Better Moose Hunting

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Get serious about moose hunting by doing your homework

Canadian moose are the world’s largest species in the deer family. Mature animals weigh over 1,300 pounds. On average, they stand two metres tall and the bulls carry massive palmate antlers measuring over a metre wide. While having immense physical power and endurance, along with the ability to travel long distances, these mammoth, solitary animals move silently through dense forest. Their long legs allow them to wade through terrain that stops most other animals, including predators like wolves and humans.

Given all these advantages on their home turf, moose hunters have quite the challenge to even find one. But where does one hunt moose? The answer is simple – hunt moose where moose live.

Scouting is the action of exploring in order to gain information and is essential to a successful moose hunt. Start with a large, probable area, easily found by reviewing wildlife management data. Dissect the area by analyzing aerial photos and topographical maps. Confirm your theories by talking to local experts. Hike the terrain on the ground and learn the intricacies of the area like travel routes, food sources, water, rutting area and cover. Finally, if the situation allows, take a flight over the area and get a birds-eye view of the entire location.

 

Swing the odds

The first step in scouting a new moose hunting area is to start broad, with a large, high-probability area in mind. Review government and industry reports containing metrics like total number of moose, hunter harvest ratio, total moose harvest and cow/bull and cow/calf ratios. Although all the statistics are important, concentrate on areas with high moose densities, as it’ll give you the best starting odds.

Other things to consider are hunting seasons, tag quotas, outfitter allocations and special regulations. I’ve been excited many times about new areas, but as I dug deeper I discovered issues like limited access, so be thorough when reviewing the hunting regulations. If possible, strongly consider an area that you can hunt every year. Hunting the same spot year after year gives you a superb advantage as you can keep a journal of moose sightings and activities. The experience gained each fall will be invaluable over the coming years.

The statistical information above will be grouped by Wildlife Management Units and will be too large of an area to hunt effectively, so you must find promising moose habitat by reviewing topographical maps and aerial photographs. Look for lakes, wetlands and beaver ponds adjacent to heavy cover. This is where is pays to have a computer, or even a smart phone, and use Google Earth or Google Maps satellite view. Both software applications are fantastic, allowing you to view high-resolution satellite imagery anywhere in the world. Sometimes you’ll even get lucky and have the photos taken during the fall/winter, showing which cover is sparse versus heavy, thick timber. Most photos were snapped within a few years, so looking for new forestry cuts and forest fires can direct you to places that’ll contain new, young tree growth that moose love to eat. In addition, look for roads, cut lines and trails providing access to these places.

Carefully examine the perimeter of lakes and wetlands you noted when looking over the topographic maps. Moose consistently travel to and cross water in the same spot, resulting in well-defined trails, distinguishable in these photos. Trek these trails later on foot.

Islands are great safe zones for moose. Often, cows will swim out to an island to give birth. Don’t overlook even the smallest island, especially when it has food, cover and trails leading to it. A few years back, I was on a group moose hunt and wolf packs were howling at night. In the morning, we floated river stretches and found four different moose feeding safely on an island the size of a football field.

 

Talk with local experts

Before you head afield, talk to wildlife biologists, trappers, officers, industry workers and bush pilots familiar with the area you’re pursuing. These people will know the area best and are often willing to share key intelligence with outdoorsmen who are respectful and courteous. Contact them to discuss noted key areas, discovered by analyzing your maps and aerial photos. Often these discussions will point you to other honey holes you may have overlooked or just not seen. Just because you focused your scouting in one particular area, doesn’t mean there aren’t other places to explore. It’s always good to have alternative plans, just in case your primary doesn’t pan out.

 

Walk the terrain

It’s important to look over aerial photographs and maps until your eyes lose focus, but nothing beats walking the terrain to confirm any theories you have. Before lacing up your boots, make sure to pack a trail camera, or several. Find the travel routes to and from cover and food sources. Look for evidence of moose and predator, such as tracks and scat. Take note of the travel directions. Moose often wander in either a circle or back and forth along a familiar route, spanning a few days or a week. Heavily hoofed trails will be rutted deep from frequent use. Ones from cover into open areas are prime spots to setup trail cameras, as are escape routes where trails start out like highways but often split out over and over again, eventually fading into one set of tracks in heavy cover.

Moose eat a ton, both in quantity and variety, such as bark, lichen, grass and other plants growing on the forest floor. They love stripping leaves from young willows in wet areas. On higher ground, in regenerating burns or forestry cuts, new growth like young poplars is a favorite. In the summer months, moose spend countless hours eating pondweed, seaweed and an abundance of other aquatic food.

