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Rising stars: moose may seem beyond the reach of average bowhunters, but for a real bowhunting thrill they should extend their reach.

Probably my greatest claim to fame as a writer and bowhunter was getting attacked by a moose in the Yukon. That event even made The Discovery Channel.

Of course, I was not the star in that episode; the moose was, and such stardom demonstrates the rise in popularity of moose hunting. Moose have become one of the more common subjects on outdoor TV, and for many of the same reasons I love moose hunting. When people ask me to name my favorite bowhunting big game, they probably expect me to say elk or mule deer or whitetails, since those are the animals I have hunted most--and am best known for hunting. But, in reality, my answer would be moose. Why? Let me count the ways ...

First, they provide just the right mix of tough versus easy. They can be tough to find --almost impossible at times--which always makes moose hunting a challenge. But when you do find a bull, especially one in rut, chances are high you will kill him. Easy.

Second, when you call in a bull, you won't forget it. As the biggest animals in the woods, rutting bulls have little fear and a very bad attitude. A mature bull coming head on, his enormous body and antlers swaying belligerently, can overwhelm the most stoical bowhunter. That charging bull moose in the Yukon gave me my greatest bowhunting rush. How could I not love moose hunting?

Third, what about size alone? The legendary Ted Trueblood once wrote a column called "Moose Are Too Big." He shot only one in his life, and that was enough. It was too much work. Say what? If I'm going to spend big time and money on a hunt, I want a big reward. Moose never disappoint.

Fourth, a big Alaskan bull will yield over 500 pounds of pure meat. With that kind of volume, it had better be good. And it is. I cannot think of a better way to fill my freezer than with delicious moose meat.

Finally, moose are wilderness animals that live in the most remote corners of North America. Since 1995,1 have killed Shiras bulls in Idaho and Wyoming, a couple of Canada moose in British Columbia, and Alaska-Yukon moose in Alaska and the Yukon. Every hunt has taken me to wild, lonely, and beautiful country--the best of North America. No wonder moose are my favorite bow animals, and the rising stars of hunting TV.

Lest you think moose are just big, dumb bullies, don't kid yourself. While their eyesight may be average, their ears and noses are exceptional. On September 1, hunting with my friend Roger Iveson in Alaska, I sneaked within 30 yards of a velvet-antlered bull. He was feeding, and with a strong breeze rustling the willow leaves, I knew the bull would not hear me. But while nocking an arrow, I accidentally tapped the arrow against my bow. The bull did not even glance my way; he just crashed away. I was incredulous that he had heard that slight sound over the wind--and that he had reacted so violently. Talk about sensitive!

Now, fast-forward 17 days to understand why the rut gives us a huge advantage in bowhunting. As Roger and I rowed our rafts down the river, two days after the season had closed, I saw a bull moose just off the river and rowed over to snap some photos from the raft. When the bull paid me no attention, I pulled onto the bank and climbed out of the raft. Rather than running off, the bull lay in a pit he had just pawed out. This was the same bull that had fled at the sound of an arrow tapping on my bow only days earlier. I walked within 10 feet of him, and he just glared at me. That's the attitude that makes moose fun to hunt with a bow--and sometimes dangerous. I quickly returned to the raft and rowed hard to catch up with Roger.

When is the best time to hunt rutting bulls? My stock answer is always the first 10 days of October. Yes, I've had rutting action as early as September 20 and have had success after October 10.1 killed my first Shiras bull, near Yellowstone Park, on October 18. He was with a cow, and he came aggressively to my bull grunts and raking. But as a whole, from Idaho through northern British Columbia, I've had my best success the first 10 days of October.

In Alaska, seasons in various units close on September 15, 20, or 25, and I generally recommend hunting as late as possible, but I've had good rut action earlier. In 2007, Bowhunter Publisher Jeff Waring and I spotted a bull in a distant valley on September 3.1 doubted we could call him in that early in the year, but still we hiked over there for a closer look. We not only called in that bull but also five others. Six bulls, in one pocket, within an hour! We were not positive any met the legal minimums --50-inch antler width or four brow tines--so we did not shoot any of them. But it was a fantastic day.

