Sunday, February 6, 2022

Idaho Shiras Moose Trip 3 : Tagged Out

 Moose hunt with Chad, October 2021

After the success my dad had on his moose hunt and the rut finally starting, I knew I had to drop all other hunts and make filling my moose tag the top priority. I had originally planned to be tagged out and starting my elk hunt by mid-October, but that would have to wait. My problem was finding someone to go with me. Luckily, my good friend Chad volunteered to fly into town and hunt with me all week. What an amazing friend!

Chad is from Alaska and hunts moose nearly every year. (See Alaska Moose Hunts 1-3 in earlier blogs) Not only would I have very capable hands to help me on my hunt, but Chad and I hadn't spent quality time together in numerous years. This would be fun, regardless. 

It was now a full week since my dad's hunt. I hoped the moose activity would still be high and calling opportunities would be plentiful. The rain my dad and I received during our hunt had now turned to snow, but was clearing out upon our arrival. Conditions seemed to be lining up for a good hunt. 

Chad and I arrived to find more people in the woods due to the start of  deer season. We had to find a new campsite, but ended up fairly close to where we wanted to hunt. 

The following morning we set off up the creek drainage I had encountered a couple bulls in September. I had left a trail camera on a watering hole and was eager to see the results. The morning yielded zero animal encounters and only a couple photos on the camera of a cow and calf moose and some deer. Not a great start. The afternoon found us hiking down the same trail my dad had shot his moose on. The trail was speckled with moose tracks here and there, but still no moose sightings. We set up a couple trail cameras and by dark we were back at camp. 

"Gosh Ryan, not hide nor hair today." Chad said, shaking his head. "This is weird moose country too."

"I know. They're here though. We just have to find 'em." I replied.

We talked to some deer hunters who had seen a cow moose up an old closed road. We decided since we didn't see any moose down in the creek bottoms, we'd try the ridge tops the next day.

The next morning, we found ourselves hiking up the old road at first light. The road ascended a ridgeline to the top, then cut across several small ridges to a larger ridge that ran north-south. We came around one of the corners and could now see the main ridgeline about a half mile away. I stopped and scanned the ridgetop and saw a dark object near the top. I immediately dismissed it, feeling like I remember seeing that object the last time I was on this road and it turned out to be a stump or something. I took my pack off to grab some toilet paper for obvious reasons, but felt the need to look up at the ridge again. The object was gone. My binoculars quickly came to my eyes. It didn't take long to find the dark spot again. A bull moose popped out of the bushes and started feeding along the top of the ridge. 

"Chad there's a moose at the top of that ridge!" I nearly shouted.

"Yeah there is. He's a big bull!" Chad replied back, glued to his binoculars. 

The morning sun was hitting the top of the ridge, highlighting the majestic creature. Through the binoculars he looked like a terrific bull. One certainly worth chasing. 

I quickly took care of some business and once again we were off. Luckily the road we were walking went right to the ridge the moose was on. Not only that, but the road split; one fork went right below the moose and the other on the back side, slightly higher. We decided to take the higher, backside road and try to pop up on top of the ridge near the last place we saw the moose. 

Once on the backside, the terrain opened up and we were able to see if he had come over to this side or not; he hadn't. We also had a steady headwind. Things were going our way so far. We found a small trail that lead to the ridgetop and took it, quickly finding ourselves at the top of the ridge. The moment of truth had come; was he still here or had he fled further along? Should we call to see if he'll come in? What should we do?

"Ryan, he's right there!" Chad whispered as a bull moose suddenly appeared 75 yards away on the ridgetop, staring directly at us. 

The moose hadn't gone hardly anywhere since we last saw him. Or was it him? 

"He looks smaller." Chad whispered, as the moose turned and started trotting away.

"I know. He's still a good moose though." I said, as I shouldered my rifle, analyzing him as he increased his distance from us - the foreign threat.

The time had come. I had to make a quick decision. Is this moose good enough to hang my once in a lifetime tag on? Will I find another larger bull if we keep hunting? This was my third hunting trip over here and the number of bull moose I'd seen was not high. How much longer do I want to keep trying? Do I risk not filling my tag and potentially never drawing the tag again? My dad's large moose felt just as much like mine as his... I studied the moose as my opportunity quickly faded with each step he took. I realized I might be crazy if I passed this guy up. 

"Moo-agh! Moo-agh! Moo-agh!" I called to the moose as I ran up ahead to get a clear shot. I dropped to a knee and placed my backpack in front of me for a gun rest. The bull was just about to disappear over the hill in front of us. "Moo-agh! Moo-agh!" The bull stopped and turned broadside, a tree blocking his vitals. 

I felt steady and confident in my shooting position even though the sun was glaring like crazy through my scope. I could just see the outline of the moose, but that was enough. The bull turned and started walking away. "Moo-agh! Moo-agh!" He stopped and turned broadside.

