On a hot July afternoon, a co-worked probed, “did you get your moose license, Matt?”
“I haven’t checked yet”
“Jeez, you better check bud!” was his perturbed response.
The day had arrived when hopeful New Brunswick hunters flock to their computers to check the results of the provincial moose lottery.
Wanting to have an answer for the next nosey inquirer, I thumbed my cell phone. Nine keystrokes later and I was staring at a congratulatory message from the Provincial government. I had drawn my first personal New Brunswick Moose Tag!
I immediately made the obligatory phone call to my father.
“You’ve got to be kidding me?! Two in a row for us?!”
Once we were able to look past our luck I offered him my second gun designation, and he accepted. We both agreed that our scouting efforts from last season’s hunt were still valid, and the hunt was on!
Summer came to pass. Shorter days were on the horizon. Before long we were standing beside the picturesque Gaspereau River, cracking a couple cold ones, with 36 hours before opening day. Neither of us would rather be anywhere else!
Monday morning, 24 hours before opening day. Steam curled out of my coffee mug on the camp’s porch. The temperature was a crisp -5℃, and the siren song of Ackerman Heath was calling. My dad and I decided to jump in the truck and head out for an impromptu scouting trip.
The trip yielded four moose sightings within a few kilometres of our hunting area. We agreed that moose have tremendously long legs and therefore were only a few hundred steps from where we needed them!
The next morning, in the dark hours of opening day, we stirred to the shrill beeping of alarm clocks. We eventually rose to the jarring chill that had settled on the camp overnight. It was the type of morning hunters dream about, and we weren’t about to be late! With breakfast in our guts, we skipped to the truck with anticipation.
Upon arriving at our spot, we revived last year’s plan — wait until daylight and trek into the cutover. The air was still and a thick frost shimmered in the twilight. With no bedded moose in sight, my father called through a birch bark horn.
The call seemed to travel for miles — and the response was immediate. The sound of antlers crashing through brush echoed across the cut. We could hear the thud of each lumbering step as a bull moose pushed his way toward us. We positioned ourselves for a standoff, yet he remained a ghost in the morning air.
The seconds felt like hours in our heightened state. We strained our eyes across the cutover searching for the slightest signs of movement. Beyond us in Ackerman Heath, we could hear the excited cries of a cow in heat. My Dad reminded me, “… the real thing always sounds better.”
Feeling our chance slipping away, we made a move. We pushed through the frozen expanse of dried logging debris with the stealthiness of Sherman Tanks, helplessly trying to cover our advance with challenging grunts. The noise of his raking antlers seemed as if it were only meters away. Unfortunately as the moments passed, the sounds faded, as he moved toward his lover and away from our desperate pursuit.
When the action subsided, we regrouped and tried to determine what must have happened. We found the evidence we were looking for, all the way across the cutover. Fresh tracks and rubbed trees along the adjacent road told of his presence. We chalked it all up to experience and continued on with our hunt.
Back at camp that evening the air pressure dropped promising rain, however, the pressure on us was still unquestionably high!
Wednesday morning — the camp’s tin roof clattered with the sound of rain. Striking out we opted to stay dry by parking further down the road than normal. With vantage of the area, we waited until daylight before offering our first calls. Rain muffled our attempts, so instead, we resolved to cover ground and attempt to spot a travelling moose.
With the previous day’s proceedings fresh in our minds, we retraced our tracks, hoping to catch Mr. Bull returning to his hideaway. As we crested the knoll out of a brook buffer, we saw two gentlemen standing at the mouth of the road. There in the ditch, only feet away, was their 8-point bull. We approached and offered our jealous congratulations. Five minutes tardy dragging our asses out of camp and that bull could have been ours!
Driving away dad rationalized, “that’s not the bull we heard yesterday, Matt, he didn’t have enough of a board on him to resonate the sounds we heard.”
Everything happens for a reason, I guess” was my semi-optimistic retort. Day two faded away to dreary skies without success.
Back at camp we revisited our strategy over BBQ’d ham steaks — washed down with finest white wine $9.99 can buy. The moose seemed to be moving after daybreak. To counter their movement, we resolved to reduce our travel before daylight hours. Armed with this revelation we enjoyed a few more minutes of sleep before striking out on day three.
Our destination was the successful spot from the previous day — sometimes the Second Mouse gets the Cheese. The plan turned out to be perfect, but our execution of it was not. We stalked into the opposite side of the cutover, and, after a few calls decided to leave. As we neared the truck, with our guards embarrassingly low, we began to chat about our next moves.
SNAP! CRACK! SMASH!
There, just inside the treeline, a young bull jumped out of his bed. He ran for the road to quicken his escape. All we could see were ears and antlers as he slipped down into the brook buffer. I did my best Usain Bolt impression covering the 100 meters to the hill top for a second chance. He had stopped in the valley bottom, and was looking back to determine if he was in the clear.
Come on, Matt! Give it to him!” Dad excitedly pleaded in the distance.
I shouldered my rifle desperately trying to slow my heart. I took a deep breath preparing for a shot. The moose put his head down and started for the woods. Hurriedly, I adjusted my point of aim and fired. I knew immediately I had missed. I rushed down the hill in haste, trying to listen for the fleeing bull. Dad dove into the brook buffer with hopes of pushing him back into the cut, to no avail.
A survey of the scene yielded fragmented bullet pieces in a large depression in the road on the hill opposite. Only a slight breeze rippled my sails knowing I had missed clean; but had potentially missed our only opportunity on the short five day season.
