“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.”
With moose season in Newfoundland heating up let’s enjoy a bit of footage from the 2013 season. As you can see, I had about 20 pointed reasons to hunt where I did. For those interested, take a look at a series of articles I produced on my 2013 moose hunt — hopefully you learn from my mistakes!
Stay tuned for my series about my 2014 moose hunt. Here’s to a successful season!
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!
My third trip to the area came on the long weekend in October while most folks were at home enjoying their turkey dinner. Hard to believe it had been two months since my first site visit. On this trip, I brought along my axe, rope and tarps in order to establish camp for the beginning of the season and, the arrival of my father the following week. Hard to believe that my first Newfoundland Moose hunt was really about to begin!
My strategy was to use my tarps to build a lean-to that could house me for up to a week. After arriving at the site, I selected two, appropriately spaced, strong looking trees for use as the shelter’s vertical supports. I quickly scanned the canopy directly above for potential widow makers, and decided that this was the spot. I moved onto the task of acquiring the main horizontal support beam and three angled supports. The angled supports were for a little extra support – snow was not out of the question. For the beam I brought down a dead, but strong birch tree with my axe and lashed it tightly with paracord to the vertical supports. I gathered the three angled supports, lashed them to the beam, and secured the tarp – it almost looked habitable. For the floor, I gathered boughs of balsam fir and placed them upside down for maximum support and comfort. Finally, I covered the boughs with a smaller tarp to provide extra insulation and keep me off of the cold October ground.
With the shelter complete, I began collecting wood. The area was full of dead, standing birch trees ideal for firewood. Standing deadwood is always preferred; by standing it remains dry, as opposed to downed logs, which absorb moisture from the forest floor. I was felling and bucking these trees into four-foot sections and stacking them under a second tarp. I planned to cut these pieces in half with a saw at a later date.
After piling a respectable amount of wood, I decided a few more logs would be sufficient. On what was to become my final tree, I made two upward strokes and noticed movement in the tree’s top. I’d seen enough workplace health and safety videos to know that it only takes a small branch at 30-40ft to do some serious damage. Not wanting to be struck in the head with a widow-maker, I focused on the treetop while performing my first downward stroke. That momentary lapse in concentration was all it took; my stroke glanced off of the tree almost as suddenly I felt it strike my left leg. I dropped the axe to the ground, pulled up my pant leg and to my horror realized I could see my shinbone and the supporting tendon. If in the best of situations, this was a horrific injury my situation was devastating. I was one kilometer from my truck through thick woods and over rough terrain. Fortunately for me, my fiancée decided to come along for the trip. Unfortunately for her – so she soon found out – she doesn’t deal well with the sight of blood or grotesque injuries.
The moments following the axe injury were – as you can imagine – hectic and rushed. While staring at a gaping hole in my leg, I attempted to recall my first-aid training. I ripped apart a t-shirt I found in my bag and wrapped it around the cut to hold the wound together and apply pressure to slow the bleeding. Danielle gathered up our supplies and started rushing towards the truck while I started hobbling behind her. Up until this point I had been running on pure adrenaline, but as I stumbled over the rough terrain the pain began to hit. I spent the first 200 meters swinging the axe at anything that looked like it had walking stick potential, ultimately finding a strong length of birch. Over the next 400 meters my adrenaline levels evaporated and my pain receptors sharply reminded me of my stupidity. I had a moment of uncontrollable breathing when I began to wonder if I was going to make it to the road. After a few gulps of water I fought my way up the final hill to the road level.
With the truck in view, Danielle started running despite my attempts to tell her that if she didn’t slow down she was going to hurt herself. As I crept over the final few yards, I heard a splash and a faint cry. I looked up the road to see Danielle face down in a puddle trying to pick herself up without me noticing. Under less strenuous conditions I would probably give her an earful for having not listened to my warnings. However, these were tumultuous times. When she pulled the truck up I saw she was covered in mud and so was the inside of my truck! I attempted an “I told you so” but it was disregarded as she reminded me that I was not in a position to be arguing. Apparently there were more pressing matters, like the 1.5 hours drive to the hospital. I had one thing I needed to do first, take a picture of my leg for the blog!
