Your first hint of the importance of moose to the island of Newfoundland comes while you’re still a thousand miles away at the departure gate in the Montreal airport. Even if you’re not trying to eavesdrop, you’ll overhear conversations among passengers. Strangely, you’ll notice most of them have something to do with moose!
Once you’re in the air, the confines of the plane allow you to hear more. The even-closer proximity of Newfoundlanders heading home generates even more moose-specific palaver. You wonder, “Can there really be that many moose in Newfoundland?”
Yet it’s when you set foot in the airport, then venture out into the community that you really come to recognize the influence of moose on the island, its residents and those who come to visit — whether they are hunters or not.
Moose signs and sculptures adorn local businesses and city buildings. The printed paper placemats in the restaurants share tips of safe travel in moose country. Road signs on every byway provide graphic warnings of moose crossing zones. And at the entrance to a national park, a giant billboard tallies the year’s frightening confrontations between automobiles and moose.
Why the cultural focus on moose? Because the flourish of the Eastern Canada moose on the island of Newfoundland is more than a conservation success story; it’s nearly a creation story!
Newfoundland and Labrador are two major land areas that comprise one province of Canada. Labrador is attached to the Canadian mainland, and Newfoundland is its own island. As the easternmost Canadian province, Newfoundland and Labrador has its own time zone that is one-half hour ahead of Eastern Time. (Even for the well-traveled hunter, deciphering a time zone that’s a half-hour different from back home is initially disconcerting.)
While prime moose habitat has always existed on Newfoundland, the moose have not. In 1878 one bull and one cow were released in the Gander Bay area in the island’s northeast quadrant. Then in 1904, two cows and two bulls were stocked near Howley, not too far inland from the island’s western shore. From these six animals came the progeny that now tallies well in excess of 100,000 moose. By 1935, the population was large enough to support the first limited hunting. This fit with the intent of the original stockings, which was to provide an additional source of fresh meat for residents.
Today, with the density of moose approaching one per square mile, Newfoundland has the heaviest moose population of any area in North America and possibly the world. It’s not hard to understand, then, why moose play such a big role in daily Newfie life … and why hunters from around the world recognize Newfoundland as the happiest of moose hunting grounds. The moose population in Newfoundland continues to climb at the same time the population of the island’s resident humans is on the decline. Each season, the hunting of moose, as well as both woodland and barren ground caribou and black bears, brings millions of outside dollars into Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy.
Newfoundland’s moose are technically Eastern Canada moose though Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young record books lump both Eastern and Western subspecies together. Overall, Eastern Canada moose tend to be of a bit slighter build with bulls topping out at about 1,100-1,200 pounds, but given the chance to get some age on them, Eastern bulls will grow antlers as wide as 60 inches or a bit more.
All in all, if you’re playing the odds, there could be no better place for a hunter to tag his first bull moose than Newfoundland and Labrador. In addition to the incredible moose population, the province is served by more than 100 different outfitters operating more than 200 licensed camps/lodges. Moose hunts are based out of every type of accommodations from five-star lodges to hotels to cabins to remote tent camps, and there are packages to fit every budget. You can hunt afoot or with transportation provided by truck, ATV, canoe or boat.
Our hunt was based out of a rustic tent camp, accessible only by helicopter; the lack of sizeable lakes in the hunting area precludes floatplane access. While it might have been considered “rough” by some folk’s standards, it was exactly what I picture when somebody says “moose camp” to me. There was a generator to supply light, an outhouse tent with an insulated seat for comfort stops, a propane cook stove to make meals and coffee and a woodstove for heat. The bunks were dry and warm, and only a few feet from the creek, so the water bubbling across the rocks provided a continuous lullaby. And if you couldn’t sleep even after a solid day of hill and gully hiking, the night sky was an endlessly inspiring light show of full moon, planets and stars.
I prefer this kind of camp over the catered lodge setting because it allows you to fully participate in the hunt rather than just pointing a gun and shooting a bull. On this trip I got to fetch water from the creek, feed the woodstove during the night and peel potatoes to make dinner. That’s real moose hunting … real any kind of hunting.
Specific hunting styles will vary based on the time of the season, the terrain and the preferences of the hunter. Because we were in “mountainous” country almost reminiscent of coastal Alaska—albeit without the lofty elevations to the peaks—we did a lot of hiking, glassing, spotting and stalking. However, with the rut waning, the guides used a good bit of calling to move bulls of interest once we closed the gap on them.
Of the density of the moose population in Newfoundland—at least our little part of Newfoundland—our hunting experience left no doubt. Even as a well-traveled hunter of many trips to moose country all over North America, I was more than impressed. A quick, leg-stretching scouting jaunt the first evening just a bit more than a mile from camp showed me more moose than the sighting total from all previous moose hunts combined. In the 2½ days it took to bag the bull we wanted for “North American Hunter-Television,” we easily laid eyes on 150 different animals and made four serious stalks within rifle range of good-looking bulls!
While Newfoundland might sound far-away and exotic, it’s actually pretty easy to access—especially for a North American moose hunting destination of this caliber. Numerous airlines including Air Canada, Continental, Air Labrador, Provincial Airlines and WestJet serve the island. You can also elect to drive yourself and take a ferry from the mainland.
Having your own wheels on the island —and a little extra time to spend— opens up nearly endless possibilities. With time to spare after the conclusion of our hunt, we rented a car and drove into the heart of Gros Morne National Park. Maybe these giant hills don’t necessarily fit the dictionary definition of mountains, but they are every bit as beautiful butted tight against the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Every turn in the road unveiled breath-taking vistas, seascapes or wild salmon rivers. Capes, lighthouses and seaside villages would easily provide several months of sightseeing meanderings.
Perhaps because the human population of Newfoundland is sparse and declining, the people who live there are incredibly welcoming and accommodating. They seem happy to share their bounty of moose with hunters from the island, from the States or from anywhere in the world. Before your Newfoundland moose hunt is over, you’ll already be planning your return to Newfoundland and Labrador, and since there’s also ample woodland and black bears on the Island portion and barren ground caribou and black bears in Labrador along with small game hunting—not to mention Atlantic salmon fishing—there will be many more terrific outdoor firsts for you to experience!