Whether seen wading in the center of a pond, lumbering through a brushy field, or standing resolutely in the center of a highway, moose deliver a visceral tug on our psyches, sparking feelings of wonderment and admiration that almost no other animal can. These hulking giants of the deer family are simply awesome. With their shaggy black bodies and massive, palmated antlers, these mighty creatures remain with us in modern times as a remnant of the Ice Age, where they fit right in among the woolly mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, and other behemoths of the ancient world. To those who hunt them, moose stand out not only as a fantastic trophy but as symbol of abundance that no other animal provides.
For ancient hunters, harvesting a moose was often vital to a tribe’s survival as one animal could get a family through an entire winter. Consequently, the hunting and harvesting became an honored practice. This sense of reverence has not changed for modern hunters: The few who have been lucky enough to harvest a bull know the contented and prosperous feeling of having loads of meat stowed securely in the freezer.
Actually harvesting a moose can be one of the most challenging and physically draining hunts that can be undertaken. They make themselves at home in some of the most difficult terrain imaginable, from brush-choked thickets to heavy-timbered ridge tops, to dark and foreboding swamps and river bottoms. They live a solitary and almost ghostly existence; they are able to vanish instantly into the thick brush in which they spend most of their time feeding despite their mammoth proportions. Moose are hard to find, hard to get to, and above all hard to get out of the woods once they’re slain. A butchered bull’s massive proportions will force hunters to make several long pack trips, ones that test the physical endurance of even the fittest hunter. Going on a moose hunt is not so much a hunt but rather a quest that must be embarked upon, a test to be undertaken.
Where to find them
There are a variety of moose species in North America, from the gigantic Yukon moose to the only slightly less massive Shiras. Though all of the species and sub-species differ in one way or another, all of them share one very critical characteristic: aquatic habitat. No matter the moose species or in which region they are located, they share the same sort of browse made up of shrubs, twigs, and bark of various trees—especially willow—along with aquatic vegetation. All this feed is found within close proximity to water.
With that in mind, the first critical element moose hunters need to consider when trying to locate moose is finding water. Lakes, ponds, rivers, and bogs near thickly forested areas, with a lot of brush in close proximity make for prime moose habitat. These are the places to start scouting. Scouting for moose is surprisingly simple: They are big, ponderous animals and they leave a lot of sign in the woods. Search for the usual signs of tracks and scat, but also torn-up areas where bulls have thrashed trees with their antlers and broken branch-covered paths where they have forced their way through the brush. Look for browsed shrubs and moose wallows where they go to roll. These will appear as large, round, muddy patches that have numerous tracks around them. Once a suitable area is located, it’s time to start hunting.
For most of the year, bull moose have surprisingly small ranges and will rarely wander more than a mile or two away from what they consider home, so setting up stands and blinds are effective ways to hunt moose if you find a hotspot. However, during the rut—which occurs from as early as mid-September until late November and generally aligns with the hunting season—this can change dramatically. Bull moose will travel several miles every day in search of cows. With that being the case, still-hunting through good territory and spot-and-stalk hunting become much more effective methods.
Spotting and stalking bull moose effectively requires the hunter to get out of the lowlands and boggy areas that the moose frequent and get above them. It’s vital to get high up on ridges or hillsides overlooking prime moose habitat to glass, as much of the time bulls frequent areas too thick to see farther than 20 or 30 yards. Pay attention to any moose you see when glassing, because even if you spot a cow or small bull during the rut, it is likely a big bull will be along soon to either breed or fight. Spotting from a high vantage point also gives the hunter an advantage in finding bulls. From above, those massive antlers stick out like beacons even in thick brush. Moose are generally not too difficult to approach when stalking or still-hunting, as they are generally bigger and stronger than anything else in the forest and few things bother them. As long as a hunter keeps the wind in mind, they can actually approach a bull moose pretty aggressively. Moose are tolerant of sounds like snapping twigs and breaking brush, and will most often think the hunter is simply another moose on their approach.
The most thrilling aspect of moose hunting is that they respond incredibly well to calling. Whether you’re sitting in a stand or stalking in on your quarry, the right application of a moose call can bring a big bull crashing in toward you like a 1,200-pound turkey gobbler, adding some truly heart-pounding excitement to the hunt. The call of a cow moose in heat is an easy sound to imitate, one that can be done with the hunter’s own voice rather than a call. It is a long, plaintive wail that sounds similar to a domestic cow in the distance. It can be done by simply cupping your hands around your mouth, pinching your nostrils, and giving voice.
There are ways to amplify the sound as well, like calling through a rolled-up piece of birch bark. Moose are very vocal animals, so there are plenty of options for calling them. Aside from the long moans, cow moose also make short, soft bleats similar to a whitetail. Bulls make deep, undulating grunts that can be easily imitated. Other sounds hunters can make that will draw an interested bull in closer include raking trees with old antlers or a scapula bone, breaking brush, and perhaps most interestingly, pouring water into a pond or puddle, which imitates the sound of a bull moose urinating and marking his territory.
There are about a dozen states in the U.S. that have a moose season, but all of them outside of Alaska only allow moose hunting through a lottery draw. It’s the same with most of the Canadian provinces. This makes opportunities to take a moose rare and precious. They are an unrivaled trophy due to both their massive antlers and their fantastic game meat, but what is more, taking one reflects the hunter’s immense fortitude and enduring spirit. A successful moose hunter hangs the antlers upon their mantel proudly as a reminder of a great and arduous adventure that—perhaps along with the pain in their shoulders and knees from the packout—will remain with them for all time.