First-time Moose Hunting: A Primer on the Species

I had been working on an article for a great new magazine called Homegrown Hunter published by a friend of mine, Steve Elmy, who owns and runs Rack Stacker. I started this article back in January 2015 for inclusion in the next year’s issue of HGH. Unfortunately, the magazine has been put on hold, but I would suggest everyone check out the accompanying web show. Being that we are heading out on our first moose hunt next Tuesday, I thought I would post a bit of a primer on moose and why I have been wanting to hunt them for years now.

I’m not sure when I became captivated by moose. I suppose part of it may simply be that I’m Canadian, having grown up surrounded by images of moose for my entire life. Iconic photographs and artwork of moose standing in marshes, 6 feet of glorious antlers spread out in the sun, giant dewlaps hanging from their chins, are somewhat of a staple in Canadian wildlife imagery. They are giant, oddly shaped, dinosaur-like animals, yet one would need a finely tuned command of language to describe their sense of grace with any accuracy.

I remember when I was young seeing a moose swimming across the Magnetawan River just outside of Burk’s Falls, Ontario. Then I remember seeing moose feeding on the side of the road while driving along Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park. After that, it seems to me that I just always found moose: on backcountry canoe trips in Algonquin Park, licking salt on roadsides, catching glimpses of them as they crash away through the forest, crossing roads.

The backcountry area we’ll be hunting next week.

I have spots marked on maps where I know I am likely to see moose, and the prospect of bowhunting moose is what motivated me to get a hunting license. Their meat is some of the richest, most delicious red meat I’ve ever eaten. 

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It’s not hard to see why someone who is drawn to the out of doors would find moose to be a somewhat permanent fixture in memory and imagination. Moose are some of the most powerful wildlife in North America. They can crash through forests with a force and recklessness paralleled by little else, yet they can also move with absolute silence and precision when they choose.

A prominent boreal forest species, moose (Alces alces) range throughout Canada, from the Maritime provinces right across to British Columbia and north into the Yukon Territory. They’re the largest member of the family of deer species known as cervidae. Cervids are a group of even-toed ungulates which comprise groups of species as diverse as whales. Adult male moose (bulls) can weigh up to 1,500 pounds, while adult females (cows) can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

Bark stripped off a tree from a moose’s lower incisors. Mitten shown for scale. Standing on the snow, the rub was still about 6 feet up the tree.

Like most deer species that live in forest habitats, moose rely primarily on woody browse for food, preferring willow, dogwood, and the buds and sprouts of aspen and birch. They breed in the fall and cows give birth to one or two calves in May-June. Moose have excellent senses of hearing and smell, but generally poor eyesight. As with all big game hunting, an understanding of these three key senses defines hunting strategy.

Sighting in my .270 WSM for the hunt.

In both an evolutionary and symbolic sense, they are magnificent animals. 

Moose droppings in September.

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