I hunt because I love the challenge, the outdoors, and tranquility. I moose hunt because I love the feeling of adrenaline infusing my body and making my neck hairs rise at the sound of the grunt of a bull moose.
Hearing animals up close before you see them causes very intense excitement. Your imagination is completely free to daydream of abnormally sized antlers, long, bearded bells, and perhaps even multiple animals. Bowhunting isn’t all fierce, non-stop action. Many hours of waiting, sitting still, and being quiet must be invested to have a plan work and get a chance to arrow an animal.
That is exactly how it played out for me this past October. I had four days of nothing, concluding with four minutes of adrenaline, followed by four hard, long hours of back-breaking work—all within 30 minutes of my home in what I’d call urban moose-hunting habitat.
Calling moose can be a successful tactic to use throughout the fall hunting season. From my many years of experience, I find the best time for calling bulls into range is the last five days of September and the first five days of October. Generally speaking, if you put yourself in prime moose country during those 10 days, and you call frequently during dusk and dawn, odds are in your favor that a bull moose will come to investigate your plea.
I do not need a calendar to tell me when the moose rut is occurring. The picture is engraved in my mind. The forest is painted with a plethora of vibrant fall colors. Trails through glossy white grass indicate recent morning traffic. Then there’s the magical moment late in the morning when the frost melts into dew and you catch the smell of fresh bark from antler-thrashed alders. This past year was no different. Fall came right on schedule and I was as impatient as ever to begin hunting for moose during the mating season.
Since I work full time, the last few days of September only allowed me to hunt in the evenings by myself, so that’s exactly what I did. I would cautiously get into position each and every evening about two to three hours before dark. The first hour was spent quietly letting the bush settle down again. Then, I would begin cow calling every 15 minutes until dusk. The weather during this hunt was a few degrees warmer than usual, so I chose to walk down to the lake after shooting light and call from the shoreline. My cow-calling moans were amplified by the wave-less flat water, and so expanded my calling area. My thinking here was that this tactic would attract more bulls into my hunting area during the higher activity period—the cooler nights.
Three in a Row
I experienced three solid evenings of nothing! There was nothing but squirrels chattering, leaves falling, wind whistling, and complete serenity. The weather (especially the wind) was complimenting my hunt plan effectively, so I could not blame that for the lack of action. In a treestand, a hunter has nothing but time and thoughts. Without action, it is only a matter of time before feelings of anticipation are exhausted and a sense of doubt sets in. Be that as it may, I knew the fourth day was a Saturday, so a morning hunt was on my horizon.
On Friday night, though, just as darkness fell, I heard a few distant hollow thud sounds which cluttered my mind. It could have been a bull moose grunt, but I chalked it up to human intervention of some sort. I thought it was probably some type of equipment or work being done on a nearby farm. The sound had me intrigued, though. It was because of this puzzling sound that I decided to cow call many times down by the lake after nightfall, instead of doing the usual one, long, loud call.
One Long Call
The evening by the lake was pitch-black. The first long pleading moan came out from my birch bark cone pointed at the night sky and reached far out, getting good distance. The next moan, just as loud but shorter, was directed into the shoreline weeds at the water’s edge. You would not have known that because the sound waves scurried across the water in every direction, like mayflies hatching on a hot summer night. The last few calls were powerful whines and moans, really trying to advertise a cow wanting attention. I repeated this sequence several times. Despite my extra efforts to entice a bull’s interest, I heard no sound in response. Not a splash, not a step, not a crack, not a grunt. There was nothing but an owl hooting, symbolizing the loneliness of the woods. Nevertheless, I was optimistic that a bull had heard me but just wasn’t in the mood yet. I was as antsy as ever walking out in the dark, and couldn’t wait to return the next morning to see what first light would bring.
Morning hunts always have an element of eeriness to them. The unknown state of the bush since the light last touched it makes my mind wander as to what may have happened there in the past 12 hours. Each hunting morning is like a fresh sheet of clean ice after the Zamboni machine completes its passes; anything is possible and anything can happen.
Walking slowly into the same uneventful treestand calling spot, I grunted softly every few steps. Ten minutes later, I arrived without spooking any moose. I climb up and sat down on my cold metal seat and let the bush around me settle down as well. Just as my sight pins started glowing, I let out a low, nasally cow call in case a bull was close by. Once again, there was no response to my call. The second series of cow calls were much louder, reaching out all the way down to the lake and beyond.
