So you like moose hunting? Me too. I mean, I really like it. Sometimes I wonder why I like it, usually when I’m 4 hours into processing a bull in the middle of some swamp, but nonetheless it’s one of my absolute favourite things to do.
The thing I really like about a good moose hunt is it can be as easy or difficult as you choose. Moose inhabit many different eco-regions from coast to coast in Canada but for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on tips for hunting calling season bulls in the boreal forests of western Canada. While far from being an expert, I’ve done enough boreal moose hunting and have made enough mistakes to share a few tips that I feel increase my odds of success every time I have a moose tag to fill. None of these tips are revolutionary new ideas, but rather simple reminders of how to be systematic and patient in your approach. After all, moose themselves aren’t overly complicated critters. When they’re on, they’re really on! Days spent in the northern forests can be magical. Hunting here can be some of the best and most challenging hunts you’ll have.
Moose hunting in the boreal is rarely easy. Animals are typically found in pockets of optimal habitat and are not evenly distributed. Moose densities averaged across a given area are usually quite low. This can make finding bulls a challenge in the vast northern landscape, even when movement peaks in the late September and early October rut. In this series I’ll share a three step plan to find your bull this fall. These are the three core pillars of the strategy I use when hunting these northern kings:
Step 1: E-Scouting - Finding the Spot Within the Spot
One of the most important steps to a successful moose hunt begins long before hunting season opens or before those magnificent bulls have even finished growing their one-of-a-kind crowns. E-scouting is usually my first step when planning a moose hunt. Even before applying for a tag, I will have a good hard look to see which areas would work for my goals for that hunt. E-scouting could be the subject of several stand alone articles, so I won’t explain the concept in detail here. Loosely defined, it is the process of using the magic of the internet to collect and examine imagery, topographic info, and other relevant data to plan your hunting trip. Considering you’re reading this now, I’ll assume you’ve already mastered “How to Internet 101,” so you’re already well on your way to knowing how to e-scout.
What I will say is 3rd party apps, like iHunter, have changed e-scouting forever. An app like iHunter facilitates finding what I call “the spot within the spot” to potentially call out a big bull in the fall. The key to finding these special moosey looking habitats is to narrow down your e-scouting to focus on the exact places you’ll want to position yourself within a large area of moose habitat. You can always fine tune on game day, but going into the hunt with a plan and an understanding of the area you’ll be hunting will help eliminate errors that might cost you that one chance you get at a bull.
I’ll qualify everything I say beyond this by stating: nothing replaces boots on the ground scouting. However, for many of us this is simply not an option. Work, family, and distance often conspire to limit us to going into season without setting foot in our chosen hunting area. Really concentrating and asking the right questions of the imagery can make such a huge difference. Finding “the spot within the spot” requires paying attention to detail.
When you‘re ready to start e-scouting, start by looking for the spots that moose will prefer in the fall season. Assuming you’re planning a late September or early October rut hunt, boreal moose will typically still be close to water. At this time of year, finding cows means finding bulls, so look for meandering creeks, grown in river oxbows, willow and alder flats, small lakes, or just good old swampy moose pasture. The inlets and outlets of larger lakes are also productive places.
Typically, adjacent upland should be a healthy mix of deciduous and coniferous forest. Big bonus points here if the wetter area is adjacent to a 5-10 year old burn or forestry cutblocks. Pay special attention to hidden swamps and drainages, or small lakes that may be hidden to the naked eye at ground level. These otherwise hidden areas are often used by moose that are wary of adjacent open areas, roads, or larger navigable waters during daylight hours. This is especially important in more accessible areas. Remember, you don’t have to get to a place to hunt it, just close enough that a bull will hear you.
Once you have identified “moosey” country and spots, really dive into each specific area and evaluate them by asking the following:
Where/which direction do I expect the moose to come from (up to 2-3miles)?
- Sounds simple but it is important to consider where the bull will come from in order understand how best to access the area.
Which way will the prevailing wind be blowing and where should I be to successfully call a bull here and see him?
- Use this to identify where the bull will likely circle given the expected winds. From there, find areas or gaps in cover that will allow you to see (and shoot) him before he smells you.
- If needed, adjust your planned calling location in order to see these openings.
How will I access this place and will my noise or scent trails mess up the answer to #1 above?
- Determine how best to access this area without fouling it with your scent or noise when walking or driving in.
- Plan where to park the ATV or vehicle, and know how far the walk in will be.
Are there alternative options in this spot or is it a one wind only place?
- Some places only work for one wind direction, others are more versatile.
- Identify backup calling locations or shooting lanes for different conditions in each spot.
How do I get the damned thing out once I shoot it?
- I am guilty of ignoring this far too often, but it is important to know how exactly you plan to get a bull out.
- Do you have need ATV access? Will it have to be quartered and packed out? How far from the nearest trail or vehicle access? If you wait to answer these questions until the bull is on the ground, you might find yourself in a very uncomfortable spot.
Answering these 5 questions will help you narrow down the best places to set up in those precious fall days when the bulls are responding and you have a tag in your pocket. Make a list of the 5-6 best spots you can find, with a few alternates, if you like, in case one or two are total duds.
Preference should also be given to places that are within and easy travel to one another, but are at least a few miles apart. The importance of narrowing down to only the best spots should be clear by the end of this article.
With your list of best calling spots set, you’re ready to move to on to the next step, which I will discuss in Part 2. Good luck and happy e-scouting!!
Be sure to follow Nate on Instagram @nate_carruthers and check out more of his photos at natecarruthers.smugmug.com