When you have a 1,000-pound-plus animal bearing down on you, do NOT look at him through binoculars.
We were in the Yukon, on my very first moose hunt. Guide Donn Wilkinson was calling when we heard the sound of an antler hitting a tree. Then, nothing. After another 20 minutes, we decided to try another area. As we were walking along the shoreline of Upper Toobally Lake, Bowhunter TV cameraman Mike Malley said, "C.J., shooter moose, behind us!"
Within a second, Donn and I were in position along the lake and Mike Malley was shooting video of the bull coming out of the brush directly toward us. As Donn did his magic on a moose call, the bull charged across the shallows, stopped at 30 yards, and grunted. Unable to identify us, he then walked within 20 yards and stood broadside.
"What do you think?" I whispered to Donn. "Say, 175 P&Y?"
"Probably," Donn agreed. "The shot is up to you. He's a good bull." With these words I let my bow down. After all, this was the first day, and all my references told me that Ceaser Lake Outfitters was special. For anyone who wants a 200-inch moose, this is the place.
After Mike finished scolding me for passing up a Pope and Young bull, I explained to him how drawing a bow on a majestic moose had always been an elusive dream of mine -- one started and spurred on by countless articles I'd read in the pages of Bowhunter Magazine.
Many of our staff members have had some memorable moose hunts. Remember when Editor Dwight Schuh and cameraman Larry D. Jones literally got run over by a bull moose ("50 Years," August/September 2007)? I still don't know who was braver (or dumber), Dwight or Larry? And then there was a nostalgic moose article by Publisher Jeff Waring, who actually stepped in the tracks of Fred Bear on his way to taking his huge moose ("Blessed in Dry Creek," Big Game Special 2008).
And who can forget Equipment Editor Curt Wells' first moose encounter ("Almost Moose," March/April 2009), in my opinion, one of the best articles ever published in Bowhunter. Contributor Jeff Frey also wrote a poignant article ("Rogue River," October/November 2006) about hunting Yukon moose that forged a dream in my head.
With these stories in mind, fast forward to the 2009 Pope and Young Convention in Denver, Colorado. When my hunting buddy Steve Keithley from Maryland met me in the convention hall, he seemed a little unsettled. Steve had just learned that his daughter had decided to relinquish her college soccer scholarship in favor of academic studies, and this had him a little upset. Over the years he had forgone many hunting trips with me to go to her games.
Then, looking at the brighter side, he said, "I guess that just means you and I can hunt together more!"
What Steve didn't know was I already had been working on an Alaska-Yukon moose hunt. "Let's call our friend Don Stout back home and wake him up," I said. "We're going to plan a hunt right now!"
Since it was only 6 a.m. Sunday morning, Don's time, he was sounding a little grumpy. With the voice of a greenhorn who just shot his first deer, I said, "Clear your schedule for the first 10 days in October, Don. We're going moose hunting!"
Don hung up on me.
What Steve and Don didn't know was that I already had called several references for Ceaser Lake Outfitters, and they all said the same thing: "C.J., this may be THE best place, anywhere, to bowhunt moose!" Steve was a little stunned at my speedy booking abilities, and, yes, Don did get back to me -- in a slightly better mood. We were all set for our first-ever hunt for Alaska-Yukon moose.
To begin our journey, we all flew to Seattle, then to Vancouver, British Columbia, and finally to Whitehorse, Yukon, where we spent the night. Then we drove four hours to Watson Lake, Yukon, where we met Terry and Ruth Wilkinson, owners of Ceaser Lake Outfitters. After lunch we loaded our gear into a floatplane and landed at secluded Grizzly Creek Lodge on Upper Toobally Lake.
Camp consisted of homemade, rustic log bunkhouses equipped with wood stoves, and powered by propane and a gas-powered generator. We had no shower, but we had running water -- we ran to the lake and got it. In short, Grizzly Creek Lodge was five-star, Yukon style.
Each day started with an early breakfast and a boat ride to our guides' favorite calling locations. After my encounter with moose number one, we went to another of Donn's honey holes, and as soon as we got out of the boat a moose emerged from the adjoining shoreline. Like veterans working in unison, we assumed our positions to call, tape, and shoot this moose. As the bull crashed through the brush and crossed a small tributary, I looked at Donn.
"Just over the Pope and Young minimum of 170?" I asked. Donn nodded, and once again I let down my bow.
After the excitement of moose number two, we humped it across a mile of boreal forest carpeted with sphagnum moss. As always, Donn packed a rifle for protection against grizzly bears. With every step, our boots got stuck in the muck, and several times we walked right out of our boots, but we finally arrived at Donn's favorite spot.
Mike and I were getting our stuff together when Donn started to call, and seconds later we heard a bull respond. He was close, no more than 75 yards away. As we scrambled to get set up in the thick vegetation, I had no time to put my camo top back on, and I could see only one shooting lane.
Although I could hear the bull getting closer, I could not see him until, finally, at 30 yards, I caught a glimpse of him through my binoculars. But because of the thick vegetation, I could glass only bits and pieces of his antler paddles and body. Now let me tell you, a 1,000-pound-plus animal crashing your way through thick cover can set your nerves on edge.
