This is the seventh in an 8-part mini-series chronicling my experiences in the 2012 Ontario Moose Hunt. You can find the entire series here (it will update daily as it’s published) or check out previous years (2009, 2010, 2011). The posts appear exactly one-week after they were experienced.
Friday morning. The weather has continued to hold. We were promised 5 or 6 days of rain and we’ve been so fortunate to have very little.
Today is the last day for four of our hunters and we headed to an area that we haven’t hunted yet this week known as the back side of Shaefer’s pond. I’m fond of the area and was excited to get going when we finally broke camp.
I sat on the third-last watch. My seat was almost a kilometer from the nearest road and found a spot to sit deep within the woods. It’s still warm and my watch was pleasant. It felt like our hunt was nearing the end and I had plenty of time to reflect on the week and the time I spent in the forest.
In some ways it felt like the hunt was over. We had a large animal and after lunch our camp would be reduced to 7 guys.
Then it happened. The woods came alive and it was clear that their was a freight train running towards me. I gathered my breath and tried to keep adrenalin at bay. A shot of adrenalin would send the blood rushing from my head and into my core muscles as well as make my heart race. A shot of adrenalin would temporarily make me strong but rob me of intelligence and the rush of blood would make my arms shake. After 24 years of waiting I knew the most important thing was to keep calm. There would be time for adrenaline later.
CRASH! CRASH! CRASH!
The moose was about 70 yards away and cutting across a ridge. The moose was heading between me and the watch beside me and running near full speed. It was obvious that it wasn’t going to get closer than 50 yards and the thick brush would make identifying it’s age (which would be necessary as we can’t hunt adult moose) difficult.
Knowing the animal was running away from me, there is little concern of it seeing me (it’s already fleeing). My head bobbed back and forth trying to get a glimpse at it. It took mere seconds to determine that the animal was too big for our current licenses; I would have to pass on this one.
Just because you can’t shoot an animal doesn’t mean the hunt is over. There’s a learning opportunity whenever you see an animal like this. There is also the chance that I’ve misdiagnosed it’s size so there are two options that remain:
- Try to get a better peek at it.
- Try to change its direction so someone else can get a look at it.
I realized the moose would be gone in seconds and did what has worked for me every time I’ve tried it: I filled my lungs with air, leaned my head back to stare at the sky and bellowed as loud as I could.
The sound filled the woods from every direction. If I yelled at the moose it would know where I was and continue to run away. The moose did exactly what I expected. It stopped dead. I took a few quiet steps before it caught my sound and turned broadside to me and ran back in the direction it came from (possibly perceiving it as safe).
By the end of the hunt I found out the my actions worked. The moose ran in front of two of our hunters. It was a young male – just old enough to be too old for us this year. My decision to pass on the shot was a sound one.
Another hunter saw several deer on the same run. It was an exciting lunch back at camp.
We had a long lunch. Four of our hunters left during lunch but not before helping us pre-close count. This included loading the moose into the truck and having the guys take some extra supplies home.
We had a quick run and found nothing. It was somewhat anticlimactic after the morning run and most agreed the hunt was over.
Until someone found these:
One of the hunters was out for a drive and found a pile of tracks on the main road. When he came back to the cabin and shared the news, I had previous plans to go for a drive in the opposite direction where we had seen sign earlier in the week. He gently pushed back and said, “It’s better to chase animals in a spot where you know that they are rather than one that you hope they are.”
His words took some time to sink in. One of the other hunters went to see the tracks and I stayed at camp and contemplated before heading down the road to see the sign.
It took about 10 minutes to get to the fresh tracks. It took another 25 minutes for two of us to piece together where the animals came from and where they were going. It took almost 15 minutes before we found the calf tracks – and they were headed onto our property.
We were pretty pleased that we had figured out the puzzle of the tracks and that we could head back to share what we learned. We had passed our test and were pleased with ourselves.
As I prepared to go back to camp, I felt a new urge wash over me. I offered my cohort an option – he could circle back around the trail, sit on our land and I would try to track the moose through the forest. The walk would take the best part of an hour (assuming all went well) and there was about two hours of daylight left. He took me up on the deal and I waited 30 minutes for him to get in position.
Tracking moose on a sandy road is a fairly easy challenge. Tracking it through a leaf-covered forest floor is a completely different challenge. Tracks can disappear for 10-to-20 feet at a time and can be as simple as a divot or single wet leaf. I’ve lost tracks almost immediately after finding them. My record for tracking was considerably less than 75-feet. The prospect of following these tracks was equal-part exploration as well as equal-part learning and testing.
The walk was amazing and filled with amazing sights like this awesome growth on a tree:
The photo below shows the challenges of tracking moose (there are tracks in the photo):
I followed the tracks for more than 650 meters before they turned away from our land. If it was earlier in the day I might have followed them further but I decided to turn towards my waiting friend. Just as there are more fish in the sea, there are more moose in the woods and there was still almost a kilometer back to my exit point.
It was a little bittersweet to leave the trail behind. The hunt was now almost certainly over and I continued to walk towards the line when my radio started to squawk. A single voice started the conversation and it was followed by another. And then another.
I knew instantly what had happened: the other guys had heard I was going into the woods and they rallied their energy and got out to watches. If I was going to try and put something up they’d make sure there was someone on the other end waiting. I’m still struggling to describe the emotion – other than complete support and acceptance I felt. I could have walked a week at that point.
The run ended without incident. But there was no question that I felt somehow different. I’m lucky to hunt with the men that I do. They are my extended family and, today, I somehow feel even more embraced by them. It’s true to say that I love hunting – a great part of that love is reserved for the guys I share this experience with. They have my back and I have theirs.