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!
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!