Moose Hunting in Alberta
The first shot found its mark, yet the bull remained standing. At a thousand pounds on the hoof a full-grown moose is one tough customer. With that said, however, Dan settled crosshairs behind the front shoulder again and coddled the trigger on his .300 Winchester magnum. Responding with a loud smack, the 180-grain slug rocked the bull hard enough that he lost his footing, crashing to the ground at the base of a wrist size poplar tree he’d just finished thrashing to pulp.
A total of thirteen moose were browsing on a field when we arrived at first light. Upcoming CFL football promise, Chris Clouden, had joined Dan Shook and I for this late season escapade. It was the middle of November, and we were in central Alberta’s Parkland region.
Consisting primarily of agricultural settlement, hunting moose in this sort of environment is done much the same way you would pursue whitetails. While early mornings and late afternoons are spent watching over food sources – in the form of grain fields surrounded by willow or muskeg bogs – the remainder of the day is used to push bush, still-hunt, or simply take stand along some form of bottleneck to try and intercept moose travel patterns.
Severe drought conditions plagued western Canada during the summer of 2002. As a result, much of Alberta’s grain producers had next to nothing to show for crop. What did grow was sparse at best. Most grain fields were so pitiful in fact, that they didn’t even produce any yield at all. Left for critters to pick over, we located a 160 acre plot during waterfowl season that had patchy clumps of oats still standing. I’ve literally seen moose down on their knees feeding in alfalfa and canola, and they’ll readily masticate on oats too if given half the chance.
Splotched with brush piles, the rolling field had a gentle slope that funnelled off into a forested swamp. On either side were blocks of timber the moose were using as bedding sites. Relying upon early morning shadows to mask our presence, we foxed down the edge of cover, carefully glassing each moose that came into view. To our dismay, there wasn’t a single one wearing headgear. Just when we had all but given up hope, Dan’s bull stepped out from behind a group of cows less than 200 yards to our left. Moose can cover a lot of ground in the matter of a few steps, and it didn’t take long before he was quartering away in an open shooting lane still intent on browsing.
It wasn’t until we were standing beside the fallen monarch exchanging congratulatory handshakes when we noticed that a second bull had materialize out of a hidden depression in the field. Sporting antlers that dwarfed Dan’s mature bull, we guessed him to exceed the 50-inch mark. With deep, wide paddles that carried long, sweeping tines, we had no tag left and had to let him walk. But before the morning ended we saw six more moose, totalling nineteen in less than two hours of hunting.
Randy Hermann is an old school chum from way back, and he invited me to join him in November 2001 for what would end up proving to be a very successful moose hunt. While Randy had drawn an antlered moose permit through Alberta’s limited entry draw system, I drew an anterless tag in the same Wildlife Management Unit. Joined by three other friends, the plan was to “chase bush,” a term we use for flushing game from cover.
Randy was the first to shoot, taking a neat looking bull on the first push of the day. With his moose dressed and eventually loaded two hours later, we drove twenty miles to a different area that had been generous in seasons past. On the final push of the day, I filled my tag with what would prove to be an absolutely huge cow. It took four shots directly to the lungs with a 7mm magnum to bring her down.
I don’t think I was quite sixteen years of age when I bagged my first moose. Believe it or not, I took it with one shot at more than 600 yards using a .243 Parker Hale. I’ve stepped that shot off numerous times to know that I could never make it again in a hundred years, but innocence was indeed my virtue that day. With the experience I’ve since gained over the past 20 something years, I wouldn’t even dream about flicking the safety off.
Young and eager to learn all there was about hunting back then, I read everything and anything I could get my hands on relating to the subject. Standing there at that very moment, I suddenly recollected an article I perused about shooting at running game. The author explained how to lead your target and follow through after the shot. Those words coaching me, I remember pulling ahead one full moose length and two feet over its back as I drew a bead and touched off the shot.
The moose was trotting broadside; unknowingly bumped from a patch of nearby cover my two hunting companions were still-hunting a half-mile away. The moose was so far that after I soaked up my rifle’s recoil I had time to gather the moving black mass in the scope again, actually listening to my bullet zing across frozen landscape for several seconds afterward. Suddenly the moose piled up, and a short while later I heard the distinct echo of my 100-grain bullet slapping its thick hide.
A fluke to the greatest degree, the bullet struck the hump along the backbone towards the top of the left shoulder. A non-lethal shot otherwise; the bullet blew apart upon impact, severing the spinal cord. Point being, any calibre can bring a moose down if the circumstances avail. Bringing swift demise is of the utmost importance, however, so one should choose a weapon stout enough to do the job no matter what the conditions are. I’ve since gone on to harvest two-dozen moose using everything from a .270 and .308 to my .300 Winchester magnum. I’ve even taken three swamp donkeys in recent years with archery tackle.
Using a heavy slug designed for deep penetration is definitely needed to bust through thick-skinned game like moose, such as the Swift A-Frame bullet. Calibres in the .300 and .338 class would be my first pick as the ultimate moose gun, for there’s a lot of muscle and bone in their anatomy that you have to negotiate before reaching vitals. I’ve killed two of the three subspecies of moose in North America, those being the Shiras and Canadian. I’m planning a trip to the Yukon in the not too distant future to hunt the biggest of them all, the Alaskan-Yukon. When I do, my .300 Ultra Mag will be hanging over my shoulder. For ammunition, I’ll have a 200-grain Nosler Partition in the “pipe.”
