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Backyard Bull

By M.R. James, Founder/Editor Emeritus

THAT MURPHY'S LAW GUY must have been a moose hunter. How else do you explain why he predicted almost everything would go wrong during my bowhunt for a rutting Montana bull? Almost a full week into the early October bowhunt, after long days spent prowling rugged mountain terrain just northwest of my Flathead Valley home, I had to concede that my best cow-calling, tree-raking efforts were being totally ignored. In fact, I'd seen a grand total of two bulls, one a goofy-acting paddlehorn standing near a rural roadway; the other a wallhanger glimpsed through binoculars, moving across a forest opening two drainages away.

And now, after 3 sweaty, brush-busting hours clawing our way up to an overgrown clearcut where pals Marcus and Lois Nichols had glassed four moose earlier that same morning, cameraman Jim Van Norman and I could only shake our heads in frustration. Just as we finally worked into position, the cool cross-slope breeze - a breeze we'd kept in our favor throughout the long, strenuous climb - betrayed us by abruptly switching directions and gusting up toward the dark timber where the Nichols had watched the moose bed. As if the fickle wind change wasn't bad enough, a chilly rain began slanting down from gray clouds skimming over a ridge to the west. Worse yet, only 2 hours remained before darkness would cloak the high country and end another fruitless day afield. It was almost enough to make a moose hunter cry.


Hunkering under a low-limbed spruce, Jim and I whispered a strategy. We agreed to wait a full hour before trying to beat nightfall back to my truck on a remote mountain two-track. In the meantime, I'd try calling from time to time, slashing nearby brush and trees with the canoe paddle I'd packed along for that express purpose. Who knew? Maybe we'd hear or see an amorous bull. Even if we had no time for a stalk, we'd have a starting point for the next morning's hunt. So I tried another round of cow-in-heat vocalizations before we settled back to wait and watch the pattering rain dampen the brush around us.

PLEASE DON'T MISUNDERSTAND. I'd been excited ever since receiving a prized Montana moose license in late June. Hunting so close to home, practically in my own backyard, was a real treat for someone used to climbing aboard planes and winging to distant hunting camps several times each season. And despite this hunt's slow start, I still was pumped, only worried. Early October is normally when the western mountains come alive with moans of lovesick cows and grunts of aggressive bulls. Unaccountably, this year my hunting unit remained eerily silent. For reasons known only to the moose, their annual rut was on hold. Meanwhile, precious time was ticking away.

Lois and Marcus had taken their hard-earned vacation time - days they could have spent bowhunting deer and elk on their own - to join me. Videographer Jim Van Norman, on assignment from Wolf Creek Productions with instructions to return with good footage for a 2003 episode of Bowhunter Magazine's The American Archer television show, had to head north to an Alberta deer camp by week's end. Unless things heated up fast, I'd soon be left on my own. That meant no friends to provide extra eyes, ears, and legs for helping me locate a stalkable or callable bull. It also meant no cameraman to capture my moose action on videotape.

I'd be letting down other helpful folks, too. Montana biologist Jerry Brown, a serious bowhunter stationed in nearby Libby, had provided hours of helpful advice about prime moose areas. Hunting buddy Dr. Chuck Williams, a retired dentist from Kalispell, had spent time here on pre-season scouting tours of promising hotspots. My current dentist, Dr. Bill Jones, and his son Jim, a Troy, Montana, teacher had chipped in with valuable telephone tips based on their own experience. I knew that each of these supportive folks was pulling for me to score. If only the moose would cooperate€¦

A SPLINTERING CRASH that sounded like a chain-sawed tree toppling in the dense woods just behind us jarred me from my fretful musings.

"Something's coming," Jim hissed, raising his video camera.

I peered over my shoulder while quickly nocking an arrow. A gangly paddlehorn stepped into sight, striding our way. He quickly passed our hiding spot less than 15 feet away, moving uphill. Although he was a legal bull - and from the outset I had said I wasn't holding out for a record book Shiras bull - I was not tempted to take the gimme shot. True, it could be my first and last chance, but€¦

Another movement caught my eye. A second bull was trailing the paddlehorn, grunting as he walked. This bull was larger. And he was walking directly at me!

Almost close enough to knock my arrow off the rest, he pushed through the spruce limbs sheltering me and Jim from the falling rain. He towered over us like some black apparition.

I actually had to lean back to reach full draw. For the first time, I noticed his right palm was missing, likely snapped off as the result of some recent battle for breeding rights. But at this point I didn't care. I wasn't about to look this gift moose in the mouth.

The aggressive bull, sensing my slight movements out of the corner of his eye, suddenly stopped and turned, quartering slightly, glaring down at me. Holding tight behind his shoulder, I released, actually shooting up at the looming bull, and watched a tuft of brown hair jump where my carbon arrow disappeared through his thick chest.

He leapt and turned away, taking a couple of uncertain sideways steps before slowly circling to retrace his steps down the trail below the spruce. The dying bull made it maybe 25 yards.

Glancing toward Jim kneeling beside me, I found myself staring into the lens of his video camera. His ear-to-ear grin told me he'd captured all of the pointblank action on tape.

"Was that close enough?" I whispered, giddily smiling back at him. My weeklong run of bad luck had abruptly ended, and I was truly thankful I hadn't gotten rattled and blown the shot on a bull that almost stepped on me. It would have been really tough to explain how I'd missed a bull moose at 3 yards!

Author's Note

I hunted with a Mathews Q2XL bow, Beman ICS 400 arrows, Barrie Ti-125 broadheads, Trebark camo, Rocky boots, lightweight Bausch & Lomb binoculars, and a Bushnell spotting scope.


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