…and 4 Killer Tips for Moose Hunting Preparation
By Ron Spomer
Unless you live in the far north, a moose probably isn’t something you hunt every year. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with, one hopes, one heck of a supply of meat and one painful taxidermy bill.
So do it right. Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of hunting moose in the wrong place.
West is the Best!
Everyone wants to hunt in the best place, but that’s more easily said than done. So how do you find the right place for moose? Short answer: hunt in the mountains.
Okay, let’s slow down and explain some of this. I’ve hunted moose more than 10 times and taken six bulls, all in the mountains. In the flatlands – those swampy, forested lakes and rivers – I’ve struck out, just like a lot of my friends.
Why such high success in the mountains? The answer is simple: you can easily spot more moose from up there.
Lots of hunters, raised on those classic images of moose in eastern swamps and hunters in canoes, don’t even know these huge deer live in mountainous terrain, but they do. And not just in the bottomlands and river valleys. Moose negotiate steep slopes every bit as easily as do elk. They also climb quite high, often above treeline. Bulls, especially, like to live above treeline in the summer so they don’t damage their velvet antlers. They’ll stay in that open country until mid-September when rut hormones urge them to go prospecting for cows at lower levels.
But even when mountain moose are frequenting the forests, they’re easier to see in mountain terrain because hunters can get high and look low, peering right into pockets of meadow, beaver ponds and small lakes. We’ve glassed moose more than eight miles away in Alaska. Once in British Columbia we counted 14 moose spread across five miles of river bottom while we sat atop a peak.
On a hunt in the Alaska Range, we spotted a bull from our perch high up on a mountain. He was feeding in a small, wet meadow three miles away. Thick forest lay between us. My guide stayed put with the horses to watch. I took a compass reading and dived off the tundra into the fir forest. When I reached the meadow, there was the bull, just about to walk into the trees on the far side. A 200-grain Nosler Partition from my Model 70 30-06 brought that stalk to a satisfying conclusion.
When you see lots of moose during a hunt, your spirit soars. Just as important, you get more chances to land one.
Why Not the Eastern Swamps?
I’ll grant flatland moose country may hold as many moose, but that doesn’t do you much good if you can’t see them. That’s why hunting guides in lowland habitat rely heavily on cruising lake shores, running rivers and calling like lovesick cows. They’re trying to get a bull in the headlights, but if he doesn’t come, you’re left with a sob story about a grunting bull that wouldn’t show himself.
I understand some hunters can’t head to the mountains to stalk their moose. Maine moose are a lot closer to East Coast hunters than Yukon moose, and hunts are undoubtedly a lot less expensive. Ditto Manitoba and western Ontario for Midwest hunters.
If you hunt those famous “moosing” grounds, research the heck out of them—and your outfitter. Check fish and game department websites for population trends, hunter success rates, moose die-offs and the like. The recent rash of wolf predation is disrupting moose nearly everywhere. Disease outbreaks are hitting some populations hard. An area that’s been a hotspot for years might suddenly be empty after a summer forest fire, but after a few years the young browse in burnt areas and could pull in moose from afar, fueling fantastic antler growth. Ask questions of local game wardens and biologists, too. Don’t waste your precious moose hunt on old intelligence in an area that used to be a hotspot.
4 Killer Tips for Moose Hunting Preparation
Wherever you go, while you plot, plan and save for the perfect moose hunt, train yourself to be the perfect moose hunter. Use these tips when preparing your next moose hunt:
- Know your quarry. Read up on moose behavior. Study them. Listen to their calls. Calling in a bull is fairly easy when he’s willing to play.
- Set your goals. Study taxidermy mounts and train yourself to judge antler size. Set realistic goals for what you’ll happily shoot.
- Conditioning. Get in shape to walk, endure and live in the wilderness. Don’t wait until a month before you leave home. It will take you all summer. Maybe longer.
- Practice shooting. Don’t wait until the last minute and show up in camp afraid to shoot that new uber Magnums can be fun, but moose don’t know whether you hit them with a .375 H&H or a .270 Winchester. I’ve taken most of mine with bullets as light as 120-grain 6.5mms. Locals regularly use the .243 Winchester. Just use a bullet designed to penetrate deep and aim for the chest, which provides a generous target diameter of more than 2 feet! Don’t expect a hard-hit bull to drop in its tracks unless you strike the spine. Lung shot moose sometimes need a minute or more to realize they’re dead.
Finally, east or west, be prepared to get tired and dirty. Just skinning an 800- to 1,100-pound moose is a big job, but it’s no problem for the Havalon knife. Hauling the meat out is exhausting, but worth every drop of sweat. About the only wild venison better than moose is sheep, but one moose equals about 10 sheep. That’s reason enough to hunt them.
About Ron Spomer
Ron is rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at (www.ronspomeroutdoors.com)
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