Two days later, on September 5, we spotted a clearly legal bull. Again, because the bull still had velvet on his antlers, I questioned whether we could call him in. But when we got within 100 yards of the bedded bull, I grunted and raked brush aggressively for nearly an hour, and finally the bull apparently got sick of that and came to shut us up. As he emerged from his brushy lair at 35 yards, Jeff shut him up with a well-placed arrow (see "Blessed in Dry Creek," by Jeff Waring, Bowhunter Big Game Special 2008).

You can locate bulls in several ways. In Idaho and Wyoming, I've hunted mostly in heavy timber, where you have to dig them out on foot. Especially in warm weather, the bulls will hole up on shaded north slopes around springs and bogs. Study maps and aerial photos to find those isolated, cool haunts.

And then judge the sign. Compared to elk tracks, which are blocky like small cattle tracks, moose tracks are long and pointed like giant deer tracks. A big bull's tracks could be more then five inches long. If bulls are hanging out in a certain area, you should see distinct trails.

You also should see pellets the size of giant olives. Because moose feed heavily on woody plants, especially willows, the droppings usually look like compressed sawdust. However, if the animals are eating succulent grass and weeds, the droppings will look like small green cow pies.

Unlike bull elk, which usually rub single trees, moose often thrash multiple trees or bushes with every sweep of their antlers. So don't look for rub trees. Look for rub groves. You can bet a moose did that!

Finally, watch for moose pits. While bull elk make big, muddy wallows in wet meadows and springs, moose often urinate on dry ground and then roll in it to create shallow, smelly, dry pits. Their pits may not be as dramatic as elk wallows, but they're every bit as revealing.

Above all, rely on calling to locate bulls in heavy timber. Here's my advice: Make some noise! In British Columbia, my guide would call no more than once every hour; he was afraid too much calling would scare the moose out of the country. A couple of days of that frustrated me to no end, so I politely asked if I could do some calling. When he told me to go ahead, I called aggressively, hiking no more than five minutes or so between calling sessions. It worked, and both my cameraman Steve Jones and I killed bulls. I operate on two premises: 1) Moose can't hear you and respond if you don't call, and 2) frequent calling won't scare them away.

In big, open country such as timberline basins and the tundra of Alaska and northern Canada, the best way to locate bulls is glassing. After about September 10, when their polished antlers flash like radar dishes and rutting bulls are on the move, bulls become fairly visible. If you pick a good vantage and spend a few hours behind binoculars and a spotting scope, you will locate moose. You can then plan a stalk or move closer to call them into bow range.

Never overlook calling, even in wide-open country. You would be surprised how far you can hear a bull grunting--a mile or more on a calm day--and you may very well hear the grunting before you see a bull.

You might also hear cows calling. In the mid-90s, Gary Christoffersen, owner of Day One Camouflage, and I flew by Super Cub from Kotzebue in western Alaska and landed on a ridgetop. Over a 10-day period, we called in several bulls but none of legal size.

On September 18, two days before the season would close, I was sitting on a hilltop overlooking a timbered valley, when I heard squealing and squalling that sounded like a whale convention. It was cow moose.

Unable to see them in the trees, I headed their way and could soon hear a bull grunting. I tried calling the bull within range, but with hot cows around him he was not interested. Finally, I got on a caribou trail and ran into the midst of the moose. There were a half-dozen cows and at least three bulls, and as I lurked behind a spruce tree, the biggest bull, harassing a cow some 30 yards away, gave me a shot--and my first bull moose. It was a magical morning.

While I technically did not call that bull within range, calling played a big part in my success, and calling is the essence of moose hunting. Some people try to portray moose calling as a magic art reserved only for experts, but that's baloney. Anybody can call moose, and most people can do it with their voice. Some hunters use a megaphone made of birch bark--or plastic that looks like birch bark--to amplify the sound, but calling through cupped hands works fine, too.

The most familiar sounds are bull grunts and gulps, the sounds rutting bulls make as they search for cows and challenge other bulls. The muted Ohh! carries well, and often can be heard from long distances.

Cow-calling generally consists of long, drawn-out moans that might be described as Aaaahhhhhh!, a sound that starts high and descends in pitch for three to five seconds. It helps to pinch your nose as you're doing this to get a whiny, nasal sound. While that's the basic sound, cows make a variety of moans, squeals, and squalls.

