As my partner in crime stated it was a very long winter, but spring has arrived and with it comes fair-weather hiking, fishing and camping. Although the winter allowed me to look forward to summer activities it also allowed me to reflect upon the events of this past fall – or more specifically, my 2013 moose hunt.
After I had finished setting up Moose Camp I awaited the arrival of my hunting partner and father Jeff. My dad made the trip from Chipman, New Brunswick out to Corner Brook, Newfoundland in mid October to join me on my first Newfoundland Moose Hunt. With four days vacation booked and the gear packed, we boarded the pickup and headed north into Zone 2E – Gros Morne National Park. The plan was to set up at the basecamp and stay in the woods for four days of hunting (or less if necessary!)
We arrived on the crown access road at daybreak and began the tedious chore of lugging four days worth of gear into our campsite. Hauling the gear in to the camp from the truck took all morning. We set up a tent for gear storage and completed finall touches to our lean-to shelter. Thankfully, Dad brought along his chainsaw to finish gathering firewood – since my attempts were cut short earlier in the month. By mind afternoon we were settled into our home away from home.
The plan for our evening hunt was to head into the spot where I saw a bull earlier in the season. We hoped to nestle ourselves into a perch overlooking a woodland clearing with significant moose activity.I loaded my Remington 7600 Carbine with some Hornady brand 165 grain .308 Winchester rounds as we entered the park on foot. We made our way into the spot and found an opening on a nearby ridge overlooking the area. Dad devised a strategy to call from an alternate location behind me – further up the ridge – in hopes of luring a moose into the opening below us.
Several calling sequences and a few hours later we began to get impatient and decided to explore the area for fresh signs. We slowly stalked through the forest on an old trail between two ponds looking for a better vantage point without success. As the sun began to set, we decided to head back to camp to settle in for the evening – and plan our next day’s hunt.
We arose before daybreak to cold temperatures – around -5°C – and an October snowstorm was pounding down on the tarp above our heads. We stirred up our fire, had a cup of tea, and struck out for the morning hunt. I had spotted a place along the park boundary where I could see a good distance and planned to put my chair there for the day.
I would like to tell you a harrowing story of stalking moose all over the hills and valleys of western Newfoundland, but our days mostly consisted of sitting in different locations and trying to call moose into view. The difficulty with hunting moose in the forest like this is that moose have excellent hearing and trying to sneak up on one is next to impossible. Our best chance in this terrain was to set up on natural pinch points with established moose trails and use that hearing to our advantage – by calling.
As our fourth and final day arrived, we reflected on our time that week. It had been one year since I left New Brunswick, and this was the most time my dad and I had spent together in many years. We shared stories, good meals cooked on the Coleman stove, and even a cold pop or two. We reminded each other that the definition of a successful hunt is relative. The hunt it isn’t always about the kill, it’s about time spent in the outdoors becoming a better person and staying connected with those things that are most important to us. We gave it one final shot the morning before we broke camp but returned to Corner Brook empty handed to spend some time with my mother who also made the trip.
November and December came and went without much action on the hunting front. I had begun a new role at work that required much more of my time and energy than I originally had hoped for. With a record snowfall in December – precipitation on 29 of 31 days – my hunting area became inaccessible.
After I returned from New Brunswick at Christmas I had three weekends of hunting time remaining. I adjusted my strategy, rather than finding signs in a location and exploiting that area consistently I decided to look for fresh signs and hunt that area on that day – I was using the snow to my advantage. The strategy was reactionary; I intended to follow the fresh tracks , which would allow me to cover a lot more ground. I also watched the weather closely to ensure fresh snowfall for tracking.
On the evening before the second last day of the season I watched as the stars disappeared behind clouds and checked the forecast for Gros Morne. I went to bed knowing tomorrow could be the day I finally settle the crosshairs on my first moose. I awoke to fresh snow at the house. I threw my snowshoes, backpack and rifle in the truck and headed out. I drove the 430 highway going through the park before daylight – and more importantly – before snowplows had removed the dusting of snow we had received during the night.
I arrived at a wide out parking spot in the park with access to a power-line that paralleled the road for several kilometers. A buddy of mine had successfully harvested his moose a month earlier along this section of line, and I hoped to find fresh tracks. As I was preparing my gear – to my dismay – a convoy of several vehicles transporting a group of cross country skiers parked behind me and greeted me with well wishes on my snowshoe outing. My chances of seeing a moose along the power line with these folks travelling on it were slim. Not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable by toting a rifle around the area – I opted to move to another location.
I cut my first set of tracks only a few kilometers beyond the power line access trail. I found a place to park, strapped on my snowshoes and struck out after tracks that I knew could be no more than 3 hours old. I traversed the hillside until I came across the tracks and began the exciting task of chasing a moose deep into the hills. As I was following the tracks I was constantly scanning ahead. I was certain that at any second I would see black fur silhouetted against the snow.
I carefully climbed, crawled and pushed my way up the hill. The tracks I was following led me through vast expanses of hillside meadows and stunted balsam fir. This sight reminded me as to why I was even allowed to be doing this in the first place. I crossed two additional sets of tracks heading off in other directions that were hard to ignore, but I pushed on. I was slowly realizing that the prospects of catching up to this moose were slim, and just then the tracks were joined with two sets of coyote tracks -my pursuit was over. I had followed the tracks deep into the country, and after following some additional sets of tracks, I decided to return to the truck. My season was over.
