Not many hunters get the chance to bow hunt bull moose. I was fortunate enough to do that with my Dad nearly ten years ago, a trip I will never forget. Hunting in Ontario is different from any hunting I have done in the past. The wildlife, the conditions, the “bush” (extremely thick woods) and of course, the moose. Here is the story of the hunt, and the bull I was lucky enough to take.
The Trip to Camp
The trip there was an experience in itself. We drove from Wisconsin up to International Falls. The border patrol asked us if we had any weapons, we said we had bows. He was confused and asked what for, we told him for moose hunting. He said we are nuts and passed us through. Bull moose are extremely aggressive in the fall, some claim they are the most dangerous animal in North America. They charge, they fight, and…they are huge.
Back to the trip, we drove further north to the lake where the float plan was headquartered. We had gear restrictions, I believe 50 pounds of gear per person. I am not sure what I was expecting but a small plane with barrels of gas in the back was not it. In remote camps/resorts they need the float planes to bring their clients and their supplies. At least I knew that if we went down it wouldn’t take long for me to bite the dust, the gas alone would make a quick end of things. The engine revved up and soon we were speeding across the lake and slowly lifted off. I remember the view clearly, the endless miles of lakes, woods, wetlands and very few roads or sign of people. The different shades of green, the hundreds of thousands of acres of lakes and rivers, it was perfect!
After an hour or so we approached the lake with the lodge we were staying at. I had thought the pilot would circle and land where he knew he had a good run way void of rocks. The bush pilot didn’t want to circle due to the wind direction, something I would hear after we landed. We started getting lower and I could make out individual trees. We then got lower and I could see a decent sized lake. He then shot down over the tree tops and dipped the floats into the lake. Once, twice and then we were gliding. First adrenaline rush, check.
We taxied up to the dock and I was excited to see the cabin. We were staying at a fishing lodge, not a hunting camp. They close up for the year later in at this lodge to allow for moose hunting, but the main focus is fishing. Smaller fishing boats lined the docks and we were greeted by one of the fishing guides. He would be the one that would let us know of areas to hunt moose. Who better to know where they are than a guide who had been there all summer? No hunting guides were on site, just how I like it. If I am going to hunt I would rather not have someone set everything up for me, part of the fun is doing that yourself.
This was a brand new game to me. Calling in a moose close enough to get a shot with a bow is not easy. I believe I saw a success percentage of under 5% for bow hunting unguided in Ontario. The sound of the call itself is unique, sounds like a drawn out dying cow sound to me. The technique was simple, get to a marshy area or area that was flooded off the main lake. Set up so the moose would come downwind, call him in and shoot him. The fishing guide helped with places to try, I also viewed a map before we left looking for areas that would be good to set up in. And my Dad and few good friends had hunted there before, so the spots to try were not unknown. But if you turkey hunt you would love this, it’s similar but the game weighs over 1,000 lbs. Like the drumming sound a tom turkey makes? Listening to a bull moose grunt live is just as unique.
First Few Days
My Dad and I went together every day. It was great spending time with him there. We would hop in a boat, the fishing guide would drive us to a spot and drop us off. Or, we would hop in a boat without the fishing guide and head to a spot my Dad knew about. Some days we would have the fishing guide come with and call, he had learned enough to sound like a cow. He wasn’t a hunter, so explaining to him that he needed to stay down wind of a bull coming in confused him a bit. But he did a good job and was a fun hunting partner.
The first day I heard my first bull moose. It sounded like a low grunt mixed with a sub woofer. It sounds almost prehistoric and intimidating. The moose was back in the woods over a hundred yards away and didn’t want to come in. I never saw him but I was hooked. While on that first hunt I saw two black bear and heard a pack of wolves, I was not in civilization anymore. I also saw a pine martin. I didn’t know what it was, was sort of a cute little guy. He came closer and I started to realize he had some teeth on him so I pulled an arrow out of my quiver and held it in my hand. Yeah, no guns are allowed during bow season! He came to within 5 yards of me, climbed a tree, and growled. I thought, “Great, I am hearing wolves and seeing big black bears, chasing giant bull moose and now this little turd is going to end me”. I remember saying something like, “Get away, jerk”, and he left. I later told the fishing guide what I saw and he said, “There are not many of those around here, they are really mean”.
