Hunters gather many things along their journey and adventures. It’s certainly not limited to meat and antlers; the treasures gathered and collected vary by the hunter. Our collection of treasures is vast—from shed antlers and fossils to arrowheads, snake skins, feathers, skulls, shells, and many more. The true treasures, though, are found in moments made and memories created. The ability to hold onto moments in time and recite them by memory is the real treasure that we all hold so dear.
One of our favourites, if not the favourite, moose hunts of all time is exactly this. It’s a moment in time involving a series of days that was so special, so full of adventure and excitement, that we can all still recite the details as if it were yesterday, and one of the few times as adults we have all shared a hunt together from start to finish.
The most epic moose hunt we have shared together started with a remote adventure into backcountry that most people will never see. Our long-time hunting buddy and police officer Joe Dampier from Thunder Bay, Ontario had a remote area that had hardly ever seen hunters. It was a hike-in-on-foot location into a small lake with a trapper’s cabin and a canoe. In late September, as the leaves changed colour in Northern Ontario’s Thunder Bay District, we drove many hours to park the truck and then ventured into our remote lake. The adventure literally started as we left the truck as we encountered wild trails, trips, fails, bad weather, and everything in between.
After a few days of stormy weather, we were finally greeted with a calm afternoon. The wind was just right, and we set out to call a low bay area off the lake. After only a few minutes of cow calling for moose, we heard a twig snap. Then more, and the branches in the thick timber around us started to snap, crackle, and pop. The cracking branches worked around us to our left and back to our right, then started to circle us, but nothing appeared. With no moose sounds, grunts, or calls we were very suspicious that this was not a moose.
After five minutes of this, the cracking and walking animal went to our side, where the thickest conifer trees were, and slowly crept towards us. At 9 yards, a large black head emerged from the trees. Not a moose, but a black bear. With all the brazen confidence in the world, he stepped into the clearing with us and began to circle around. With a bear tag in hand, Kevin drew his bow and placed an arrow in the right place to end an extremely stressful situation. The moment was intense, but having bear meat in camp was a welcome treat.
We woke the next morning long before daylight and were thrilled that the ground was covered in frost with no wind at all. Perfect moose calling conditions! We split up, heading to the north end of the lake. We would sit 700 yards apart on each end of the lake, both looking north, with the tip of the lake in between us. Joe stayed down in the lake starting on Kevin’s side to the west, walking in the water as light arrived. As Joe walked like a cow in the lake, he slowly started making light cow calls. It was 15 minutes of pure silence, with man-made moose imitations filling the remote country air. Kevin was on a high side, 75 yards above the lake. Paul was in a similar situation on the east side.
After 15 minutes of calling, the magic happened. It wasn’t like everyone may think or expect; it was not a charging bull making noise to announce his presence. It was different and took extreme concentration to hear, then moments to process and understand. As far away as ears could possibly hear was the slightest and most distant bull grunt you can imagine. We have no idea how far, but we would have had to guess more than two miles. For the next 45 minutes, both crews sat listening intently as the distant grunt got closer every step. It was clear the rutting bull was coming to Kevin’s side, so Paul and Keith just watched from the far side, waiting to see it all unfold. Joe snuck across to Paul’s side of the lake trying to bring the bull down off the hill and past Kevin.
Finally, in the new sunshine of the morning, a 50’ class bull emerged from over a ridge into the cut. Like a vision, he stopped and stared down into the lake, hoping to see the cow he had spent his morning hoping to meet. When he could not see her, he crested the hill and walked straight to the lake and grunting every step. The big bull walked by Kevin just out of range, and all Kevin could do was watch as any movement or effort to relocate might cost Paul a chance.
The bull was now on a line to cross the lake right at Paul. As he entered the lake from the northwest corner and went behind some trees and scrub, Paul relocated to the lake edge and Joe went up the hill behind Paul to pull the bull by him. For 10 minutes, the majestic bull waded through the marshy end of the foggy lake. Every step was sloshing water and over 1,000 pounds of grunting, rutting bull. As the big fella walked the lake edge still in the water, he finally turned to change direction, and at 8 yards, turned and stepped out of the lake onto shore. With a perfect hole, Paul drew back and buried an arrow into the big bull’s vitals.
As if we had all just been part of a scripted outdoor miracle, the bull ran and came crashing down.
For three brothers and a dear friend in Joe to have a moment like this, all together, all watching every step, was a treasure and a memory that will go down as one of our best.
Northern Ontario is one of the most incredible, unspoiled places on Earth, and the hunting is one of the best ways to enjoy that!