Sunday, 30 October 2011

Moose Report - Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Over my short hunting career, I’ve found that this is the biggest question when I’m out in the field. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter, but I find myself always second guessing myself during a trip… particularly when I am unsuccessful. My first encounter with a deer, when I had a rifle and legal tag to shoot it, was after I decided to hunker down in some tall willows close to a well beaten trail. My first kill came after deciding to leave a well travelled area and attempt to cover as much ground as possible for a spot-and-stalk. In essence, it’s probably 50/50, but at the time, ‘bad’ decisions seem to haunt me.

This was no different during our moose hunt this past fall.

I gave a brief overview of the area in an earlier post, so I’ll skip that, but below is the area we covered in the first day. About 0.5 km to portage to the river and then about 5 km of lining upstream to our eventual campsite. We wanted to get a bit further, but it’s along way up there.

There was three of us on the trip; Scott, Amy and myself. Alana was supposed to come along, but she fell ill a couple of days before heading out and we didn’t have enough time to round up a fourth. We had two canoes, two guns and a shit ton of gear. We left the day before the season opened in order to avoid the craziness on the roads and so that we could hunt first thing on opening day. As an aside, I have heard nothing but poor reports in the area about moose. Some may be stories to discourage people from going out, but I think most of it was genuine. Many groups have been unsuccessful this year and many attribute it to the wet, but ‘warm’ fall we’ve had (ie lot’s of precip, but not a ton of snow lower down in the valley).

So, we were pretty optimistic when after about 45 minutes of being on the river, we saw our first moose. Two small bulls. We were about 50 yards away and they stood there broadside for a few minutes before moving on. This seemed like our second good omen of the day. The first was me cutting my finger (pretty deep, I might add) while cutting bread for lunch in the morning. Apparently not a large enough sacrifice. Is this bringing back memories Dustin?

We did notice some sign the rest of the day, but our big excitement happened at about 5pm when we took a peak into a small pond/meadow. Yes, more moose. Two cows and a GIANT bull. It was huge. Probably one of the biggest I’ve seen in person. If you go back to the video that Oliver posted about cow calling and watch to the end, he was probably on par, if not a touch larger than that guy. Good thing we left a day early… fuck.

Understandably, we didn’t want to camp too close to that spot, so we lined up for another 30-40 minutes and got camp set up. It was a decent spot with some large spruce to hang a tarp from and a good spot to land the canoes. We went to bed pretty optimistic, considering we just saw 5 moose (3 of them bulls) in our first afternoon. Funny how quickly life can change…

We got up for shooting light the next morning and headed back to the pond/meadow with the big bull. Nothing stirring and we sat and called for a couple of hours before moving downstream to scout out the rest of the river. I’ve noted what we found in the map below. The moose did seem to be traveling along the river (although not really ON the river), but they would cut corners where they could. There were a few small river banks that we could climb up to get some better views of the habitat. It was mainly coniferous forest, with patches of mixed deciduous or tall shrub (mainly alder, but willows too). They seemed to be traveling through those mixed patches. I’ve marked trails with red lines.

Given that the moose we saw the previous day were in or close to marshes/ponds/meadows, we decided to check out and set up at one of the larger meadows about 200 metres from the river in the afternoon. There were tracks in the area, but it didn’t seem as ‘moosey’ as the spot we saw the big bull. We set up anyway, me at the bottom edge of the larger meadow with Scott and Amy at the upper right edge. With about an hour to go before sunset, I decided to call; every twenty minutes or so. Just before sunset, I heard a shot. It sounded pretty distant, but we were relatively far apart. We didn’t have radios at this point (kind of forgot them at camp). I waited for about 10 minutes. Was that Scott’s shot? This was his first time having a rifle on a hunt, so I knew he wasn’t as comfortable about the details after he shot something. Either way, he would need help, but I didn’t want to spook anything in case it wasn’t his shot. Hmm… should I stay or should I go?

I decided to go and instead of going through the loud woods, I booked it through the meadow. I must state that it was pretty wet out there. We’ve had a lot of rain this summer and fall and the wetlands and meadows were pretty saturated at this point. I hunted the entire trip in chestwaders, even when I wasn’t travelling along the river. It was pretty wet. At any rate, at some point I was following this set of moose tracks as I made my way towards to Scott and Amy and all of a sudden… whompf. I found myself waist deep in water/muck and my one leg was completely stuck. I had to put my arm down to brace myself and the barrel of my gun got slightly submerged. I had to plant my second foot for balance and as soon as I did, it was stuck too. You guys ever seen Indiana Jones? With the quicksand? Or what about the Simpsons, when Homer gets stuck and he tries to free his arms and legs with his face? Yeah. That was me.