After an uncomfortable drive – for the length of which Danielle drove like a bat out of hell — we made it the hospital. After several heavy gauge stitches and a few x-rays, the doctor informed me I was one lucky man. I had barely caused any damage to anything but the skin and flesh – my beautiful knee. I got away with a slightly nicked the tendon – the one that supports the foot – and a slight depression in my tibia. However, nothing was damaged to the point that time wouldn’t heal it. Only one thing was certain, I needed to heal fast, moose season opened in a week! Injury or not, I was going hunting!
The long weekend in September I returned to the hunting area to see if the moose trail I found before had fresh tracks on it. I also hoped to find a spot where I could set up for a hunt. I wanted to make my way down to what appeared to be a meadow/scrub area between three large ponds to check for signs. The topography lines on the map indicated this area was somewhat flat compared to the surrounding country; and I hoped it would be holding moose.
I parked the truck on the new extraction road and began the long walk across the new cutover. I used the wood extraction trail to walk in and immediately noticed abundant moose tracks. As the crow flies, the truck was only 500 meters from the back edge of the cut, but I can’t fly like a fucking crow. I was forced to walk 1000 meters up and down hills to get there!
Having made my way to the back of the cut, the boundary line to the park was just beyond the wooded strip. I followed the moose road (too large to be called a trail) well into the park and I realized that I was walking on an old logging road system. The park would have been harvested in the past prior to its induction into the Canadian National park system in 1973. I caught a glimpse of the smallest of the three ponds I was targeting before finding a gentler slope to descend into the valley.
The gentle slope turned into Mount Everest about half way down and – as I was starting to question my decision to ever start hunting in the first place – I experienced my greatest blunder. I must’ve been daydreaming because the next thing I knew, I was sliding down this hill on my ass in the mud! As I scraped myself off, I cursed myself for my clumsiness and the two new holes in my pants. I looked around and realized I had made it to the scrub-like area on the map, but – more importantly – I realized I wasn’t alone.
Through the fir and birch mixed forest, I noticed the outline of the big black fella I was hoping to see. I tentatively lowered my knapsack to the ground and extracted my camera. I stalked between trees to get a better view while doing my best imitation of a small inquisitive bull. After 25 yards of stalking, I found myself in a staring contest with a wide racked moose.
I snapped photos as fast as my camera could take them while I made my way back to my gear. I didn’t want to spook the moose from the area so I was trying to be as quiet as possible. When I arrived back at the trailhead where I left my pack, I noticed that Bullwinkle was not content in letting me leave just yet. I had aroused his suspicion with grunts and now he wanted to let me know I wasn’t welcome in his house!
I scampered up the side of the hill somewhat and nestled myself in behind a blown down tree. I set my camera up for what was promising to be a vivid and close encounter. The 16 point bull-moose was sporting 3 brow tines on one side, 2 on the other and was showing impressive antler growth on his young frame, a true testament to the quality habitat he called home. He slowly approached me, swaying from side to side. He dropped his head in numerous places to show me his impressive antlers. He blew and grunted on a couple occasions and I was starting to get nervous.
At this point, I realized he was locked onto me and was showing minor signs of aggression. Being alone and with no gun I had to speak up and tell him “That’s enough! Get out of here!” Hearing me speak confused him enough that he became alert to the situation and he began to change his mind about running me over. He postured up, turned away, and slowly trotted back through the scrub and stopped to looking back at me, wondering what I was. I envisioned the shot and marveled at the opportunity I just had. If only it were moose season!
I was convinced; this was the spot to hunt! I made my way back onto crown-land to find a place to set up camp (I wasn’t driving 200+ KMs everyday just to sleep in my bed). With a good location marked out I vowed to return another day to set up Moose Camp!
To be continued…..
- Two men save shark from choking on moose (foxnews.com)
When I arrived in Newfoundland last fall I had the unfortunate designation of “Non-Resident”. This meant anything larger than a coyote was off limits to me, as far as hunting goes. I was going to miss those early mornings in the tree-stand with the bow, but I hoped the small game license would maintain my interest — it didn’t help that NB was having one of the best hunting years in recent memory, but I digress. Anyways three months, $140 at the DMV and a trip to the Wildlife Division later, I had my Newfoundland Hunter’s Card.