The most effective call of all may be brush breaking. You can call moose just by snapping branches with your hands, but a small shed moose antler, the bleached scapula off a moose or other animal, a white antifreeze bottle, or a canoe paddle work better because they sound more like antlers raking through the brush. Also, you can flash a shed or a canoe paddle above the brush to look like the antler palm of a moose whipping the brush. The sounds of raking antlers combined with something white flashing through the brush prove almost irresistible to bulls in rut.

Early in the rut, before cows come into heat, cow calls might be most effective because bulls are roaming, searching for hot cows. During the peak of the rut, when bulls are sticking close to a hot cow or two, bull grunts and aggressive raking might be the better option, as they will make bulls angry and stir them into picking a fight.

But I can't say there's an exact prescription for calling. My approach is to experiment with various calls until I find one that really yanks a bull's chain.

More important than the specific call used, in my opinion, is your approach, and personally I think the aggressive approach works best. In British Columbia, my guide and I were paddling our canoe along a lake when we heard a bull grunting in the timber, maybe a quarter-mile from the lake. My guide insisted we stay in the canoe and try to call the bull down to the lake, so for an hour we called and called while the bull grunted constantly--but came no closer.

Finally, I pleaded, "Can we please go up there after him?" Grudgingly, the guide beached the canoe and we ran up the hill toward the grunting sounds. Getting close, we whacked a tree with a shed antler, grunted a couple of times, and watched as the bull strutted by at 20 yards. He lay dead less than 10 minutes after we'd left the lake. Killing him was just a matter of invading his space--of getting aggressive.

It's not always that easy, of course, and sometimes patience is your only recourse. As a rule, moose densities are low, and bulls will roam for miles looking for cows. In the Yukon, guide Mac Watson and I watched a bull travel from the top of one mountain, five to six miles across a valley, and over the next mountain without ever breaking stride.

When bulls are traveling like that, you can do well by setting up in a good travel corridor and calling until a bull comes to you. When my friend Larry D. Jones killed a monster bull on video for Bowhunter TV, he said his guides frequently set up on a hilltop surrounded by long, sloping willow valleys, and stayed right there for hours, grunting, cow-calling, and raking trees. They called in several bulls from seriously long distances with this approach.

However you go about it, moose hunting guarantees all the elements that make bowhunting great. That's why moose truly are the rising stars of bowhunting--and why they're my favorite big game animal.

WHERE TO HUNT

In the Lower 48, all moose states issue tags by lottery, and most states have a bonus point system. Moose hunting states are Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Montana, Washington, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Dakota. Due to a decline in moose numbers, Minnesota has closed its season this year. Research every state to decide which offers you the best opportunities, and get into the game by accumulating bonus points. You probably won't draw immediately, but if you play the system, you eventually could draw a tag. Go to each state's website to evaluate drawing odds, or check out http://hunterstrailhead.com, which breaks down drawing odds not only by state but by hunting unit. Idaho is the only state that has no points system.

Also, several states offer Super Tags for moose. Yes, the odds are long, but you cannot win if you don't play the game. Some organizations auction moose hunts as fundraisers, and you might pick up a good deal that way. Also, some states issue cow moose tags, which offer better drawing odds than bull tags. You might not collect a big rack, but you can collect a lot of meat.

Alaska is the only state in which you can buy OTC tags, but Alaska also has some very good limited-entry hunts. The one caution in Alaska is that planes can land in only certain places, and only certain rivers are floatable. So you have to be selective and do some research to ensure that you're not following a big group of other hunters.

Across Canada, you can get a tag without drawing, but unless you're a resident of a specific province, you must hunt with an outfitter. That's expensive, of course, but the experiences can be fabulous. In the Yukon and Northwest Territories, the moose are classified as Alaska-Yukon moose, and across the rest of Canada, they are Canada moose.

USE A DECOY

Anything that adds to the reality of a setup adds to the lethality. Rutting bulls are not overly discerning, and the sight of a moving, black image can pull a balky bull within easy bow range. Montana Decoy's Moose II is light and easy to carry (www.montanadecoy.com).

INSTRUCTIONAL CALLING AIDS

I can't describe the sounds of moose | with the written word, but you can easily learn how to call. Endless demonstrations on YouTube and various websites will show you how. For a complete course on moose calling, check out Alex Gouthro's "Moose Madness" series at www.alexgouthro.com.
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Author:Schuch, Dwight
Publication:Bowhunter
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Sep 1, 2014
Words:2745
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