ALGOMA COUNTRY MOOSE HUNT
The first week of October brings drastic changes to Ontario’s Algoma Country’s landscape. The maples and oaks have turned from their summer shade of green to a brilliant collage of yellows, golds and reds in preparation for the not so distant winter.
With the onset of cooler days and frosty nights, not only the flora but the fauna feel the change of seasons too. Black bears have moved away from their lazy summer feeding patterns to vigorously put on extra weight before hibernation.
The monarchs of the Northern Ontario woods, the moose, are now sensing a change in their world as well. Cows are coming into heat, and the bulls are traveling long distances looking for receptive mates. The moose rut is also on, and we have a bull tag in our pocket!
Our hunt will be with the great folks at Air-Dale Outpost Camps Inc. located in Wawa, Ontario. Jenn and Marin Wern operate many camps in and around Chapeleu’s Crown Game Preserve and throughout the beautiful Algoma district. Their outpost camps are accessible only by float planes and are located along rivers and lakes teeming with a wide variety of fish and game.
Accompanying me on this adventure will be two gentlemen from Wisconsin, Paul Hestekind and his uncle, Dick Matti. Paul is an avid hunter and competition archer who oversees the Pro-Staff for HHA Sports. This will be their first moose hunt and the first time either of them have flown into a hunting location.
Rounding out the group is Chef Lindsay Geisel; she will be preparing and serving the gourmet meals for us hungry hunters. This is not only her first experience on a float plane, but it's also her first hunt of any kind. We know she will be in for a treat!
We arrived at Air-Dale’s airbase around 3:00, weighed our gear, and loaded the plane for the forty-five minute flight to our destination, Tony’s Lake. After the breathtaking flight over miles and miles of rugged land with numerous lakes and rivers, our home for the week was finally in sight.
The pilot made a big loop around the lake pointing out the marshes and the creeks that flow into and out of the lake and where he thought we might have a good chance at seeing a moose or two. As the Otter taxied up to the dock, I could tell by the look on my companions’ faces that this trip was going to be something special!
After getting settled, Paul took a few shots with his Horton Storm RDX to make sure it was sighted in and good to go. We had some time before dark so we took a tour around the lake looking for spots to concentrate our hunting efforts during the week. We found good sign and picked a bay across from the camp to be our starting point in the morning. As darkness was descending upon us, we headed back to camp for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep with the hopes of a productive day to come.
In the quiet calm of the warm camp, we were rudely awakened by the awful sound of heavy metal music blaring out of Paul’s cell phone. It seemed like we had just gone to sleep. It was time to get this moose hunt started! We stoked the fire and put the coffee on while Chef Lindsay made us breakfast. After the great meal, we got our gear in the boat and slowly made our way across the lake and waited for the sun to rise.
After legal shooting time arrived, I started with a few subtle cow moans and walked around in the shallow water to mimic the sound of a cow moving along the water’s edge. It was nothing too aggressive in the early light. Just a few sounds to let any bull in ear shot know that a cow was here for the taking.
About an hour had passed, so I made two more sequences of subtle cow calls to no avail. I decided to turn up the volume! Breeding moans and heavy bull grunts were followed by the raking of willow brush to get the sound out across the lake and into the bush! Still, there was no answer or sighting of an interested bull so we decide to move on to our next spot.
We got out around a point into the main lake and saw a bull standing on the far shoreline. He must have heard my calling, and he was coming to investigate. With the wind now blowing right into where he stood, I devised a plan to position ourselves just down from him. I would try a few calls to see if he would head our way. Bull grunts and raking were in order to hopefully drag the old bull down to us, but a large rock out cropping between us prevented him from coming within bow range. He walked up the lake and slipped into the timber and out of our lives. The wind was totally wrong to try for him again so we left him for a later hunt.
Back to the camp we went for a bite to eat and to tell Lindsay about the big bull that got away. We were elated to see the massive bull but disappointed that we couldn’t get an arrow into him. We discussed our plan of attack for the afternoon and decided to give the south a try.
Our setup was in a weed-choked bay that had a heavy moose trail along its shore and the wind in our faces. I went through my repertoire of moose calls and raking to no avail. Darkness fell and that brought an end to our first day in moose camp.
