By Dave Holt, Technical Editor
A HALF HOUR BEFORE daylight of opening day, September 12, my friend Jody Hefley and I left camp to begin my long-awaited moose hunt in the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming. We were completely unaware that we would drive within a quarter mile of our friend Joel Maxfield, who works for Mathews, Inc. in Sparta, Wisconsin. Joel had planned to join us to videotape my hunt, but just before the hunt, one of his family members had been hospitalized. He would not be able to make the trip.
We should have known better. When the medical problem was corrected, Joel drove straight through from Wisconsin to Wyoming without even knowing where we were camped, arriving at 3 a.m. opening morning. Because our cell phones didn't work in the mountains, we had no way of contacting each other. He just knew we would find us.
Shortly before first light Jody and I arrived at our chosen area, where we had scouted prior to the season. As daylight arrived we searched the area thoroughly, without locating anything. As we drove to a second glassing point, I noticed a black spot in a narrow strip between the dark timber and the willows, three-quarters of a mile away. A quick check with the spotting scope revealed a mature bull.
THIS MOMENT HAD BEEN a long time in coming. I first applied for a Wyoming moose tag in 1970, but for more than 30 years I had got nothing but rejection notices. Fortunately, in 1994, Wyoming instituted a preference point system, which tipped the odds in my favor, and finally, in 2002, after 33 straight years of applying, I drew a coveted moose tag in Unit 1, a quality area in the Big Horn Mountains.
Quickly assembling my gear, I was off on a long circular stalk just 20 minutes after the opening bell. As planned, Jody moved the truck out of the area so it wouldn't draw the attention of other hunters.
I had to cross the river and some beaver ponds to get the wind in my favor. The bull was making his way upstream in rather open country, and I could approach to only 60 yards. I quickly took a concealed position in the timber and called to the bull. He turned broadside and stared in my direction for several minutes.
Lying flat on the ground, I took the time to study the bull's rack closely. That extra time left me undecided. Far from being a Shiras moose expert, I knew he was good but not a monster. So I started second guessing myself, thinking I might find a real giant. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was unapproachable from my position. I'm not sure. But when he finally continued upstream I dashed back across the creek and headed for the road, in a hurry to look for a bigger moose.
Plowing through thick willows for several hundred yards, I finally reached higher, sagebrush-covered ground. At that point, the river made a semicircle, and I could hear the bull grunting from the willows. He had gone to the river rather than the timber. Farther on toward the road, I found a steep ravine that went directly to the river. Suddenly, I was upstream from the moose with an unbelievable chance to approach him without being spotted. And the wind was in my favor.
I still had no intention of shooting this bull, but just getting close would be a thrill. So off I went. At the bottom of the ravine, just 20 yards from the river, a 3-foot deep depression made almost a perfect blind. I crawled the last few yards and dropped into the hole. I could hear the bull's grunts growing closer.
I leaned out to see around the corner, downstream. Sure enough, he was headed my way but stopping every 10 yards or so to beat the daylights out of the willows. I don't know if it was his grunting, the beating of the willows, the close look at his huge black body, or the realization that this was an unbelievable opportunity. But, in the excitement I told myself that if he came within 30 yards, I'd shoot.
He kept stopping to beat the willows, which gave me plenty of time to get nervous. But it also gave me a standing broadside shot as he reached 30 yards. I drew and aimed, but just as I released, he started to walk and my arrow appeared to strike near the back of the lungs. He jumped and ran. I ripped another arrow from my quiver while making loud but poorly imitated grunts with my voice. When he stopped, at about 45 yards, I was already at full draw. By the time he looked back, my second arrow was on the way. This time it was a quartering-away shot and the arrow appeared to hit perfectly. The bull ran another 30 yards and crashed nose first into the willows.
I used a Mathews Q2XL at 70 pounds, Easton 2315 shafts with Trueflight feathers, Rocky Mountain Ti-100 broadheads, Day One Camouflage, a Primos moose call, and a Leica LRF 800 rangefinder.
NEVER HAVE I experienced so much excitement, coupled with an intense variety of emotions. Maybe waiting longer than 30 years for this tag affected me more than I realized. Or maybe it was just the circumstances of the hunt.
I immediately headed for the road and shared my success and excitement with Jody. Thank goodness she was along. What a huge help she was, even though she had never seen an animal skinned, let alone boned and packed one out. Fortunately, the road was only three-quarters of a mile away.
The skinning, boning, and packing took us a day and a half. To ensure keeping the meat fresh, we packed up camp and headed for home as quickly as possible. Just as we arrived in Sheridan, Wyoming, 30 miles from our hunting area, the cell phone rang. It was Joel Maxfield. He said, "I'm here. Let's go kill a moose." I almost hated to tell him the good news.