“Hey Pops. What’s going on today?”
“Oh just driving out the 502 road, Matty. You?”
“Well I’m glad to hear you’re sitting down bud but you should probably pull over…”
Fearing he’d think my wife and I were expecting, I promptly interrupted “Dad! You got your moose license!”
So began our 2017 moose hunting season. In New Brunswick, moose licenses are awarded based on a lottery system with notoriously low odds. This was the first time in 6 years that Dad had his license – and only the third time in 36 years. Naturally, I graciously accepted when Dad suggested I be his designate second gun. After our last excursion in Newfoundland, I assumed he thought me cursed and I needed a shot at redemption.
New Brunswick’s moose hunting season lasts only five days – prior to 2014 it was a whooping three. With such a short season, good scouting is essential to finding success – a principle that applies regardless of season length. Without knowing in advance whether you’ve successfully obtained a license, making time for scouting can be difficult. Vacation calendars fill up with commitments before the lottery occurs, so the first time I set foot in our designated hunting zone was mid-August.
I had recruited Grant to help with the scouting effort and our first stop was Ackerman Heath. The heath is a network of interconnected bogs that runs west-to-east along the southern flank of the Gaspereau River. We hadn’t travelled far before I noticed a larger than normal gap between my XR500 and Grant’s Fourtrax 350. Grant had spotted a set of moose tracks crossing the road. Over the course of the next hour we observed many sets of tracks spaced a few hundred meters apart, clearly there were moose in Ackerman.
Hearing of our success, Dad took over. He identified two separate bog edges with good travel corridors, and a natural funnel between bogs that looked positive. However, the most promising site was a cutover with good feed adjacent to an Ackerman bog. The cutover was close to our camp, giving us the best chance to arrive before other hunters. A friend later described the condition of the cut as resembling “tramped dog shit” – this was our friend’s way of saying there were many moose in the area. There was no question where we’d be opening morning!
As the season approached, time stood still. Moose were in my dreams. An opportunity to finally pull the trigger on moose consumed me. Finally, the weekend before the season arrived. Dad and I ventured out early to check our hunting area before settling into camp. Our main concern was to ensure no other parties had set up in the area. As we drove in, it was clear we had the area to ourselves, that is, until we broke out of the treeline. There, laying down in the cut, were two cows — the first moose we’d seen since finding out we had our license.
As we rolled along Dad overzealously asked, “What do you think Matty Ol’ Boy, did your pops pick an okay spot?”
“Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves Dad,” I replied looking over at his grinning face.
“Oh, I’m not,” he exclaimed, “because there’s three more right there!”
Silhouetted against the rising sun in the east, fleeing their beds, were a large cow and two young bulls. We watched as they scrambled toward the treeline — leaving us to consider whether or not all this action was a good sign — or a really bad omen.
Returning to camp we settled in to anxiously await opening morning on Tuesday. Fuelling our unease were radio reports of an extreme heat wave. Not the type of news one wishes to hear before a hunt. In addition, New Brunswick was experiencing the driest summer of my lifetime, so game movement, up until now, seemed mostly limited to nocturnal hours.
Tuesday morning arrived with alarms at Dark O’Clock. We gorged ourselves on rolls and cheese and struck out. Arriving at the mouth of the road half hour before legal shooting light, we discussed our plan. We were to walk in at legal time, glass the cutover, and make our way toward the adjacent bogs.
Following our plan, we took off on foot but, unfortunately, when our watches read legal time, we couldn’t see much, it was still too dark. We crept forward with caution and detected movement. Tensions rose, grips tightened on our guns, but peering through the morning gloom we disappointedly realized the shape of a bear foraging on blueberries. The bear paid no mind to us, so we continued on toward the bog.
By 9:30a.m., it was 25°C, and we were drenched in sweat. Day 1 was not shaping up well, we decided to head back to camp. The wind picked up that evening, blowing in the promise of changing weather for Day 2.
The next morning, we sat in the truck surrounded by darkness at the mouth of the road. In whispered tones we debated walking into the cut at shooting light rather than legal time. This decision would allow us to see perfectly — which for us was just before 8:00am.
Under overcast skies, we stalked up the logging road toward the cutover. Waiting the extra time turned out to be fruitful. Peering through the timber I could see a moose feeding in the cutover, about 200 yards away. I stopped abruptly and whispered excitedly to dad. My heart seemed to be pounding out of my chest, into my throat. I tried to steady my rifle on my shooting stick.
Looking on, my Dad leaned in, placing his hand on my shoulder — as fathers do.
“Take your time Matty, and you should probably shoot the closer one.”
In my haste I failed to notice, standing behind a blowdown at around 40 yards, an adult cow. Both animals appeared to be the same size, so there was seemingly no advantage to risking the longer shot. I quickly re-adjusted my shooting lane and settled the scope. Fighting hypertension, I found the front of her chest and squeezed the trigger. Skyward hooves and the thud of a 600lb animal falling was all the confirmation I needed to know I’d made a clean, humane shot. My first moose.
Normally, the story ends here with sharp knives and a lot of hard work, however, our day just got more exciting. The second moose was unfazed by the shot and sauntered toward the cow. As the moose approached it became clear that it was a small bull. The bull voiced his intentions through a series of grunts which brought attention, but not the kind he was looking for. A mature bull emerged in the morning mist further up the cut, clearly imposing his dominance over those below. Watching on, we revelled in this action-packed morning in the woods.
The rest of the day saw us venturing to the registration station and a butcher. We visited friends and celebrated like we didn’t have to get up in the morning. We used our extra time to prepare for deer season, not because we need the meat, but because time at the hunting camp with friends and family is time well spent.
“So Matt, quite an experience for a father and son to share don’t you think?”
“Yes Dad, it was pretty cool.”
“So when do you think you and Danielle will start having kids?”
“Ugh, I need to sit down.”