January 29, 2018
[caption id="attachment_30339" align="aligncenter" width="1366"] (Russ Mehling photo)[/caption]
The cool autumn air wafted with a unique medley of the forest scents. The decaying aspen leaves were noticeably musty, but the pungent wild cranberries were like smelling salts to a young moose hunter. Ambling down the old logging road my senses were on high alert, turning every squirrel running on the forest floor, into a moose freight-training towards me. I carried an old 8mm Mauser, handed down for a first hunting rifle, and I continually dreamed of settling the open sights over the hulking frame of a mature bull.
Coming around a corner in the old logging trail, we edged up to a large wetland, and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when we spotted a bull moose along the far shore. He was chest deep in the water and had just lifted his head from under the surface, rising with a mouthful of tender vegetation. Water cascaded off his antler paddles and I scrambled to get my rifle on my shoulder and slide the safety off. Intruders had spoiled his breakfast party and the bull trotted to the shoreline, stopping briefly to look back. I don't remember the recoil of the rifle, or working the bolt of the gun in the brief seconds of excitement, but I do remember the big moose tipping over and crashing to the forest floor.
That Manitoba bull moose was the first big-game animal I ever harvested, and the thrill and excitement still generate an adrenaline rush just thinking about it. My dad had taken me out of school for the adventure, and even though I had dreamed of success for weeks, I never knew what a pivotal moment it would be in my life.
Northern Manitoba is a spider web of flowing water, interspersed with thousands of lakes and rivers making it some of the best moose habitat in North America. Many of the hard-to-reach places are only accessible through an outfitter, but the extra travel and effort are worth it. There are moose that die of old age in the secluded wilderness, as there is lots of country still waiting for adventure-seeking moose hunters.
I know several hunters who have pursued Canada moose in Manitoba, and it always left them dreaming of a return trip. A couple of good friends booked a hunt on a remote lake, without any other signs of civilization. They hunted from a boat and enjoyed the rustic setting of an old, weathered cabin. There was never a chance to get bored, as the hunt started well before sun up, and continued all day until their return to camp, well after dark. They hunted the rut and picked strategic locations to set up. It wasn't hard to find moose sign, but finding the best areas, where calling would bring the moose to them was the goal.
Solitary bulls are often hard to find, and calling is the best way for a hunter to bring the action close. From mid-September through early October, moose are vocal, allowing hunters to trick an old bull into thinking they're a lovesick cow. Calling moose is the most practical way to hunt miles of dense forest, where visibility is often less than 30 yards. The large, dish-shaped ears of a bull moose are situated right under his antler paddles, all designed to catch sound like radar on high alert. A bull can come from miles away when he hears a cow moose bawling for the opportunity to have a local suitor come courting. Outfitters book hunts during the peak of the rut, focusing on calling a moose in the remote country.
Calling a moose can often take days, as a bull locked down with a cow isn't going to leave her until she is bred. However, once the circle of life is complete for one cow, the bull will immediately head to where he has heard other potential ladies plead for his presence. You never know when he'll show up, but when he does, you better be ready.
A bull walking with stiff legs and posturing to show off his hulking body and massive antlers is formidable. He communicates as much with his antlers as he does his vocal cords, so watching for the flash of big paddles means staying alert. A bull will sway his antlers back and forth to flash his attractors in areas he expects to find a cow. Even the sounds bulls make working over the trees is a calling card for cows.
The stars lined up for my friends, with perfect weather, crisp cold mornings, and bull moose on the prowl for female company. In less than a week, my friends tagged two outstanding bulls, called right to the lakeshore. Having the bulls fall here was really lucky, as it minimized the difficult packing to get meat and antlers back to camp. Fresh moose tenderloins grilled on an open fire made the memories of the adventure even more outstanding.
Moose may be big and lanky, but they are often quieter than a mouse when they want to be. Calling and paying attention to your surroundings is always a challenge. Between migrating geese streaming overhead, to willow ptarmigan dancing through the tangle of willows, you can easily lose focus. If things get slow, a fishing rod is an instant cure for boredom. Most of the remote moose camps in northern Manitoba offer tremendous fishing for walleye, pike, lake trout or other freshwater species. A fishing rod can be a pleasant distraction, and a fantastic way to collect a fresh meal.
Moose exist throughout Manitoba, but it's the remote regions of the north and east that offer the best opportunities for visiting hunters. Here, outfitters offer fly-in services deep into the bush, where vast tracts of premium moose habitat exist. Canada moose thrive among the region's many lakes and rivers, which are surrounded by the diverse and productive habitats of old burns, ridges and swamplands. With all this country, and limited access, hunters will find plenty of territory to explore.
Manitoba is easy to access, driving through northern Minnesota, or flying into the Winnipeg International Airport. Driving is always a big consideration if you plan on taking moose meat home. By most standards, hunting pressure is low, and outfitters that know and understand their quarry have high success rates.
There is a wide diversity of outfitters in Manitoba that offer moose hunts. Travel Manitoba has developed an interactive website for hunters and anglers interested in visiting the province. It is easy to focus in on a species, like moose, and find the information to make planning an adventure easy.
Take a tour at huntfishmanitoba.com to find out more about hunting and how to start planning your trip.