When the video camera goes kaput on a remote moose hunt, it's a disaster -- except for the cameraman.
At the end of the hunt our last night in camp, Steve Jones said, "Wow! All I can say is, Wow!"
"What do you mean, Wow?" I said.
"This is something I've always dreamed about doing, and now I've actually done it," Steve said. "What a great experience!"
The previous winter I had booked a moose hunt in British Columbia with Shawn Raymond's Coal River Outfitters (CRO). For years I had wanted to kill a big Canada moose. Shawn's area lies just south of the Yukon border, the dividing line between Canada and Alaska-Yukon moose, so it produces many bulls at the top end of the Canada moose category.
Steve would accompany me as a cameraman to record a segment for Bowhunter TV.
However, Steve is also an avid bowhunter, and when Shawn called to say he had an extra moose tag and wondered whether Steve would want it, "Just in case€¦" Steve pondered it for a millisecond and responded, "Wow! You bet." As it turned out, "Just in case€¦" had more meaning than we realized.
On September 23, Steve and I flew to Ft. Nelson, British Columbia, spent a day there, flew by bush plane to Moose Lake on September 25, and began hunting with our guide Chris Raymond, Shawn's cousin, on September 26.
CRO's Moose Lake camp lies in the middle of a huge burn, bristling with jackstraw blown-down timber -- blowdown -- overgrown with doghair regrowth trees 10-15 feet high. A nightmare for hunters on foot, but ideal habitat for moose.
The first day set the stage for the hunt as we climbed a high knob behind camp from where we could glass a number of small lakes scattered throughout the burn. With binoculars and spotting scopes, we spent all day looking for moose.
Late that first afternoon, we spotted a cow moose feeding in the shallows of one of the lakes. At this time of year, the peak of the rut, we assumed a bull would be nearby, and we eventually spotted the antlers of a bull bedded in the trees, keeping an eye on his cow.
Given the mile of blowdown between the moose and us, we would never reach them before dark. So we continued glassing until sundown and then returned to camp.
The next morning, disaster struck: As Steve was shooting video around camp, the camera suddenly went dead. Apparently the electrical system had gone kaput, and we could not repair it. We called Shawn on the satellite phone. He said he would join us in a few days and bring his personal video camera. Until then€¦
Suddenly Steve's "just in case" moose tag had purpose. Without a camera, Steve was a moose hunter on his very first moose hunt.
That afternoon we climbed the glassing knob, and about 4 p.m., we spotted a cow and calf feeding in the shallows of a lake as a big bull lay in the brush above them. As we watched, a cow moose came down the opposite shore, plunged into the lake, and swam across to join the bull, cow, and calf. However, the cow on shore met the swimming moose and chased her back into the water. This happened three times before the one in the water got brave enough to lunge out onto the land and hold her ground. Again, unable to reach them before dark, we returned to camp at sundown.
Early the next morning, hoping to find those moose up close, we set out on foot toward their location. Heavy rain all morning made the jackstraw logs slicker than soap, and we moved like snails to avoid breaking our legs. By noon, we were soaked and tired -- and still far short of our destination. In short, we needed a break. So we built a fire to dry out and eat lunch.
About 2 p.m., we clambered through a maze of logs to the top of a hill and found ourselves looking down on the lake -- and the moose some 200 yards away. The cow and calf were feeding in the shallows, while the bull stood on the shore, seemingly sound asleep. This was a monster bull, the kind I'd traveled all this way to hunt.
"If we get in those trees at the end of the bay, I think we can call him in," I whispered to Chris.
Just then one of us accidentally snapped a twig. The bull heard it and instantly came to life. Grunting, he circled the bay -- right through the trees where we'd hoped to ambush him.
He was coming to look for us, and we could only hide and hope to call him up the hill to us. Steve and I spread 30 yards apart as Chris called from behind us. The bull came along the edge of the lake, 65 yards below us, but when he could see no moose above him, he continued on past and circled above us to get downwind. Who says rutting bull moose are stupid? This one was smart enough to know those weren't moose he was smelling. Gone!
Five inches of snow fell that night, making the logs even more treacherous as we climbed the glassing knob early on September 29. After two hours of glassing, Steve spotted a bull bedded in the trees above one of the lakes. As always, persistent glassing had paid off. Despite their size, moose blend into the forest shadows where they're almost impossible to spot. You just have to keep looking until one moves into just the right position where you can see him. Hours of glassing are never wasted.
To get to this bull we headed straight down off the glassing knob. Mistake! It took us two hours to crawl over, through, and under a mile of snow-coated jackstraw. Finally reaching the bottom of the hill, we figured we might be within hearing distance of the bedded moose, so Steve and I took up shooting positions as Chris called from behind.
