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How To Call Bull Moose
I hunt because I love the challenge. I hunt because I love the outdoors. I hunt because I love the tranquility of the wilderness. I hunt because I love the intense feeling of adrenaline infusing my body after hearing a bull moose grunt.
Hearing animals before you see them is heart-pounding excitement. Your imagination is completely free to daydream of abnormally sized antlers, long hanging bells and perhaps even multiple bulls. I’ve hunted moose for well over 20 years in a variety of ways: tracking and pushing, ambushing from tree stands, spotting and stalking feeding areas, but my preferred method to hunt moose, especially bow-hunt moose, is by calling. Pretending I’m a pleading cow and having a bull moose grunt back to communicate that it’s “coming to my rescue” is the most exciting sound any moose hunter could wish for.
Three main points to keep in mind when you first hear the response of a bull moose are: have your weapon ready; be in position with clear shooting lanes; finally, be wary of the wind.
Opening morning of our hunt was indeed perfect for calling moose. The nasal cow calls were echoing and booming over the boreal forest for miles. After the initial, intensely engaged first hour, my father, Dave, and I shared information on our two-way radios: I’d heard timber breaking, he had not. He’d heard a bull moose grunt, I had not. Following our conversation, Dave did another series of cow calls and barely had enough time to return to his post from the decoy when I heard two grunts that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
The sound of something walking in the water kept me frozen still, yet shaking with bull-fever. The swishing footsteps were very misleading, as the mirror-like pond nearby bounced the sound waves in all directions. It sounded like this bull moose was only a handful of metres away so I was very cautious not to move a muscle. However, I did keep my eyes scanning like a pendulum clock. With each scan I extended my peripheral vision with hopes of seeing the bull. Unfortunately I could not see Dave or any moose. I was a blind man hunting.
On that hunt, Dave was the one to arrow the moose. I, however, learned a valuable lesson — always be ready. That moose grunted twice and suddenly materialized like he had beamed down off another planet. I’d had an arrow knocked but my bow was resting on the ground, much too far away. If that moose had sauntered near me, I wouldn’t have been ready for a shot. It happens fast, so if you hear anything resembling a moose responding to your call, have your weapon ready, which usually means holding it! Secondly, when you are ready, your post should have clear shooting lanes to where you predict the moose will enter (most likely a familiar game trail).
Clear Shooting Lanes
Before the hunt began, we planned to give the new area three days of calling before venturing off to explore elsewhere. It was the morning of the third day, crunch time. Instead of the familiar thrilling and exciting feelings of the first two days, agony and diminished hope were beginning to set in. The weather cooperated again and we were back in position, hunting. I’d sat here for two days and nights already so I knew the distance of each tree from where I was positioned and all the possible entry trails nearby — I was more-than-ready for a bull moose to come barrelling in. The initial cow calls vocalized by Dave were once more followed by silence, nothing but silence. Not a response or sound of a moose.
However, after the second call 10 minutes later, I heard the “huffing” sound, confusing me once again like the day before. I still could not be completely certain what the source was. It definitely was a large animal of some sort.
Minutes later, we both heard what every moose caller hopes to hear while calling moose, the low monotone “rrrbbrrruuupp” of a bull moose grunt. The grunt came from about three-quarters of a kilometre away and in-line with the “huffing” sound. Less than a minute later, we heard another louder grunt. Seconds later, another grunt echoed through the morning sky. Seconds elapsed and another grunt was heard, yet even closer this time! The moose was coming in on the run, grunting with every step he took, and I was in the perfect ambush position. The only question remaining was if it was going to bust-out into the open for a clear shot or hang back taunting us from cover. We did not have to wait long to have our answer. The grunts continued and the crunch of breaking branches set my heartbeat increasing exponentially. I felt the adrenaline building up. Everything had fallen into place and time was up.
The moose entered the clearing on the run, thrashing branches out of its way with his wide antlers. It trotted down the furthest trail from me behind a row of trees. Its temporarily hidden route gave me the opportunity to draw my bow. It reached the corner of the meadow, its antlers towering above its head, and saw the decoy; instantaneously slowing down from his frantic come-to-momma pace. He eventually stopped right on top of a small shrub that I had ranged at 34 metres. Completely engrossed in studying the cow decoy, and quartering away from me, the bull was totally unaware of my presence. I felt the comfort of my anchor points hit my face as I aimed just behind his shoulder. Whack!
In the case above, I had two days to study every potential shooting lane. I had cut any obstructing branches the first morning. I knew the distance to each trail entering the meadow and it paid off. When that moose decided to come in, he came in like iron to a magnet — directly at us and predictable. I had no time after I’d heard him grunt to figure out distances and shooting lanes. All that had to be done in advance. During the moment of truth I barely had time to think of my name, never mind worry about shooting lanes. Because my post was an appropriate distance from the decoy, just-off game trails, and slightly concealed yet allowing me to shoot clearly, I created an excellent shooting opportunity to arrow my first moose.