At 10 yards the bull stood still, looking in our direction. But, still, I had no shot through the wall of vegetation. already at full draw, I was ready when the bull stepped into my one shooting lane -- at five yards! Instantly, my mind went back to the moose episode with Dwight and Larry. Yet, somehow I kept my composure, aimed, and released.
With my arrow buried behind his shoulder, the bull ran 25 yards and stopped. At this point he was only 10 yards away from Donn, who was calling (or hiding) beside a large log. Instinctively, I nock
ed another arrow and squeezed it through a small hole in the spruce forest. As the second arrow went through his lungs, the bull ran past Donn, into the water, and expired.
The task now was to get him back to land. Graciously, Donn "volunteered" to swim out and haul the bull out of the deeper water to shore. The water temperature was around 40 degrees! Surprisingly, the bull floated fairly well, but in the shallows we could get him no closer than 10 feet from the shore. And even with some come-alongs and a homemade ramp made from two trees, we still couldn't budge him closer. So, like it or not, we would gut, skin, and cape the bull in the water.
After his little swim, Donn was exhibiting some signs of hypothermia, so we quickly built a fire to warm him up. Mike couldn't help himself and cut off a piece of tenderloin, skewered it with a stick, and roasted it over the fire -- a meal to make any chef proud. As Donn warmed up by the fire, I reflected on what had just happened. The bull was not close to the Pope and Young minimum. At this point, I really didn't care, because the adventure alone was a true blessing for me.
By the time we'd butchered the moose to cool, it was getting late in the day, so we opted to return in the morning to retrieve the meat.
When we arrived back at the site the next morning, no critters had messed with the moose. Yukon law mandates that you remove all the meat and hide before you move the skull and antlers. Between the three of us, it took us almost all day to get everything back to camp. Our saving grace was that Donn is a pilot. So once we had the moose quartered he flew his floatplane back to the site, loaded the meat onto the plane, and met Mike and me back at camp.
That evening we learned that Steve also had got into moose. Like a schoolboy, he said, "C.J., we saw five shooters. All 190 inches plus!" Since Steve is a P&Y/B&C scorer, he knows antlers. The following day Steve and his guide came into camp, and the look on their faces said it all -- my friend had connected on a 207-inch P&Y bull.
Our other hunting buddy, Don, wasn't having so much luck. He and his guide were seeing only cows, calves, and yearling bulls. Steve and I tried to keep Don's spirits up by telling him it was only a matter of time before he'd get into the big bulls.
And, indeed, at the end of the fifth day, Don and his guide came into camp all excited.
They'd got within 20 yards of a giant bull and his four cows. Unfortunately, the thick brush prevented any shot.
So, early the next morning, Don and his guide boated back to where they had encountered the big moose. As his guide quietly paddled up to where they'd left off the day before, they heard a bull. Don jumped out of the boat and ran into the woods about 50 yards ahead of his guide. As his guide grunted, the same bull they'd seen the day before came within 30 yards of Don. At Don's shot, the moose ran about 40 yards and collapsed.
With Don's bull back at camp, Steve measured the antlers at 206 inches, and when dinner rolled around both Steve and Don started harassing me. "C.J., from a biological perspective, why is it that Steve and I always shoot bigger animals than you?" Don asked.
"Well, when you look at a moose through 10X binoculars at 30 yards, he definitely looks a lot bigger than you think!" was the only comeback I could muster.
On the plane flight out from Toobally Lake, I reflected on my first moose. I'll never forget asking Donn and Mike to share in my hunter's prayer over the moose. Although I now forget the exact words, I know I gave thanks for my moose, and I also asked blessings on Bowhunter Conservation Editor Dr. Dave Samuel. A couple of years ago, Dr. Dave had suffered botched heart surgery, which has made hunting on foot impossible for him. Prior to this surgery, Dave was excited over a moose hunt he had booked, and he then had to cancel.
During this hunt, I felt Dr. Dave's presence with me. And knowing Dr. Dave, I felt sure he would have shot the first (or second) Pope and Young bull I passed up. Moose fever is not in his make-up -- as it seems to be in mine.
The author is our "Hunting Whitetails" columnist. He and his family live in Randallstown, Maryland.
Author's Notes: I was hunting with a Hoyt Katera set at 80 lbs. draw weight, Carbon Express Aramid KV 350 arrows, 100-grain Rocky Mtn. Blitz broadheads, Fuse sight and quiver, T.R.U. Ball Pro Diamond Extreme thumb release, Nikon Premier binoculars, Nikon Archer's Choice laser rangefinder, and clothing from Cabela's.
Terry and Ruth Wilkinson have a wonderful reputation for big moose, mountain caribou, mountain goat, Dall sheep, wolf, and grizzly bear. If you're interested in an Alaska-Yukon moose hunt, contact: Terry and Ruth Wilkinson, Ceaser Lake Outfitters, Box 228, Watson Lake, Yukon, Canada YOA 1CO; (867) 536-2174; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ceaserlake.com.