I have a friend who can tell me exactly how many days and sleeps are left until moose season opens. The evening before the opener, he will call or text fellow hunters and wish them all “Merry Moose-mas.” It’s fair to say that he gets quite a bit more excited about moose hunting than he does about any actual calendar holiday. And he’s far from alone. There’s a mild insanity and mania around moose hunting that’s unique to the activity.
What’s the fuss?
So what is it about moose hunting that makes a grown adult act like a kid on Christmas morning? In part, it’s the sheer size of the animal. There’s something prehistoric about moose that adds another dimension to the undertaking. Anyone who’s been involved in a successful moose hunt knows all too well the work involved once the animal is on the ground. A serious moose hunter has to be prepared to handle an 800-pound animal that’s often well back in a cut or swamp. Perhaps there’s something in our ancient wiring that ensures we feel an extra level of excitement and commitment when hunting massive creatures. Our hunting forefathers did not have the luxury of trucks and quads. Those moose quarters would’ve been carried many kilometres on their backs. No easy feat if you’ve ever done it.
And that reminds me of a story.
About 15 years ago, I was invited to join a moose hunt in the Kenora area. My hunting partners were a bit older than me, and both men had previously harvested moose. The hunt leader had done his homework and knew of an old burn located well off the beaten path. The area was loaded with the succulent browse moose love to eat. The problem was it was only accessible by foot. On top of that, access required traversing some high granite hills and walking through nearly a kilometre of twiggy nightmare undergrowth. Sensible people would have let the moose there die of old age.
However, the huntmaster had other plans, and off we went. Getting into the area was torturous, and a mix of sleet and snow didn’t help. I can clearly recall saying, as we walked through the endless saplings, “God forbid if we actually kill something back here,” or words to that effect.
Two hours later, we were standing around the carcass of the largest bull moose I’d ever seen in person. Then the awful reality of what we had to do really sank in. For the next six hours, I cut a trail through saplings with garden snips as my hunting partners dressed, quartered, and hung the animal. It took most of the next day to carry the monster bull out of that hellhole. The sleet had turned to wet snow, making the rocks as slippery as grease. Thankfully, we got the moose out without any permanent injuries. But it was one of the nuttiest hunting experiences I’ve ever had.
Worth the effort
A fascinating thing about moose-hunting culture is the incredible amount of time and energy that goes into planning a weeklong hunt. As a northerner who lives close to the Highway 11/17 moose corridor, I’ve watched the parade of moose hunt parties heading north each October. Trailers of ATVs and Argos, often being pulled by reconditioned school buses painted full camo, are amazingly common. So are endless fleets of white vans loaded to the tops with canoes, gear, and blaze orange. It’s a virtual moose-hunter invasion. The actual moose camps are another thing all together. Many have solar power, outdoor showers, and heated outhouses. The ingenuity and creativity shown by Ontario’s moose-hunting parties boggles the mind.
I often wonder where all this gear is stored for the 51 weeks of the year it’s not used. The investment tied up in gear by your average moose hunter makes just about every other outdoor activity pale in comparison.
One of the great things about Ontario’s moose hunting is that the season is relatively generous. If you’re really hard core, you can hunt right into December, and the snow hunt is an exciting way to harvest a moose. It also requires a certain amount of crazy. The bitter cold, deep snow, and potential for equipment failure is pretty high.
I’ve had many memorable snow hunts, but one that stands out took place a few years back, just north of Thunder Bay. It was near the end of the season, in mid-December, and it was full-on winter. I was walking back into a swamp that was too wet to access earlier in the fall. Unfortunately, the swamp wasn’t frozen, and I broke through several times. My fleece snow-camouflage pants soon turned to ice. Yet, I carried on. Initially, there wasn’t a lot of sign, but as I got deeper into the snow covered cuts, I could see fresh tracks. Then, the cry of a cow moose broke the stillness of the December air.
Cows do call in December, and bulls fight. It’s something most snow hunters know. When I poked my head over the hill, a monster bull could be seen, standing perfectly broadside in some alders about 200 metres away, its enormous rack glinted in the sun. The cow was standing in the open cut, tenderly calling him. As the bull began to walk away, I placed my scope on its shoulder and slid off the safety. The shot would not be perfect, but doable. However, I’d walked nearly 4 kilometres in -20˚C temperatures through knee-deep snow and several wet swamps. The snow machines wouldn’t be much of a help here. At best, removing this bull from the woods would be a two-day job. I slipped the safety back on and watched as the bull of a lifetime disappeared into the woods.
Kind of crazy. I know.
Originally published in the Ontario OUT OF DOORS 2013-2014 Hunting Annual. This article won 1st place in the Outdoor Writers of Canada National Communication Awards in the Magazine Column Category.