Try Calling, Sometimes You Have Nothing to Lose

There we stood, 800 yards from a good bull moose and fully exposed on the hillside.  The bull was looking directly at us: we were busted.  I looked over at my 17 year old hunting companion and said, “It’s time to try something crazy”.

The prior afternoon provided us an exciting show: We had spotted a nice bull on an adjacent hillside and my hunting partner had set out to try to harvest the animal.  Three of us stayed back and watched through the spotting scope.  The bull traversed the hillside stopping along the way to spar with small trees.   As he ambled from tree to tree, I could see him grunting.   He stopped and pawed the ground for a minute or two, stepped forward, knocked is knees together, urinated into the freshly tilled soil and bedded down right in the middle of his scrape.  I watched him lay there for forty-five minutes.  Suddenly, he rose and stared intently down the hillside, ears cocked forward.  It was clear that something had his attention.  My hunting partner was nowhere in sight and I knew it was only a matter of time until the bull moved off into the brush and this opportunity vanished.   As I watched the bull, I saw the impact of the bullet hit him behind the shoulder.  I yelled out, “dead bull” and then we heard the shot echo down the canyon.  The bull staggered a few yards and went down.   Later when we met up and exchanged stories my partner said he had made it to the bottom, but could not find the bull.  Rather than try to fight his way through the thick brush and push the bull out, he opted for a cow call.  The call is what brought the bull to his feet and into my partner’s view.

It took the rest of the day to butcher the bull and hang it to cool.  The following day we spend sunrise to mid-morning glassing and mid-morning into the mid-afternoon transporting the animal back to camp.  After a late lunch and a quick nap, it was time to get back into the field in search of another animal.   We divided up into smaller hunting parties and each party traveled a different direction.  I was paired up with a seventeen year old young man who had stamina that seemed to have no end.  He had taken his first moose the year prior and in the last two years had proven to be a great asset to our hunting party.

We elected to hunt a long ridge that separated two drainages.  We worked back and forth across the ridge glassing both drainages to maximize our odds of finding a suitable animal.  At each stop, we would spend 30 minutes carefully glassing the landscape that unfolded below us.  We had just stopped and started to glass for the third time when my young hunting companion exclaimed, “There is a huge bull”.  I quickly set up the spotting scope so we could determine the size of the bull.  He was a mile and a half below us, exiting the timber and traveling toward the ridge we were on in the direction of a group of cows.   We watched as the bull passed the first cow 75 yards downwind and paid her no attention.  As he reached a downwind incept of the second cow, he stopped and sparred with a spruce tree.  Then he turned and walked directly to her.  She slowly moved off into a small ravine, which separated two ponds, with the bull closely following behind her.

With the bull out of sight, and hanging up in a small identifiable location, we decided it was time to move.  We checked the wind and determined we would have to go back to the top of the ridge and move down the drainage a half of a mile to get the wind in our favor.  It was late afternoon and the breeze was still traveling down the river canyon; however, I feared that as the day progressed and the air began to cool the breeze may ease up and shift to a downhill direction.  For now, all we needed was to get down the drainage from the animals then we could begin our steep decent to the river bed floor.

Once we reached a location that was down drainage from the bull, we quickly descended to within 800 yards of the small ravine where the bull was located.  Between us and the bull were two cows: the first was 300 yards away at our 10 o’clock; the second cow was 400 yards directly below us.  The hillside we were on was mainly comprised of three foot willows with a few ten-foot spruce trees that were lightly sprinkled across it.  The cows knew we were there, but with the wind in our favor, seemed relatively unconcerned by our presence.  We sat on the hillside for an hour and a half, unable to move closer because of the two cows. We hoped the bull would come out of the ravine to check the other cows and present us a shooting opportunity.

The sun was low in the Alaskan sky, and the day was beginning to cool off.  As we sat there, patiently waiting for lady luck to bless us, I felt a breeze, ever so lightly, on the back of my neck.  The cow below us tilted her head back, her nose was pointed directly at us and her nostrils flared.  It felt as though she was looking at us through her nose.  I leaned over to my partner and said, “Get ready, something is going to happen”.  The cow wheeled around and started running directly away from us.  The cow at our 10 o’clock started to run but quickly slowed to a nervous trot and finally stopped, looking around to determine what was going on.  With no bull in sight, I told my partner, “It go time”.  We quickly headed down the hill in an attempt to get within rifle range of the bull’s location.

We were moving quickly through the three foot willows on the wide open hillside when the bull came charging out in the direction of the cow that had been at our 10 o’clock.  He was 800 yards away and looking directly at us.  We were busted!  I turned to my companion and said “It’s time to try something crazy.  Get right behind me, we are one animal”.  I cupped my hands to my mouth, pinched my nose closed and grunted at the bull.  He stood his ground and I thought, “Well, I haven’t messed it up yet”.   We moved laterally at a 45 degree angle across the hillside grunting as we went until we reached a spruce tree that blocked the bull’s view of us, then we turned and walked directly to the spruce tree grunting every 10 seconds.  When we reached the spruce, I broke off a branch and started raking it against the tree then more violently hit other branches trying to break them.  I grunted again and ranged him at 700 yards.  I ranged a few other trees on the side hill trying to determine how far we had to go to move into a comfortable range.  We again moved laterally on the hillside, grunting every 10 seconds, while in clear sight of the bull.   Once his view of us was again obscured by another spruce tree we walked directly to the tree and again broke off a branch and tried to imitate a bull offering a challenge.  We repeated this same pattern three more times until we reached a place on the hillside where the terrain dropped off and offered no more cover.  Hiding behind a tree, I ranged the bull at 400 yards.  After a very brief conference with my companion, we decided that I would be the primary shooter.  I ducked down, stepped in front of our final tree and cleared some brush from in front of it to offer a clear shooting path.  I found a limb close to the trunk of the tree and used it as a rifle rest.  I grunted at the bull again and he, so typically, came around broadside to show how large his body was in an effort to intimidate his challenger.  He humped up after the first shot and took a couple steps.  By the time the rifle settled back down to the rest after the second shot, he was out of sight on the brushy hillside.  He was down.

There are going to be times when you are out in the field and the situation is such that you can either go home and eat your tag or take a risk and call.  There are a lot of good video clips on u-tube and some very good moose hunting videos that demonstrate how and when to call.  If you spend much time in the field, you will get stuck in a position where you have nothing to lose but meat in the freezer – Try calling, it is easier than you might think.


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