November 04, 2010
With history on your side, why question the potency of your tackle?
One evening, while surfing the Internet, I happened upon an article about kinetic energy requirements for achieving lethal penetration on various big game species. Working my way down the list of animals, I came to the entry for moose — 65 foot-pounds. Closing my laptop, I looked up at the antlers on my family room wall and shook my head.
A double-lung, pass-through shot put my first moose down in short order.
A few years earlier, my good friend David Shumway and I were planning a Colorado elk hunt. However, numerous complications arose, and when a chance to hunt moose and small game for two weeks in northwest Ontario became available, the decision was easy: We were heading north instead of west.
Even though this was my first moose hunt, I had no reservations about the lethality of my traditional archery tackle. I've long enjoyed bowhunting literature from the old-timers — folks like Saxton Pope, Chet Stevenson, and Bob Swinehart — and knew my equipment was more than capable of humanely bringing down a bull moose.
After months of planning, David and I loaded his truck and made our way across the border into Ontario. Once we'd settled into camp and secured all necessary hunting licenses, we gathered our gear and headed into the Ontario bush with our guide, Ted Peters. Even though we saw only grouse that evening, we saw promising moose sign, including saucer-sized hoofprints that gave some credence to the statistical data I'd read regarding the size of my quarry.
Standing seven feet or more at the shoulders and weighing up to a half-ton or more, a bull moose can certainly appear intimidating. While moose share certain physical similarities with their smaller deer cousins — namely skeletal structure and vital organ placement — some differences are worth noting.
They may not have great eyesight, but their radar-dish ears and enormous noses can pick you off instantly if you make unnatural sounds or fail to play the wind. The first time Ted called in a bull for me, I was still thinking like a whitetail hunter and paid the price.
We were hunting recently logged land flush with new vegetation. In the center of the cutover was a shallow valley, perhaps 200 yards wide, crossed by a logging trail and flanked by two small lakes. At the bottom of the valley, a short loop road jutted out from the main logging trail, forming a triangle of sorts. Fresh sign at The Triangle identified it as a definite moose hotspot.
Ted set up at the top of the valley, near the main logging trail, while I moved 60 yards closer to the nearer lake. Unfortunately, I decided to forgo mobility for the tight, thick cover of a jumble of discarded tree branches. About an hour into Ted's calling session, I looked over my right shoulder in time to see a bull walking down the middle of the logging trail, headed straight for Ted.
Unable to move quietly through the brittle debris, I watched helplessly as the moose lumbered closer to my scent stream. Right on cue, he locked up perfectly downwind, raised his head, flared his nostrils, and inhaled the alarming stench.
We focused our calling efforts on cutovers where moose fed on the lush new vegetation. We named this particular spot The Triangle.
The bull stood his ground for a minute, working the bellows of his nose. The shot angle was perfect, but the distance was too far. So I just enjoyed the show, which ended as the bull's backside slowly disappeared through the dense brush.
After that, Ted and I decided we'd stay together to maintain voice contact. If we located an animal, Ted would either drop back or I would move forward. Theoretically, this would allow him to call the animal past me for a close-range, broadside shot.
Over the next several days we hunted mornings and evenings, and then, during midday, we scouted, traded cedar arrows for fresh grouse, and practiced with our bows behind the lodge. During one practice session, another hunter walked up and took note of my recurve bow. Politely and sincerely, he asked how close I'd have to be to kill a moose.
After explaining my bow and arrow selection, I assured him that my tackle was more than capable of shooting through a bull at distances far beyond my personal restrictions.
In addition, I pointed out that my self-imposed maximum shot distance was much closer than the distance at which I was grouping arrows in the center of the target. With his mind at ease, we went on to discuss other aspects of moose hunting.
Most of our hunts involved setting up in fresh moose sign and then calling, waiting, and hoping a bull would respond. For two days we had little action, but things changed on the third as we anchored our pack stools facing north across The Triangle and Ted let out a series of calls.
Within a few minutes, a bull appeared on the opposite rim of the valley. Ted and I saw the animal at the same time, and with no discussion I slid off my stool and eased forward 15 yards behind a short, dead bush.
Sitting back on the heels of my boots, I nocked an arrow and prepared for the shot I hoped would come. Ted worked the shoestring of his can call just enough to keep our quarry on course.
The bull came in steadily with that stiff-legged, rocking swagger that lets you know he intends to fight. At 20 yards he was still technically downhill from me, but due to his height and my kneeling position, his chest was at my eye level. When he suddenly locked up and turned broadside, I prepared to take the shot. Fearing the animal was turning to head for thick cover, Ted grunted softly and the bull turned back on course.
Two mornings in a row, a pair of bull moose walked down our fresh tire tracks. The size of the tracks attested to the size of the animals.
My next shot opportunity wouldn't come until the animal walked past me, 12 yards from stomping Ted and his pack stool into the ground. As the bull came up the valley, his chest ascended from eye level to what seemed like a mile high. As he passed me broadside, I made my move.
Focusing on a tuft of hair behind his left shoulder, I eased the string back and settled into anchor. Detecting my movement, the bull stopped and swung his rack in my direction, but he was too late. My bow limbs bottomed out, and in a flash a spinning ball of yellow and orange fletching disappeared through his ribs.
Letting out a deep huff, the bull turned, trotted 20 yards, and stopped broadside. Glaring in my direction, he clearly had no idea he'd been shot. The arrow had taken out both lungs, split a rib vertically, exited his chest, and disappeared into the cutover.
After a brief staredown, he slowly walked into a thicket of poplar and red maple trees. A few seconds later a pair of gentle gurgles, the crack of a broken tree, and a loud thump told the tale. Gathering my legs — which for some reason were shaking like a pair of paint mixers — I walked back to Ted to discuss what had just happened. It was difficult to determine which of us was more excited.
After meeting up with David and his guide, Ralph Cox, the four of us walked into the thicket and found my moose. He wouldn't make any record books, nor was he the largest bull we'd encountered during our hunt. But he was a mature animal that would provide both a freezer full of meat and a lifetime of memories.
Someday I hope to once again pursue North America's largest deer species. When that time comes, I will not be the least bit concerned by the fact that my equipment produced only 41 foot-pounds of kinetic energy — far less than the 65 foot-pounds recommended in that article on the Internet. After all, bowhunters have been killing moose with recurves and longbows similar to mine for generations. That should speak more about lethality than kinetic energy figures, which at times have no basis in historical fact.
Bowhunting equipment may have changed over the past few decades, but biologically speaking, moose have not.
The author is an outdoor writer and passionate traditionalist from Cortland, Illinois.
Author's Notes: I was shooting a Midway Traditions recurve of my own design. My arrows were full-length Beman ICS Camo Hunter 340 carbon shafts tipped with 125-grain Ace Standard two-blade heads. For grouse hunting, I traded those arrows for inexpensive cedar shafts and Ace Hex Heads.