July 12, 2023
This very special bowhunting adventure started much like most do…with an excited, “Oh my gosh, honey, I finally drew that tag!” In this case, after 20 years of applying in my adopted home state of Colorado, I had finally drawn an archery bull moose tag, and I was over-the-moon stoked, as was my nonhunting wife of 36 years — read into her excitement what you will.
I live in the southwest corner of Colorado, about 15 miles northeast of Durango. In that part of my home state, I’m fortunate to be able to hunt elk, mule deer, black bears, and turkeys literally in my front yard.
This moose tag, however, was for Unit 6, which is in north-central Colorado, on the Wyoming border. I had applied there for years but had never actually been in that specific unit. No worries, though, as I planned on making several scouting trips and was confident in my abilities to locate a couple of good bulls prior to opening day.
Overconfidence can kill you at times, as can Mr. Murphy, and as it turned out I showed up the day before the season opened towing a little camp trailer I’d borrowed from my neighbor, having had no opportunity to scout and only a vague idea of where I was going to start hunting the next morning.
Even more pressing at that moment of my arrival was quickly finding a place to camp so I could at least look around for a couple of hours. The “quickly” part wasn’t to be, but I did eventually find a secluded little place just off the road. It was dark by the time I got my camp set up. Oh well, I guess the hunt I’d waited 20 years for would start with a recon mission instead of what I’d hoped for, I thought before turning in for the night.
As I walked away from camp in the dark the next morning, I’m sure the grin on my face was huge. I was moose hunting, and I love moose hunting — especially with my longbow!
When I walked into the woods, I immediately realized a distressing fact — I was working much harder than I’d anticipated. I live at an elevation of approximately 8,000 feet and was in great shape, so I was a bit surprised. Thinking I must’ve accidentally picked a bad piece of woods with a lot of deadfall, I trudged on.
When it got lighter, I was absolutely astounded at what I could see. In every direction there were live, perfectly healthy green trees up to 18 inches in diameter, snapped off like toothpicks. Other huge and healthy trees were blown over; their giant rootballs literally ripped out of the ground! I found out later that just a day or two earlier a wind that was clocked at 114 mph had roared over the ridge from the east and had simply devastated the woods!
Two hours later, I found myself 100 yards above a creek that ran through an equally wide marsh. When I stopped to call, I got an instant reply from the other side of the marsh. I grunted again and raked a nearby bush with a bovine scapula a rancher friend of mine had given me, and here he came…
Now, I’m certainly not a professional moose hunter, but I’ve called-in enough bulls over the years to know that what I was doing at that moment might prove effective.
He was coming in nicely and we were continuously exchanging dialogue, but I couldn’t see him, even when he splashed across the marsh to my side. Suddenly, there he was — about 35 yards away — but something wasn’t quite right.
It didn’t take me long to figure out my trepidation — the bull only had one antler. I immediately stopped communicating with him, as I really didn’t need a lap dance by this 1,000-pound critter, and he eventually wandered off.
I’d hunted hard and had some close encounters but just couldn’t close the deal on a bull I wanted. I had also taken a three-day hiatus to hurry home to see my wife, wash some clothes, grab some more groceries, and generally regroup. In addition, the crazy blowdown situation had me a bit frustrated and discouraged. There were places I could get to if I worked hard enough, but I was hunting alone, and I feared loss of precious meat should I arrow a bull in said places.
Another factor in the hunt had been the huge wildfires burning on three sides of the unit I’d drawn. Unit 6 is an OTC archery elk tag, so many of the lucky elk hunters who had drawn tags in other places that were currently on fire opted to turn in their elk tags, thus saving their points… So there were elk hunters everywhere I was hunting moose!
Oh well, I thought. Nothing to do at this point but tighten my boot laces and keep at it. So, with a new resolve, back to the moose woods I went.
Late in the afternoon of Day 17, I was almost five miles north of my second campsite, where two days prior I had called-in a very nice bull a half-mile from where I was now. That bull had come to within 20 yards of me but never gave me a good shot in the thick timber.
Hoping I might relocate him and convince him to play the game again, I was quietly sneaking through the woods 200 yards above a marshy area located in the bottom of a steep canyon. Apparently, this particular canyon’s depth and orientation had somehow protected it from the ridiculous winds that had caused the gnarly blowdown, so there weren’t quite as many trees on the ground.
