December/January 2013 EHJ (Issue 134) - Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.--Sir John Lubbock
Every time I leave the backcountry I have a sense of leaving a piece of me behind, but I never leave without learning more about the wild places I called home. We live in a time where information about any subject can be gathered in the snap of a finger. As far as backcountry hunting goes, there are numerous books, DVDs and periodicals such as EHJ, which allow us to learn from others’ experiences. This information is extremely valuable, but nothing beats the actual experience of hunting in wild places and learning from trial and error.
I moved to Montana almost 20 years ago to be able to live, hunt and fish in these wild places. Like so many others, I diligently apply for the limited licenses for the opportunity to hunt moose, sheep and goat in Montana. After listening to my friend Kevin’s experience hunting the Shiras moose in northwest Montana, I decided to apply to a less-popular unit in hopes that the odds would be in my favor. I was familiar with the western side of this unit, as I had bowhunted elk there many years prior and observed numerous mature bull moose.
Because it had been several years since hunting in this area, I reached out to wildlife officials, national forest employees and ranchers who grazed cattle in the area for any information they might have on the current moose situation. The local wildlife biologist informed me that the moose population in my unit, as well as other units in the state, was in a steady decline. The biologist had hiked almost every drainage in the eastern side of the unit without spotting a single moose. The biologist was unfamiliar with the western side of the unit. The years before, approximately 50 percent of the hunters harvested a bull moose. The biologist told me not to be picky when it came to harvesting a bull moose. The local rancher had seen some cow/calf pairs while checking on cattle during the summer months.
Still determined to hunt a mature bull, I studied on how to field measure a bull moose and borrowed a moose calling video from Kevin. My wife and son would laugh hysterically while I practiced my four count cow calls and bull grunts in the living room. I admitted that the calls sounded horribly unconvincing. Calling Shiras moose is not as popular as it is with the Canada and Yukon species, but I figured I would leave nothing out. I was hooked on bowhunting elk many years ago after hearing my first bull elk bugle during the rut. I would do my best at calling for moose as well.
Because I was going to hunt this mountainous unit on foot and without stock, I arranged to have a local outfitter pack the moose out in the event that I was successful. There were only a few areas within the unit that had cell phone coverage. I would use a buddy and his stock as backup in the event the outfitter was busy. I carried my bow and planned on bow hunting for the moose, but considering that this is basically a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, I carried my 7mm Remington Magnum in my Eberlestock as some extra insurance. This unit is also home to one of Montana’s grizzly bear populations.
September 14th arrived with me backpacking up the western slope of the mountains into my unit. I was attempting to beat the weather system coming in from the west. I set up my Hilleberg Akto one-man tent as the first drops of rain started coming down. After an allnight rainstorm, I woke before light and started for the center of the unit. I made it to the center of the unit the afternoon of the first day of the season. I was a little discouraged as I did not see any moose sign on my way in. I began setting up a place to camp for the night when I heard an unfamiliar noise through the trees. I grabbed my bow, checked the wind and slowly walked to the area where the noise came from.
For a full account of Steve's adventure, go to page 22 in the December/January 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.