Tracking a dark-timber bull moose by bow

  • See Tom Miranda on ESPN2's "Advantage Adventures" and "Whitetail Country."

    A 5 a.m. wake-up alarm is always tough, but the sound of a steady rain against the cabin roof adds insult to injury. It is the sixth morning of my hunt — a tough hunt for Canadian bull moose.

    I've done four previous moose hunts over the years, with no success. The joke on this entire hunt has been "my luck" with the punch line "cursed" and each of the previous days have pretty much lived up to it.

    I'm hunting with veteran Alberta guide Chad Lenz, a moose expect who cut his teeth in the Yukon hunting giant bulls with the once-infamous Mackenzie Outfitters.

    Lenz's nickname is "Savage" and his Savage Encounters guide service specializes in archery moose from treestands or by spot and stalk in the heated moose rut. Lenz is an expert caller, and when the moose are ready, his guide service lives up to its name.

    As I dress for a wet day in the bush, my mind wonders back to yesterday's hunt.

    We had approached a small pocket off a larger muskeg and Lenz bellowed a moose cow call. Using his natural voice, he quivered the sound adding realism with his nose pinched for the nasal echo of cupped hands and a megaphone volume.

    Immediately we heard an answer and I scrambled to get my head net on and concealed behind a single spruce that bordered the alders surround the muskeg pocket.

    Lenz set his decoy and continued to call. Throwing his calls behind the felt covered decoy, Lenz brought the bull to the edge and into view. He was a whopping bull, 60 inches plus, and anxious to meet the cow sounds.

    I had figured the bull to cross the 100-yard muskeg, yet this moose was not an easy read.

    If he were to beeline the decoy, I would have a broadside look at about 35 yards and a clear shot. Instead, the brute busted the alder edge, staying in the cover and working the long way around the swamp edge to the decoy.

    It had become apparent that my position wasn't perfect, and I would need to reposition to get a shot if the Bull continued to close.

    I lost sight of his massive rack but could hear his grunts and antler pans raking through the alders. I decided to move left and pinch in on the beast, thinking his path was the higher ground behind me and a favorable wind for his huge nose.

    As I pinched in, the bull appeared head on, coming straight into me, his great rack golden brown, and satellite ears pointed forward and long bell swinging. Steam rushed from both nostrils with each step, preceded by a deep, heavy grunting — ooff, ooff.

    When the bull saw me, he was at 18 yards face on and locked in on what was one excited bowhunter. With no tension on my bow string the arrow lay knocked but worthless. The bull stared at me for thirty seconds, then made a quick exit.

    I drew in vain, maybe just to see if I had the strength after such an exciting encounter, yet I hoped that the beast might look back one last time and offer a shoulder.

    But he continued to put distance between us and offer no shot. My moose, my one chance at a big bull — usually the only chance you get on a hunt — ran back into the dark timber and vanished.

    As the wipers cleaned the windshield, Lenz and I were off for the final day of the hunt. Lenz's area is located in the mountain fringes of western Alberta, northwest of Calgary.

    Dressed in new hunting apparel, my good-luck leafy suit was left in camp. I'm not superstitious, yet when it comes to moose I need all the help I can get.

    As we drove, the muddy roads climbed into the mountains and the rain turned to slush, then snow. Stopping to call several times with no answers, Lenz raised a brow and I knew he was discouraged.

    Moose hunting can be tricky business.

    The cow calls are thought by many as mating cries, yet in moose language the cow is actually perturbed with a bull that is bothering her. Bulls that hear these calls come to the cow's "aid." Calling is very effective for a short window of time and also only if the bull that hears it is not with a cow.

    Bulls that have cows are usually unresponsive and never leave the security of the dark timber.

    Parking the truck at a new area, we walk down and across a bog to the back side along a stream bordering deep timber. Lenz calls; we both listen and he calls again. Then, a finger rises and points to the dark timber.

    "There's a bull grunt," Lenz whispers. He calls several more times and we wait for nearly 30 minutes.

    "That bull has cows and we need to pressure him if we want to see him" whispers my guide, and, with that, I check the wind and we begin to pull a long circle around the thicket of spruce.

    Two inches of fresh snow lie on the ground and give a magical look to the thick, pine forest. Alternating quiet calling and quieter moving, we swing with favorable wind into the moose hideout.

    After over a mile of tough walking, Lenz and I can see ahead a set of perfect moose tracks. One track after the other leads into the deep woods ahead. Having cut the fresh trail, Lenz gives me the thumbs up and we sneak on the trail of the bull.

    There are several sets of moose tracks disappearing into the spruce, and the bull's print is unmistakable: large like a giant deer, with even more impressive dew claws. The prints weave between the cow prints as if he is herding them to the thickest parts of the forest.

    Suddenly Lenz drops to his knees and whispers, "Cow."

    I immediately follow suit, grabbing for my head net and knocking carbon tipped with razor. As I gear up, Lenz calls softly using cow calls, then gives off a loud bull grunt. Two small bulls appear out of the timber to my right. Traveling like brothers together, these bulls are curious and closing in fast.

    I worry that they may bust us, yet it's only for a second, as on the left a big bull appears walking straight into our position.

    Lenz cow calls softly and the bull stops but briefly to listen. The wind ever so soft on my head net, I know it's about crunch time. Hidden by a small spruce I slowly stand and draw. I like shooting from the kneel; yet a large deadfall lay across my arrow path and shooting over it is the only option.

    The bull's antlers are large and a brown-rust color to highlight his chocolate-black coat. His rack is wide and brow tines long, and I know as he enters my sight picture he is above the Pope and Young minimum and a trophy shooter.

    As Lenz muffles one last cow call; the bull stops some 30 yards away. At full broad side his head is turned, his eyes and ears focused on our final position.

    I could see snow in his antler pans. But as if in slow motion, I looked to his shoulder and picked a tuff of dark hair centering my sight pin. As the string slams forward, the arrow shaft is sent on a collision course with the big bull.

    Arcing across the woods floor the arrow pounds the brute, hitting its mark and sending a rush of hooves and horns into motion. The bull lunges and runs, yet Lenz and I both know his flight will be short. Within seconds we hear the collapse of the moose and the woods fall silent.

    There's not mistaking the outcome and yet my moose curse will not be broken until I actually see the beast on the ground.

    Giving the arrow time to work is crucial to a successful bow hunt, and the 30 minutes or so we waited before tracking was filled with joy and anticipation.

    Before I could only imagine this feeling. But now it was all too real as we follow up the blood-stained snow that lead to the big bull.

    He is everything I ever wanted in a Canadian moose — more than 1,500 pounds on the hoof and a fantastic big-racked bull.

    Congrats went out to Lenz and his magnificent calling abilities, and for a moment I sat in awe of this huge forest creature that had eluded my bowhunting skills for so long.

    The excitement of moose hunting can only be compared to the full-on rush of a big bull elk racing to the call or a full-strut gobbler running to a death wish.

    Indded, coming eye-to-eye with the largest of North America's deer makes for a challenging adventure in Canada's wilderness.

  • See Tom Miranda on ESPN2's weekly "Advantage Adventures" and "Whitetail Country."