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... 

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