Successful moose hunters must have detailed and sophisticated knowledge of the animal. mastering skills of the hunt is essential for success, but equally important is knowing how to show respect for the animal, its spirit, and its home.
The language of Moose
In any human culture, people need specialized language to describe every part of their environment that is important to them. This is especially true for people who live directly from the land and waters, because they need very specific words to talk about every facet of their world.
Eye of the Hunter
Moose can be challenging animals to hunt, especially in areas where they are scarce or highly mobile. For traditional people it is essential to have a thorough understanding of moose movements—and this comes by studying the animal and its environment, by sharing information between hunters, and by telling stories passed on to family & friends.
For example, hunters know that during the protracted, harsh northern winter moose are often stressed and skinny, so their meat is not especially desirable. But spring and summer bring long days and lush growth, so, moose can pack in up to 50 pounds of food per day. By the time fall comes, the animals are in prime condition, especially the bulls and cows that have no calves to nurse and protect (known as a dry cow).
To find moose, first a person needs to know where the animals are most likely to be at any given time and when moose are in the best condition. For example, in the fall rutting (breeding) season, moose often congregate in the river valleys where willow thickets still provide fresh browse.
During the rut, bulls sometimes have spectacular battles—pushing and shoving, clashing their enormous antlers—to establish dominance. These contests take tremendous amounts of energy at a time when the bulls eat little or nothing because of their single-minded focus on mating. They become skinny and smelly their meat is hardly edible.
Before the fall rut begins, some hunters arrive in the area to scout, looking for signs of moose—fresh tracks, broken branches in the thick brush, scraped bark on shrubs and trees, or shadowy movements in the brush.
When a hunter finds a set of tracks, he checks them closely to determine the sex and condition of the moose—and most importantly, the age of the track. It’s important to know how long ago the moose walked here and whether the animal is staying put or traveling on.
Aging tracks in our terrain can be very challenging. A fresh track has clean sharp edges, and within a day or so these edges may begin to dry out, or they might be softened by rain or wind. Depending on weather conditions the track could look quite fresh for several days or more.
A sharp eye might find a track where the moose entered the water, and if it’s partially filled with water, this could help the hunter determine how long ago the moose made it. When the water is still muddy, the animal came by within perhaps half-a-day or less. But if the sediment has settled and the water is clear, it means the track is older.
Moose leave other signs too. Rutting bulls scrape off bark when they rub their antlers on trees or shrubs. They sometimes paw the ground, leaving an obvious patch of scattered vegetation and raw ground.
Besides looking for visible signs of moose, hunters keep very quiet, to avoid frightening the moose and to hear any sounds the animals make. Bull moose challenge other bulls by noisily thrashing their huge antlers against trees and brush. Cows and bulls make low grunting sounds during the mating season. People also listen for any movement in the thickets and for the surprisingly loud sounds of a moose chewing and snapping off leaves.
A bull moose acquires a strong, musky scent from rolling in leaves soaked in his own urine. This smell can linger in calm air for up to half an hour, indicating that the bull has passed through recently—or that he is still close by.
If a hunter believes moose are nearby, he might try to draw one closer by imitating the sound of antlers scraping against the brush. For this, he can use the dried shoulder blade of a moose or sometimes even a large stick. If a bull is in the area, he may decide another bull is challenging him and come to investigate, or he might reveal himself by grunting or thrashing his antlers.
A hunter trying to lure a bull closer will sometimes make low grunting sounds, imitating either a cow moose looking for a mate, or a bull looking for a challenge. The hunter watches and listens closely, waiting for the moose to appear.
The most likely time to find a moose is during the dusk and dawn hours, when moose are most active. They will feed in the early morning and then might sleep for an hour or so. They lie down for much of the day to rest and ruminate, and they are very hard to approach. In the evening they will feed again.
In areas with high concentrations of moose, hunters avoid the bone scraping method because it might call too many bulls to them. Also, they are very careful when snapping twigs for campfires—this too could bring an aggressive bull into camp.
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