Ken Miller of Cranbrook was born and raised on a farm just outside of Moosomin, Saskatchewan. It’s kind of après-poi considering the name of the little southeastern town, and the fact that Ken’s favourite species to hunt is Moose. Over lunch one day, Ken was telling me that he had been fortunate enough to acquire an LEH tag for any bull moose in a management unit south of Cranbrook and was hoping that one of his old friends, Gerry St. Germain, a long time Canadian Senator, would be able to join him for the hunt, as they had spent some time the previous summer in the area scouting it as a potential hunting spot. I told Ken at the time, that if for some reason his friend couldn’t make it, to give me a call, and if I was available, I would accompany him on the trip, as packing out a moose by ones self is not a task for the faint of heart, particularly if the animal was several kms (miles) from the road.
As so often happens, work gets in the way of play for everyone at times, and Gerry informed Ken early one October day that he could not make the planned hunt.. Ken immediately contacted me, and as I had my bull elk tag filled already, which is usually a priority with me, I said I would go. Moose season opened in the middle of October, so the week before, we travelled to the area to set up a camp and to take a look around. Before we left, Ken took a fine whitetail buck, and on the way back to Cranbrook we agreed to meet back at his camp the night before the opening day of moose season.
When I arrived at the make-shift tarp camp just before dark, Ken greeted me at the door. He was grinning like a Cheshire cat that had just found a cage full of canaries. While out scouting some road closures earlier in the day, he related to me that he had located a small bull moose and a huge bull with a cow, about 4 kms (2.5 miles) down a certain road not far from camp. ‘Well, I guess I know where we are going in the morning,” I said. ”Shouldn’t be a problem finding them close by.”
This comment precipitated a philosophical discussion between us. Ken is of the opinion that moose do not really follow any type of pattern and can be as wily and as difficult to hunt as a large whitetail buck, especially when they know they are being hunted. Although I am not an avid moose hunter I have found that the moose I have hunted, are much lower on the intellectual scale than elk or deer, and because of their coloration and size, are certainly much easier to spot in a burn, logging block, or a marshy bottom than some of the other antlered species. Ken did concede that point, but wouldn’t budge on the subject of the animals IQ. The last thing I remember him saying before I drifted off to sleep several hours later was ‘Time will tell’.
The next morning we were up well before dawn, and were on our way up the closure with our backpacks on. The conditions were nothing short of perfect as there had been a bit of fresh snow overnight, adding to the thin blanket of white, from the week before. The temperature was just below freezing, and in the dim light of my headlamp I could see the surrounding trees were sugar coated with layers of icy frost and snow. Winter was re-shaping the landscape early this year, but for us, and the quest for the big bull moose, there was no question that it gave us an advantage, or so I thought.
For the next 3 days we walked our tails off, looking for those moose, but were only fortunate enough to locate a cow with her yearling calf, but we saw lots of tracks and fresh sign, so we knew the bulls had to be still in the area, but were just being “sneaky” as Ken put it. On that hunt, we simply ran out of time, as both of us had to be back in town for business, so we made a pact to return in a few days to give it another go.
When we finally returned, there had been another dusting of snow, so early one morning, we decided to head right back to the area where Ken had located the two bulls the day before the season. On the way in, as daylight approached, we found a set of huge tracks crossing the skid trail we were on and heading north. The bull had a cow with him, and even though they were heading into a steep gully, Ken wanted to follow the tracks for awhile and see where they would lead him. I decided to continue on, and hunt a nearby ridge where we had seen a lot of mule deer sign on the previous trip, and we agreed to meet back on the trail in a couple of hours. I found fresh tracks when I achieved the middle portion of the ridge and at that point I decided to just sit for a bit and see if I could catch something moving below me. I waited for almost 90 minutes and saw nothing but a coyote, which was perfectly dressed for the weather in his shiny fur coat. I let him pass by before I moved, and just upon reaching the meeting point on the trail I heard some loud crashing in the bush just below where I was standing. A few minutes later, more noise erupted on the other side of the trail, only this time further away. I ran down the road only to find 2 large pairs of moose tracks in the snow. Ken soon emerged, drenched in sweat, and whispered an exhausted, “Did you see them?”
“No, but I heard them” I answered. Ken explained to me that he caught the two moose about to cross over to another clearcut when they suddenly reversed direction and headed right back from where they came from. ”No doubt they’re spooked and likely will stick to the trees for awhile” I surmised. “So let’s leave them be, and try and get above them tomorrow.” It didn’t take much coaxing to convince Ken, as the 2 hours of pushing through the tangled brush and windfall had taken its toll.
The next day, again well before daylight, we climbed up another series of skid trails hoping we would see the big bull out near the edge of a high clearcut. When we got up there we noticed ravens flying around just a 100 yards off the road to our right. A fellow we talked to earlier in the week was hunting for deer in the same locale, and told us he took a shot at a nice mule deer buck but missed him. I no sooner said, “Perhaps that hunter didn’t miss that buck,” when Ken gasped, ”Grizzly!” A sow grizzly with 3 cubs hulked into the open, gazed at us for a moment, and then loped off in a direction away from us. Later in the day I confirmed they were on a mule deer kill, and as bears so often do, they had it almost completely buried in sticks, fallen saplings, and grass. I stayed around just long enough to notice the 4 point antlers sticking out from underneath, and when I looked across the small ravine I could see the sow looking right at me. Ken was below me and I yelled a loud ‘Hey, Hey” as I quickly backed out of the kill zone. Admittedly, checking out the site was not one of the smartest things I have ever done in my hunting career, even though I knew I had Ken backing me up. Luckily, the bear did not advance and we quickly left the area. The rest of the day proved uneventful, so when we were back in camp we formulated some strategy for the next day. The game plan would involve splitting up, with Ken going high near the top of a cutblock, and me going low, and basically walking right up the middle of it, hoping that I could move anything I might spook, right into line where Ken would be waiting.
In the quiet darkness of our third day we separated and agreed to meet up top in several hours. As I reached the very bottom of the large cut I began glassing the area with my 10 power Swarovski binoculars. The first thing I noticed was a few whitetail does milling about, about halfway up, and I was just about to start moving upwards when I noticed something out of place in the willows, fairly close to the top of the logged off area. The species of moose we have here in the East Kootenay is the Shiras moose and it is much lighter across the back in comparison to some of the other species such as the larger Canada moose. It took me almost ten minutes to figure out what I was looking at, was indeed the back of a moose, perfectly camouflaged and bedded down in the thick willows. He appeared to have his head down, and when it finally moved I could see a set of massive antlers even though they were partially screened by the underbrush. The Shiras is the smallest of the North American moose but can still average close to 1000 pounds (450 kilos) in weight, and extremely mature bulls can have 50 inch spreads or better. Then the big bull stood up, and without question I knew this moose represented one of the largest bulls I had ever seen in the Kootenays. He had a very wide heavy rack, and standing, he appeared to be close to six feet high at the shoulder. He started feeding on what looked like frosted leaves, and when he turned away from me, I made my move into cover along the treeline. I figured Ken would be up in the near vicinity in about an hour, so I quietly picked my way through the forest and headed towards the moose. On my way up it became clear that this particular bull had been living in this area for quite a while.
Next week – Part 2 – The Moose Hunter from Moosomin
F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books Elk Hunting in the Kootenays and Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays available at selected retailers in B.C. and Southern Alberta.. All profits go to land for wildlife or habitat restoration..