Sitting on the bank of an island, I snapped to attention when movement caught my eye on the shore of the mainland approximately 300 yards downwind. At first I wasn't sure what it was. It looked like a sheet of plywood nailed to the spruce trees, and I wondered how I could've missed it earlier. A second later the “plywood” moved, and I could make out the hulking mass of an Alaska-Yukon bull moose strutting forward in a stiff-legged, rut-crazed fashion. He'd come to find the lovesick cow that had been calling to him for the past 3 hours.
My heart raced as the bull waved his antlers back and forth in slow, rhythmic fashion as he sauntered toward the river's edge. I couldn't hear him but could see in detail through my binoculars the subtle grunts he was making. His belly would torque as his mouth opened and he forced air from his diaphragm to produce a faint call, trying to catch the attention of the cow. The bull could have remained in the cover of the dense conifers but was trying to attract a mate by showing off his impressive headgear. Moose communicate in many ways, and although their antlers are commonly used as weapons when fighting with other bulls, they're also a unique calling card for displaying dominance and attracting receptive cows. It was a dull, cloudy day but his antlers stood out like a neon sign. The bony mass gathered light and flashed it back and forth as the bull rocked his antlers like a pendulum.
It would've been a good opportunity for a broadside shot had I been carrying a centerfire rifle, but I'd opted to hunt with my muzzleloader and knew I had to close the distance. Unfortunately, the bull was directly downwind and it didn't take him long to pick up our scent and disappear back into the cover of the forest. One minute the bull was so lovesick you would've sworn nothing would distract him, then he quickly snapped out of his trance and back into survival mode once his nose processed our presence.
I can still remember the massive bull and his robot-like appearance, walking in a rigid display of dominance—lowering his head to show the long palms of his antlers, which would've easily stretched a tape more than 60 inches.
Knowing as much as you can about moose behavior increases your odds for success. Moose seldom come crashing in to a call like bull elk often do. They're slow, subtle creatures that take their time responding. But by providing both audio and visual cues, bull moose can be successfully lured into rifle, muzzleloader and even bow range.
ANTLERS—Bull moose sometimes hang up when responding to the call, and displaying replica antlers can often generate an immediate response. On another Yukon hunt, my partner persuaded a nice bull to leave the cover with a series of calls and by waving replica antlers above the willows. Calling brought the bull into the open, and the flashing antlers pulled him toward us.
You can use the clean, dried shoulder blades of a moose or elk to reproduce the realistic sounds of antlers being raked through the brush. Replica antlers can also be cut out of thin plywood or cardboard and painted a cream color to reflect light. Hold the antlers high and wave them slowly back and forth. Of course, this should only be done when you're certain there are no other hunters in the area who might mistake you for a moose.
CALLS—Although there are several commercial mouth-blown calls that simulate moose vocalizations, most hunters prefer to use birch bark or fiberglass megaphone-style horns to enhance and amplify simple voice calls. A fiberglass call can also double as an “antler” to rake trees like a thrashing bull.
I've had many old and successful moose hunters tell me all you need for success is a call and lots of time. On a fly-in moose hunt in northern Alberta, I found out firsthand how true that advice is. I called from camp for almost 3 days—when we got up in the morning, before we went to bed, while making breakfast … whenever possible. On the third morning, a loudly grunting bull woke us up as he walked past our tent. We waited for daylight, snuck to the edge of the lake, called once and the bull came running. I shot him at 40 yards.
If you call and get a response from a bull but can't get him to come into shooting range, try some antler thrashing. The sounds of another bull already with the cow can be very effective for drawing in a dominant bull that thinks he might be able to horn in on the action. You can work the brush and trees by using your fiberglass call or dried shoulder blade from a moose or elk. If all else fails, just use a branch or big stick to reproduce antler rubbing and don't be shy, make a lot of racket.
Calling moose is relatively easy. Having the patience to wait for them to show up is often the hard part. Learning how to bawl like a lovesick cow and grunt like a courting bull can be accomplished with a little practice. Instructional DVDs or tapes, or a demonstration from a knowledgeable friend, will have you up and running in no time.
BULLETS—Premium bullets that retain their weight and penetrate deeply are recommended for moose. The new Winchester Supreme Elite XP3 has been field tested on big game from North America to Africa and is a good choice for moose. The bullet has a lead core bonded to the metal jacket, and has excellent strength and allows for very good weight retention. The two-stage expansion penetrates muscle and bone on even the biggest of North America game. Remington's dual-core Premier A-Frame and Federal's Premium Vital-Shok are other good choices. Also, a stout saboted bullet from a .50 caliber muzzleloader will quickly dispatch the biggest moose if bullet placement is precise.
After my unsuccessful Yukon hunt, I traveled to Alberta for the end of the moose rut. It didn't take long to get caught up in the action.
During our first morning out, my hunting partner and I found a series of wallows along the edge of a big muskeg swamp and returned to the area in the afternoon, carefully glassing wherever open country provided good visibility. Just 1 hour into our hunt, we spotted an immense moose casually walking down a clear-cut line produced for oil and gas exploration, his nose pointed into the wind. We quickly devised a plan to reduce the 800 yards between the bull and us, and began backtracking to another clear-cut that would keep us downwind of him.
I was hunting with my Traditions Evolution muzzleloader, hoping to collect my first moose with a smoke pole. We hiked a couple hundred yards and caught another line that took us farther downwind of the bull. As we approached a transecting clear-cut we carefully peeked around the corner and through the edge of the dense tree cover. The bull was standing directly over a cow that was bedded in the middle of the opening. It was evident the rut was in full swing because the bull nudged at the cow, trying to get her to stand. He walked around the cow flashing his antlers from side to side. He was still farther than I was willing to shoot, and I knew I had to cut more distance. As we contemplated how to approach the bull, the cow stood and the pair drifted off the line and into the dense willows. We were carrying a fiberglass calling horn, and I asked my partner to start raking it on the willows. With any luck the sound of another bull's advances would preoccupy the pair of moose while I approached directly up the cutline.
I quickly made my way down a well-defined game trail in the center of the line. I knew the moose were close and could smell the pungent odor of the rutting bull. I caught a glimpse of moose antler sticking up above the willows and glassed carefully. The bull had come back to the edge of the clear-cut and was watching the area behind me where my hunting partner was raking the trees.
I managed to stalk within 30 yards of the bull but couldn't find an opening in the dense willows to shoot through. The bull slowly turned to walk away and as he moved to the left I saw his head swing through a small opening in the branches. I immediately lined up my rifle with the small shooting lane. The moose stopped and stood for a second. The front of his shoulder was in plain view and two more steps provided the shot opportunity I'd been looking for. I smiled as the smoke cleared, confident the shot had been true and I'd taken my first blackpowder moose.