Watch the Wind
The third and final point is, as always, watch the wind. Your position could be extremely comfortable and lend itself to always being ready. You could have an excellent view of incoming trails and be well within shooting and range. But if you’re upwind of an incoming bull moose, you’re beat already.
Morning hunts always have an element of eeriness to them. The unknown state of the bush since last light always makes me wonder what may have happened here over the past 12 hours. Each hunting morning is like a fresh sheet of clean ice after the Zamboni finishes anything is possible and anything can happen.
Walking slowly into the same tree-stand I’d called from for the past three days and nights, I grunted softly every few steps. Ten minutes later, I arrived without spooking any game. I climbed up and sat still on my cold metal seat, letting the bush settle down. As soon as my sight pins gathered enough light to glow, I let out a low nasally cow call, just in case a bull was close by; no response.
The second series of cow calls were louder, reaching the lake and beyond, but once again no response. After an hour of waiting, I scanned the bush behind me and I saw four moose legs treading the forest floor. It was being cautious and slowly wandered alongside me well out of range. Soon after, I heard what sounded like a bull moose grunt, those same confusing bellows of the previous night but this time, they were closer, much closer.
I waited silently for the next 10 minutes hoping the previous glimpse of a moose (and the mysterious bull sounds) would materialize into an opportunity. It was hard waiting. I wanted to press the situation and call again. Time got the best of me and after ten minutes I decided to try again. Only seconds after finishing the final moan, I heard a definite, “rrrbbrrruuupp!” of a bull moose.
Confident that the moose was on its way towards me, I immediately grabbed my close-by bow so I was ready and began scanning the bush from the direction the sound came from. I heard several grunts confirming that it was definitely a bull moose, and furthermore, a bull moose on the move. It grunted with authority and urgency with every step. It wasn’t long before I saw rack-and-black trotting through the bush towards me, giving me final visual confirmation.
Another 10 or 15 grunts later meant the bull was that much closer. I lost sight of it as it entered some dense bush but I had no doubt it was still coming given the flood of grunts throughout the bush. Things were working just perfectly in my favour as the moose continued his persistent pursuit up-wind of me. Still grunting with each step, it was now only 50 metres away and coming fast.
The bull picked the right game trail that would eventually lead it right by my tree stand, offering a 20-metre broadside shot. It was not long before the final few metres shrunk into a few remaining steps (and grunts). Before I knew it, the moment of truth arrived and I let out a soft cow moan to stop him in my shooting lane. I was already at full draw. I aimed my pin, held steady and let the arrow fly. Wham! I hit it right along the midline and back a bit from the shoulder and it bolted 50 metres and vanished into some thick evergreen trees. All was quiet again.
I’ll never be sure if the first sighting of the moose was in fact the same moose that came grunting all the way into range. Often it takes time to get moose into the right mood and calling can help trigger that. What I do know is that moose (and the mystery moose) had no idea where I was nor could they smell me, because I had elevated myself in a tree stand to elude the wind.
Mr. Bullwinkle flanked me without ever sensing danger. When you’re in that close, swirling gusts can definitely make-or-break your hunt and by getting up-and-away from the wind I gave myself an opportunity to arrow another moose.
Short moments of adrenaline and excitement are what all hunters are after during the moose rut. So when you’re calling moose, be in position with your weapon in hand and know the game trails and which way the wind is blowing. It just goes to show you that hours of planning and hours of work are all worth it for those few minutes of pure ecstasy listening to a bull moose grunting all the way into its demise.
Moose Calling 101
Cow calling bull moose is relatively easy. The only equipment you need is an amplifier (cone) and your voice. A traditional moose-calling cone is made of birch bark, but I’ve also used orange construction pylons with the base cut off. Minimally, you can cup your hands around your mouth and pinch your nose. Whichever device you choose, the idea is to amplify your call to extend your reach. I’ve always used very passive and routine cow calls when hunting moose outlined in the calling sequence below:
- A long, drawn-out nasally and whiny moan, 10 seconds long and swung 180 degrees in front of me.
- After a one-second pause, another long drawn-out moan only a few seconds shorter than the first and exhaling hard at the end to create a huff-like sound. The direction should retrace the first call.
- A much shorter moan (five seconds), varying in pitch and sounding extremely whinny and very convincing of distress. Direct this call upwards at first and then down to either side of you.
- Two one-second short whines, each followed by a huff-like sound pushed right from your diaphragm; almost grunt-like.
Repeat the above sequence where moose rut every 20 minutes during calm mornings and evenings. Listen for trees breaking and bulls responding with grunts or antler thrashings, but don’t forget about the silent shy bulls that suddenly appear. Don’t expect moose to race in after your first call. It often takes some time to convince a bull and they are never in any hurry. But once they commit, be ready! There is no need to walk into likely places in the dark, setting up just before shooting-light is ideal or two hours before last-light. If you hear animal activity but run out of daylight, return in the morning and call again. Give it two to four hours in the morning. Calling at midnight can help attract bulls to your location throughout the night, just make sure to leave your weapons at camp.
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