"Smoke 'em!" Chad whispered as he filmed. 
BOOM! My shot rang out and the bull ran, disappearing over the hill. The shot felt great and I could tell it was a solid hit. We slowly walked over to where the moose had been standing. We found one small drop of blood. 
"Hmmm, I'd like to see more than that." I said, with a frown. "Let's just wait 20 minutes and then start following these tracks in the snow." 
"Ok, I'm going to wander this top and see if there are any more moose tracks. See if this was the same bull we glassed from the road." Chad remarked, as he trudged off through the fresh snow. 

Twenty minutes felt like an eternity. My mind raced, thinking the worst. You always want to see the animal fall or drop. When they take off running and disappear it can be a lot harder to find them, requiring some detective work and tracking. Luckily we had snow; a hunter's best friend. 
"No other tracks up here but this guy's. He's the moose we spotted this morning." Chad said, after returning from wandering around the top of the ridge. "It looked like a solid hit Ryan; let's go find your bull."

We returned to the spot of blood and began following the bull's tracks in the snow. The tracks side-hilled for about 40 yards and then took a sudden downhill turn to the left. I looked down the hill and there he lay. The moose hadn't gone 75 yards from where I shot him. Relief flooded over me. 
Before laying hands on the bull, I took advantage of the cell service at the top of the ridge and called my dad and wife to give them the good news. It was now time to admire my bull!
He was a gorgeous moose. He wasn't the 50 inch monster I had hoped to find but he was a good Idaho bull. One worthy of 16 days of hunting. The moment was bittersweet, however; my once in a lifetime hunt was over. 

What wasn't over though, was the hard work. This moose had taken us 2 miles from the truck. Good thing I had Chad to help me! 

We began the dirty work, lucky to have cool weather and nice snow banks to quickly cool the meat. Chad rigged up a meat pole nearby in the shade and in no time we had the beast in manageable pieces ready to be packed out. 

Around noon we were ready to make the first pack out. Luckily, the road we had walked in on was just below us and would take us back, and most of it downhill. We thought we might be able to do it in 2 trips, but after throwing the first load on my back with the head, a hind quarter and the loose meat, I realized it would not be possible. It would have to be 3 trips.

We made it back to the truck, grabbed some more water and were off again for the next load. I continued packing my rifle, worried I would encounter a monster mule deer and have big regrets (I had a deer tag as well). 

We made it back to the truck an hour before dark and had a decision to make; one more trip tonight, likely coming out in the dark? Or leave the rest of the meat hanging and return in the morning? We choose to get it all done that night. We'd already done 8 miles, what was another 4?

We returned to camp that night with tired, blistered feet. We had a whole lot of moose meat to show for it, though.

The following morning we packed up camp and made the long drive home. I was eternally thankful that my good friend Chad had joined me. It had been a short, but incredible trip.  

It took several days to cut up and process both my dad's moose and mine, yielding nearly 500 pounds of meat. 

We chose to do a full shoulder mount on my dad's moose and a European mount on mine.

My dad and I were now done hunting moose in Idaho. It had been an exciting season that I will never forget. How truly special it had been that we both drew tags and both filled them with nice moose. Although I may be done in Idaho, this hunt already has me planning more moose hunts in the future... 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Idaho Shiras Moose Trip 2 : The Flip of a Switch

 Idaho Shiras Moose - Dad's Bull, Oct 2021

I returned to the moose woods in early October with my dad. After a challenging September hunt, I hoped things might turn around in early October. The weather forecast called for more of the same sunny and warm temps experienced on the September trip, but only for a few more days. Mid-week, a low pressure system was predicted. Hopefully some cooler, rainy weather would push the moose into some rutting activity.

This trip would be my dad's only opportunity to hunt, so all my efforts would be channeled in helping him get his moose. 

"I'll shoot anything with antlers; you know I'm not picky." My dad said as we discussed our plans when we arrived at camp.

"I know. You just want moose meat." I replied, shaking my head.

Our hunt began the same as in September. We hiked around creek bottoms, old roads and ridge lines. We tried some new locations, as well as some of the same from last time. I did some calling and checked the trail cameras I had left.

Finally, a bull moose showed up on one of the cameras. This was a great sign that things might be turning around. We also saw some cows and calves in the same locations as last time. We had the "decoys", all we needed was for them to go into heat and draw in the bulls.

The fall colors were truly spectacular.

We also set some new trail cameras at some different spots.

Hunting continued to be slow, but the change of weather was approaching and we were feeling optimistic. Wednesday afternoon, the clouds started to roll in. We planned to sit that evening overlooking a confluence of creeks where we got a picture of the bull on the trail camera. We were walking to the sitting spot when I looked up to see something dark out in the opening where we planned to watch. A moose! My dad was behind me a little ways so I turned around and waved him to hurry up. I could see that the moose was a small bull. This was encouraging! By the time my dad got up to me, the moose had wandered out of sight. I doubted chasing him would yield any results, so we sat down and tried calling. The first couple hours were uneventful, but the clouds continued to get darker and the temperature was clearly dropping. 

