Moose Hunting: Preparation and Procedures
The near-sonic boom of the fire-breathing .454 Casul blasted the entire forest as the bull spun away from the hunter in the tree stand. In an instant, the huge bull was gone, as if it never existed. Thick scrub made stalking impossible, each step produced an amplified crack, notifying every living creature within ear shoot to scram. To be successful, moose hunters must become invisible and have vision of an eagle. A moose hunter also requires ears that hear the slightest of sounds in howling winds.
Moose hunters are an odd lot, they require the patience of a saint, legs of an experienced trekker and a keen sense of direction. This article seeks to demystify moose hunting from my experience hunting moose in Alaska. While Alaskan moose (acles alces gigas) are a bit different than those found in other regions , the ideas presented here should apply to those hunting other moose species (alces alces americana, alces alces shirasi, and acles acles andersoni) in places like Washington, Colorado, Utah, Montana, Maine, and some of the Canadian Provinces.
The bull (pictured below) is partially hidden in the brush, it's the way they are usually spotted. Sometimes as quiet as a mouse, moose will stand still for long moments to determine what you are. A creature of flight, they are wary of everything and the slightest disruption will send them crashing into the woods or over the next mountaintop.
Moose are crepuscular creatures, meaning they are most active in the early morning hours and late day, much like bats and insects. They have a great sense of hearing and any noise you create will cause them to become focused upon the direction of where it came from. Add to their merit a sense of smell that is also acute and now you have an animal that will put any big game hunter to the test.
The terrain which moose inhabit is most important in planning and executing your hunt. Hunting waterways by boat is a great way to cover distances that you could not cover otherwise and common sense dictates that the more territory you cover the more likely you will run into an animal worthy of your cartridge.
Know your wind direction at all times since nothing spooks any big game animal more than the scent of a human out in the woods. At times it is impossible to be in the right wind direction when you observe a moose, therefore it is advisable to become part of the landscape, freeze! Nothing will alert a moose more than movement. Many times I have come across a moose unexpectedly and if I freeze in my tracks, they usually will not spook and run off. It's rather remarkable that an animal that is so huge can be so hard to spot but it's true. When in the mountains, don't make yourself a silhouette by standing on the ridge line, stay just below it in order to gain a vantage point but not to become highly visible.
When stalking, stay low and try to shield their line of vision to you by natural obstacles such as any trees, vegetation, rocks etc. In the rutting season big bulls are concerned about breeding and fighting, period. They are at their most vulnerable but never come to the belief that you are going to just walk right up on them. Just because in your stalk you see a bunch of cows does not necessarily mean there bulls in the area. Heavily antlered bulls will habitually lag behind the cows, perhaps making sure it's safe passage before they present themselves. I suggest you wait at least 10-15 minutes after seeing cows before you move. If you spook the cows there is a good chance you have long since spooked the bulls.
Caliber & Gun
Rifles are by far the most favored moose gun in use. But what great fun it is to use a hand gun to hunt something that stands 6 ½ feet high at the shoulder and may weigh up to 1600 pounds! My personal choice is a Freedom Arms .454 Casul that many use to hunt moose with. A handgun in the possession of a experienced shooter makes for a thrilling hunt. A single well-placed 300 grain bullet from this gun is more than enough to bring one of these talk-about-it-forever trophies down.
Regardless of using a rifle or handgun, the question is, what caliber and what grain of bullet do to use? It's a matter of two issues to address. You must hunt with a weapon that you are familiar with and comfortable with as well. If you use a rifle (or revolver) that causes a powerful kick when fired, the chances of flinching are greater. That means a wounded bull or missed shot is more likely. Many a moose have been bagged with a 30/06 which is considered on the light end of required rifles. A heavier caliber such as the .300 Winchester, .338 or the .375 H&H are the favorites in the Alaskan bush. It's also a nice feeling to carry a weapon of defense when you are in bear country as well.
To Scope or Not to Scope
Many hunters ask if they should outfit themselves with a scope when hunting moose. As with any hunt, you need to determine what type of terrain your going into. If it's the thick brush and alder-laden forest, then obviously a scope-mounted weapon is a bad choice. On the other hand, if you will be hunting open tundra, a mountain valley, or other open areas a scope is certainly a must.
If you believe that you will be encountering varied terrain, then err on the side of caution. Bring a removable scope and use your iron sights in the thick cover and always carry the scope in a padded case in your pack. Make sure you also have a cap for the scope as the weather can change rapidly one minute and the next it is raining! You need clear vision and the caps are invaluable for this.
