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Moose hunting’s mild insanity

It’s opening weekend for rifle moose in much of the Northwest. Trucks, campers, trailers, and ATVs are everywhere. For many families in the region, Thanksgiving dinner is held around a campfire at moose camp.

So what is it about moose hunting that makes a grown adult act like a kid on Christmas morning? In part, it must be the sheer size of the animal that’s being hunted. There is something prehistoric about a moose that adds another dimension to the undertaking. Anyone who’s been involved in a successful moose hunt knows all too well the work involved once the moose is on the ground. A serious moose hunter has to be prepared to handle an 800-pound animal that is often far back in a cut or swamp. Perhaps there’s something in our ancient wiring that requires we feel an extra level of excitement and commitment when hunting massive creatures. Our forefathers who hunted giant beasts didn’t have the luxury of trucks and quads. Those moose quarters would have been carried many kilometres on their back—no easy feat if you’ve ever done it.

And that reminds me of a story.

About 15 years ago, this columnist was invited to join a moose hunt in the Kenora area. My hunting partners were a bit older than me, but both men were very able, and successful at harvesting moose. The hunt leader had done his homework and knew of an old burn located well off the beaten path. The area was loaded with the succulent browse moose love to eat. The problem was, it was only accessible by foot. On top of that, access required traversing some high granite hills and walking through nearly a kilometre of twiggy nightmarish undergrowth. Sensible people would’ve let the moose there die of old age.

However, the hunt master had other plans, and off we went. Getting into the area was torturous, and the mix of sleet and snow didn’t help. I can clearly recall saying as we walked through the endless sapling, “God forbid if we actually kill something back here,” or words to that effect. Two hours later we were standing around the carcass of the largest bull moose I’d ever seen in person. Then the awful reality of what we had to do really sank in. For the next six hours, I cut a trail through endless saplings with garden snips as my hunting partners dressed, quartered and hung the animal. It took most of the next day to carry that monster bull out of there.
That the sleet had turned to wet snow, and made the rocks as slippery as grease, did not help. Thankfully, we got that moose out without any permanent injuries, but it really was one of the nuttiest hunting experiences I’ve ever had.

One of the more fascinating things about moose hunting culture is the incredible amount of time and energy that goes into planning a week long hunt. As a northerner who lives very close to Highway 11/17, I’ve watched the parade of moose hunting parties heading north each October. Trailers of ATVs and Argos, often being pulled by reconditioned school buses painted full camo, are not uncommon. So are endless fleets of white vans loaded to the tops with canoes, gear and blaze orange. It’s a virtual moose hunter invasion. The actual moose camps are another thing all together. Many have solar power, outdoor showers, and heated outhouses. The ingenuity and creativity shown by Ontario’s moose hunting parties boggles the mind. I often wonder where all that gear is stored for the 53 weeks of the year it’s not used! The investment tied up in moose hunting gear by your average hunters makes just about every other outdoor activity pale in comparison.

One of the great things about Ontario’s moose hunting is that the season is relatively generous. This means if you’re really hardcore, you can hunt right into December. The snow hunt is a very exciting way to harvest a moose. It also requires a certain amount of crazy. The bitter cold, deep snow and potential for equipment failure is fairly high.

I’ve had many memorable snow hunts, but one that stands out took place just a few years back, just north of Thunder Bay.

It was near the end of the season, in mid-December, and it was full on winter. I was walking back into a swamp that was usually too wet to access earlier in the fall. Sadly, the swamp was not as frozen as usual, and I broke through several times. My fleece, snow camo pants soon turned to ice. Yet I carried on. Initially, there was not a lot of signs, but as I got deeper into the snow covered cuts, I saw fresh tracks. Then, the cry of a cow moose broke the stillness of the December air. Cows do call in December, and bulls fight. It’s something most snow hunters can attest to. When I poked my head over the hill, I saw a monster bull, standing perfectly broadside in some alders about 200 yards away. Its enormous rack glinted in the sun. The cow was standing in the open cut, tenderly calling him. As the bull began to walk away, I placed my scope on its shoulder and slid off the safety. The shot was not perfect, but doable. However, I’d walked nearly four kilometres in -20 C through knee-deep snow and several wet swamps. The snow machines would not be much help here. At best, removing this bull from the woods would be a two-day job. I slipped the safety back on and watched as the bull of a lifetime disappeared into the woods.

Kind of crazy, I know.

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