Then I heard it. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard in the woods but I immediately knew what it was; a bull moose. Off in the distance a bull was letting out a grunt sequence. Moo-agh...Moo-agh...Moo-agh...Moo-agh. Holy crap that is cool. I looked at my dad and realized, sadly, he couldn't hear it due to his slight hearing impairment. I whispered to him what was happening and he gave me a smile and a thumbs up. While my dad continued to sit and watch, I crept over to the other creek where our scent was blowing and let out a couple cow calls. Shortly after, the bull replied with another bellow. So cool! The bull and I continued to talk back and forth. I even heard another cow moose chime in but still no moose appeared. I could hear where the bull appeared to be, but it was thick timber. Before we knew it, darkness had descended and it starting to rain. The rut had finally started though and we had 2 more days to hunt. Lord willing, our luck would change.

It rained all night, but let up to a drizzle by morning. We decided to return to the same location for a morning sit. While my dad sat, I checked the trail camera nearby. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a bull had walked by the previous night 20 minutes after dark. He had come to check out my calls! I showed my dad and his face lit up. 
The calling had worked. Now if we could just get one to walk out into the open... Moo-agh...Moo-agh...Moo-agh...Moo-agh.. A bull began to bellow somewhere down the creek. This time I tried grunting back and rubbing a little on some nearby trees. The bull responded back, but the morning continued on without a moose sighting.

At 9:30, I decided we needed to get more aggressive.
"Dad, let's just slowly walk down the trail. Maybe we'll catch a glimpse of one or try calling closer to where we have been hearing them."
"You sure? The wind is blowing down that direction."
"Let's go anyway; maybe we'll get lucky."

We set off down the trail, mindful of each step, eyes scanning our surroundings. Over the years I've learned how to slow down when I hunt, moving to be more like the animals than a human. A skill learned after spooking hundreds of animals by walking too fast. We had ascended the trail over a slight hill, bordered by thick conifers and aspens, when I heard a grunt immediately to our left, and CLOSE. 
"Dad! Dad! A bull just grunted right over there." I whispered, pointing  to our left. "We need to get a little further down the trail. There's an opening up ahead. We'll get in position and I'll call back."

We quickly tiptoed down the trail to a small opening where a point-blank encounter was less likely. We were almost to the spot when I heard another bull grunt less than 100 yards away in the bottom of a feeder creek we were nearing.
"Dad, did you hear that one?" I whispered with wide eyes.
"No, did he grunt again?" He whispered back. 
"There's another bull! There's one up there and one right over there." I said, pointing to our left and then to our right. "Get rested on this tree and get ready."
We had somehow walked in between 2 bulls. I snuck behind the tree my dad had set up on and I let out a 6 grunt sequence. The bull down in the creek bottom to our right immediately replied back with 8 to 10 grunts. My heart skipped a beat. This might be our chance. I grunted back again. The bull cut me off, this time sounding closer. 
I looked over at my dad; he looked ready. This bull was coming in on a string. The bellow continued to get louder. I looked through the trees to our right and started to see legs coming through. This is really happening! The bull slowly walked toward us, grunting the entire time. Moo-agh...Moo-agh...Moo-agh...Moo-agh.
The bull was coming through a strip of trees running perpendicular to us and ending directly in front of us. I could now see antlers through the trees. The bulls head was swaying back and forth. Moo-agh...Moo-agh...Moo-agh.
The bull exited the trees, broadside at 40 yards from my dad and stopped. BOOOM!
My dad's shot was clearly a direct hit, but the bull turned around to head back from where he came and stopped again.
"Shoot him again," I urged.
BOOOM! BOOOM! The bull took 3 more steps and laid down. A minute later he collapsed, passing. I hugged my dad with pure joy.
"I finally heard what the grunts sound like!" My dad said, smiling.
"That was so cool! He really is a big moose!" I squealed back. "Shall we say a prayer right now?"
"You're going to have to say it, I'll just be crying too much." My dad replied back, tears welling in his eyes.

I said a quick prayer thanking the Lord for such an amazing encounter and precious time spent together with my father. We heard a noise to our left and looked up to see the other bull appear from the trees. 

He was just a spike. My dad had gotten very lucky that the other bull was the one that came in and not this yearling. The small bull wandered back into the trees. It was time to go admire my dad's moose!

"Wow, that's a big animal!" I said shaking my head. "Let the work begin!"
We quartered up the moose as it began to rain. By 1:00, we were tired, hungry and thirsty. Luckily we were only 3/4 of a mile down the trail from camp. We hiked back to camp for a quick lunch and to grab the game cart my friend Ryan let us borrow. I had to chainsaw a few logs across the trail but then this pack out was a breeze.

By 6 pm we had all the meat back to camp. We were tired and wet, but you couldn't erase the smiles on our faces. 

We packed up camp the next morning and made the long drive home. On the way, we stopped by the regional Fish and Game office to check in the moose; a requirement for all Idaho moose hunters that harvest. They were very impressed with the size of my dad's moose. His antler spread taped out at 40 inches; a decent Idaho bull. Along with antler width, they collected the samples we were encouraged to grab right after the kill: liver, blood, hide and feces. They also took a tooth and lymph node. Fish and game is studying the moose population closely to decipher why the population is on decline. 

With the moose rut starting, I realized the prime window to get my moose was here. I would need to rearrange my schedule and make some sacrifices for this once in a lifetime tag.