Bowhunting a Bull from the Trees—One Amazing Hunt
When most of us think about bowhunting moose, we have visions of standing in a boreal meadow, calling and patiently listening. So, with too many close encounters foiled by willows or bushes that my arrow couldn’t navigate, I was intrigued when a friend told me of his great success hunting moose from a portable tree stand. Getting out of the animals’ line of sight and smell, even though that limits mobility, indeed helps solve a few of the problems that plague bowhunters.
Based on a stand hunt for moose that took place a few years ago, I can tell you that taking to the trees opened up a world of opportunity for me in the moose woods. On that hunt, it had rained all night, and so a subtle mist hung in the next morning’s air. I parked, quietly grabbed my gear, and headed down the path toward my stand. The ground was saturated, and the leaves were no longer crunchy, making for a quiet approach. In stark contrast to my department at the hospital, the air smelled clean and fresh. Overcast skies bought me a few minutes of darkness.
Reaching my stand, I pulled out a one-dimensional Montana cow moose decoy and inserted the posts. I worked to position it for visibility so that a bull would likely approach from the back. I thought that with a little luck, this would provide me with a 15-yard broadside shot. I then climbed carefully into my stand. I gave the platform a good tug to make sure nothing had shifted before I stepped onto it. Settled on the stand, there was almost no wind, and what little I did feel was perfect for the property I was hunting. There’s something special about the stillness and serenity of those last waning minutes as you wait in the pre-dawn darkness. As the sun began to illuminate the eastern horizon and the forest took shape, I pulled out my rangefinder to capture the distances to different trees and stumps in all directions. I wanted to mentally mark shooting distances if a bull walked nearby.
Calling and Waiting
At legal light, I picked up my birch bark cone and mimicked the sexiest moan I could. I love calling moose. I usually have great success calling moose, but on this occasion…nothing. So, I waited. Twenty minutes passed and I called again, this time a little whinier. Again, no response. If you hunt moose long enough, you learn that they don’t always respond vocally; sometimes they just ghost in silently. More often than not, when they approach, they hold up just out of bow range. This commonly involves circling downwind and silently waiting, watching and listening. They really are fascinating animals, and with their long legs and often-wide antlers, they move so quietly and effortlessly through the brush. At the same time, they are incredibly powerful.
Another 20 minutes passed, and I called once more. This time I heard a response—or did I? Was that a grunt? If it was, it seemed far away Though my anticipation was building by the minute, all remained still. A few drops of rain hit my face and I quickly decided to put on my rain gear in case the rain picked up.
A Close Grunt
Hanging my Hoyt on a bow hook, I gingerly pulled my raingear from my pack. As I placed my foot into the left pant leg, I heard an unmistakeable grunt—and it was close!
Over my left shoulder, I saw a large black figure with big antlers at 50 yards. My heart skipped a beat. I took three long, deep breaths to calm myself, then my adrenaline kicked into high gear. All I could do was quickly tuck the empty portion of my rain pants between my legs to get them out of the way.
Quickly, and as quietly as possible, I grabbed my bow. With an arrow already nocked, I had just enough time to mentally run the yardages through my mind and anticipate when to draw and shoot. These are the moments every moose hunter waits for!
The majestic bull was now walking as if he was in a trance, grunting softly with each step, his head rolling from side to side. He skirted to my left. It became clear that he couldn’t see my decoy and that he was going to walk past me through the forest with no shot opportunity.
As soon as he passed, I moaned softly. He immediately stopped, swung his head to the right, and stared intently in my direction. I stood motionless and could only hope that he didn’t see me. Moose have an acute sense of smell, and their hearing is unbelievable. After a brief pause, he resumed his trance-like walk, rounded a tree, and headed toward a shooting lane directly in front of me.
His Own Plans
I waited until the last second to draw when his head was behind a tree. Just before it entered the shooting lane, I pulled back and settled my pin where I thought his chest should be when he crossed the opening. If he cooperated, it would be a 19-yard broadside shot.
However, the bull had other plans. Instead, he made a sharp, decisive 90-degree turn and was now directly facing me and walking to the base of my tree. The quiet moan I used to stop him allowed him to pinpoint my location. He was now standing at the base of my tree! Still at full draw, but with no ethical shot given the steep angle, this became a waiting game. How long could I hold at full draw before starting to shake or move? The bull had now done a 180-degree turn around me and was four feet below me.
The truth is, I was worried that if I startled him, not only would he run and I might lose any chance for a shot opportunity, but if he raised up, he could literally knock me out of the tree with his antlers! At this point, it would only be a matter of time before his gigantic nose would catch my scent or I could no longer hold at full draw. I focused on staying calm and motionless. After what seemed like forever, I saw his eyes roll back and he let out a guttural roar. Busted!
Spinning on a dime, the bull darted to my right. I was still at full draw and swung with him. I honestly thought the encounter was over, but I hoped to get one last chance to release an arrow. Amazingly, the giant bull bumped out only 25 yards, stopped, and looked back, giving me a slight quartering-away angle. Locking the pin on his chest, I sent a 480-grain Easton on its way! The arrow passed through both lungs before lodging in a fallen tree.
One of the best lessons my husband, Kevin, ever taught me was to think exit. So, I was considering where I needed the arrow to enter on the bull for it to go through the vitals and exit behind the offside shoulder. A bowhunter’s goal should always be a double-lung hit that will leave an easy-to-follow blood trail.
The bull bolted, sprinting out of sight to the right and behind my stand. In hopes of distracting him and slowing his gait, I gave another soft cow call. Now that the encounter was over, and I felt confident in my shot, I shook uncontrollably. I literally couldn’t dial my cell phone to call Kev! Back to the right where the moose had vanished, I heard a scraping sound followed by a thud. Did my moose just go down? I was ecstatic! Even still, I waited the requisite 45 minutes before following up on him.
Kev had just finished guiding his waterfowl clients and I knew it would take him a few hours to get out to help me. Due to the previous night’s rain and the still-saturated ground, the blood trail was not obvious at first. I found myself following the tracks that had dug into the soft soil. Fortunately, the bull had only run 40 yards before sliding down a small stand of trees to the forest floor, making easy work of the tracking.
Standing beside the massive bull before me was surreal. He was enormous! Hunting solo allows you to test your skills and grow as a hunter, but it also removes the social aspect. No one was there to celebrate with me. This bull was so heavy that, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t even lift his head. How in the world would I ever roll him over to position him for some photos?
Pondering a solution to my supersized problem, I captured a few candid pictures and reflected on the morning’s events. I remember laughing because no matter how hard I tried, he didn’t budge. Until Kev arrived, I knew my best option was to head back to my vehicle and let the landowner know I’d shot a bull. Leaving my jacket and backpack on the moose to help deter coyotes, I headed out of the woods. Thank goodness the landowner was home. I’m really not sure if he was looking for something to do or just conceded that I could use some help. He was very gracious in offering to assist with a come-a-long. Once Kev arrived, there were high-fives, hugs, and a replay of the day’s events. Then the real work began.
This was indeed one of those very special hunts. I would not have changed a thing. Standing up in that tree stand with one leg in my rain pants at full draw with a nice bull moose just four feet below me is something I will never forget. No question in my mind, God allowed me to shoot that bull. Memories like that are why we hunt and they’re the ones that keep us coming back year after year.