Lessons Learned: Idaho Moose

Lessons Learned: Idaho Moose

   Having learned that my brother and I both drew Idaho moose tags, we were beyond excited to start summer scouting. After driving the whole unit and getting a lay of the land, we each picked some spots to cover. I took the West side of the lake, which was more friendly to archery because it was old growth national forest. My brother was rifle hunting and took the East side, which was logged and managed BLM land.

   Several weeks in and dozens of miles logged, I had seen several moose and tons of sign everywhere I looked. Feeling a little over confident, I decided against further scouting and instead shifted my focus to elk. The month of September was spent trying to squeeze in a few elk hunts on my days off. Had a few close encounters but ended up unsuccessful, my mind certainly wasn't in it with my long awaited 2 week moose adventure just around the corner.

   October 4th rolled around quickly and with 4 days of season opened already, I couldn't ditch work fast enough to get to camp for the 10 days that remained. First evening hunt was quite a dismal affair as I discovered all the summer scouting sign was the same age as disovered several months ago, old. Having spent a few hours on the edge of the meadow/swamp cow calling and raking brush, it was time to head in. In proper Stephen fashion, I hate going back out the way I entered, so I crossed the swamp and battled the dense thicket of willows and mud. It only cost me a coveted Toor knife and my elk scapula for brush raking. Bad first day.

   Over the next six days I put around 70 miles on the old boots and turned up all the same things as the first day, old sign, no moose. Beside the peace of extremely low human interaction and beautiful countryside, one memorable experience occurred. My brother met up with me to go for a quick grouse hunt to keep the protein intake up when we came across a side by side accident. A drunk woman flipped her machine on a gravel corner and was pinned underneath it. A few of her lady friends were trying to get her so we ran over and lifted it up as they pulled her out. A severely mangled arm and concussion were a small price to pay for drunk driving an off road machine 30 miles from cell service.

   On the 7th morning I decided to switch tactics and head further South to the beginning of the BLM land to walk some logging roads to give my brain and feet a break from the abusive mountain terrain. Parked my truck, jumped out and immediately saw large moose tracks as well as some elk tracks. I followed the moose tracks down a small hill, through the powdery moon dust like dirt. The wind would blow these tracks away in a few days time, so they had to be somewhat fresh, and moose don't typically venture far. I was getting excited, this had to be a bull. OnX indicated a pond surrounded by some marsh about 3/4 mile away, which gave me an idea where to head once I lost sight of the tracks. Stumbled across a smaller moose shed, which was my first, it had to be a good sign. The wind was being very favorable, not moving anywhere, so I slowed my pace as I neared my destination. About 40 yards from me, the timber gave way to marsh and better visibility so I stopped and listened. The beautiful sound of a shrub getting demolished pierced my ears. Fuck yeah, this was it. I took another three steps and saw the top of the tall shrub swaying back and forth, just over a little hill directly in front of me. I slipped off my boots and pack as quick as I could while remaining quiet, knocked an arrow and proceeded only when the shrub would shake. I was now about 20 yards in and one more step away from seeing my trophy bull when the god damned critter stood up on her hind quarters to get some greenery a little higher up. Fucking cow elk. Deep in moose country. Although it was slightly annoying, it's always fun to stalk an animal. I backed out of there and headed around the pond, never seeing any more sign of moose, not sure where that bugger had headed off to.

   But good news followed, my brother called and had shot his bull about 20 miles to the East of me. I spent all night hiking in the dark trying to find him, but midnight rolled around and I had to call it. Turns out the pin drop was way off but I met him at his truck and congratulated him.

   That was it, desperation had taken its bite in me, I asked him if I could borrow his new 300 win mag that just assisted in his moose take down. After toying with it and asking about various holdovers, I was confident to use it to about 300 yards without any time behind it. I said my farewells, "I'll go get a moose tomorrow at bow range now that I'm using a rifle. I'm going way up in elevation and taking an old logging road into a previously burned area." That was the conversation.

   My 8th day hiking started out with very little sleep, 7000 foot elevation and a Christensen Arms rifle slung on my shoulder. Several hours behind my made up schedule, there was no choice but to hurry up the road. A 1/2 mile in to my power walk I round a corner and am 30 yards from a cow moose that was crossing over. I froze. She froze. Then I noticed another butt to the left of her, I took a couple steps and saw antler, but not much. Small enough that I didn't pull up the gun, I pulled up my phone and took a picture, like a "HA! I found moose!" photo. Then I pulled out my binos and looked at him through the shrubs, shit, he was perfectly legal. Small, but legal. I pulled up the rifle and put the reticle right behind his shoulder, now just a quick squeeze. But no, he's too small. I put the rifle back on and took 4 steps when the cow turned, faced me and raised her hackles. Shit, I wasn't going any further but I now had a perfect view of the bull. His horns were small but the body was nice. A thought popped in my head, with the luck I've been having, I may not see another bull again. I took the rifle back off my shoulder and set the reticle back on the lungs and squeezed off a round. They both took off up the hill and I quickly jacked another round in the chamber. The boom didn't do it, but the bolt action did, a massive bull moose stood up 20 yards to my right out of a thicket of brush. He stared at me like I was the biggest idiot on the planet, and I was completely sick to my stomach. A once in a lifetime tag and a trophy stands up after I get a little guy. He was probably about 40-44" but very tall tined as bull moose often grow in our area. He slowly turned and trotted down the hill, leaving me stunned. I took about 15 minutes to shake it off, after all I still shot a moose, which was a dream. The blood trail quickly spotted and bright frothy red, I rushed to get service to call for some packing assistance.

   With help on the way, the search began for my bull. I spent two hours scouring the hillside and had no luck finding him. I restarted from scratch and discovered that in the pandemonium, the moose had criss crossed and I was tracking the cow. Sounds stupid but the blood had sprayed up the hill, leaving me to assume that's the way he went. I doubled down and found the main blood trail, the brush is so thick that I nearly stepped on the bull before seeing him, a mere 15 yards off the trail. What a relief to find him. Perfectly placed shot, big beautiful animal and an immense amount of gratitude for the whole experience had me in tears.

   I learned a lot about moose, patience and myself over my 8 days of mostly solitude. Some lessons you don't want to learn on a once in a life time hunt, but I had no room for complaints. No guidance, no one holding my hand. I did it in my typical stubborn fashion of trial and error. And for that, I'm forever grateful to my bull moose for being an unknowing participant in my quest to be better acquainted with the proper circle of life.

Written by Stephen Coe

(Instagram: @realstephencoe)

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