A chilly early November evening and the calm cold air was still. Myself, my father Gary, and a friend Les had just arrived at my remote hunting cabin. The 3.5 miles long and .6 mile wide pond in front of the cabin had not a single ripple, a typical evening in the valley. Anxious to get out for a look we lit the fire in the woodstove and hauled the 16’ Lowe boat down the slipway, set the outboard in place, and shoved off in search of the elusive wild Newfoundland moose.
Jogging the motor along and watching carefully through binoculars, both sides of steep embankments on each side of the pond, we headed North. Evenings like those, you care not for even a sighting, just being there with my father and long-time family friend meant everything to me. Suddenly I hear “look, look” which is Newfoundland terminology for “there’s two moose”. Each “look” always represents a moose during a sighting. I gazed over the starboard forward quarter where Les’s hand was pointing and even from a mile away I could see the sun’s rays glistening two big beautiful, powerful bulls racks. I turned the tiller ever so gently and we continued jogging. “Two…three…four… seven!” I could hear the excitement in my fathers’ voice. Knowing that dark was upon us and the grueling climb to reach these animals; an evening hunt was out of the question.
We returned to the cabin to find my uncle Pat and his son Scott had already shown up and waiting to see if the evening had been a success. The night was filled with cook-ups, drinks, and as many moose tales (mostly fact, with some exaggerations the Newfies are known for) and plenty of laughs. With a close eye to the forecast, we made a plan for the morning and headed to the bunks.
We stayed true to the plan and set out for the daunting task of scaling the steep slopes to the hunting ground to try to root these moose out of hiding and hope for success. Step after step the night’s alcohol seeped from our pores until we reached where we hoped the moose were residing. Mile after grueling mile we walked the rough terrain to find one of the big bulls. My brand new 30-06 Browning X-Bolt Pro felt like a ton in my arms. But the excitement kept pushing me forward. All day we walked through thick woods and sinking marshes, the morning frosty crust had long dissipated and each step felt like our boots were filled with lead. As darkness approached, with hanging heads we made our way back to the boat, unsuccessfully.
The next morning proved no better. And another day of agonizing anticipation proved unsuccessful. As the days and weeks passed by I continued the search for these large bulls. Oftentimes on my own and sometimes when my hunting group was available; I assembled teams of experienced hunters to find these bulls but each day they outsmarted us, outsmarted me. Having an understanding woman at homemade all the difference. Some evenings, when the weather would change, I would pack up at a moment’s notice and head to the cabin, ironically named Moose Haven by my Albertan uncle, all alone and completely enthralled by the thought of pulling the trigger and dropping the bull. I must’ve covered hundreds of miles over the next month and a half tracking these moose that I refused to quit searching for. I saw many cows, calves, and bulls throughout my search, but I wasn’t stopping until I bagged a bull I wanted. One day in particular my GPS told me I had covered 36 miles on foot during my relentless search.
I’ll fast forward to the week before Christmas, it was getting down to crunch time! We had success on hunts for my sister’s second moose license and a moose for my uncle, but my tags remained. I needed one of those bulls for a notch on the new rifle. It needed to be christened properly!
December 21st I set out, hungover, like many’a morning before, and spotted a beautiful cow that I could’ve killed with an axe, and now I was fully frustrated. Walking back to the quad I replayed the fall in my head. Wondering if I should’ve taken the cow. I was heading back to work on the 27th and the clock was ticking. I only could stay one more night at the cabin. One more chance. Would my first season with the new rifle really end this way? Would it be unsuccessful after seeing so many? So many wasted opportunities. Once back under the hill and in the valley, I stopped, to a mid celebration by a close friend of mine, Sheldon, and his brothers after their successful morning. They had seen the bull! They saw the one I was longing to see for almost two months. That night I helped the boys celebrate their hunt in true fashion. The drinks poured freely and the tales got taller as the bottles shrunk shorter. Un phased by the time I staggered back to my cabin and crawled in the bunk in the wee hours of the morning.
What seemed like only minutes had passed and the alarm was buzzing. “To hell with the shaggin’ moose this morning!!” I shut off the alarm and rolled over. Today was the day I was quitting. Tossing and turning I convinced myself the moose wasn’t going to win. Not by neglect anyway. Finally, I reminded myself that the only day ya don’t shoot the moose is the day ya don’t get out of bed and my feet were on the floor. After all, you can teach a man anything, but you can’t teach him how to get out of bed in the morning. Head pounding from the whiskey and body aching from the walking; a quick coffee and a mouth full of chewing tobacco and I set off for one last hunt.