The second day was not any better for the moose. I saw a cow swimming in the lake but did not hear any bulls. The weather was getting warm and that is a known killer of bull movement. But we were on a great fishing lake so after the morning hunt we fished for walleye. Can’t beat that! I caught a few nice fish every day and we ate a ton of fresh walleye while there. The friends in our hunting party were having similar luck, very few reports of bull activity. As frustrating as that can be, what better place to spend a week?
Second Half of the Week
As previously mentioned, Dad and I spent a lot of time together on this trip. We fished, hunted and enjoyed the wilderness. We hunted hard, fished hard and slept like babies. Enjoyed a Canadian “shore lunch”, chatted with our hunting buddies and submerged ourselves in the wonders of Canada. As nice as that all was, the weather had not been cooperating, we needed it to cool off. And the bugs, the bugs… I have never experienced being eaten alive like I was there. The number of mosquitoes was pretty impressive and you could not escape them.
One night I went with the fishing guide to a spot he knew had moose in it during the summer. We pulled the boat up on shore and headed in to a flooded area that had a creek running back a few hundred yards. We sat and proceeded to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. I looked at him lying on the ground in the fetal position with a bug net over his head and said, “Hey, I have bug spray”. He shot up and grabbed the spray and said, “F&@! the moose” and sprayed himself down. I laughed out loud and then did the same.
I then suggested we move a bit to play the wind better, we walked about 50 yards and sat down. A few minutes later I saw a black object coming through the thick woods. My heart started beating fast but I soon saw it was a black bear. It saw us and lifted its head to try to smell what we were, we had the wind played right (or wrong since it was a bear) and it soon dismissed us. It got close, too close for me, but eventually moved off. Slight adrenaline rush, check. Just before dark I heard some splashing and it was clear something big was coming. I saw it for about 30 seconds, a nice young bull. His rack wasn’t huge, maybe a few feet inside spread, but he got to about 60 yards and I was floored by the size of his body. He came in silent, later we would discuss it at camp and decided he probably didn’t want to announce himself as another bigger bull would probably teach him a lesson.
Well, we were getting down to a few days left in our trip. One of them we would not hunt, so really we had about a day and a half left to get a moose. One guy got a young bull by sitting in a tree stand that had been left for bear hunters in the spring. He was excited but didn’t get the experience of having one come in grunting and ready to fight. Not to mention not being on the ground for that.
Thursday we finished our mid-day fishing trip and lunch and headed out with the fishing guide. He knew of an area that hadn’t been touched yet so my Dad and I thought we would give it a try. I remember riding out, thinking time was going too fast and soon we would be gone. But this is when the hunt got really, really good.
We pulled the boat up on shore and my Dad and I looked at each other, we both knew this area set up nice. A creek came off the main lake and went back for hundreds of yards. It was 4 or 5 feet deep with flooded marsh around it, then the deep woods started in the far back. We walked in and saw moose tracks, they are all big but one set was really big. We split up to try to cover directions we thought they would come from. As my Dad always does, he refused to go to the spot we thought was best and pushed me in that direction with the fishing guide.
It was warm, too warm I thought. But we set up so our scent didn’t blow towards the woods and started calling. About an hour in I heard a very low grunt from the woods. I could see about a hundred yards over the marsh to the woods. There were small trees and marsh grass, most over my chest but a moose would tower over them. About five minutes later I heard the bull again and he was closer, several minutes later I saw him. He towered over the marsh and was swaying his head back and forth to show dominance. And dominant he was. I looked around for cover as I was kneeling by a small bush, there was none. I had sort of an anxious feeling, adrenaline and a bit of fear. You can laugh at that but I am kneeling with a bow and arrow and a moose that is around 5 feet at the shoulder is coming in looking for a fight.
The massive animal came closer, at about 75 yards I saw him snap a 4 inch wide tree with his rack and he didn’t even notice. I huddled closer to my “protection” but noticed the hunter in me had taken over, I was in position to shoot. The guy I was with heard the grunt and ran behind me in the brush to try to get the moose to turn towards his call so it wouldn’t go down wind of me. Smart move by a guy that didn’t hunt much, he had been listening! But the moose wanted to smell the situation he was going in to so he swerved downwind of the original call. I thought it would be ok but he walked through brush at about 30 yards and I didn’t want to risk wounding the animal. He walked up on top of a beaver hut and looked around, he was now 20 yards away facing me. Now imagine a moose on a beaver hut, funny to think about but at that time I was looking UP at the animal and experiencing an adrenaline rush that was only comparable to when I went sky diving!