I had covered a lot of ground and seen a lot of country. I learned that on snowshoes after a fresh snowfall is a very exciting way to hunt. I saw first-hand how important population control is. However, -most importantly – I had a new respect for this wild creature of Newfoundland that has adapted and excelled after being introduced here ten decades earlier.
I guess there is always next year!
Editor Note: At time of Publishing Matt found out he was successful in drawing a tag for Gros Morne again this season!
After – probably – the longest winter in New Brunswick history spring has finally arrived! The robins are back, the grass is green, the buds are bursting, and the water levels are high. Fishing season opened here way back on April 15th, but winter pressed on. It’s May 10th and there’s still a couple of feet of snow in the woods in many places. Consider this, I have been fishing on the Renous River on opening day – April 15th – in each of the last two years. This year fishing on April 15th surely would have resulted in certain death. Actually, last year nearly did too.
Just as an aside on the importance knowing your limits. Last year on opening day I was wading out into a small channel of the Renous River and took one step too many. One extra step was all it took. In an instant ice cold water was rushing into my chest waders. A friend of mine was 20ft away and was powerless to do anything but hear me cry out “Oh man, I’m swimmin'”. Thankfully, I reacted quickly and was able to swim to shore before being pulled under and washed down river. But the message was received, respect the power of water and know your limits.
This year, as April turned to May I still hadn’t had the opportunity to wet a line. With every passing day I grew more anxious. I started to feel like I’d never get to fish again. Mercifully, last Sunday a friend of mine suggested we go out and scout out some new spots. We settled on the Nashwaaksis Stream, just outside of Fredericton. Neither of us were that optimistic – we figured why bother driving for hours if we’re not going to catch anything anyways.
I spent Sunday morning getting my gear ready. I Loaded up my fishing vest – struggling to remember what goes in which pocket – and rigged up my $20 telescoping rod with my expensive Shimano reel. I was a telescopic rod cynic for years but I could no longer ignore their potential convenience, so I purchased one last year. While they have many issues – e.g. the last guide is rarely straight, sections get stuck, they are cheaply made, casting performance is poor, the action feels uneven, they feel weak…etc – they make your life infinitely easier when hiking through the woods into a fishing spot. I suppose after years of getting rods/line tangled in branches or having to cary a rod case on long hikes, I was just trying to preserve my sanity. Also, considering that brook trout don’t typically get that big, I reasoned things would be ok.
We arrived at the spot in the early afternoon – of course I forgot my rubber boots – and started to hike in through the mature silver maple, willow, and alders. Signs of the spring flood were everywhere, the forest floor was covered in a layer of pale branches and large logs, grass and other debris had accumulated in the trees/shrubs 4-5ft off the ground, the water was high and murky, and large chunks of ice had been deposited randomly around the floodplain. Most of the snow in the area was gone, only remaining in the shadiest of spots.
We stopped at what seemed like a nice looking spot and set up our rods. I have a favourite spinner I like to use for brook trout; it was given to me by a friend of mine on a day in which I was ill equipped for trout fishing. It’s nothing special – it’s plain silver in the willow leaf shape, about an inch long. The kind of spinner blank that allows you to build your own lure – they come in a 3 or 4 pack.
I’d love to tell you that on the first cast of the year I hauled in a beautiful brook trout, but I’m not that lucky. Rather, the first cast of the year was just a quiet, serene moment. I was happy to have the cork handle in my hand, to open the face of the reel and hear the click, to watch the lure soar out over the river and land with a familiar plop, and to feel the tug of the river on the line. Fishing was back!
I worked my way down river – casting across river at 45° angles and letting the lure work its way back across toward me in the current while slowly retrieving. After about an hour and a half we had nothing to show for our efforts. I noticed a small brook running into the stream a few hundred feet ahead – that I would have got to eventually – and decided that it was a spot I needed to try immediately. I set myself up just above where the brook flowed in and let one fly just into the water just above where the two merged. The perfect cast – I thought – but nothing. I kept casting into that same spot, over and over, hoping something would take the bait, but nothing. My mind started to drift – as it often does when on the water – I stared up river and watched my friend Shane cast and retrieve. I drifted further – still working the river from the same spot – and I wondered whether or not this will be the year that I finally catch an Atlantic Salmon. I was thinking about what that would be like, when I felt a tug on the line.
I pulled up the rod tip – attempting to set the hook – and instantly felt the heavy, pulsating pull of an opposing force. I looked from the tip of the bowing telescoping rod down to the end of the taught line and saw a large, bright silver flash. I involuntarily barked “WHOAAA!” and I heard Shane yell, “is it a fish?!” I don’t believe I replied. Any time I hook a fish that I think is going to be memorable, there’s always a slight pang of anxiety. Concern about the being the guy telling the story about the one that got away. Never truly being able to verify the specifics, species, size, etc. Thankfully, I managed to keep my wits about me, I kept the tip up, kept the line tight and got the fish up to bank.
It was a beautiful brook trout around 13-14 inches in length with a fat belly that was full of meal worms. Needless to say we were both in disbelief. We fished for another hour or so and caught nothing, but it didn’t matter. Here’s hoping the rest of the season goes this well – and that there’s a salmon in my future.