Over the past four years I have had the great pleasure of joining my wife as she has harvested her first few big game animals – a caribou, a deer, and a bear. She has shown herself to be quite the marksman as well, as those three animals were taken with a grand total of three shots, putting my record to shame. As it should be, but man, I can’t say that I’m not a little bit humbled.
This past February we were luckier than we deserve to be in the draw, as we both won cow tags for 14A. It was a slow fall for us, as our jobs and other situations didn’t allow much time in the field. Our short road system sheep hunt was hampered by weather, and though I got to chase caribou for a couple of weekends in the interim, my wife didn’t get to join me in the field beyond those couple of cloud-covered days at the base of the sheep hills. We were hopeful, though, as we still had those cow tags along with the promise of time together in the field come early winter.
Well, opening date arrived and winter had yet to show, so instead of loading the snowmachines and a toboggan, we instead trailered a couple of six wheelers and headed out for a weekend of close-to-home moose hunting. On a Saturday morning we set out along a trail that I’ve hunted a number of times in the past. I was pleased to see that there was no recent sign of human activity along with loads of fresh moose tracks, but that pleasure turned to dismay as the trail became difficult to navigate due to bogs that were overflowing with water beyond what I had ever experienced. We plowed through for a short distance, but eventually decided to just park the machines and spend the day on foot. It was a good choice, as we were able to move more quickly and quietly than before, but alas, Saturday was not to be our day. We jumped a cow with a calf in tow around midday, but we were hoping for cows unaccompanied by calves, so we let them go without a chase (not that we would have been able to close the gap anyhow – they were moving before we ever saw them and didn’t seem interested in slowing down). As darkness approached, we decided to scout out a couple other areas, as a day of walking through boggy ground had taken its toll on our knees and hips and we needed a break. A friend had mentioned a back way into the area we were hunting from another access point, so we took a quick drive and found a promising area to check out in the morning.
As dawn approached on Sunday, I’ll admit that we were thinking of packing it in to await the frozen ground and easier travel that was sure to arrive before the close of our season. Since we already had the kids taken care of (thank God for grandparents!) and were already away from home, though, we decided to give it a few hours to at least explore the new access point. We left the machines at the cabin and drove out to the area to set out on foot. As the light started to filter through the clouds, we parked and began to move quietly through an open field which abutted a mess of fallen timber, alders, and swamp. We got to the edge of where we wanted to start hunting and were about to head off to the right where we would meet up with the previous day’s trail, but I decided to quickly veer off to the left to look around from the top of a 10’ tall mound of dirt.
As I crested the hill the shadowed forms of two moose appeared in the tall grass about 250 yards in front of me. My wife quickly joined me on top as we tried to devise a plan. Unfortunately, there was no clear route to take to stalk these moose. They were mostly blocked by the jungle of growth between us, so a long shot from where we stood was out of the question. In addition, there was no clear route around the vegetation, so we had no choice but to proceed directly towards them as quietly as we could while hoping for the best. Alas, “quiet” is the key word here, as such an approach proved to be impossible. Each step in the calf-high swamp water was audible, as was the frequent snapping of twigs and brushing of limbs against our clothing. We did what we could, but as we emerged at the edge of the opening 100 yards later, the moose were nowhere to be seen.
Still hopeful that the moose had just edged into the brush, we continued forth for 5-10 minutes a few feet at a time, doing our best to keep our eyes ahead but needing to watch each step so as to not sink in the deeper holes that surrounded us like land mines. Much like the first time we spotted the moose, we were nearly at the point of heading in a different direction to seek out drier ground and hopefully other moose to pursue, but once more I found one last vantage point and was rewarded with another glimpse of our quarry. There were two cows in front of us, separated by about 30 yards. There were also at least two, maybe three more moose farther in the timbered hill beyond, but our focus was squarely on the moose in the clearing.
My wife at my side, we started to position ourselves for an ideal shot, as now the moose were within 200 yards and within our comfortable range. That said, we still had a jungle of brush to deal with. A standing shot would have been clear, but everywhere we attempted to kneel or lay prone with a rest, our view would inevitably be obscured by deadfall timber and alder branches threatening to deflect an attempted shot. The next few minutes were spent moving side to side, back and forth over a 20 yard circle, trying one spot…then another…and yet another in hopes of finding a clear shooting lane with a solid rest.
We finally figured it out and got my wife set up with her 7mm-08. By this time the cow on the left had fed behind a hill separating us, so my wife focused in on the cow to the right. I looked through my scope as a few tense moments passed, and then….as she has always done before, my wife took a calm, accurate shot that found its mark. I saw the cow shake as the bullet impacted, and while I was looking for it to stop moving for a potential follow-up shot, no such backup was necessary. After running about 20 yards the moose stumbled for a moment, then went straight down.
With my wife’s moose down, I looked to the left and was pleasantly surprised to see that the lead cow had come running back into view. She was staring at the area where my wife’s moose had been standing moments before, and thus presented a perfect broadside target. I hesitated for a second, knowing that one moose is plenty of work on its own, but… I asked my wife if she thought I should shoot, knowing that she’d be joining me for what would certainly be a very long day. With her excited “Yes!”, I squeezed the trigger on my 30-06. It was obvious that I had made a solid shot, but I suppose I sometimes second guess myself. In hindsight a single shot would have sufficed, but I quickly sent two more downrange before our second moose fell to the ground. Later I would find all three shots within a 3 inch group, all solidly in the lungs – no meat was harmed, though, so I don’t regret taking those insurance shots.
After finding our moose lying dead and notching our tags, we looked at each other and promptly pulled out our phones. I can’t say that I’ve ever done the same while hunting, but two family members and a friend had each offered to pitch in if we were successful. On a Sunday morning only an hour from home with two moose on the ground and work the next morning, we decided that we’d gladly accept the generous offers made the day before. Within two hours we had three people show up to help, and a bit later my brother came by as well on his way home from his cabin. We could have done it ourselves and would have happily persevered, but I must say that it was a joy to share our success and the process with friends and family. Better yet, we had many willing hands helping with the butchering process the following week as we cut, wrapped, and ground meat to fill many freezers.