CPW Field Journal ‘Sheep and Moose Hunts’ (Part 10)
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, multipart series of CPW Field Journal, CPW employee Michael Scott shares his personal experiences applying/drawing for sheep and moose licenses, and provides real-time updates during his preseason scouting and fall hunting trips.
Part 10: “The Conclusion of an Amazing Season”
Go to part 9 of this series
My moose-hunting season was now half over. Unfortunately, my kids were busy with school and sports and had not been able to hunt with me. I was more than a little frustrated that they had not shared in this experience as much they had during my sheep hunt. For now, they would have to rely on seeing the photos and reading the stories I’ve shared in this blog.
But now it was time to decide where to hunt next. As the number of days left in the season began to dwindle, this decision became tougher and tougher. Shannon’s friend told her of a “monster” bull that she’d seen the previous year about 6 miles back in the wilderness. Shannon and I decided to take a hike into the area to see if we could find the bull (or any moose for that matter) and come up with a game plan to hunt the area over the next few days. I knew that we wouldn’t get to the spot where the bull was last seen until well after daylight. But if it looked good, I would figure out the best way to return and hunt the area later.
Unfortunately, we ran out of trail long before we reached the upper lake and did not make it as far as we wanted. We did not see any moose on this trip, but we did see moose tracks and also a lot of hikers. When we headed back down the trail, I wasn’t sure how the weekend hikers and leaf watchers would react to a bowhunter. Thankfully, we met several nice folks who were interested in hearing about my hunt.
We met one couple who had camped at the top of the drainage, near the upper lake, who had also seen the same “monster” bull with a cow the night before. I’m not sure if they were experienced enough to really know what a trophy-sized bull moose looked like, but from their description, this particular bull seemed to be worth the extra work it would take to get to him. However, after seeing that the trail petered out about 2 miles short of our destination, I would definitely have to plan ahead. Not only would this be a challenging hunt, but packing meat back down the mountain would be extremely difficult too.
Shannon and I devised a plan. By all accounts, including those of the hikers, it was a 4-6 hour hike to bushwhack our way through the brush to the upper lake. I figured that if I spent a day getting up to the lake, I could hunt that night and camp there. Then, hopefully, I could shoot the bull that night or the next morning. After that, I could skin him and hang the meat and quarters and get one quarter packed down the mountain to where the visible trail began that next day. From there, with a little help, I could get the other quarters, meat and the moose’s head packed down over the course of five more trips within the next couple of days. We could use horses to pack everything back to the trailhead – an ordeal that would take a minimum of 3-4 days. Since it was getting down to freezing at night and not warming up to more than 55 degrees during the day, I was confident that the meat would easily keep for several days, as long as I got the moose skinned, quartered and hung in the shade as soon as possible.
OK. We now had a plan, but we would have to wait a couple more days before we could return and hunt this area. We had friends coming in from out of town the next day to hunt elk, and we had agreed to help them set up their camp. So, we decided to look for an easy, early morning moose hunt in that area were we could still meet them that same afternoon.
The following morning, our “easy” moose hunt consisted of driving down a road adjacent to several willow pockets. We hunted the first area and bumped into an elk hunter. He said he had seen 3 different bull moose in the area, but he described all of them as “smaller” bulls. We also spoke to a wildlife officer who confirmed that there had been smaller bulls in the area. My expectations of seeing a big bull were now starting to get diminished.
Shannon and I debated where to go next. We decided to drive up a side road that ran to the top of a larger group of willows. I didn’t expect to see anything here either, but I also didn’t want to do something foolish – like pass up an area that might hold a good bull. So I asked Shannon to drive the truck back to the bottom of the willows and wait for me, while I hunted the opposite side.
If you’ve read my earlier entries, you may remember that any time Shannon is mentioned in these posts, she is right there beside me, either hiking everything that I hike or spotting for me as I try to stalk my prey. She had easily covered as many miles as I had on these hunts, and this was the first time that I had left her and hunted on my own.
I started working my way through the willows, again, not expecting to see anything. But my hunting instincts took over despite my lack of optimism. Decades of hunting habits forced me to slow down, walk quietly and stop occasionally to look and listen for anything that was out of place. In addition, the wind was in my favor, and I figured that it would at least be cool to see one of the smaller bulls that were seen in the area.
