How to Ax a Bull

How to Ax a Bull

Bowhunting for rutting Canada moose, you never know which calling technique will work best.

Although I have bowhunted Canada moose several times, my first hunt was an over-the-top adventure still fresh in my mind -- even after several decades. I had decided to book with Don Beattie, who lived and guided in the fabulous Sikanni Chief River Valley of northern British Columbia. He had a reputation for producing large Canada bulls, and as Don flew me toward the headwaters of the Sikanni Chief in his Super Cub bush plane, my excitement bubbled up like a mountain spring.

I can think of no more beautiful place to spend a week bowhunting than northern British Columbia.

Immediately, Don's hunting area lived up to its reputation. As I climbed from the Super Cub airplane, I counted 14 moose on a nearby hillside. One appeared to be a nice bull. I began pawing through bags for my bow, arrows, armguard, and other essentials.

My enthusiasm was dampened when I met my guide, Billy, a few minutes later. As the bush plane taxied in, he was standing by the runway, and he seemed energetic enough as he lugged my duffel to the little log cabin a hundred yards away. But I thought I could smell whiskey on his breath -- not a good sign.

Ed, the hunter who had been there before me, loaded a nice moose rack into the plane and muttered something about Billy as he brushed past me and climbed into the plane. I didn't catch exactly what he said, but it didn't sound complimentary. The plane buzzed away, leaving me with Billy for seven days.

It was mid-October, and Billy had been in the bush almost three months. It quickly became clear that he was tired of guiding hunters. All he craved was a wild night on the town in Fort St. John, 150 miles away.

After a leisurely lunch of moose steaks, we saddled the horses and headed out. The "hunt" lasted two hours, after which Billy yawned and declared that he had to get back to camp for a nap. It was 2:45 p.m.

We hadn't seen any good bulls, and I told Billy I wanted to hunt until dark. Or rather, I yelled it at him. Billy was almost stone deaf.

We ended up seeing lots of moose on the trip -- no thanks to my "guide." I found out later that Ed, the hunter before me, had developed an instant dislike for Billy and started throwing snowballs at him the first day to get his attention. I guess Ed figured it beat yelling in moose country.

During the next few days, the horses picked their way through some of the loftiest country on earth. Flat-bottomed valleys covered with snowbrush wound endlessly between the peaks, which rose abruptly like icy fingers. The valleys were full of moose -- cows, calves, little bulls, medium bulls, and big bulls. All had some deficiency -- small palms, light bases, a narrow spread, or not enough points. It was pure pleasure to glass the animals as they fed or chased cows. One old bull blocked the trail, grunting and pawing the ground as he shook his rack. We took a detour to avoid trouble.

Billy and I saw 30 to 50 moose per day during the next five days, along with other animals -- a grizzly sow and cub, a wolf, and mountain goats on higher peaks. Ptarmigan were thick along the river, roaring up like giant white bumblebees. It was all satisfying, but I couldn't help worrying. The big bull I wanted had not yet materialized, and Billy seemed less enthusiastic every day.

The sixth morning, we rode our horses up an ice-encrusted creek between sheer rock bluffs. Two inches of snow had fallen during the night, and fresh moose tracks littered the ground.

I spotted the bull at once. He was lying in a snow bank about 400 yards above us. Billy was plodding along on his horse in front of me, staring straight ahead as usual.

Sometimes you do what you have to do. I grabbed a handful of snow from a pine branch and let fly. The soggy missile smacked Billy between the shoulders. He turned and glared. I pointed. He started to grin.

My first Canada moose had antlers measuring 48 inches wide. My "guide" wasn't much help, but he did give me an idea for calling this beautiful bull within bow range.

I jumped off my horse and jerked up my binoculars. The bull had a good spread -- about 50 inches. I couldn't tell much about the palms, but they had plenty of points, at least nine or 10 per side. At this stage of the game, that moose looked good to me.

We tied the horses, and I went after the bull alone. That was fine with Billy. He pulled out his bottle and leaned against a tree. At least he would not get in my way. The snow was as soft as powdered sugar and the wind was in my face. I figured I had a good chance.

Then I heard the chopping of an axe in the valley below. I groaned. Billy was building a fire. I hoped the noise wouldn't mess up my stalk.

Five minutes later, I groaned again as I stared at the empty bed of the bull. His "getaway" tracks were heading straight toward Billy. I glanced down the mountain -- and nearly dropped my teeth. The bull was 30 yards from Billy's fire, eyeballing the horses and my guide. As I stood there with my mouth open, the rut-loony animal tossed his antlers, strolled across the valley, and lowered his head to feed.

It's amazing how fast a hunter can plow through knee-deep brush and snow when he has to. I reached the fire, grabbed Billy's axe, and headed after the bull. Billy burped and watched me go.

I wasn't planning to beat the moose over the head with the axe. I knew he had been drawn to the chopping because it sounded like two bulls locking antlers. I swatted the axe handle against bushes as I made a beeline for the animal. With luck, he might think I was another bull coming to do battle.

With a lone evergreen between us, about 40 yards from the bull, I swung the axe from side to side as I waded through the brush. I could see parts of the animal through the tree.

He stopped feeding and swiveled his huge head to stare. His rack flashed in the sun, giving me a good look at one antler palm. It was wide and long -- enough to put him high in the record book if the other side matched. I dropped to my knees and peered beneath the tree. The bull stepped toward me and turned his head. The other palm was good!

I dropped the axe, nocked an arrow, and stepped into the clear.

The bull froze, saliva dripping off his chin. Then he wheeled, trotted a few steps, and stopped to glare over his shoulder. I drew, put my 40-yard sight pin high on his hump, and let the arrow go. It smacked him low behind the leg. He took three or four steps, and then his hindquarters gave way and he collapsed like a ton of bricks, shot squarely through the heart.

Billy was smiling because he knew the hunt was over. Now he could stay in the cabin with his bottle until the plane came to pick him up. He actually helped me butcher the animal. We were back in camp with daylight to spare.

My B.C. bull had nine points on the right, 12 on the left, a 48-inch spread, and palms over 10 inches wide. He scored 1643⁄8, at that time one of the top 25 Canada moose taken with bow and arrow. Not a giant head, mind you, but a good one. In spite of challenging weather and an alcohol-soaked guide, I had my first Canada moose. I could hardly wait to go again!

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