Hunting is something that I have done for a long time. Growing up in Northern British Columbia (B.C.) I have been blessed to participate in many successful hunts. For 37 consecutive years, five more than I have been alive, my family has participated in a group moose hunt. Although not all of us cut a tag every year, there is at least some among our group that do. This year would be no different. On the eve of this trip our group was reduced because of a family emergency, my cousin was in a serious car accident and that meant that one of my Uncles was out. We were now down to six hunters.
Leaving Terrace, a small northern town in British Columbia about 1300 kilometers (~800 miles) north from the US border, we loaded into three Ford pickups and started our five-hour run north to a waiting float plane. Once loaded, and having finished a 40 minute flight, the plane made a lazy circle in preparation to land on a pristine lake deep inside moose country. One of the things I love about this trip is comparing new gear with my brother, and cousins. We don’t get to spend a lot of time together throughout the year, so we basically regress to kids showing each other their new toys.
This year I loaded down a Badlands Ox (externally) framed rucksack with about 70 lbs of gear, including my Leupold RX-1000i DNA laser range finder. There have been some debates in camp, most notably, “how far do you think that shot was?” (Three years ago it was 133 yards, much closer than the claimed distance). My rifle of choice was a Remington 700 5r in .308, with an X-mark pro trigger, equipped with a Leupold VX-III CDS optic, firing 150gr Fusion rounds. This was the third year with this gun, and hopefully, it would be the third consecutive year I harvested a moose with it.
One of the hunting rules in British Columbia is that you cannot hunt within six hours of being in a plane, so we were grounded for day one. However, the following morning held the same promise it always did, the chance to find a bull. By the time camp was setup, the fire was burning, and we’d stacked firewood for the night ahead, we were tired. We hashed out plans regarding who was going where, and in what groups. My group, consisting of myself, one uncle, and two cousins, settled on heading into some beautiful swamp area on the opposite end of the lake from our camp.
We hastily awoke in the morning, and departed without breakfast. B.C. hunting regulations allow us to start our hunt no sooner than one hour before sunrise. The trail to the swamp took less than half an hour to get us into prime moose territory. These trails around this lake are like highways in the woods, well-worn and used by the wildlife year round. We waited in place with a fantastic view of the swamp, and one bay of the lake where we have found many moose in previous years.
A slight mist coming off the water helped to somewhat mask our movement, and make our calls more effective by reducing the directionality of the noise. We waited, grinning from ear to ear, excited to be back on the family hunt. The Leupold rangefinder allowed me to create a mental range card to any of the likely areas that a moose might come into the open. 140 yards to the big tree abutting the swamp, 300 yards to the tree line on the opposite side, and 180 yards to the final copse of trees at the water’s comprised my kill zone.
I passed the information along to my uncle, and cousins, who responded with approving nods. Each man made small adjustments, and mental notes as they absorbed this information. We were set. All we needed now was something to shoot at. After thirty minutes, and a variety of cow calls attempted, we got an answer. About five solid grunts came back from the far side of the swamp. Some terrain completely obscured our lines of sight. The excitement was intense.
The bull that returned our call never revealed himself. An investigation of the area we heard the sound from, indicated he had grunted, and immediately began moving away from us into a densely wooded area on the opposite side of the swamp. There was sign everywhere. He had spent some time in this patch of woods, confusing the trail, but fresh droppings indicated he hadn’t waited around for us. Perhaps a small skittish bull that had recently had an encounter with a larger bull, and wasn’t taking any chances.
For the first hunt, on the first morning, morale was high and we were excited for what the immediate future could hold for us. We left that swamp after another hour, and headed back to camp for breakfast. The game trails in the area meant we didn’t spend much time in one spot. There was a lot of terrain to cover, and not a lot of time in that early morning\late evening window when the hunting has always been the best.
I spent the heat of that day hunting grouse and rabbit for lunch, coming up with three huge Spruce grouse. The small game in this area leaves nothing to want. I spotted two rabbits, but already having the grouse they got to live another day. It was hot for being so far north, 15-20 degrees Celsius (around 60f) during the height of the day. The bugs were bad also. The grunts earlier relieved our fears of poor moose hunting weather, and we planned to wait for the cooler evening before heading back out.
My lunch proved delicious, I quickly cleaned the grouse, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, added a spoonful of butter, and wrapped the whole breast in aluminum foil. The breast meat steamed it in its own juice on the edge of the coals of the campfire. I reminisced on how much I preferred this life to the existence I currently have in the city, and wondered what it would take to convince my fiancé to move this deep into the mountains.
Two more days went by. We had not seen, or heard a single thing to indicate there were moose anywhere near us (aside from the first day). We had six hunters, and five moose tags in the group this year. My father’s friend stays in the camp cooking breakfast, and dinner for the hunters. My cousin who has never been on this trip before (and did not have a license) was learning the ropes by observing what we do, and how we do it.