I struggled for quite some time with the water just inches away from spilling over into my chestwaders. Remember, I thought they had maybe shot something, so I thought they would be busy with a dead or dying moose. I did eventually call out for help and I did eventually free myself before Scott had to reach out with a large tree branch. The shot indeed was from another group, probably out by the road. Answer? Should have stayed.

They told me later that they saw me heading towards them and then they thought I had suddenly decided to sit back down. Maybe I had seen a moose or something. However, when they looked closer and I was rocking back and forth, they knew something was up. Amy even thought my black backpack was a black bear attacking me and I was trying to shrug it off!

On day 2 of actually hunting we awoke to an inch or two of snow on the ground and a fresh set of moose tracks going right through camp. I had heard a crash that night thinking that our food had come down, but indeed it was a moose. Again, we were feeling pretty optimistic and we decided to scout upstream. The second logjam was pretty brutal with no clear trail to portage the canoe, it was also pissing wet snow all morning, so we decided to scout the area around the logjam. Other than a fisher, we didn’t see too much fresh sign in the snow. I followed a set for a little ways, but we abandoned the trail to head back downstream.

After a lengthy lunch, we decided to check out the set of trails behind camp. It was that mixed, disturbed type forest and there didn’t appear to be any fresh sign, so we split up in the hopes of waking some bedded moose. As I was approaching the edge of the river, I heard a giant crash and it sounded like it was coming right for me. I quickly got one in the chamber and took the safety off. I heard something running through the river and then there was nothing. Scott and Amy appeared from the opposite direction and I signaled that I was going to check out where the noise came from. I didn’t find much and caught up with Scott and Amy. Apparently they had spooked a bull and it started running right towards me before they lost sight of it. After a more thorough search of the river we found where the bull had crossed the river before and after the encounter. It was far from a good chance, but it was some excitement at least.

We continued downstream and spent some time close to the lower logjam, where I found some fresh sign but no moose, before heading back up to camp just after last light. We figured trying to cover ground was our best option, particularly since it was so cold and sitting would have been a drag given the cold, wet snow.

That night we awoke to more wildlife. Something was moving towards our tents and it was breathing loudly. I listened as the beast moved closer to only hear it crash and run off towards the river again. I wasn’t sure what it was, but Scott found the tracks of a black bear sow and cubs that stopped 5 metres from our tents. We had obviously chosen a busy area to camp.

I decided to sit in the meadows again that morning, while Scott and Amy headed upstream past the logjam. It rained/snowed the whole morning and I regretted my decision. I don’t think I would have been able to shoot anything even if I had seen something, I was shaking so much. On the other hand, Scott and Amy almost had another chance at a moose! They cow called every half-hour or so once they got past the logjam and on their way back they turned a bend in the river and about 20 yards away there was a large bull moose. However, it took off before Scott could shoulder his rifle. They followed the tracks for a ways, but figured it was long gone. We went back up to the area that afternoon and found fresh tracks further up from where they had spooked the bull. After some still hunting, we set up for some evening calling again, but no luck. I did find some somewhat fresh moose beds and browse in an old avalanche shoot, but no real fresh tracks.

Throughout the whole trip, we had been seeing lot’s of bald eagles but we could figure out what they were doing up here. It turns out that section of the river was where the coho were spawning. It also explained the amount of bear activity we were encountering (Scott and Amy spooked a grizzly with one of his cow calls that morning).

That was the end of our trip. We paddled/lined out to our put in the next day, hunting as we went. We didn’t see any moose, but we found the most amount of sign we had seen during our four days. There was plenty of tracks, shit and browse just metres from our put in. I found a fresh rub too. We hunted for a couple of hours and attempted to call in those two small bulls, but to no avail. It was good to check it out for next year though. We thought the area would see higher pressure due to its proximity to the road, but perhaps it’s just far enough to ward off the majority of hunters.

Although the hunt wasn’t successful, it was a pretty great trip. A beauty of a location, some excitement and definitely lot’s of moose + sign. We didn’t see anyone else up there, nor much sign of it being used by anyone.