The wind in my favor and thrill in my heart; I crossed the river, shut off the quad, and started my trek through the woods. I was raised as a woodland hunter. Never one for a long shot, I didn’t see the thrill in it. Our hunts were always about creeping, tip towing through the thickest of woods. Crawling under and climbing over the deadfall, conscious of every step, every move, every sound, and smell. I picked up fresh tracks in the morning’s frost. The warmth of the hooves is still in the prints. The moose was here, just as we had discussed around the Molloy’s table the night before. I was on the right track! Could this finally be the morning? Rifle in hand and thumb on the safety I crossed the Drop Gulley and I could smell the moose I was searching.
I caught a flicker to my left, the ear twitch of a young calf! Wait, there’s a cow.. there’s another cow… there’s another calf… THERE’S THE BULL! I raised the shiny X-Bolt Pro and could see the morning’s sun glisten on the fluted burnt ceracote bronze barrel. Seconds passed by and it felt like an eternity. Come on Mr moose, get your vitals out from behind that tree. With a deep breath, I steadied my aim. Bang! He stopped in his tracks. Did I hit him!? I must’ve!
Through the young growth, I could hardly pick him out to see where the bullet had struck. By now the cows and calves had scattered in a frantic furry of fear and distress. The bull slowly came into view once again as my aim stayed true. Bang! This time I was certain the 180 grain Federal thumped the vitals as I started inching forward towards the wounded bull. By now I was losing the animal through the young spruce again and when he reappeared he was facing me, with a not so pleasant expression. I tried one for the head to deal the final blow, but in the haste, I was still moving and the shot passed right along by him and he didn’t even flinch. The animal was hurt, it was his final moment. But I couldn’t walk for this animal any longer. I raised the rifle once more and placed the final blow just below his neck and between the fore shoulders. Finally, like a sack of potatoes, he hit the ground! All the hard work had paid off, the grueling hours open hours seemed so insignificant at the time that none of it mattered! It was all worth the heartache and grief! It was wiped clean from my memory!
After inspection and starting the bleeding out process and a few loud cheers, I trotted back to the quad. My buddy Sheldon was on the step of his cabin and was signaling to ask if I got the bull. By the time I reached his cabin, I could smell the blood pudding and bacon cooking on the stove. Sheldon, his brother Dale, another brother Justin, son Cameron and I sat and talked about the hunt over a great feed, and off we went, buggy and saw in tow to cut a trail to the animal and clean and retrieve the mornings kill.
Back to the boathouse we hung and skinned the animal. The boys were headed out, the same as me that morning, so we even managed to spend more time with knives in hand than the well-deserved beer. In true Newfoundland fashion, the boys were a great help and cut my workload drastically! Even put the moose in their buggy and loaded it in the truck to save me the hassle of making two trips out and in the trail!
Of all my moose seasons and moose hunts, this will forever be the one I’ll never forget!
Sitting here in isolation in Myanmar, Asia, thousands of miles from home for work in the Oil and Gas industry as this year’s moose season is well underway; I can’t help but think about all the moose hunts taking place and all the memories that will be made and held on to for a lifetime. I miss home when I’m away. I miss my family, I miss the lads, but most of all I miss the lows and highs of the hunting season. I would trade every Christmas and spend them at sea to be home for the crisp fall mornings and early sunsets keeping us confined to the cabin table, drinks flowing, stories told, a scoff cooking, and the crackle of the woodstove.
About The Author
Born and raised in rural Newfoundland, Canada, living off the land has been a way of life for me since I was a boy. We fished the Summers and hunted through the Falls. At 8 years old I was gifted my first shotgun and .22 from my late grandfather. At 12, my first rifle was a .308.
Being the only son in the family and having a father who worked away from home most of the year; it was my duty to hunt rabbits, partridge, ducks, turrs, caribou, and moose for the family.
I spent my life in the wilderness and on the North Atlantic Ocean; hunting and fishing to provide for the family. Most of my tactics were all self-taught and what I learned from books and older gentlemen and uncles. This way of life has remained even though now I live in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland. It doesn’t hurt that my lady supports my hobby and loves to pack up and get away from the city to enjoy the tranquility of cabin life. She doesn’t come on the hunts, but when I call on the radio and tell her I’m heading back, she always has a hot meal on the table! She’s a keeper! Sitka and Browning are my go-to’s for gear and guns and I wouldn’t have it any other way!