Many moose hunters opt to use ATV's or other mechanical means to get into moose camp. They can serve a number of purposes, such as being able to get into the game, get into tough terrain, as well as helping to pack out the meat. A game warden friend of mine once said that moose hunting was really called moose packing. One very important rule of moose hunting is, be careful of where you drop your meat since you will be required to pack it out and if your miles from nowhere with no means but your back, this could spell disaster!
It is the law in most states that you must pack out all the meat you harvest and in the case of a moose, it's hundreds and hundreds of pounds. The penalties & fines are stiff for wanton waste of a game animals so make sure nothing is left in the woods as prescribed by local law. In Alaska, it is also illegal for you to hire someone other than a state licensed guide to pack the meat out for you, you cannot hire the kid down the road to do this. Again, the fines are stiff and it's not something to take lightly!
Tree Stand Hunting
Hunting from tree stand can make you become almost invisible. Perched high above the forest floor, your ability to see all around makes for improved hunting success. If you do decide to try tree stands while hunting moose, make sure you have a tether tied to you as a fall can produce serious injury or even death.
Hunting from a tree stand has several advantages. One of the most obvious is your field of vision is greatly enhanced. Many times I have seen animals that otherwise I would not have had access too. Even though the hunt is centered around dropping a bull, how wonderful it is to sit and take in all of the forest creatures and enjoy the experience of no highways, honking horns, police helicopters and the everyday trappings of life. The pine-scented air you breath while in the stand makes for an enjoyable experience that certainly is much better than the scent of smelly diesel fumes from the truck or bus 10 feet ahead of you in rush hour traffic.
Many think that a moose will not look up. Last season I had a young bull walk out of the scrub, pause and then suddenly look straight up at me as I sat perfectly still! Moose look up, period. So if you move, make noise or otherwise disrupt the harmony of the woods, you are going to lessen your chances of achieving your objective.
Tree stands allow hunters who are not able to walk miles and miles to enjoy the experience and still be quite successful. For safety reasons, unload your gun before carrying your gun into the tree stand. Always unload your weapon and make sure there is not a cartridge in the chamber. It's also rather pleasant to have a nice cup of steaming hot coffee in your pack. I have even taken my laptop computer in the tree stand.
If You Wound One
Almost imperceptible, a drop of blood can provide absolute proof the animal is hit. It is now your job to effectively track the animal and retrieve the meat. Be a sleuth, look for minute details of disturbance in the grasses. In just two hours, blood can be absorbed into dirt and foliage and be completely missed.
What do you do if you shoot a bull but it does not go down with the crack of the shot, but instead trots away? Stop and do nothing except be prepared for the animal to re-show itself. Be ready to shoot because the animal may become visible again somewhere else near by. This is a very critical time for the hunter in two respects.
First, in the heat of the excitement of hitting your quarry will cause "heightened adrenaline". Any movement in the brush may cause you to believe it's the animal you just shot at. Do not fire unless you positively have verified it is indeed the animal! You do not know if there was another hunter that was sitting quieter than you in that direction and he was ready to shoot the moose but you got to it first. He then may figure you got it and he leaves the area causing a commotion.
But let's take the second scenario, it ran off and now what do you do? If the animal does not show itself, sit it out. Like hunting other big game, a good hit may mean the animal will only be able to travel a short distance before bleeding to death. Allow at least 30 to 60 minutes before you scramble down the tree to claim your prize. If the animal is not pushed to run, it then will be more apt to lay down and die when wounded. Premature advances on the animal may only create more work for you in tracking your game.
Blood found can tell the hunter a great deal of information when moose hunting. Just because there is a small amount does not mean you just winged the animal. A shot that becomes coagulated means very little blood will flow even though the wound itself may be fatal. One very special piece of information that you need to also be able to read is the color of the blood. If it is dark and holds a sandy/gritty type of substance, the moose is probably gut shot. Bright red means it was probably hit in a vital area but not always.
If you are successful and the hunt is over now comes the task of butchering out the animal. Most moose hunters because of the distances involved, simply quarter out the animal until they are back home. Make sure that your animal is properly tagged per state requirements. A cheap plastic tarp is a great way to save time and keep the meat clean. The tarp is a wonderful invention for the moose hunter since you can roll the beast onto it before you start to skin it out and keep all of the dirt and debris off the meat. It takes a staggering amount of time and effort to clean off a carcass when it lays in the mud and other contaminants.
Good luck with your moose hunt!