
In the last couple of weeks prior to the season, practice with the bow completely rigged for hunting; that is, with a full bow quiver attached and, if you use camo socks to cover the limbs in a hunting situation, use them while practicing as well. Everything you add to or remove from the bow changes the way it shoots. I found that out the hard way.

Since most bowhunting seasons are set to coincide with the peak of the rut, good calling technique is as much a part of a successful moose hunt as pre-season scouting. Get a good instruction tape, one that concentrates on the various calls made by moose of both genders and explains what each of those calls mean. Listen carefully, over and over, to those which are appropriate to the mating season and then learn to imitate those sounds using only your cupped hands. Remember, soft is better than loud when you're bowhunting. I've had bulls respond at surprising distances to a muted, gentle call, but I've also had more answering bulls hang up at quarter mile away during the days when I used birch bark megaphones. I've heard them rake their antlers through the scrub and I've heard the belly-deep grunts, but just couldn't pull them closer. When I switched to the cupped hands technique, I found I had fewer hang-ups because I firmly believe that the bulls are more reassured by a softer call.

Final point in the preparation for a moose hunt, or any other big game hunt, is to be properly dressed to comfortably endure the many hours of damp, often cool conditions in a stand. I used to think that old jeans and sweaters too threadbare to wear in public were good enough for hunting and I spent many seasons shivering and wet to the core in a tree stand. There's no need for it, especially not with today's space age fabrics and the variety of clothing available. I keep my hunting clothes packed away in a trunk with a small block of red cedar to keep it from smelling musty and take them out to air about a week before the hunt.

After that, all that's left to do is buy your moose hunting permit and head for your hunting territory, confident that the equipment is in top working order, that your skills are honed to perfection, that your stand sites overlook the best travel corridors and that you're dressed to spend as many hours as it takes in the stand, come rain or shine.

* * *

The sounds were more distinct now; the intermittent sounds of something large walking along in no particular hurry. The snap of a twig, then long silence fractured by the slurp of a hoof being withdrawn from the soaked, black muck along the trail. It had to be a moose and my mind raced, speculating whether it was a cow or bull, wondering whether it would stay on the trail which ran diagonally past my tree stand or whether it would veer off for reasons known only to it.

I wondered whether a low, gentle call might provide answers to the unknown and might entice the animal closer, but decided against it, realizing that to do so would simply be an attempt to allay my curiosity and impatience. Up to now, the moose had stuck to the game trail and there was every possibility that it would continue to do so. And there was every possibility that this was a smart bull sneaking in, looking for the cow that he'd heard call earlier that morning.

The sounds were close and I knew that any moment all my doubts and questions would be answered. Within a few more steps the animal would have to step out from behind the alder thicket into the stand of golden, scattered tamarack. Within comfortable bow range. Time slowed and as I came to full draw, the sight of the bull etched a memory in my mind.


Some hunts just turn out picture perfect.


George Gruenefeld has been hunting big game for over four decades and his travels have taken him to several continents. Most of the time, though, he concentrates his efforts on the Prairies and mountains of Western Canada.

Comments

Nice article Chet.  Keep 'em

Nice article Chet.  Keep 'em coming - can't get enough info about moose.  What an amazing critter!

moosecaller's picture

Lessons Moose Calling has taught me

Really like how you mention calling Softly with Cupped Hands.

You definently don't have to make the Mountains ring in order for the Moose to hear you.

I always start my first couple of Calls using my hands, because you never know how close your animal is going to be.

I also like useing the the Cow in estraus Call for the Bulls, it seems to work the best.

I like your story & how you presented it & the Great Tips.

 

Swamp Donkey's picture

Very Nice!

That was a very good read! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and tips with all of us. Great bull as well!

Swamp Donkey

BikerRN's picture

WOW!

Great story with lots of information.

While your focus was on bow and arrow hunting I found most of it to apply to the rifle and muzzleloader hunter as well. I'm wanting to do a moose hunt in the near future, within five years, and I'm starting to read and learn now.

Thank you for so much help, by way of your article, and I really enjoyed the pictures too.

Biker

archerman10's picture

Nice Moose with a Bow

Great Moose !!!!

Enjoyed your article.. 

I went on my first moose hunt this year at Carp Lake, outside B.C. Canada.

Brought my recurve and a 30-06 rifle.... The araa was not really conducive to archery as the woods were fillded with blowdowns and spot and stalk was nearly impossible...