Morale in camp was low that evening, only slightly higher than it was the next morning. I struggled with the notion that we might go without another chance. By this point last season Dad and I were enjoying some four-wheeling, visiting friends, and savouring our time away from the day-to-day grind. Instead, this year, we were grinding our way through yet another morning routine.
My Dad, ever the wise old fella, sensed my mood, “Get your chin up, Matt! You missed. It happens. You were the one that told me ‘everything happens for a reason’. Lots of time yet, bud.”
TO BE CONTINUED….
Join us right back here in September for the resolution of “The Highs and Lows of a New Brunswick Moose Hunt”
Portage Trail – the mere muttering of these words can send painful memories radiating down the necks of canoeists. Combine those words with a unit of measure greater than a few hundred yards and the ‘memories’ become crippling.
Such was my case as I began planning to complete the Cains – Gaspereau portage trail solo earlier this year. This 8.5km portage is the realization of a project undertaken by Canoe Kayak New Brunswick starting in earnest in 2008. There are now six traditional trails near completion in the province, joining watersheds and connecting major rivers. The project is a continuation of work completed by W.F. Ganong, who spent his time in the early 1900s mapping traditional canoe routes that aided his exploration, cartography and scientific documentation of New Brunswick’s vast wilderness. The trails were the mainstays of First Nations peoples long before his time and Ganong understood the cultural significance of the routes.
My plan was simple. I arranged an early morning drop-off at the Cains River bridge on Route 123 and a late evening pick up at the Burpee Bridge on the Gaspereau River. Almost 40 km of self-propelled travel stood between me and my goal, but I was optimistic I had the “stuff” to complete the journey.
The Cains River is a tributary of the Main Southwest Miramichi River. In its own right, the Cains is a storied fishing river known for plentiful trout and cold dark waters. Sporadic camps dot its banks, most of which were empty this early in May. With a wide channel and meandering turns, this section of river offers a relaxing paddle. Likely sensing my self-doubt, a couple of friendly beavers slapped their tails along side my canoe, perhaps offering encouragement of my hopeless pursuit.
The portage trail head sits in a spruce-hemlock forest roughly 10 km downriver from Route 123, river right. I eddied out shortly after 8:00 a.m. and immediately tied my paddle into the canoe. I hated to rush the landing but I felt I needed every minute of time to complete the journey in one day.
I slung my pack and canoe onto my shoulders and was off. The trails begins by ascending 150 meters out of the river valley. On this day, there was a bonus of shin deep snow. I felt every ounce of my 50 lb load as I crested the hilltop. What the hell I was thinking?
The first 1100 metres of trail crosses two logging roads, a small bridge over an unnamed stream and transitions through two different forest stand types. The trail showed signs of use, but not of the bipedal variety. Moose and smaller game have welcomed the 30-inch wide path and have left their respective marks on the landscape.
The first true milestone is a bridge over West Branch Six Mile Brook, roughly half-way across the portage. En route, I plodded through a managed softwood forest and skirted the high ground adjacent to a large bog. The methodical creaking of my improvised 1″x 3″ yoke — my Old Town Pack was not equipped with such an amenity — soothed my ears as my shoulders and neck cried for attention. Soon I began descending into the lowlands and the bridge emerged ahead. I checked my watch and was pleasantly surprised. It was 10:00a.m. and I was portaging at a pace of 2 km/hr.
I was doing better than expected. As I rested, the satisfaction of being ahead of schedule allowed me to fantasize about a supper more palatable than the squished cold cut sandwich in my pack. With a newfound sense of purpose and a belly full of beef jerky, I crawled back under my over-sized hat.
The next landmark, the final bridge of the trek, lay 1.5 km down the trail. The swale between the two branches of Six Mile Brook are choked with Labrador Tea, entangling your every soggy step. Crossing the Main Branch marks the transition into Gaspereau River watershed.
With approximately 3 km remaining on the portage I was beginning to feel real signs of fatigue. My shoulders spasmed as I shifted the canoe, desperately trying to find a comfortable hold. Further, my pace was starting to slow. I managed to find several trees to use as canoe rests for much needed breaks. As I leaned against a tree, I contemplated the historical significance of the trail. Before roads this trail connected the north and south of New Brunswick. Many a weary traveler had likely found themselves right where I stood, mustering the motivation to push on.
The trail intersects another two logging roads before entering the last leg of the hike. Gravity was pulling me down through a mature forest when I spotted the Gaspereau River through the trees. A euphoric “WOOO!” emerged unconsciously from somewhere inside me. I managed to cross the trail in just under six hours.
The trail concludes on a grassy flat flanked by robust white pine and sandstone boulders. In early May, the Gaspereau flows purposefully from it’s sources. The river offers some energetic water before widening as it approaches the community of Upper Gaspereau. Bald Eagles watch over these waters for dorsal fins and wary travellers, as they have for more years than I can fathom. Back in the canoe rhythmic paddle strokes and a helpful current propel me through this serpentine oasis.
The 20 km paddle on the Gaspereau was a challenge, especially after an 8.5 km portage. For the bulk of the journey, the wind was blowing upstream. I rounded the final bend before the bridge around 6 p.m., and again, I thought of those who traveled before me. After much longer journeys than my own, how did they feel when they arrived at their destination? How did their families feel when they arrived home? I wondered if someday my son would do a similar trip of his own. Or, perhaps carrying a canoe on your head will become an action of history, only spoken of in the deepest recesses of the internet.
Download Geo-Referenced PDF here: PortageTrailMap