Archers should shoot heavy-grained arrows tipped with a broadhead previously demonstrated on larger game. Pro Shop staff can offer help in this department, as their job is to be privy with the latest technical information on what works best and what doesn’t. I really got into hunting with a crossbow the past couple falls now, having hung up my compound bow in exchange for Excalibur’s 185-pound Exomag model. I’ve always used WASP accessory products, and still do today. Of special interest is their 100-Grain S.S.T. Hammer Broadhead.
A three-bladed chisel point with plenty of cutting surface, the S.S.T. uses stainless steel blades in a thick gauge that are virtually indestructible. Not only do they deliver tight grouping, but also really do a number on game they make contact with. Take the black bear I took a poke at one evening early last October. My bolt ricocheted straight in the air as if it had been redirected, but no blood or sign of a hit was ever unearthed. Two weeks later I had a second run-in with this same bruin, only with a .50-calibre muzzleloader in hand.
When I walked up to inspect the 300-pound pumpkin head, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The bear’s skull had a gapping wound of four to five inches, which literally exposed the brain. How that bear survived I cannot answer, but it further demonstrated the intense cutting power of WASP’s S.S.T., a sure indication of exactly how well this broadhead would perform on North America’s largest member of the deer family, Alces alces.
I shoot an in-line, .50-calibre muzzleloader. Plenty of juice to knock a moose down, the 275-grain Core-Lokt jacketed hollow point bullets I’ve used the past two seasons (from Remington) have performed beyond my expectations. Basically a .44-calibre bullet enclosed in a .50-calibre sabot, they have excellent weight retention without sacrificing expansion. Thread one of these babies into the boiler room using a 100-grain charge of Pyrodex, and there’s no way a moose is going to walk away.
The Good Ol' Days Are Now
Alberta has strict management policies in place to help maintain its current moose population at a healthy figure, with a restricted harvest for sport hunting implemented across the entire province. This is achieved by limiting the number of available tags for both resident and non-resident hunters alike. Not only has this shown promise by increasing moose densities specific to certain areas, but also the potential to take a real monster. No longer are the days of flying into some remote lake in the far North required to shoot an honest wall hanger, as trophy bulls are now annually culled out of urban areas, such as the Bow Zone near Edmonton for example. In fact, more and more hunters who come to Alberta each year in their quest to shoot a trophy whitetail are adding moose as a combo species. Many a hunter has been sitting in a heated ground blind waiting for that buck of a lifetime to stroll into their sights, only to watch open jawed as a huge bull moose casually saunters by.
Sight and Sound
Anyone who has ever told you moose have poor eyesight hasn’t put the time in to call him or herself a bona fide moose hunter. I probably invest upwards of two or more weeks each fall chasing swamp donkeys, and I can tell you this much: They have eyes like a hawk!
Camouflage is the order of the day. Better yet, I try to wear black clothing as a secondary layer during archery season when I know I’ll be getting into close proximity. Goofy as it may sound, wearing black helps you to take on the appearance of another moose when trying to hoodwink “Bullwinkle” within those critical last few yards. If I’ve got a moose coming to the call or I’m putting a stalk on, it’s the extra edge sometimes needed to close my tag. Even simply wearing a black shirt under your hunting jacket can be enough when you slip it off.
Scent control is equally important. With much larger nostrils than a whitetail, a moose can tell if you’re wearing fresh skivvies or not from a mile away. In fact, on numerous occasions I’ve been hunting field edges when moose and deer were feeding at the exact same time. Uncanny as it seems, whenever the wind betrayed my presence moose were always the first to whiff me. So just like you would hunt a trophy whitetail, always play air currents to your favour.
Using a quality cover scent – like Earth Scent Wafers manufactured by H.S. Scents – will help mask human odour. Attractant scents can help you go one step further, though, such as a cow-in-estrus or bull-rut scent. Moose are also drawn to mineral licks. If you ever find one of these natural wonders, keep it a secret and immediately hang a treestand from the nearest vantage point. Especially productive during the rut when bulls tend to wallow, it usually doesn’t take more than a day or two to tag out. I have one such spot, and I’m almost guaranteed to at least see a moose if not get a shot at one within the first day of hunting it. And if the wrong person ever found out of its whereabouts… well, I hate to think about it.
Where it may be legal in some states or provinces to hunt directly over “synthetic” licks as I call them, using commercial mineral supplements can definitely pull moose in (and other game) too. I’ve experimented with several different brands to see how they work for photography purposes. I’ve got one such spot that’s still being hit, this after the last time I freshened it was more than four years ago. Always adhere to the game regulations, nevertheless, as hunting over such store bought products may be considered baiting and against the law like it is here in Alberta.
Regardless of how or where you hunt these handsome lanky beasts, believe me when I tell you that nothing’s more fun than moose in the farmland. A non-physical hunt per say, it’s an endeavour that’s especially suited for older hunters or those with a disability of sorts. Over the years I’ve done everything from pack 150-pound moose quarters on my shoulders while trudging several miles through waist deep quagmire to literally dragging a whole moose off a mountain while trying to navigate a near vertical slope for more than 4000 feet during pitched blackness in grizzly country. But sometimes it’s just nice being able to drive a two-wheel drive pick-up to the very spot your moose is laying and winch him into the box … just another benefit of hunting Rose Country I guess!