Bow-killing a Shiras Moose: Scouting the Hunt
Posted on June 7, 2013
Bow-killing a Shiras moose in the wild Wyoming backcountry makes not only for an unforgettable adventure, but one that is difficult to fulfill, too.
I was again awakened by the sound of pelting raindrops hitting the side of the tent. For the last three days it had rained and snowed. As I lay there listening to the gale-force winds and the continuous downpour of rain, I couldn’t help but think about what I had been told about moose hunting. Almost everyone I talked to about drawing my Wyoming moose tag stated the same thing: “The hardest part of the hunt is drawing the tag.” Yet, somehow, I was really beginning to doubt all this. Certainly they didn’t hunt a wilderness area like I was doing. After all, I had been hunting hard for the last two weeks and had only seen three different bulls and a couple of cows. I was both physically and mentally drained. I was beginning to wonder if I would fill this once-in-a lifetime tag or if the season would pass without the opportunity to harvest a bull.
My adventure began in May of 2008 when I learned that I had drawn one of only five tags given for a moose in the area near Jackson, Wyoming. I had applied for this unit because I didn’t have a lot of preference points built up, and the odds of drawing were better than the more popular trophy areas around the state. This region is mostly a wilderness area, where a friend of mine had taken a nice bull in the season before. I was so excited that I had finally drawn a moose tag that I called everyone I knew to share the news. Within the week I had numerous maps of the area, and I spoke with several people who hunted the area in the past, as well as a friend. Like a sponge, I absorbed everything I could learn about the place.
Scouting: Grim Prospects
The first weekend of August found my family and I spending a four-day weekend camping and scouting the area for moose. It was high noon and 90 degrees when we arrived in the area. We were scarcely 200 yards into the hunt area when I spotted a lone cow moose standing along the river in some high willows. I couldn’t believe it. There must be moose everywhere, I thought, to find one out in this heat.
By the end of day four, the lone cow was the only moose we saw. We covered the area from top to bottom and didn’t even see any moose tracks or droppings. I did, however, get a good feel for the lay of the land, particularly the valley area and the many creek bottoms that drained into it. I was puzzled that I didn’t see any moose out in the numerous flats that were strung out over many miles of the valley floor. The country was beautiful, with lowland willows to high-country aspen and spruce timber patches. An additional five days of scouting later in August again revealed no moose sightings.
Due to an already-booked caribou hunt, I knew that I would miss the opening day of moose season. In fact, I would miss the entire archery season except for the last two days. With only five tags given and a large hunt area, I wasn’t too concerned about pressure from rifle hunters. Besides, later in September would bring the rut, which I hoped would increase bull sightings.
On With the Hunt
On September 9, 2008, friend Dave Nyreen and I loaded the pickup and headed for the Jackson area. We arrived at dawn and hastily set up camp, since we were anxious to start looking for moose. After four hard days of hunting and no moose sightings, we were both feeling a little bummed out. As I studied a forest-service map, I saw an area that we hadn’t yet been to, so we set out to see if we could find at least one moose.
We were soon in the town of Jackson, and passing the regional game and fish office, so we decided to stop in and see if we could get a few pointers on hunting the area, since the new area hadn’t produced any moose sightings either. We spoke with game warden, Tim Fox, who told us that moose were there; in fact, he told us that the best drainage to hunt was the one we had spent the last two days looking around in. Tim told us that there is a lot of wolf activity in the area, and the moose have started to use the dark timber patches for shelter more than they used to. I asked him if the moose ever used the willow flats in the area, and he told me very seldom. He recommended finding a high vantage point and glassing the timber patches early in the mornings and late in the evenings. He also suggested coming back in a couple of weeks when the rut started up.
Leaving the game and fish office with renewed hope, we headed back to my favorite drainage and climbed a vantage point that we had noted the evening before. Three hours later we had reached our destination and began glassing the heavy timber patches across the canyon. We both took up different positions on the hillside to cover the maximum amount of country.
An hour later, Dave was frantically waving me over. He quickly pointed out a lone cow feeding in a small aspen patch adjacent to a patch of dark timber. We watched the gal for half an hour or so, when I caught some movement behind her. Peering through my binocular, I could make out the paddle of a bull’s antler. One glimpse of the bull, and I knew he was of good size. Two minutes later, and I was on my way to stalk the bull.
As I climbed up the other side of the canyon, I was taken aback by the steepness of the country. It didn’t look nearly this steep while glassing across the canyon. As I closed in on the small “dead” red-colored fir tree that the moose had been feeding near, I saw the cow feeding in a small area along the timber.
Inch by inch, I worked uphill toward the cow, but I couldn’t see the bull. Soon I was in position within shooting range of the cow, just hoping the bull would step out. As darkness closed in, I glassed back to Dave to see where the bull was. Dave’s hand signals told me that the bull was bedded down uphill. I was now fighting the fast-approaching darkness as I stalked along. I was looking intently to my right, thinking the bull was somewhere behind the cow, when I saw him stand up to my left. He was well within shooting range. However, he wasted no time in swapping ends and heading for the dark timber. I watched as the bull entered the timber, and darkness ended the day’s hunt. I was so full of adrenaline by the encounter that I stood there with my legs trembling, but I was wearing a huge smile on my face. This was my first stalk on a moose, and I had almost pulled it off.
The next morning again found us on the hill scanning the area with our binoculars. Shortly after daylight, we spotted a lone cow on a bench that was covered with scattered aspen trees. We could tell that it was a different cow than the night before, due to its young-looking appearance. We watched the cow feed toward the dark timber patch, right where we had seen the two moose the evening before.
As she neared the patch, she looked toward her back trail. Soon I saw a young bull following the cow. I decided that I would stalk and get a closer look at the bull. As I climbed the steep hillside, I passed alongside the timber patch the moose seemed to hang out in. I saw that the patch consisted of heavy downed timber that actually covered a large, deep bowl. It appeared to be the perfect bedding area for the moose, as the deep bowl and dark timber kept the area cool during the high daytime temperatures.
As I approached the bench the moose were on, I circled to get the wind right. I eased forward with the wind in my face, and then suddenly, I could hear the sounds of antlers rubbing a tree right in front of me. Immediately I looked through my binocular, scanning the heavy timber, when I saw the legs of a bull moose. He was rubbing the tree less than 40 yards away! A closer examination revealed two different bulls, not just one!
I slowly weaved my way through the timber toward the bulls. As I rounded two small fir trees, I got my first look at the antlers of the two bulls. The closest one’s antlers resembled the antlers of a bull elk with three points on both sides, and hardly any width to his palm. The second bull had mediocre palms with no brow tines and a few points. I have to admit, I most likely would have tried to shoot the second bull, however, the timber was too thick for a good shot and the bulls soon disappeared into the tangled jungle. As I was vacating the area, I found several sets of fresh moose tracks and piles of fresh scat, indicating the moose were using it regularly.
When I returned to the hill to meet Dave, I told him what had happened. A few moments afterward, I happened to glance into the bottom of the canyon and saw the big bull from the night before running toward the head of the canyon. He had obviously smelled where I had walked near the bowl of dark timber and was heading for safer ground.
Having been away from home for close to 14 days straight, I decided to return home to my family and come back in a week. I figured this would give the moose a chance to settle down, and I hoped they would be rutting when I returned. The forecast called for record high temperatures for the weekend anyway.
By Jason Stafford