We were on the move almost non-stop by the end of the third day. The heat during the day, and flies were maddening. We assumed the heat was pushing the moose into nearby higher elevations where it was cooler. Morale was getting low, but the mood changed rapidly when the temperature dropped suddenly at nightfall. Renewed by the weather shift, we prepared to hunt hard in the morning.
We hoped that the weather would change our luck, seemingly it had not. We took the morning frost, and the mist rising off the lake as a good omen for the day’s hunt. The moose disagreed, as there was no sign of them at the water’s edge, nor in any of the swamps on either end of the lake. I ate fresh grouse, rabbit, and trout (from the lake) for lunch each day and realized I would have to satisfy my story telling requirements when I got home with tales of chasing small game through the bush. We only had two remaining days before the plane returned, and I was to be in the first load on the way out. I had an early connecting flight, and leaving first would ensure that I made it on time.
Day 4 passed in a blur of: hiking trials, watching inlets on the lake, and imitating cow moose calls. The temperature had come down, and stayed down. Even at the height of day it was below 10 Celsius (48f), and we were clearly in a moose-free zone. We needed to change tactics, or get into new terrain. Going farther out meant packing a successful hunt further back, so we decide instead to try a boat. Normally we use a small aluminum boat to move moose quarters from one spot on the lake, back to camp after a successful harvest. This time we decided to row it out in front of the four small bays on the far end of the lake. It takes longer to get there than it would have walking the trails, but we had excellent line of sight into all the best areas on the lake itself, and this would be a game changer. Flies began to swarm our position as we settled in, and the waiting began again.
As sunset approached I could tell that my group was preparing to call it for the day. Personally, I didn’t stop glassing through my Leupold for the better part of 30 minutes. The optic gave me a brighter, and much closer view of the terrain in front of me than my eye could provide. I have come to depend on this optics assistance for success. The optic is adjustable from 3.5x to 10x magnification and provides a wonderful sight picture through its 40mm front aperture. Exhausted and bored, the group began preparations for the trip back to camp. I almost choked on my Spitz (sunflower seeds). There, in the farthest bay, just off the shore, in the brush, was a large dark object that was not there the last time I scanned through that area.
I tell my assembled cousins that I’ve spotted something as I dial my magnification to the full 10x that my optic can provide. It’s a moose, and it’s a bull. My cousins can’t get on the oars fast enough and we immediately begin a slow b-line directly at my prey. His head is down and he is feeding at the shoreline, our luck has finally turned for the better. Utilizing my Leupold rangefinder I begin ranging the moose to determine when we are at a reasonable distance. He is very relaxed, he hasn’t seen us. Judging distance over water is a very difficult thing to do, and the Leupold range finder earns its place in my loadout at that moment.
To ensure a clean kill shot beyond 200 yards I have to know what range I’m shooting from. This was it, I didn’t want to make a mistake. At my prompting everyone in the boat goes very still. I spotted him, so he’s mine to take down. Steadying my breath after the last days to make a clean shot at just over 200 yards is difficult. Dealing with the slip-slide nature of a small boat on water makes it harder still. I relax into the shot, exhale slowly and begin my steady trigger squeeze. The round impacted him in the chest and knocked him off his feet. With a bullet through his chest cavity, he started struggling to get to his feet. We immediately began rowing hard for shore.
I put him out with a coup de grâce (final blow or shot to kill a wounded animal) from point-blank into his brain (located directly below his antlers in case that ever comes in handy for you). After the adrenaline washed out, and we finished congratulating each other on the first success of this hunt, the hard work started. My cousins and I set out to gut, quarter and load each of the quarters into the boat for the return trip. Two of us took the boat back to camp, the other two walked.
The work continued in earnest in camp as we hung the meat and set to skinning. The others heard my gunshots in the distance and were waiting for us to land, eager to get a look at our first moose, and get the meat properly dealt with. This was not a big moose compared to others we have harvested from this lake over the years, but he was still a good size and will provide excellent meat for our families through the coming year.
The following morning my brother found another bull, very near where I got mine, and we had two moose hanging in the trees as the float plane docked on Canadian Thanksgiving Monday morning. Another trip was in the books. We began the tedious process of loading the plane, unloading the plane, loading the trucks, driving, unloading the trucks and flying once again. Thanksgiving weekend moose hunting is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I feel lucky to get do this with my family each year.
When I got my moose it ended up being one of the last chances I would have had that year. How’s that for lucky?
Thomas James served with the 1st Battalion Princes Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from 2003 to 2007, including deploying to Kandahar, Afghanistan in February of 2006 in support of Operation Archer. He graduated from the Chemical and Environmental Technology program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 2012. Currently he is working as a Corrosion and Materials Engineering Technologist in British Columbia. Outside of work hours he enjoys hunting, fishing, skiing, and science.