Moose on the Loose

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Joined: 06/03/2010

Moose on the Loose
             I lived in California for a few years in the early 80’s and my next door neighbor was a roofing contractor whose hobby was going to gun shops and hunting. He did these things at any time the thought struck him and since I also liked those same things, we hit it off right away and went on many a shopping trip together and a few hunts as well.
            He would often come and drag me off to a gun store to look at a new find and check it out with him to see if it was worthwhile buying it. We sometimes broadened our scope to include knives and other useful outdoor accessories that would make our life easier or at least make it seem easier, but mostly we looked at guns.
            Whenever one of us purchased a new rifle or shotgun we would head to the Angeles Shooting Range and try it out. Sometimes the purchase was not up to expectations and it was back to the shop for more shopping. No matter what we ended up with we eventually had to go hunting to get real field experience with that particular rifle or shotgun. We once each bought a used shotgun and went pheasant hunting just to try them out. It was a great time and I still remember the great wing-shooting we had that day. Another time I got a Remington 700 in 30-06 caliber and we ended up going deer and pig hunting at Fort Hunter-Liggett.
            Inevitably we couldn’t resist the idea of going elk hunting and started researching the right guns and places to go. I had it in my head that the Bitterroot-Selway region of Idaho was the only real place to hunt elk, mainly because of Elmer Keith. We decided to go for a semi-guided drop camp hunt with an outfitter in that area and made all the proper license and tag requirements and booking so we would be in a fall hunt, hopefully a successful one.    
We also pursued some rifles appropriate for elk hunting; his was a .338 Sako custom built and mine ended up as a Springfield sporter in .35 Brown-Whelen wildcat. We spent many a day at the range testing various loads and after much shooting we decided we were done. Now all the was left was to go on the hunt.
           We spent the rest of the time from March until the fall hunt preparing ourselves for the rigors of mountain hunting by daily climbs in the foothills surrounding Simi Valley where we lived. I even quit smoking for that time! We hiked and ran and worked our bodies into a semblance of fitness, although I don’t think we knew what really awaited us.
            Finally, we were off to Elk City, Idaho, our gateway to the Bitterroots. It was (and still is) a truly breathtaking region, especially for a flatlander from Upper Michigan whose only experience with mountains, discounting those puny foothills in southern California, was a trip to Boulder a few years prior. I thought we were in pretty good shape after our training but as we gained altitude and started seeing the steep ridges and deep valleys I began to wonder if we had trained enough. I was approaching forty and my neighbor was nearing fifty so we weren’t exactly in peak physical condition.
            When we finally arrived at the base camp we met the kid who would be taking us into our drop camp. He was in his early twenties and I was immediately impressed by the Ruger  Blackhawk (41 Magnum I believe) strapped on his hip. He indicated his gun had been a gift and felt it was appropriate for grizzly bear protection but warned us the big bears were protected and shooting one would only be allowed in a life or death situation. I wasn’t sure how we would determine what that situation was if we were presented with a bear but I hoped for the best.
            I had a few second thoughts about grizzly bears when we made it to our drop camp the next morning and found that a bear had broken down the stores tent! It seems the last person at the drop camp had overlooked a gallon can of peanut butter lying out on a table and the bear wanted it. We slept with our rifles alongside our sleeping bags that night!
            The next few days we worked our rears off hiking up and down the ridges and tree lined valleys of what I considered some very rugged mountains. The steep up and down slopes took hours to navigate and wore a greenhorn right out. We often separated and wandered alone for our daily treks and it was on one of these daily hikes that I had a very exciting encounter.
            I had dropped off a high ridge and worked my way down into a very,very narrow valley with a small stream running along the bottom of the slot with heavy tree cover on both sides. As I stood on the edge of the stream I heard a thunderous crashing and grunting and immediately thought “Grizzly!”  I scrambled to make it up into the trees frantically looking for somewhere to hide or at least get out of the way as the crashing rose to a fury. I knew I could only shoot if my life was threatened so I had to get out of the way.
             With such steep sides and dense tree and brush cover I barely made it into the shelter of a small cluster of trees when a giant, dark animal barged out of the cover into the middle of the stream. The huge animal waded into the stream and started toward me with a very menacing attitude. I held my breath as I looked into the face of a huge bull moose that looked at me with what seemed like glowing, angry eyes and a nose that spouted steam as his hot breath hit the cool valley air. He was only a few feet away as he thrashed around in the brush showing me his huge rack and how well he could use it, smashing the surrounding brush, while I waited for the inevitable to happen.  
            After what seemed like eternity, but was actually only a few minutes, the bull finally crashed off into the woods again, leaving me shaken and amazed. This was the first “real, in the wild”, moose I had ever seen and it was worth all the adrenaline it had induced! I sat kind of dumbfounded for some time before I was able to gather my wits and continue on my way. Later, back at camp I related the story to my partner and the moose had grown to well over ten feet tall by that time.
            When our young wrangler picked us up a few days later he said the moose were relatively few in number but at that time of year they were very easily excited and could even be dangerous to an unsuspecting hunter who didn’t get out of the way. That was probably an understatement! They were also protected and I was told if I would have inadvertently shot it there would have been a severe fine, no matter what the circumstances.
            I didn’t get an elk that hunt, my partner did, but the moose experience made for an unforgettable time anyway. I probably should have booked a moose hunt sometime in my life and relived my earlier adventure but that never happened.

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Joined: 05/25/2010

Them there moosies are in the "Dangerous Game" category, least in my book. Tasty critters, haven't gotten one myself but been the recipient of a chunk or two.  Great story!

Joined: 06/03/2010

Until you've come up close and personal to look one in the eye, it is hard to believe how awesome they really are! I gained some respect for them after that little experience. Chris