A few lessons I learned during the trip

  • · Bring a gun cleaning kit on a trip. I’ve never had to deal with so much rain/snow on a hunt and my gun paid the price. After a day of hunting, there was obvious rust marks on the barrel and even after I wiped it down at night with a hankie, it still had some damage. A proper kit would have definitely helped getting some of the sludge out of the gun after I dipped the barrel into the marsh on the second day. It took me a good chunk of an afternoon to clean all of this off. However, there are spots where the blueing has come off the barrel as well. Lesson learned.
  • · Don’t leave food in your jacket when you take it off. We had an extremely aggressive mouse at our campsite. I put down my rain jacket for less than an hour and it had chewed a hole into it in an attempt to get to a granola bar that was in one of the pockets. Bastard! Having said that, we did kill something on the trip… Scott got the better of that mouse later in the night.
  • · Neoprene gloves. They would have kept me warmer than what I had with me. I had a pair, but I left them at home.

I’m not sure what I learned about moose hunting. We tried a few techniques. One was to sit in an area where we thought there would be moose and the other was to try and cover as much ground as possible in order to run into one by chance. Neither seemed to work, so I’m left with the age old question once again… should I stay or should I go?

Given the information I laid out, what would you guys have done? I’d be interested to hear opinions/experiences from others.

Sorry for the length of the post. Even though there was no kill, hopefully it was worth the wait.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

New gun

So with the hunting season fast approaching my hand was forced and I purchased a new gun. I was going to go with a Tikka T3 7mm but the gun alone was $700 so I shot lower and bought a Marlin XL7S 30-06 with stainless barrel and synthetic stock.

I got a Redfield scope- 9x40. They are a Denver-based company owned by Leupold and apparently have quality scopes for good prices- $150 for the scope and it is definitely brighter than the Bushnell Elite that I had on my old gun.

The trigger is adjustable, something I will never use, but it looks cool.

The barrel end is recessed- I have no idea what this does, but again, it looks cool

Reviews I have read are all positive and say it is comparable to the mid-lower end Remington 700s. The recoil pad is better than my old gun but I have not shot it yet so not sure exactly how it will be. The big plus is that it is only 6.5 lbs, way lighter than my old gun. My major concern is that you have to load through the receiver- there is no magazine.

Going out next weekend for 4 days, probably with about 3,000 other people.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Moose Hunt 2011 - Smithers

About 2 days to go before we head out on our moose hunt. Scott and I scouted the put-in on Thanksgiving Monday and walked upstream a bit to check out the river.

Here’s the area we’re looking at. Lot’s of good habitat at moderate elevation with limited access. Basically lining a canoe.

It’s about 500-600 metres or so from the road to the river through forest and wetland. It’s a bit of slog and it is probably enough of barrier to most hunters. LOT’S of moose sign, but we didn’t see any moose that day. Just lot’s of fresh track and scat.

We walked up the river a bit to look at what we would have to deal with. The water level has dropped quite a bit in the last couple of weeks and it should stay about the same by the time we get out there. About waist deep in the deepest section, so it should be easy to line, but a bit trickier to paddle down on the way back depending on the logjams. We’ll likely have to line in sections on the way down too.

It’s open season next week, so it could be a bit busier on the road, but I imagine there will be few (if any) groups in the area we’re going. Even if we get skunked, it should be a nice trip.

Trip report when we return.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Fall Hunting 2011: Or Finding out Things I need

1) A dog.

Last week I was hunting north of Bonnyville. It is an insane flyway and since I could not legally hunt deer, I decided to go for a few ducks.  To get close enough to shoot,  I waded out to an island and crawled for 100 meters across mud, goose shit and rocks. When I got to the edge of the island I popped my head up only to find I was still 50 yards away from the group. I shot at the closest group and managed to bag three - I then had to wade 60 yards out in mud and water up to my waist.

2) A truck.

For the second year in a row I have had to put a deer in the Civic's trunk. I am visiting Phil up in Cleardale and I shot this doe at 20 yards yesterday.

It is now hanging in a local mennonite's cooler - they are charging me 10 bucks per day.

And I am forgetting the the best part. I have cleverly depicted the events leading up to shooting the deer using google maps and the pin feature.  

Keep in mind Phil lives the middle of nowhere so the truck took 2 hours to get there. Kim's tire was rusted on solid which meant I could not pry it off - hence the need for the tow. However, Ron the tire guy lived right on the edge of crown land which is where I decided to go once the tire was plugged. Rather serendipitous in the end I suppose.