CPW Field Journal ‘Sheep and Moose Hunts’ (Part 9)

Photo by © Wayne D Lewis(CPW)

Photo by © Wayne D Lewis(CPW)

CPW Field Journal

When it comes to outdoors expertise, no one understands Colorado’s fishery and wildlife resources better than Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s diverse staff of wildlife managers, park rangers and biologists.  For these dedicated individuals, working for CPW is not just an occupation but a way of life.  When they’re not enforcing fish and game laws, patrolling state lands or conducting fish and wildlife research, most CPW employees are avid sportsmen and women who spend their leisure time hunting and angling throughout the state.  Here, CPW staff share their personal stories and experiences, provide on-the-ground field updates and offer a unique, “inside” perspective on all things hunting and fishing in Colorado.

In this special, multi-part series of CPW Field Journal, CPW employee Michael Scott shares his personal experiences applying/drawing for sheep and moose archery licenses, and provides real-time updates during his preseason scouting and fall hunting trips.

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 Part 9: “A Second Chance”
Go to part 8 of this series

Colorado moose habitat.

Colorado moose habitat.

The bull moose that I passed up earlier in the season now constantly entered my mind.  I had hunted six days straight for moose with a bow and had very few bull sightings to show for it.  I had also passed up a shot at a very respectable bull that I had called in to within 4 yards away, and I was now starting to think I had made a mistake. Was I just caught up in the moment and thinking that I would call in bulls everyday and have my pick of the larger ones?

I knew that I was hunting a good unit, but the moose densities are not so high that you can expect to see moose every day, let alone good bulls. Add to that the fact that this is a unit where the moose typically are found in the wilderness and that there was only so much ground that I could cover on foot before the season ended. There was still plenty of time left, but I was starting to get a little worried.

I decided that it was time to go back and look for the original bull that I had hunted the first weekend but hadn’t ever seen. One of the wildlife officers in the area had pointed me toward a drainage that held moose but hadn’t been hunted very hard in years past.  He was convinced that it held several large bulls. Based on sightings by campers and elk hunters, he was right.

As I mentioned earlier, I had set up a game camera to see if the “big boy” was still in the area.  As I hunted up the drainage, I saw little new sign except for one set of tracks that looked fresh. I grabbed the game camera and carried it with me. Despite my curiosity, I would have to look at the memory card on the camera later. After several hours of hiking, it was difficult to believe that an area that had so much sign of moose activity before could skunk me again. Had the bulls all left in search of cows?

I returned to my home and almost forgot about the game camera as I ate a late lunch.  Almost reluctantly, I plugged in the memory card to my computer and began browsing the pictures. Bushes, trees, shadows–almost everything but animals–seemed to be setting off the camera. When I got to the last couple of photos, I was resigned to the idea of not seeing a moose. But there he was. I had two photos of a bull moose walking in front of the camera about an hour after dark the night before. It was easy to see from one photo that this was the big bull that I had heard about. And he was definitely worth hunting.

A trail-cam photo proved the large bull was still in the area.

A trail-cam photo proved the large bull was still in the area.

That evening I was back in the same spot, hoping that the wandering moose would walk by during daylight hours. After falling in the creek and soaking myself from the waist down, I reset the camera and then set up to call for the last couple of hours before dark.  The minutes ticked by as I tried to follow the advice of seasoned moose hunters on how to best call in bulls. A friend of mine from Canada hunts moose every year with a bow and seems to have amazing success. I had spent a day fishing with him and listening to any tips that he was willing to share about hunting moose. I trusted his advice more than the so-called experts on the hunting videos. But, again, I had no luck.  This particular bull now filled my thoughts more than the one I passed up.

I decided that I needed to try a different area, if even for only a day. I still had not hunted the “heart” of the moose habitat and was sure that I would find bulls there since it was later in the season and therefore further along in the rut. The bulls should be travelling all over areas where there are cow moose. I was pretty sure that I knew where to find cow moose.

This time, Shannon again accompanied me as we hunted a part of the wilderness that she knew fairly well and which had produced several decent bulls in past years. As we hiked up the hills, we saw, smelled and heard elk. Farther up the hill, we came out on a hillside overlooking a large, “moose-looking” willow drainage. As the sun continued to rise, we glassed the meadow and surrounding hillsides while a pine squirrel chattered his disapproval of our chosen vantage point.

We continued up the drainage, but we saw surprisingly few signs of moose.  The droppings were all old and we saw very few tracks. Maybe this was an area that they used later in the year, perhaps during the rifle season?  After more than 8 miles of hiking and hunting through what I thought would be the best area so far, I had again struck out.  We did see some tracks lower down in the drainage, but only one set appeared to be traveled through.  We saw one fresh rut pit near those tracks, which I noted in case I decided to come back to the area later in the season.  The last mile of the hunt took us through heavy brush and downed timber that we tried to avoid by crossing a willow-covered bog.  Again, I fell into the stream, this time burying my boots in the bottomless silt that tried to take hold of my boots and send me home barefoot.

Being a bowhunter, I don’t like to hunt too close to the end of shooting light.  Although a well-placed arrow kills cleanly, often times an animal will run a short distance before bleeding to death.  Regardless of shot placement, most bowhunters will wait at least 30 minutes before they begin following a blood trail. Pursuing too quickly can spook an animal, extending the tracking distance.  I have watched both bull elk and white-tailed deer jump, as if merely startled, after I shot them. Then they calmly walk away as if nothing happened before dying a few minutes later. I also hunt with a rifle and muzzleloader.  But if I had to pick one method to humanely and quickly harvest an animal, I would pick the bow and arrow. Nevertheless, you have to be prepared to track the animal after it is shot, and the last thing I wanted to do was track a moose through dense willows after dark.

Having only a short evening to hunt after our morning “hike,” we decided to go back to where I had passed up the tall bull.  I told myself that I would still “pass” if I saw him again, and I told Shannon that, since we had seen two rutting bulls before, there had to be cows in the area and there was a good likelihood that other bulls might be around too.  I wasn’t sure that I was being quite honest with myself at that point, but Shannon agreed with my logic. My earlier decision not to shoot was still weighing on me heavily at that point.

We arrived at the ponds with only about 45 minutes of shooting light remaining. We started to call and were almost immediately rewarded with the sound of a bull moose grunting. I moved closer and set up for the shot.  Was this the same bull that I had passed up earlier?  Would I really get another chance? Sure enough, I did get that chance and, again, I decided to pass. The bull was exactly like I had remembered him–big and beautiful, but not what I was looking for. I couldn’t have any regrets now that I had seen him twice and both times turned down taking a shot. I would either find a bull that I liked more or I would go home empty handed.

We spent the next 15 minutes “playing” with the bull, cow calling and grunting to see how he reacted. By that time, the bull knew we were there and probably didn’t react as he normally would, but it was good practice anyway. I felt content. We had, at least, seen bulls again.  My next post will conlude what has been an amazing and truly memorable hunting season.

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