It was a 7 day hunt so I had limited time.. my guide called in a bull at 70 yds. I was able to harvest him with my rifle.

Here is a link to my store on BigGameHunt.net if you are interested.

 

Thank for the tips too.

Bob

My First Moose Hunt (Shiras Moose)

Retired2hunt's picture

  I really enjoyed the way

 

I really enjoyed the way you told this story - started the story then went into the tips and your information, and then finished with the rest of your story... the final picture tells the remainder of the hunt and what finally walked out of that trail you were sitting at!  Great story telling.

I have yet to make a Moose hunt.  Your article offers up a great deal of information to decrease a learning curve and increase the odds of seeing and harvesting an animal.

Now for the tip information.  I too like to use the single bead shooting technique.  I had found over the years that trying to remember to use the correct bead on the determined distance too often either took too much time to conclude before shooting or I had picked the wrong one and ended up shooting too high or too low on the animal.  The answer was that single bead aim and shoot.  I have accomplsihed what you have explained as to picking different views and distances and using the single bead aim appropriately in order to hit your mark.  It has worked well fo me in my previous bow hunts.

There are other items/tips your article has enlightened me on.  I have always practiced with just the bow and quiver full of arrows but not all of the other limb covers.  I will now change the way I practice from now on - fully set up.  I think you also need to be practicing in the hunting gear you will be wearing  as well so as to duplicate what you will be doing once the hunt begins.

I also took from your article the way of calling with your cupped hands.  An instruction CD on how to properly call or even Youtube is a great idea for better delivery of your call.

I have a long way to go before I get enough preference points for a moose hunt but your article has definitely shortened my learning curve.  Thanks for a great read!

 

 

numbnutz's picture

My head is still spinning

My head is still spinning from all the great information you have provided here in this article. From the sounds of things you have put in the time sweat and energy and have learn from mistakes and have become a great moose hunter. Just about every article you read about archery hunting there is a common theme. Practice practice and practice some more. I found that to be true as well. The more familiar you become with your set up the easier it is when the time come for instinct to take over. I loved every part of this article. I would love to be able to hunt moose sometime in my life. I wish my state offered a moose hunt but it doesn't. I just don't see me being able to afford a hunt like that any time soon unless I win the lottery or something. Again great article and thanks for all the tips and pointers you make here. Good luck with all of your future hunts.

swisheroutdoors's picture

The Great Moose Caller

My time spent hunting deer in the North Maine Woods offered me plenty of encounters with Moose.  Over the years I began experimenting with calling each time I saw one.  The old cupped hands calls.  I must admit in the beginning I think I was doing more of cow elk calls.  Haha.  Yet over the years I did manage to really perfect my technique.  Now I have been putting in for a Maine Moose Tag every year since they started the lottery.  Never was chosen.  I had 13 yrs worth of points accumulated.  I was the guy that reminded everyone and had friends and family put in for it with me as a sub-permittee.  I really wanted to do a moose hunt with my recurve before I left.  I moved to Georgia and in the second year here I totally forgot to submit my application.  I lost all the points with no re-course but to start all over again.  I was so mad I took the day off from work.  Hunting in the same area each year for deer season allowed me to watch a young bull grow to a mature Bull over the years.  Each year I thought this is it.  This is the year that Bull and I square off again with me holding a bull tag.  Not meant to be.  Same bull one day while I was hunting grouse with blunts walked past me while I got behind a Large Cedar tree.  I touch his back side with my bow.  Me and that bull had history together.  Sure wish I get drawn for an out of state bull tag and return to Jack Mountain to hunt that much older bull now.  That would be hunt of lifetime for sure.  Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge in and out of the field.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

Wow, now that's what you call

Wow, now that's what you call alot of information!  You had me from the first paragraph, talking about the faint sounds of geese heading south.  That's one thing I hear every time I am back in the woods in Vermont.  That and crows.  Just heard one outside my window, and it made me think of the woods..... Wink

One of these days, I will start putting in for Moose back in Vermont.  I see plenty of them, and have had family members who have shot them, but I have yet to commit to it.  Reading your article makes me want to put in.  I am lissing out on a fun time.  I don't know if I could go with a bow without having a few hunts under my belt, but it's definately something to think about.

Thanks for a great article!  Some great advice, tips, and I really like the photos.

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