After some minutes had passed, we heard a bull grunt in the distance, but we weren't sure where he was, and then he went quiet. Trying to get a fix on the bull, we moved several times to call and listen. Not a peep.
Frustrated, and seemingly defeated, we stood discussing the situation when we heard a grunt. Close!
Steve and I leaped into cover, 20 yards apart, and nocked arrows as Chris scurried behind and began calling. Soon antlers appeared over the dense regrowth in front of us.
However, the bull seemed cautious and would not break into the open. However, as he circled he hit a small crack in the cover, 30 yards from Steve. His mistake.
A half-hour after Steve released his arrow, we followed a good blood trail 200 yards through the wall of regrowth. When we emerged into the open at the edge of a small lake, Chris spotted a brown body on the far shore of a shallow bay. Strangely, we could see no antlers.
As we circled the bay and approached the moose, Steve said, "Oh, no, I think I shot a cow." Chris went silent. His hunter had blown it!
But when we reached the moose, we could see the bull's antler -- yes, one antler -- buried under a log. Steve had known all along that the bull had only one antler, but he also knew that the bull had three brow tines, which made him legal. Since this was Steve's first-ever moose hunt, and might be his last, he was not about to look a gift moose in the mouth. Besides, this was a huge, older bull. His right antler had been snapped off at the base, no doubt in a fight. Ouch! No wonder he'd approached so cautiously.
We spent the rest of that afternoon and all the next day butchering and retrieving Steve's bull. Shawn keeps an Argo at Moose Lake for retrieving game, so the next morning Chris got the Argo running and we used it to haul the meat -- sort of. We spent half the day sawing logs to clear a path, and we nearly sank the Argo in a lake. Even at that, we got only within a mile of the moose and ended up packing the meat to the Argo.
When we arrived back in camp at midnight, Shawn was there. He had flown in that afternoon to hunt with us for the duration. He also had brought his video camera.
While flying in, Shawn had seen a good bull out to the north, so we spent all day October 1, roaming and calling, looking for that bull. We neither heard nor saw a moose all day.
Early October 2, we all hiked to the top of the glassing knob, and with a fire going for warmth, we began the long glassing vigil. Along with that, Shawn cow-called and bull-grunted all morning at full volume, using a megaphone-style call to direct the sound.
After several hours, we heard a faint Urp! I'm always amazed at how far you can hear the subtle grunt of a bull moose on calm days.
After more calling and listening, we determined the bull was in the valley below, well over a half-mile away. We doubted whether he would come up all that way through the blowdown to meet us, and we weren't about to bale straight off toward him. The only sensible alternative was to go back down the easier way to camp and then to circle around, following the edges of a series of lakes, to reach the bull's location.
Four hours later we were approaching the point where we thought the moose might have been. Rutting bulls travel constantly and rapidly, and you can never assume they'll be where you think they are. So we started calling well short of our intended destination.
Good thing. The instant Shawn finished his first calling sequence, we heard the familiar Urp! Close! Shawn and Chris moved back 50 yards, while I hid behind a big Christmas tree, and Steve got behind me with Shawn's video camera.
As Shawn continued calling, I saw the bull some 80 yards out in the open timber, coming straight at me. Clearly he had impressive brow tines with at least three points per brow.
He wasn't the monster we'd seen earlier, but at this stage in the hunt, he was monster enough.
When he walked past me at 20 yards, I grunted to stop him and then released. He ran 30 yards and disappeared into a screen of thick trees.
Hurriedly we regrouped to discuss our next move. Had the shot been good? How far had he gone? How long should we wait? As we stood quietly deliberating, we heard a crash! nearby. The bull had answered our questions.
By the time we had finished up with photos, video, and field-dressing, it was almost dark, so, again, we headed back to camp and returned first thing in the morning with the Argo to retrieve the meat. We then spent the rest of the day cleaning up camp and preparing for the flight out.
The morning of October 4, we climbed aboard the Beaver airplane and lifted off. As Moose Lake disappeared below us, I thought about the thousands of downed logs we'd crawled over, the endless hours of glassing and calling, my beautiful last-day bull, and Steve Jones' first moose. In conclusion, I had to agree with Steve.
Author's Notes: I used a Hoyt TurboHawk set at 50 lbs. draw weight; Carbon Express Aramid KV 250 shafts; Rocky Mtn. Ironhead 100 broadheads; Nikon binoculars and rangefinder; and Under Armour clothing. Steve used a Hoyt AlphaMax 32 at 70 lbs. draw weight, Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrows, and Rocky Mtn. Blitz broadheads.
For information on hunting Canada moose, mountain caribou, black bears, and other game in northern British Columbia, contact: Shawn Raymond, Coal River Outfitters, PO Box 3901, Ft. Nelson, B.C., Canada V0C 1R0; (250) 233-8712; (250) 264-2512 (cell); www.coalriver.ca; email@example.com.