Top techniques from the expert, that wrote the book on hunting moose.
Forty years of moose hunting, guiding, observation and experimentation, has provided me with a unique perspective into moose behaviour. My publication “Hunting Woodland Moose” conveys this knowledge, along with secrets from Canada’s top moose guides. Even the most seasoned hunter, will come away with something new to implement. I adopted ways that circumvent the moose’s natural instincts and sensory receptors, creating more close encounters and harvest opportunities.
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1. MOVEMENT by patterning travel corridors
Never stop looking for moose sign, even while driving the northern highways in winter. Observe the snowbanks for crossings, or where moose come to lick the road salt. Scan the cleared right of way, for meandering moose trails, indicating browsing on the small frozen saplings. In late May and throughout June, encounter moose wading the roadside ditches for mineral saturated mud, succulent plant growth, and brackish water. These contain essential elements for milk production in cows and antler bone growth in bulls. Long tire skid marks on the asphalt, indicate a transport truck had to lock up its breaks, to avoid a moose collision. Look for black mud wallows trampled in the golden grass where spring runoff pools. Its along these stretches there will be random moose roadkill’s.
Use Google Earth for satellite imagery, to determine features that both attract and deter moose. I use geographic landmarks that funnel movement, such as mountains, steep cliffs, deep valleys, whitewater rapids, expansive lakes, barren cutovers, and human development. I zoom in to locate trails made in marsh grass along creeks. Travel corridors are evident in narrow land crossings between a chain of lakes, a gentle valley between two high elevations, or strip of forest left between two clear cuts. Survival rule #1 in nature dictates, no unnecessary expenditure of energy, so why swim miles across a lake when you can walk a peninsula or swim a narrow point. You know you’ve found a good travel corridor, when you find a variety of overlapping tracks dating back months, weeks and fresh.
2. LOCATION by habitat selection
Location is of course dependant on time of year, temperatures, and weather conditions. Basically, from mid September throughout October, still involves proximity to water. Long narrow back bays lined with golden grass, make for ideal places to find rut pits, thrashes, and beds. Bulls rarely eat during the Rut, while cows with or without calves stake out a particular series of marsh and ponds, which they slowly rotate. Another prime spot is old forest fire burns that have re-generated over 7-10 years. The saplings are high enough for cover and the tips of young branches an ample food source. I target cubby hole cuts, which are small proximal logged clearing, detached from the main cutover. Its best if hidden behind a hill, backside slope, separated by makeshift corduroy road or complete washout.
3. NATURAL INSTINCTS by adaptation
During my lifetime, climate change and learned experiences have modified moose behaviour. The urge to mate is initiated by sunlight ratio and temperature declination, as observed by the leaves colour change and the first few overnight frosts. Now with fall daytime temperatures reaching above 20+ moose seek the shade and coolness of mossy floored cedar swamps and extended soaks in the lake. Rut activity slows and moves to the coolest part of the day, under the cover of darkness. A hunter should try stalk and spot, by walking around swamps and small lakes just inside the bush line. Don’t walk like a predator that is constantly moving on a scent trail, trying to close ground. Instead become the prey and stop often, glass ahead looking for bedded moose or glimpse of an antler. Walk from a cross or downwind direction. Moose are slow to standup and will want to make visual confirmation before departing. During hurricane like conditions, when all hunters are back at camp, go for a drive because of a unique phenomenon. The intense noise level and action of swaying branches, falling limbs, and pelting rain drops, nullify both the moose’s sense of smell and hearing. The only reliable sense remaining is vision. Subsequently, moose will stand out in openings, away from the bush line, so they can see any approaching predators.Highways have also become a significant cause of moose mortality from auto collisions, adjacent trains, and drive by shooting harvest. Moose once commonly sighted on every road trip, have adapted their behaviour to avoid roadsides during daylight hours. Mature bull moose that have experienced numerous hunters’ calls, now signify their presence with a knock of antler against a solid tree or solitary grunt. They’re saying if your real and want to mate, you must come to me, in the safety of heavy cover.
4. HEARING by calling with emotion / urgency Many hunters use a basic cow moose call that they learned from YouTube, DVD, CD or watching a hunting partner. The most common mistake is a monotone drawn out call that is repeated. A cow is only in estrus for a brief period and in dire need of a mature suiter. Although specifically signalling a mate, the sound is also within ear shot of predators like timber wolves, bears, and mountain lions. Emotion and urgency are the key to realism, by varying both air volume and pitch, along with the moving of your head and hands during the call. As a visual reference, think of a volatile stock chart as an audio recording. Calling intricacies also include where, when, and how often. I’ve learned not to call pre-dawn before visible shooting time, as moose have appeared so fast, I couldn’t yet see my sights. In the evening when you get a response, but light is fading fast, quietly leave and come back early in the morning and set up a few hundred yards in a different position. Start softly with longer periods between calls, then increase volume and frequency, ending your session the way, you started. When interacting with a responding moose, don’t dominate the calling, keep the intensity level in par with the responses. Add non vocal noise like breaking branches, walking in water, and raking brush with a paddle.During periods of strong winds, wolf pack proximity and elevated hunting pressure, moose will not vocalize as often, but rather rely on encountering each other on travel routes. I use a run and gun tactic by making loud echoing calls “after dark” from bush roads where creeks or swamps intersect. Get back there before first light and repeat. If no reply after 15 minutes move onto the next spot you pre-called.
5. VISION by decoying
During September and October, the addition of a decoy exponentially improves the chance of drawing a moose out from cover and avoiding the “hang up”. A visual attraction combined with a scent lure and mating vocalization, mimics the real mating ritual. Options include an inflatable version, photographic image or homemade decoy like plywood silhouette, or frame covered with faux fur. A visual display triggers a surge of hormones in the brain that instinctively put a bull into a trance. Its eyes glaze over a little and it sways back and forth to display its headgear. In remote settings or fly-ins (archery only season), I become the decoy, by wearing a dark brown sweatshirt, then walk in the water, pull grass like feeding and pour water from my calling horn at waist height like urinating. Once a bull appeared so fast out of the woods, all I could do was lay down as he stepped over me, while scanning for the cow he was convinced was close bye. Add lightweight antlers, and your ready for a showdown.
6. SMELL by spray scents
Mating lure scents can be used in combination with neutralizing odor sprays. While one is intended to make you undetectable, the other is used to attract from a distance. A moose can smell 200 times better than a human and prefer to approach from a downwind position. Typical moose attractants are made from mare horse urine. It can be utilized on a scent drag and tied to your boot while walking or by hanging a felt key wick from a tree branch. My best success is a urine-soaked white rag attached to my decoy like a vulva patch. When coming across a fresh rut pit, I will gather some of the mud into a Ziplock bag and use the real scent because of the inherent pheromones. If it smells like strong ammonia, then its too old to be useful. (Photo credits to White River Air and the author Jon R. Remus)