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Moose Hunting on The Rock

Success. Sometimes it comes dizzyingly fast, arriving before you’ve expended the expected time, effort and sweat. Other times, it can be years in the making. We experienced both examples in early October on “The Rock,” another name for the rugged province of Newfoundland.

Iowan Steve Skold, Past President of SCI, and I scheduled a 2020 moose camp with Arluk Outfitters but, like most international hunts that year, COVID-19 intervened. The border between the United States and Canada closed, resulting in countless postponed hunts. Fortunately, access opened to fully vaccinated travelers in August 2021, and we rescheduled.

Brad Ledrew, Arluk’s operations manager, said the pandemic created huge logistical and financial challenges for many Newfoundland outfitters.

“You couldn’t plan, prepare or have answers for people who wanted to come to hunt. We knew vaccinations would be a major player,” Ledrew said. “In April 2021, I began contacting scheduled hunters, telling them, ‘If you’re not planning on getting vaccinated, then this might not be the year for you.’”

A juggling act ensued. Arluk filled holes left by unvaccinated hunters, then shifted those unvaccinated hunters to the 2022 or 2023 seasons.

“Many outfitters lost hunters at the last minute,” Ledrew said, “possibly because they had a wait-and-see approach.”

With 2020’s season canceled, Ledrew expected 2021 hunters to find nice bulls, given the extra year of maturity.

“If there was going to be a season in 2021, it would be a season we’d remember,” he said. “Those eight-pointers passed up in 2019 would be this year’s 16- to 20-pointers.”

Arluk, a longtime SCI supporter, transports hunters via helicopters to comfortable camps nestled along the edge of the Long Range Mountains just north of Gros Morne National Park. Anticipation ran high as Steve, his wife Sue, and I boarded our helicopter in Deer Lake. Besides the possibility of big bulls, incredibly good weather (by Newfoundland standards) was expected.

The trip was the Skold’s first Newfoundland expedition. For me, returning to Arluk’s lodge on St. Paul’s Pond offered possible redemption. My week there in 2019 saw me return home mooseless, as did a couple of earlier hunts in British Columbia. In 2019, I passed on a young bull the second day of the hunt, the only day with decent weather. The remainder of the hunt alternated between windy, rainy gales and dense fog.

This meant I slept the last night with the “ugly stick,” a hideous, hilarious troll-like creature on a broom stick reserved for the hunter who gets skunked.

Skold hunted with Sherman Caines, a third-generation guide, whose grandfather built St. Paul’s Pond’s original hunting lodge. I again teamed with Tony Caines. We were both itching for another go.

WELL, THAT WAS FAST!

Our first morning in camp, Skold and Sherman crossed the pond via boat, then hoofed it into the rising sun, following a trail to an elevated hunting blind above a river.

The blind is one of Sherm’s favorites. Missourian Jay Simpson, a 2019 hunter, shot a Day-two, big bull within 15 minutes of settling in. As it turns out, lightning can strike twice.

Skold said he climbed into the stand, looked over his shoulder and saw a dark spot.

“That kind of looks like a moose,” Skold said.

He was unpacking his binoculars for a better look when Sherm climbed in, pointed and whispered, “Right behind us.”

Skold ranged the animal at 180 yards. While it looked impressive, Skold wondered, “Is this something I want to shoot in the first five minutes of getting into the stand?”

Sherm advised, “He’s definitely above average. I think he’s got 16 points.”

Skold decided not to look a gift moose in the mouth. The first shot, a frontal at 58 yards, hit home. The moose turned and Skold quickly fired twice again, anchoring the big bull.

“It all happened so fast,” he said. “I really didn’t know what to think. We just enjoyed the scenery for a few minutes and then got to work.”

The moose was a big-paddled 18-pointer with a 44-inch spread, a fine Newfoundland trophy animal.  

PATIENCE PAYS     

Tony Caines and I began our hunt in a familiar spot — high ground south of the pond. It’s a place that takes effort to reach but pays off with views for miles, including a gorgeous valley feeding into Gros Morne. During opening week, Tony called an impressive bull to that very location.

A gentle weather system swirled, bringing light rain and drizzle. We took turns calling. The nasal, yearning tones of a cow moose echoed through surrounding yellow bogs and patches of dark timber.

Moose surely heard us but chose to ignore the summons. By 1 p.m., with nary a moose seen, we adjusted, heading back to camp to first admire Skold’s swift achievement and then figure out an afternoon plan.

Two guides working by the old lodge had spied a bull moose midafternoon but were unsure of its size. We investigated and climbed into a nearby elevated stand.

Tony’s persistent calling paid off. At 5:30 p.m., the bull appeared, popping out from skinny woods at the pond’s edge. A 10-pointer, with small paddles and scant width, he was the type of bull that might have you saying, “He’ll be a nice in a couple years.”

Nice, however, to me also meant full coolers in my truck for the long drive home. No repeat of 2019, please. The moose offered itself for 30 minutes, sometimes closing to 50 yards.

Tony looked at me, matter-of-factly saying, “It’s your decision, but this is a young bull. We’ve got at least three days of good weather coming. I think we can do better.”

I smiled, nodded and lowered my Benelli Lupo, a .300 Win. Mag. Tomorrow was another day.

As morning broke, we again headed to high country. Expansive views from “Tony’s Stand” stretched across St. Paul’s Pond to our lodge, 12 kilometers distant as the crow flies. Reaching the stand required a jostling, 90-minute ride in an Argo, including two river crossings, followed by a mile of hiking.