After another heavy metal alarm and a quick breakfast the next day, we were on our way to the north end of the lake. The first set up was to be on a point of land that juts out into the lake, creating a place the moose and bears like to cross. We hunted that spot for a few hours but once again had no takers.
Our next setup was on the edge of a creek mouth that flowed through a swamp before entering the lake. As luck would have it, the lee-side of the creek had a perfect finger that protects the mouth from the main lake. After a bit of brushing we managed to get Dick and Paul into a position to cover the swamp and the lakeside without any trouble. All I had to do now was to call a moose out to the point and into crossbow range. No problem right…
Not much happened until an hour before dark. Immediately after a calling sequence, we had an answer! A bull grunted back, and we could hear him thrashing the bush up on the ridge behind the swamp. I called to him again and thrashed a sapling in hopes he would pinpoint our position and come to challenge me.
He grunted back and was now on his way! You could hear him grunting with every step making his way down the ridge and into the creek bottom. He crossed the creek then veered off behind us trying to catch our wind. He made his way out to the lake edge and came in from the downwind side.
At 50 yards he stopped and stood motionless, surveying the situation; that’s when he caught movement from the point and went on full alert! He didn’t smell any danger,but he knew something wasn’t right so he trotted back into the timber, not to be seen again. Strike two.
Two days of hunting and two encounters with different bulls! We now knew where we had to set up for the remainder of the hunt and where the action should come from. We were hopeful the stars would align the following day, and Paul would get a shot at his Ontario Moose!
Unfortunately the next day was a bust with a front coming through with rain and windy conditions, so we did a bit of fishing. We caught and released many pike and walleye throughout the afternoon and kept one of the bigger pike for a meal later in the week.
On the fourth day of the hunt, we awoke to a drastic change in temperature. There was a heavy frost, and we were hopeful this would get the moose moving! Once again up the lake in the dark, we went to the point where we'd had the encounter with the bull two days before.
As the sun rose, the swamp looked like a Christmas card with all of the trees and marsh painted white with frost. It was a beautiful morning in God’s country! As I had done on so many previous hunts, I started my calling sequence with some soft cow calls, working my way up to louder moans and long calls.
About forty-five minutes into our hunt, I happened to catch movement down the lake, a flash of an antler and a black shape emerging from the bush. It was a young bull, and he was moving! I whispered to the guys “Get ready, boys, here he comes!” They got situated for the shot and watched the bull make his way up the shoreline.
Since this was a young bull, I changed my calling tactics from an aggressive bull looking to challenge and intimidate to a cow moose contently feeding and occasionally calling to the youngster to tap into his curiosity. I dropped my paddles and cow called and hunched over in the waist high willows to look like the back of a feeding moose.
He hung up at seventy-five yards looking in my direction, and I thought “Oh no! Not again!” This is what the other bull had done in almost the same spot two days before. I let out a plaintive moan and a whine to snap him out of this predicament and to get him moving again. He started my way so I walked around the point to draw him past Paul and Dick.
I dared not look at him. All I could do I was keep calm and wait for the sound of the shot. With every closer step, I thought he'd hear my heart beating! Eventually he closed the distance and the Horton Roared! Thwack! The arrow hit its mark perfectly, aided by the HHA Sports speed dial! The bull felt the sting and trotted back the way he had come. I called to him and he stopped. I was hoping that would prevent him from getting too far back into the timber before he expired, and it worked. He made his way to the edge of the bush and tipped over!
Wow! What just happened? Yes, Paul just shot his first moose, and we got it on film! After some high fives and handshakes, we decided to give the moose some time so we headed back to camp to regroup and let Lindsay know that we got one!
With all of the gear and an extra boat in tow, we made our way up the lake to the moose. Paul, Lindsay and Dick had never seen a moose up close, and they were surprised by how big he was, even for a young bull! After some pictures and video, we started on the work of quartering and loading him into the boat.
We spent the next few hours cleaning the meat for the flight out. Meanwhile Lindsay was preparing a meal fit for a king! Moose tenderloin and Northern Pike fillets! It doesn’t get any better!
Thank you Martin and Jenn from Air-Dale (www.outpostcamps.tumblr.com/) for your great hospitality. Also thanks go to Paul, Lindsay and Dick for a memorable week. If you’re looking for an Ontario hunting or fishing destination, please visit www.gohuntinontario.com and www.algomacountry.com