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Hunting moose in Ontario is not only a tradition for many, but also a way of life. These giant deer inspire incredible passion in residents and non-residents alike. The moose is a creature of both incredible size and finely tuned instincts. Many hunters over the years have wondered how animals that can weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and stands eight feet high at the shoulder can seemingly disappear from the woods for days on end. Moose have spent eons surviving wolves, bears, high snow, and hunters. They are perfectly adapted to the northern wilderness and can plow through snow that stops every other animal in the woods.
Moose are equal parts power and grace. if you have ever watched a moose swim in a lake, its entire front haunch out of the water as it propels itself with its long legs, you know their majesty. As hunter, the sound of a bull answering a cow call, its deep burp echoing over the hills, is one of the most primal experiences you can have. When it's followed by the clash of antlers on wood, or footsteps coming through the woods, you will be hard pressed not to get goose bumps. This is the essence of hunting.
My moose hunting dates back over three decades. I did not grow up a moose hunter, but learned to love the activity through family and friends who showed me the ropes. Like all hunting, pursuing moose involved a fairly steep learning curve. An early lesson was to not get too very excited about seeing moose tracks, even if they were fresh. It soon became clear that the animal that made those tracks hours before was not necessarily anywhere near our position any more. They could have even left the Wildlife Management Unit we were in—or the time zone. Watching moose cover huge tracts of land in the blink of an eye was a humbling experience.
However, after a lot of time spent in the woods, and several near misses with bulls and cows, I did finally get my first moose. It still remains one of my most memorable hunting memories. I was deep in an old winter cut, the kind of place that you have to walk way back in the bush to access. I'd climbed up on top of a big pile of slash to get a better view of the cut. A bush road ran behind me up and over a hill to an area I'd not yet explored.
As I sat overlooking the cut, enjoying a chocolate Joe Louis cake, I heard the unmistakable sound of antlers smashing together. Initially, I assumed it must be another hunter doing a very realistic job of rattling. A few more loud clashes changed my opinion and had me off the slash pile and heading up the bush road towards the sound. As I topped the hill, I could see another cut and two moose standing in it about 250 yards away.
Both were enormous bulls—one was a giant, its 60-inch rack shining in the morning sun. I ducked down and scrambled to a stump where I thought I could get a steady shot. When I looked into the scope, the largest of the two bulls was on the move and into the tree line. The smaller of the two was starting to walk, but slowly. With heart pounding, I put the crosshairs on its chest, took a breath, and squeezed. The shot rang out and the bull stopped. I watched through the scope, ready to shoot again. But the bull was getting wobbly and its head began to droop. Then it disappeared. I waited for 30 minutes before picking my way down to where the animal had been standing. At 50 yards away, I could see a huge panel sticking up out of the grass and then a huge black shape. Bull down.
The feeling that morning, as I stared at this great animal, is one I cannot put into words. A mix of joy, sadness, and pure awe. It was simply a beautiful animal. It would take us all day to get the great beast out of that cut but it was time well spent. The meat would feed three families, and the rack is a prized memory of that moose hunt nearly 20 years ago.
Moose hunting is truly a magical experience.