The slog up spruce-laden, rocky hillsides and zigzagging across watery, yellow bogs, generated a robust sweat. On rainy days, you might never dry out. On sunny windy days, though, sweat-drenched clothes can be aired. I stripped to my waist below the blind, turning my lightweight jacket inside out and hanging my base layer shirt and sweater on spruce snags. Resulting aromas downwind from the makeshift clotheslines likely wouldn’t do us any favors with moose approaching from that direction, but it was the only way to dry out and get warm.    

At 2 p.m., Caines spotted a black speck in a yellow bog about two miles away. A young bull was responding to the calls and disappeared into a stretch of timber before reaching a narrow river crossing almost a mile below us.

Caines then spied another, bigger moose crossing the distant bog, following the smaller bull’s track. It eventually reached our side of the river before entering the large block of spruce directly below us. I was certain the game was on and chambered a cartridge.

Despite calling, no moose appeared after vanishing into the woods. Caines slipped out of the blind and carefully moved closer to the woods to call. Reporting back, he said he heard a cow moose calling in the timber.

Trying to call a bull from a receptive cow is about as fruitful as trying to coax a gobbler turkey away from a harem of hens. At 4:30, Caines shrugged, saying we needed to begin the long trek back to main camp.   

“We ran out of time. There’s a lot of cover up here,” he said. “The bulls are down in the timber and until they’re finished with the cows. It can be hard hunting.”

SOMETHING TO WORK WITH

Arluk’s remote, overnight camp was near the high-ground stand, tucked into woods close to where the moose crossed the river. We decided to return at daybreak, bringing provisions for the evening.

“Seeing those moose gives us something to work with,” Caines said.

Caines was keen on again hiking to the high-ground platform stand, noting, “You get more of an advantage up high when you’re looking for a trophy moose.”

For two reasons, I preferred heading straight to camp. First, I thought the sooner we quieted the Argo and let the area settle down, the better. A couple hours of quiet might result in a productive afternoon or, at least, opportunity the next morning. Second, I wasn’t keen on another sweat fest; it was even windier than the day before and that stand was totally exposed.

“Okay,” Caines smiled, clearly wrestling with his innate desire to get as high as possible.

A small rocky knob a few hundred yards from camp was Caines’ favorite hunting spot in this moose funnel. It offered excellent views of the river, surrounding bogs and patches of timber. Hunters bagged many moose from this location over the years. 

I settled in, monitoring the valley, occasionally calling. Caines ventured higher to the same yellow bog the moose crossed before disappearing into timber the day prior. He’d call for a few minutes, then retreat, calling while moving.

As the afternoon sun’s intensity dimmed, Caines returned from a calling sortie, sitting to my left. Minutes later, I heard behind me the distinct “mrruph” of a grunting bull moose. I turned and retrieved the Benelli that was resting in a small spruce.

Caines’ strategy worked! The moose stood motionless, facing us about 200 yards away. I chambered a cartridge while sizing up the animal. The bull looked good. He also acted wary, as though he spotted my movement or smelled us. I worried that a course reversal into the timber was imminent.

The shot presented was a nearly head-on frontal, a look that’s become familiar to me having taken kudu, Cape buffalo and deer that way. With a solid rest, I centered The Steiner Predator 4 scope’s crosshairs near the base of the bull’s neck, slightly skewed to the left shoulder. As the Benelli fired, the sight picture filled with a flash of brown followed by a geyser of water erupting skyward. Clearly, the Hornady ELD-X 200-grain round had rammed home.

Watching the scenario through his binoculars, Caines thought so, too.

The whole sequence took about eight seconds.

The big bull had, seemingly, flipped at the bullet’s impact, its head facing 180 degrees from where it faced at the shot. Two-thirds of its body was submerged in a deep bog hole. Thank goodness for the winch-equipped Argo. Pulling the approximately 1,000-pound animal out would have been difficult or impossible, even for two men.

A tough animal, it had been recently blinded in its left eye. The 17-pointer measured 50 1/4 inches wide. My hunt was over. Elation and relief washed over me. The moose gods had smiled.

That ugly stick would stay in the closet.      

CARIBOU POSTSCRIPT

The Skolds booked a follow-on woodland caribou hunt with Efford’s Outfitters. Steve’s gear and his Benelli Lupo, a rifle well-designed for Newfoundland’s extreme hunting environment, didn’t arrive in camp in time for his moose hunt, due to airline difficulties. But he had it for the caribou hunt.

He passed on several decent stags the first day, perhaps not wanting to end things as quickly as the moose hunt. Animals were scarcer on Day two, he reported. Finally locating a promising stag though his spotting scope, he began stalking across the spongy ground.

While contemplating the shot, another stag appeared a half-mile away, one Skold decided was worth checking out. As they stealthily moved out, the does with the first stag followed them, amazingly trolling the big boy with them.

Closer inspection of the second stag revealed the first animal was the better choice. Conveniently, stag No. 1 was in the neighborhood. Skold rested the Lupo on a monopod shooting stick and dropped the caribou with a single shot.

The next day, Sue Skold collected her stag after a day of extensive hiking the soggy ground.

“She hiked three or four miles, but didn’t find anything worth chasing,” Steve said. “Then we spotted does and stags across the lake. It would be another two-mile walk to get to them. She toughed it out, eventually taking a nice stag with one shot from her 7mm-08 at 200-plus yards.”–Ken Perrotte

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