Stopping to look and listen, I heard a loud limb snap down in the canyon. Focusing my attention downhill, I then heard several more loud snaps — enough to convince me that the sounds I was hearing were being made by a large animal in motion.
I was carrying my grunt funnel and a moose scapula that I’d recently acquired off a found skeleton, which replaced the aforementioned bovine scapula, which had broken after multiple days of overzealous raking. The thermals were still blowing uphill, so the wind was good.
All things considered, I was in a pretty good spot, so I decided to start the game from right where I was. Nocking an arrow and leaning my bow against a tree, I sent a moderately loud grunt in the direction of the popping noises. That produced an instant grunt response from what sounded like maybe 100 yards below, followed seconds later by the sounds of a moose thrashing a bush. The acoustics in that canyon were awesome, and I was in business!
Things ramped up pretty quickly from there. I matched the bull’s thrashing with that of my own, and his next grunt was closer. I grunted again, he thrashed again, and this time he was even closer.
I became hyper-focused, and without realizing I’d picked it up, my longbow was now in my left hand. The scapula thrashed one more time and was then put down; my grunt funnel was still in my right hand.
The bull was now grunting consistently as he approached from downhill and I realized if he stayed on his current path he’d ultimately enter a wide shooting lane in front of me at very close range. Perfect!
The bull was close and coming hard, so I decided I was done making noise and set the funnel on the ground to ready myself for the shot. I’ve always shot two fingers under, because a college football injury to my right ring finger doesn’t allow that finger to completely straighten for a clean, three-finger release, but I digress. I was locked and loaded!
The bull stayed on course, and then suddenly, he was there…less than 20 yards away and perfectly positioned for a shot. But a branch the diameter of my wrist, sticking up from a downed tree, perfectly covered the spot behind the bull’s right shoulder that I had been focused on. At that point, all I could realistically do was wait for the still-grunting bull to move just enough to give me a clear shot.
After what seemed like forever, the bull then strangely moved through my next shooting lane and uphill — and seemingly out of my life. Desperately, I grabbed the funnel from the ground and grunted hard at him, stopping him dead in his tracks. I then sent another soft grunt in his direction, and that caused the bull to turn and start heading back toward me.
At 20 yards, I was starting to get a bit concerned that this situation was gonna get ugly. Yeah, I’d picked the fight, but I wouldn’t be able to “throw a punch” if he kept coming in straight on.
Luckily, he made a turn to his right to go around a big root ball, which gave me just the right shot angle that I needed. As I drew, he caught the movement and stopped, looking directly at me at just a bit over 15 yards. When my middle finger snugged into the corner of my mouth, the arrow was gone.
The hit was ideal, and the bull winced when the arrow sunk, but then something odd happened: He just stood there looking at me, and for a split-second I scanned for cover thinking he was going to make a death-defying charge at the unseen bull that had just “stung” him.
My concern was quickly put to rest as I soon watched the bull turn and then slowly walk away. I knew the arrow was in the right spot with plenty of penetration, so I just watched as he slowly sauntered away, knowing he’d be down soon.
I could still see the bull when he stopped about 70 yards away and began to wobble. He was also on a bench that dropped off steeply behind him, and while I wanted him to fall dead, I most definitely did not want him to do so backwards, given his precarious position.
Of course, he did just that, and I spoke a few words of French, to which there was no one around at the time for me to beg their pardon! Then, when I made my way over to his final landing spot under the low-hanging limbs of a tree, and in the edge of a wild rose thicket (or whatever you call those demonic plants that are little vines with a million thorns on them), there was more French. It was apparent that I had quite a bit of chopping and trimming to do just to be able to maneuver around to work on him and take a few pictures. I hate when that happens!
As I finally laid my hands on that magnificent beast, all the aches and pains in my 62-year-old body suddenly disappeared. Although the deck had been stacked against me, from having no time to scout, to the blowdown nightmare, to having to negotiate a woods overcrowded with elk hunters… I had persevered and it had all come together.
My bull was beautiful and well worth the 20-year wait. It was then that I realized I was by myself, several miles from camp with darkness closing in fast, and I had a 1,000-pound bull moose to take apart.
Yep, more French.
I really hate when that happens!
The author has been bowhunting for 40 years and was just re-elected to a third term as Vice President at SCI.