For quality antler growth, moose require minerals. If you discover a mineral lick with multiple trails leading to it, be sure to set up a trail camera. I wouldn’t recommend hunting that area during the rut, as antlers are no longer growing, but it’s a great spot to set up a trail camera to count and identify the many different moose that’ll be visiting that spot, perhaps on a daily basis.

 

Walk the remaining terrain

Many successful moose hunts take place during the rut and if you plan to call, it’s best to scout for rut sign. There is no point in hunting for moose in a wintering area during the rut and concentrating on locations near water is key. A good place to set up and call bulls is a water crossing. Moose use familiar trails when responding to a pleading cow sound.

Rut sign includes willow thrashings, rut pits and concrete evidence that moose still inhabit the area, such as tracks and scat. Looking for fresh rut sign should be done in late August and early September, when bulls are removing velvet from their antlers by thrashing and raking willows. Look for willows bordering wetlands, with bark scraped off and dried, brown leaves barely clinging. The width of the thrashing should give you a good indicator of antler width, but keep in mind that moose turn their head side to side as they thrash. It’s possible to find old rut sign from previous years, however, this can sometimes be mistaken for moose whacking trees in early, winter attempting to break-off their antler.

Rut-pits are another great indicator that bulls are roaming the area, preparing to mate in that very place. Rut pits are one to two feet in diameter and usually about six to 12 inches deep and serve two purposes: one, to communicate to cows that bulls are in the area and two, bulls urinate in them and dowse their bell, adding an attractive aroma.

A few years back, my family scouted a new location – a secluded pond on a massive island. It had excellent moose rut sign, so we cut an access trail into it that summer. Walking in opening morning, we found four fresh rut pits on our trail. Excitement, that’s an understatement. After two cow calls shortly after sunrise, three different bulls came into our calls and my father was able to fling an arrow into the biggest bull.

In this case, we took a chance by not scouting during early fall for fresh rut sign, but knowing that animals usually rut in the same areas year after year gave us the confidence to give that pond a chance during the rut. Cutting a trail into it was minimal work, but allowed us to get into prime calling position undetected. That hunt was very exciting and rewarding, considering the few days invested scouting the area.

Another preferred time to hunt moose is during the late season, after the rut. At this time, moose seek solitude and large quantities of high-quality forage. To find such areas, look for moose beds and browse. Moose will hole up after the rut, not moving much other than to eat, drink and rest, preparing for winter. Many times these areas are secluded. The key is to find an abundance of food adjacent to mature, mixed woods, which offers an escape and thermal cover, along with a heaping dose of privacy. These feeding areas are easy to find. Since moose are tall with relatively short necks, they prefer to eat at their height, so look for young trees with the small branch tips bitten off. The most promising areas will look like a metre high lawnmower mowed the area. These young trees will boast prominent clubbed growth from moose eating the same tree buds and branches year after year.

Despite their size and black color, moose can hide in the smallest thick patch of young trees.

 

Bird’s eye view

Finding a pilot to fly over your area is a Godsend. A bird’s eye view of the many key places noted during your early research is invaluable, although not always possible. I highly recommend exploring this possibility. It offers several advantages over aerial photographs, such as recent industry or environmental developments, landscape contours and types of bush. In addition, flying overhead allows you to cover many miles in a shorter time period and the possibility to spot moose. If any snow is on the ground, moose will stand out like a bull’s-eye. Only moose in their sanctuaries will be tough to spot.

When hunting, getting into position undetected gives you an advantage and flying will allow you to plan routes into precise locations, thus pin-pointing where access trails need to be blazed.

Starting with a probable broad area through statistical research, then finding key habitat areas within and reviewing those with local experts sets the stage for a successful hunt. Following that, confirming noted areas and looking for key travel routes, food sources and rut sign by hiking the area or flying overtop is a must to find precise hunting set ups.

My dad and I used this method several years ago when scouting a new remote location. However, keep in mind that no matter how promising your new area is and how much confidence you have in it, you’ll still need to have patience and give it time. For us, before hunting, we decided on a minimum of three days to hunt this new location before moving to plan B. We cow-called for two days and never heard or saw a moose respond. However, sticking to our plan, we called on the third morning and a bull moose came running into 30 metres on the trail I was posted. Those were his final steps, but only because we’d scouted the area and identified the preferred trails entering this marsh, information only derived by scouting ahead of time.

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