After an hour with nothing to report, the stars aligned and things began to happen. When I was scanning the bush behind me, I saw four moose legs sneaking along the forest floor. Unfortunately, my view allowed me to see only the legs, so I couldn’t determine if the animal had antlers or not. Nevertheless, I had an either-sex moose tag in my pocket and would arrow either one given the chance. Even with some low-volume cow calls, that moose disappointed me. It wandered away without even a hint of interest. However, I did hear what sounded like a bull moose grunt and those same, confusing, low-monotone burps that I had heard the previous night. But this time, the sounds were closer.
I waited silently for the next 10 minutes hoping the previous glimpse of a moose would turn into something more. It was hard waiting perfectly still. I anxiously wanted to press the situation and call some more. Time got the best of me, and after 10 minutes, I decided to call again.
Only seconds after finishing the final moan, I heard a definite, “RRBBRRRUUUPP” from a bull moose. Confident that the moose was on its way toward me, I grabbed my bow and began scanning the bush from the direction of the sound. In the meantime, I heard several other grunts, confirming that this was, in fact, a bull moose—and furthermore, a bull moose on the move. He grunted with an authority and urgency in his voice with each step taken. It wasn’t long before I saw rack and black trotting through the bush towards me, giving me final visual confirmation.
Another 10 or 15 grunts later, he was that much closer. I lost sight of him as he entered some dense bush but I had no doubt he was still coming, given the flood of grunts bellowing throughout the bush. It was a spectacularly encompassing sound—like sitting on the bass speaker at a rock concert.
Things were working perfectly in my favor as the moose hunt continued his persistent pursuit upwind of me. Still grunting with each step, he was now only 50 meters away and coming fast. He’d picked the right game trail that would eventually lead him right by my treestand, giving me a 20-meter broadside shot.
It wasn’t long before the final few meters shrunk into a few remaining steps (and grunts). Before I knew it, the moment of truth had arrived. I let out a soft cow moan to stop him in my shooting lane. I was already at full draw; so I aimed my pin, held steady, and let the arrow fly. Wham! I hit him right along the midline and back a bit from the shoulder. The arrow only went in about halfway (which was concerning at the time). He bolted 50 meters and vanished into some thick evergreen trees. All was quiet. A few moments later I saw him again wandering away from me, walking slowly yet steadily, until he again disappeared.
The silence and blindness were aggravating. Just a minute ago, a thousand-pound animal stood before me venting his masculine voice, but now I couldn’t see or hear him. I pondered what happened and replayed the shot over and over in my mind. I wanted to scramble down and dash over to the last known sighting, but I knew better so I stayed put and waited.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, I heard a crash—a crash I’d heard many times before in my lifetime. It was the recognizable crash of a bull moose losing its balance and falling to the ground. I momentarily celebrated, however, I still wanted to make sure, so I waited a bit longer and climbed down. I followed the blood trail with ease to where I last saw the moose and spotted an antler sticking up from the ground. “Waa-hoo,” I exclaimed a few times at the top of my lungs. Was I ever ecstatic! I could not contain my excitement any longer (nor did I have to). I sprinted over to him, jumping high in the air and holding my bow well above my head like I was scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal.
Now the Work
It turned out the arrow had hit a rib bone entering the chest cavity, which caused less-than-ideal, yet adequate penetration. Still, the arrow maintained enough energy to cause lethal damage to bring down this massive member of the deer family. Now, I had my work cut out for me. I did not want to chance going home to get equipment or help given the high-temperature forecast. So, I just packed the animal out by myself on my back, all the way to the truck.
Four hot and sweaty hours later, I had all the edible parts in the back of the truck and was driving to the butcher’s place with a smile from ear to ear. It was a ton of work, but it was well worth it. I was immensely proud of this bull.
Everything about this hunt was in solitude except the most exciting sounding parts, from hearing that first convincing grunt until the moose crashed to the ground. Those few moments of adrenaline and excitement are what all bow hunters are after during the moose rut.
Once again, it just goes to show that the hours of tranquility, the hours of planning, and the hours of work are all worth it. My gain was those few minutes of pure ecstasy hearing a bull moose grunt all the way into bow range very close to the city limits.