Newfoundland has a lottery system in place for big game tags. You apply for both Moose and Caribou at the same time indicating in which zone you would accept tags. You also choose which type of tags you prefer — Bull only, either sex etc. There are nine different pools for ranking applicants; the probability of success increasing with decreasing pool number. Pool 1 is reserved for applicants that have applied for several consecutive years without success, those who received a tag in the previous year are entered into pool 9. I was a first time applicant – Pool 8 – looking for the coveted either sex moose tag on a single license.
In typical Matt Chase style, I got my application in on the last day, during the last hour of business. That puts my ticket at the top of the pile right?! I completely forgot about it after that, figuring my chances were very low. Until one night in late June – during Grant’s visit – we were hanging out around my charcoal BBQ having a couple cold ones when my neighbour stopped in for a chat. He offered us some moose sausage for the grill; explaining he got his license again this year. True to form, I had no idea that the results were even out! I thanked him for the sacrifice to the grill gods and hurried inside to log onto the Wildlife NL website. A few clicks and a couple minutes later, I was staring at this:
I was ecstatic! I called my dad immediately to tell him to save some vacation for this fall. We were going moose hunting in Gros Morne National Park!
Most Canadians will tell you that, when they think of Newfoundland they think of three things, great accents, codfish, and a huge moose population. And, when they think of Gros Morne National Park they’ll think moose problem. Moose were originally introduced to Newfoundland from New Brunswick stock in 1905 to provide a food source for residents of the island. With the virtual extinction of their only predators, wolves, in the 1920’s moose populations have been rising unchecked. In places balsam fir and white birch have been so heavily browsed, that the park’s forest structure has been changed. A recent report by Memorial University released information that some bird species which inhabit middle aged stands within the park boundaries are in population decline. In 2011 – in an attempt to control the population -Parks Canada began awarding moose tags for usage specifically within the boundaries of Gros Morne.
This might lead one to believe that a moose hunt in Gros Morne would be like shooting fish in a barrel. However, just like anything, you need to read the fine print! Within the National Park boundaries you must not: use a motorized vehicle other than a boat/plane or snowmobile in approved areas and when conditions merit safe travel, cut any trees or shooting lanes, set up camp outside of approved spaces, have an open fire or transport your firearm in the view of other public members using the park. All this, and the topography in the park changes faster than a woman’s mood! This makes things a little more interesting eh?
Armed with little knowledge of moose habitat and behavior, I began scouring over maps and satellite photos of the area. I was looking for a place I could access from a crown forest road that would facilitate a short bushwhack into the park — and hopefully good moose habitat. I identified areas with sufficient cover, edge, and bog all in relatively gently sloping terrain. With a couple of places in mind, I began planning an in-field scouting session.
In late August, I traveled the 102km from my house in Corner Brook to the Little Bonne Bay Pond area just south of Gros Morne National Park (GMNP) limits. I traveled in on a road that was in an active logging area, which turned out to be a bust. The slope down into park-land was so steep that it wouldn’t even facilitate safe walking, let alone moose extraction. However, I was able to view the park from a good vantage point — looking down into the river valley where I wanted to hunt.
I went to option two. I drove as close as I could to the park boundary and followed a bear trail (I know because there was fresh shit everywhere) through a 15-year-old balsam fir thicket singing “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, the last song playing in my truck, in order not to spook a bear. When I finally arrived at the park boundary, I was faced with yet another steep slope – this one more manageable. This knob also provided yet another great view of GMNP limits.
I negotiated down the hill on the boundary while looking for the bogs and ponds that I could see on my maps. On the way down, I found a great moose trail connecting a couple of the water bodies that excited me. As I was wandering around aimlessly doing what I thought was scouting (taking pictures to show my dad and playing with my axe) I happened upon a recent cutover that I hadn’t noticed on my drive in. I was sure this meant a new road and, more importantly, a shorter walk. Turns out Google Maps are not always the greatest source of info! I marked a tree at the base of a hill in the cutover so I could reference my location. If a road was indeed at the top of the hill, I figured I would be able to see the marker. I returned the way I came, whistling the same tune. On my way out, I found the new extraction road, scampered up over the hill and was able to locate my marked tree 600 meters in the distance. I had found a new way in for the next scouting trip!
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my moose hunt thus far! The hunt is ongoing and I plan on producing a series of posts that document the trials and tribulations my first Newfoundland hunt! So follow me while I continue to search for this elusive ungulate — until next time!