As I quietly skirted my way around some spruce trees, I saw a moose through the willows. My entire focus changed. It was a bull, but how big was it? I immediately used my rangefinder to determine the distance to the bull before I attempted to move into a better position. I moved a bit closer and finally had a clear view. I could see that the bull was not as tall as the one I had passed on earlier. Still, this bull had about everything else that I wanted.
Instead of being tall, the bull’s antlers spread backward in nice, wide palms. I counted at least 8 points on each side, and the brow tines were forked. I estimated the width at about 40 inches and decided that this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. Immediately, I regretted the fact that Shannon and my kids were not with me. I really would have loved for them to see this moose from 40 yards away as I completed my hunt. But I didn’t have much more time to think about that.
Right then, a cow that was bedded down next to the bull, suddenly stood up. She had seen my movements and decided that she did not want to stick around. The bull sniffed her and she walked back into the willows. I knew that he would soon follow, and I had to take the shot immediately or risk not getting a second opportunity. I drew back my bow, targeted a spot behind his shoulder and let the arrow fly.
Unlike all of my previous bow-kills, this animal did not run off before dying. Instead, the bull dropped in his tracks as the arrow struck him. I moved in to get a better look and realized that my arrow had hit him directly in the spine. When I had originally moved closer to take my shot, I had cut the distance by a good 10 yards, which made my arrow shoot higher than I had anticipated. The spine of a moose is also a good 10 inches lower at the shoulder than that of an elk or a deer. This was a first for me. And I couldn’t believe that, in a matter of seconds, l went from having low expectations on this outing to completing my hunt.
I walked up to the bull that was now sprawled on the ground before me. He was not the biggest bull killed in the state — not even the biggest killed in this unit. But I was completely satisfied. He was everything that I had hoped for. And he would provide 400 pounds of meat in my freezer as well as a lifelong reminder of the incredible nine days of hunting I had just experienced. He was my bull!
I looked at my cell phone and saw that I had service. Shannon was probably parked only another half mile down the hill. So I called her and told her what had happened. After all of the days we spent hunting together this season, she could not believe that she had missed the final act of our hunt. I quickly reminded her that we still had to take care of the moose and get him packed out before our friends got to town. She drove up the side road and brought my pack so that we could start the long job of skinning, quartering, de-boning and caping this moose.
I immediately went to work while Shannon helped by taking a few pictures. Then she held a leg so that I could skin, and she helped with everything else that I could not do by myself. After all, this animal was twice the size of most elk.
Our friend, Claire, happened to be passing through town during my hunt. Shannon called her to see if she wanted to come up and help us out. She agreed, but I don’t think she knew what she was getting herself into. I continued to field dress the moose, and Shannon and Claire volunteered to begin packing the quarters back to the truck. Who was I to argue? They both donned backpacks filled with moose meat and headed back toward the truck. I continued caping the head so I could bring it out next, even though I planned on doing a simple plaque mount on the antlers. CPW regulations require that the entire head be submitted so various samples and tests can be conducted on the moose.
I completed my tasks, and I looked up and saw Shannon loading the last quarter of meat into her pack, with only the head and cape left for me. I couldn’t believe that it had taken nearly 5 ½ hours to skin, quarter, de-bone and cape this moose. Even more, I couldn’t believe that these two women had packed out all of the meat. All that was left for me was the head and cape. Jeremiah Johnson would have been proud!
Six hours after I let my arrow fly, we all sat at the truck, exhausted. Yes, I had hunted a wilderness moose unit, covered dozens of miles hunting, and even had plans established for hunting and packing a moose out of a remote area the very next day. But after all that, I ended up shooting my bull a half mile from the road. It’s weird how things work out.
I now look back and can hardly believe that my hunt is done. I had completed a fall of hunting that far exceeded my expectations. Yes, I had drawn two coveted, once-in-a-lifetime-type licenses. But even more than that, I had spent weeks in the backcountry, experiencing the incredible natural resources that our great state has to offer.
I was also blessed to share these experiences with family and friends. But I also realized, again, through this process, that you don’t have to have a license in hand to take your kids camping, to hike with them in wilderness areas or to appreciate the scenery on a mountain drive. Life keeps us all busy. But there is a lot of truth to the saying: “You have to stop and smell the roses” – or sagebrush or columbines for that matter. Take the time to experience the outdoors and be sure to bring your camera (or smart phone) to take pictures. You too will have memories that last a lifetime.