Teijo Villa of Thunder Bay is one of the masters of Ontario Moose hunting. I’m amazed by his incredible depth of knowledge about moose and his ability to put people in close contact with giants. Villa can call moose to hunters like the animals are on a string. His specialty is big old bulls that are not easily fooled. He spends a lot of time guiding bowhunters to the moose of a lifetime and has an incredible scrapbook of his clients with their prized harvests. Earlier this year, I interviewed Villa and learned about what he does to get giant moose.
OOD: What was the first moose you called in?
TV: That would have happened probably in about 1974. I was in high school, about age 12. I had been listening to my dad call for four years, from the first time he brought me hunting. And looking back now, it was kind of just the basic call. But I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just imitating or mimicking what I heard my dad and godfather do. I’d probably gone about two dozen times without any success. It took a long time and I was just making noise in the woods, looking back now.
OOD: How did you learn to be so successful with moose?
TV: Initially, I was very successful with a rifle, before starting bowhunting in about 1984. Prior to that, I would drive bush roads, stop and call, and then drive another five or 10 miles and do it again. Looking back now, I was doing just about everything wrong. In those days, there was an archery club in Thunder Bay, and everybody was just getting into it. So, there was Alex Gouthro, Barry Thatcher, and probably a half dozen other guys that were really into moose hunting and trying to be successful. After the season, we would all get together at the archery club and exchange stories about what did and didn’t work. Then things really started clicking.
OOD: What were some key changes you made to your moose hunting?
TV: I, like most of the guys, liked to hunt the clear-cuts. But I was starting to go into the tall timber— right in that transition zone between the cut and the tall timber — where you got all that ugly bush. You would go in another 20 yards to where it opened up, so that’s where I started hunting. What would happen is I would no longer be able to see those moose coming in at 80 to 100 yards because I was in the cover. Suddenly, I started seeing moose for the first time, when they were within 30 yards or closer.
OOD: When you call from cover, do you find the moose are more susceptible to the call?
TV: What I found in the cuts was a moose would poke his head out of the tall timber or start looking for you. If he didn’t see a cow, he’d just turn right back around and then 15-20 minutes later he’d show up farther down the cut. Very rarely did they ever come storming right across the cut. So, when I started hunting these transition areas, that was a major turning point. Often during the rut, I’d be calling and all of a sudden, I’d get a cow lighting up 100 yards away from me. I’d be listening to her and trying to match her call. Next thing you know, we’ve got a bull coming in and her calling changed. I just kind of paid attention to what was going on. I started imitating the communication grunts and then it was just finding the best place to call because there are some areas where cows like to be.
OOD: What other things do you recommend for more moose success?
TV: You need to learn how to read the moose trails and learn how to tell the difference between a bull track and a cow track. From there, you try and figure out which way the predominant travel route is and that will help you to determine where you get set up. The odds are they will continue to travel that direction. That’s not to say that they won’t go in the opposite direction, but you can get a general idea which direction they generally travel in.
OOD: When you guide hunters, what are the key things you do to help ensure success?
TV: If it is on a fly-in for instance — on a lake — there are a few things I do. I try and find a spot to hide the boat. The boat has smells in it. I saw a few times when a moose was coming along and stopped near the boat and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I discovered that you need to hide the boat and was hit out with borax. Leave the fishing gear at camp and get rid of the boat cushions. Keep everything clean. Also, never handle the gas in your hunting clothes. The biggest objective is to stay scent free. You also need to be stealthy. I’ll boat to within about a quarter mile or so of where I want to set up. I’ll use an electric trolling motor to come in, unless it’s windy. Then you just idle down and crawl right into the spot where you can hide the boat. There is usually a trail and from there where I have a spot for the caller and a spot for the shooter.
OOD: I know scent control is huge for you. Any thoughts for hunters who struggle with this part of moose hunting?
TV: I use different scent-control products. I like an enzyme base opposed to a chlorophyll base. I wash with scent-free shampoos, use scent-free soaps, deodorants, and toothpaste. And I use borax for my boots. I just have a tub of borax and I just throw my boots in there. I also use an ozone generator. When I’m guiding, everybody has to shower at three o’clock (before the evening hunt) and everybody showers at least once or twice a day. There are no hunting clothes allowed in camp, period. We have them out in the woodshed or else just outside in a screened-in area. Hunting clothes are hanging anywhere but in the cabin. We’ve got probably two or three different clothes lines set up around the cabin so that the smoke from the chimney doesn’t get on them. All the boat maintenance is done at camp. Boots are not allowed in camp. When you come in from the morning hunt, you go straight to the shed and strip down to your underwear.
OOD: You’ve seen first hand the impact of human scent on moose success…what happens?
TV: I’ve seen cases where I put a moose in front of a client — seven different bulls — and that moose would come in within 45 yards and then just put the brakes on. And he was gone faster than he came in. And that was because the client did not have good scent control.
OOD: What is the range of a typical client moose kill?
TV: The average shot for a bowhunting client is between seven and 11 yards. But they’ve also been within two to three yards. Some are between 18 and 28 yards. But I’m going to say most moose are shot with a bow within 11 yards.
OOD: How did you get into hunting with decoys, and what’s the key to their success?
TV: When we started decoying, a lot of times the bull would come in and look, waiting for a movement. Gouthro had ropes and strings and stuff so you could pivot it back and forth, and I did the same thing. We couldn’t purchase decoys back then, so we made them out of black cloth, carpet or whatever. I had a client that got me a taxidermist mount we nicknamed Shady Sheila. First time I used a decoy I put that head on and I stepped out in the open and faced the bull. All I did was kind of rock from side to side and raise and lower the head and that bull was in the water running and came within 20 yards.
OOD: Any unusual things you have learned about moose while calling and decoying so many in?
TV: I found that a bull will wait for the cow to present her hind end — that’s the cow accepting the bull. And then the bull will go up there to see if she is ready…but if she’s not receptive, she’ll rear up on her hind legs and just lay a pounding on that bull. It doesn’t matter how big the bull is. That’s where you see the big puffs of fur missing on their shoulders. The first time I saw that happen was up at Sandridge Lake. A 46-inch bull came in and he was persistent, and just would not let her be. She reared up and just put a beating on him. And he wound up running off about 45 yards and he just stood there just waiting and grunting. She wasn’t interested, or she was waiting for a bigger bull. It’s a pretty impressive sight.
OOD: You must have shared some amazing hunts with your clients.
I have some long-time clients that have shared these hunts since the 1990s. They describe it like a game of chess. Everyone has a role to play in the game. The moves or calls I make get the bull to react in a game of deception. Then they make the last play.
When asked about hunts that stood out, Villa has more than one. “I have lots of stories and lots of favourite harvests. There were two Pope & Young bulls in 45 minutes; two bulls taken five minutes apart; seven bulls coming into the call one evening; one bull taken from the outhouse; the bull from the cabin porch during a torrential down pour; another bull shot behind the cabin with the client only wearing his underwear and rubber boots; eating pancakes in the cabin and a 64-inch bull is 15 yards away from your bow — but your bow is 25 yards away from you. There are lots of favourite stories of bulls getting past the client and bulls chasing Shady Sheila (me)…”
Originally published in Ontario OUT of DOORS’ 2020 Hunting Annual