The bull got up high and winded me, I saw his reaction and knew the signs from having whitetail do that to me on many occasions. I thought he would back track the way he came knowing it was a safe route. So I turned and got my bow up, it would not be a close shot. The bull turned and went back on his back trail. Now he was quartering away. I hesitated as I know their ribs are like 2×4’s and didn’t want to try a shot if I wasn’t sure I could get behind the ribs and angle towards the vitals. He turned a bit more at 36 yards and I let the arrow fly. I saw it hit fairly close to where I wanted but the moose didn’t react. He kept going on his back trail, I was confused. I felt panicked and thought I may have hit him in the guts. The last thing I wanted to do. The guide ran over and said he heard me shoot but couldn’t see anything. I called for my Dad, a fellow hunter and tracker, to assess the shot.
I thought no way had my arrow gone through but it did, and it was red, a good red. I also found a chunk of lung on the ground. I showed the guide and said I think we have a dead moose, he looked and said, “I will trust you on that if that’s what you say it is”. It was getting dark and we did not have the lights needed to follow the moose into the woods. We also didn’t know how good the shot was and the last thing you want to do is follow a wounded bull moose into woods that you can see further than 10 feet in. So we packed it up and went back to the lodge. It was a sleepless night.
We got up early, the camp was excited and several guys went with to go follow the blood trail. The group hopped into boats and headed back to the woods. We quickly picked up the trail. But it died out. It started good, blood up around chest height on grass and trees, then just a few drops, then drops so small it took a half hour to find one. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I thought I blew it. We looked half the day and went back for lunch. A new set of guys came out in the afternoon, one a very accomplished hunter with great tracking skills. He methodically searched the trail the bull was on and found a few more drops of blood. Then another guy found a drop off the trail and that was the game changer. I remembered that when a whitetail knows its hit hard often times it will leave the main trail and head for thicker cover to lay down. But there was very little blood.
I want to take a break from the recovery to explain the “bush”. In Wisconsin we have some thick woods, some areas I go through I have to go on my hands and knees. But it doesn’t last, it’s usually consolidated to a few areas. In the area we hunted in Ontario the woods was so thick that we needed to keep yelling to each other so we didn’t get lost. I remember yelling for my Dad and he was less than 5 yards away, I couldn’t see him. That was what we were trying to follow a blood trail in.
So the bull had left the main trail but there wasn’t any more blood. I decided to do a big half circle around the last blood and have the guys stay back on the trail. They said they would but were about to leave to hunt the last evening, it was getting to be late in the day. I understood, I didn’t want them wasting their last day of hunting, they had already done a lot to help me. I circled around, I remember not being able to see my feet in the brush I was headed through. I walked about 50 yards and saw something weird, an actual break in the woods so I could see up ahead. Then I saw a big black animal and immediately grabbed an arrow and knocked it. I thought a bear was ahead and figured it was on my dead moose. Luckily it was not a bear but the moose itself! I half screamed to the guys that I found it, and walked up slowly to the beast.
It had fallen between two pine trees and snapped branches bigger than my wrist on the way down. I could not believe how black it was and the size was overwhelming. I couldn’t get my arms around its neck, it was so massive. The rack was 48” wide and it was an old bull. Remember, this is not the same size animal you see on t.v. in the Yukon moose hunting trips. This is a Canadian bull, they are a bit “smaller”. This bull is in the Pope & Young record book.
The guys came over and looked at it and congratulated me. They headed off to hunt and my Dad and I took a few pictures and went back to camp for help. I remember feeling relief more than anything, I did not want to have wounded such a great animal. A clean harvest is always the goal but on occasion things don’t work that way, especially with a bow and arrow. The arrow had taken out at least one of the lungs, the animal didn’t go 200 yards. I am betting it died within minutes of the shot but with such a thick woods, and little blood, the recovery took a long time.
The guys at camp talked about my Dad and I not giving up on the recovery. They said a lot of moose are lost in the bush. We take the same approach with all game we shoot. I have always felt you owe it to the animal to give every effort for recovery.
I am grateful I have a memory like this. My Dad and I, Canada, good friends and a fun adventure. I realize it is not a trip most can take, but think of it this way. That was the last trip we went on with two of the guys in camp. Both have since passed and I am glad we had the opportunity to share the experience together. Get creative, go to an area that you don’t have to pay a guide, or fly in. You can access great moose hunting by driving and roughing it, take that approach with anything you really want to do and make it happen. Great adventures are waiting to be had!