January 12, 2018
It wasn't caused by the wind. Nor was it from a bird fluttering. The sound was produced by a moose sweeping through fir boughs. Soon another black spot appeared in its wake. A caramel paddle confirmed its sex. It was day one in Newfoundland, and we were already on a bull moose.
My guide, Gord Pelley, and I crept closer, tiptoeing through the foggy meadow. Chlurp, chlurp, chlurp. It was like sneaking across a sod-covered waterbed, every step sinking into the spongy ground.
Gord floated a moose call across the narrow bog, "Ouuahh." When the guttural sound shot back, Gord knelt down and whispered for me to sneak ahead. I could hear the moose descend the slope by sound alone. Then, the first tree shook in the dawn glow, its needles shedding droplets like a wet dog. Soon, another trembled, this one closer. I readied my Mossberg for a shot.
Then, nothing. As Gord kept calling, I probed the green jungle with my Pentax 8x32; time ticked by.
A dark spot silently emerged on the edge of the meadow. The bull. His slow, plodding gait carried him along the edge of the bog with ease. My finger tightened on the trigger as he passed broadside through a small shooting window. Snap.
By then, the rifle was on my lap and both hands on a camera. He was a beautiful bull, nice paddles and eight points, but he wasn't a first-day bull, so I only shot photos. Gord understood my logic. He, too, thought we'd find a larger bull. We had a week of hunting ahead of us.
A Family Affair
Moose hunting was more than just an adventure in my family; it was part of our fabric. My grandfather loved moose, and each year he would take four of us and plunge into the wilds of British Columbia for a week of family bonding.
On my first trip, my grandfather was 88 years old, and I was 13. We hunted together twice more in B.C., and on each occasion we reminisced about the past, pondered the future and glued precious memories into our mental scrapbooks. Everyone loved the trips.
No one enjoyed them more than Grandpa. He called each trip his last, but we all knew it wasn't. Moose hunting was his Mecca, and he lived for the annual pilgrimage. Far from wealthy, and each hunt costing a small fortune, Grandpa would scrimp and save year-round so that the last week of September found him playing cribbage on the shores of Pickett Lake, surrounded by his favorite people on earth. On our last hunt together, I asked why he was still hunting in his mid-90s.
He smiled proudly and said, "Because I can."
Yes, but it was also for the opportunity to treat others to the hunt of a lifetime. He loved the hunting camp, the camaraderie, being away from the worries of everyday life. Like an old bird dog, Grandpa lived for the hunt.
Those were great trips, but, like all good things, they finally came to an end. Macular degeneration eventually depleted his eyesight, so Grandpa hung up his red-and-black Woolrich and a part of him died. He killed his last moose, a beautiful old bull, the year before his eyes failed. He was 94 at the time, but as he knelt in the frozen meadow by the fallen bull, his weathered eyes twinkled like a young man's.
Once he stopped heading north, the rest of the family did, too, and we hung up our yearly hunt like Grandpa did his jacket. Two months after his 100th birthday, he died. It was his time. My family set a date to spread his ashes at his favorite blacktail hunting spot, high in the hills of Washington State. Rather than join them, I did a funny thing: I headed out on what I thought would be my last moose hunt. Grandpa would have approved.
The hunt was booked through Mt. Peyton Outfitters, out of Bishop's Falls, Newfoundland, an area far different than the country I'd hunted in B.C. I fell in love with it immediately. For an island off the east coast of Canada, just 400 miles from Maine, its remoteness is astonishing. The locals call it The Rock, but I'm not sure why. With ample bogs covering the island like amphibious meadows, a more descriptive nickname for Newfoundland might be The Sponge.
At first glance, these bogs look just like another meadow, the type where Laura Ingalls from "Little House On the Prairie" might gallop and twirl. Set foot upon one, however, and you quickly realize they are less inviting. Picture shallow lakes covered with a squishy, grassy surface.
As difficult as bog walking is, it doesn't hold a candle to touring Newfoundland's vast network of "roads" atop four-wheelers. These paths are the most rugged I've traveled. Comprising gravel the size of bowling balls and natural guardrails woven from tenacious, face-slapping alders, these roads are simply brutal.
Over the five days of my hunt, I bounced and shuddered, hurdled and lurched over 100 miles of trail, perched behind my guide on a gyrating quad. It felt like riding two-up on a mechanical bull. We also traipsed over miles upon miles of soggy bogs, occasionally plunging up to our crotches in the deep fissures that lurk like aquatic potholes. However, they were well worth the aching abs, burning legs and sore back, as the uniqueness of Newfoundland's scenic grandeur was worth every expended calorie.
One morning hunted, one bull passed. With five days to go, I was confident that a bigger bull would wind up on the wrong end of my Mossberg MVP .308. I should have known better. Murphy's Law gusted in in the form of a warm front, which filled the next four days with high winds and even higher temperatures. Animal activity, along with my confidence, quickly evaporated like spilled gasoline.
We pressed on - and on and on - walking bogs, calling into wind-protected timber and, of course, bouncing over miles of roads rough enough to strand a bulldozer. Entire days produced fewer and fewer moose sightings. Our guides were stunned.
But that's hunting. In the evenings, our crew would regroup and discuss the day's events at Mt. Peyton's incredible lodge, perched on the banks of an expansive lake. This camp time proved to be a highlight of the trip. We'd swap stories, play cribbage and eat glorious meals prepared by our lovely camp chef, Deb. There was never a dull moment. Nonstop laughter left our full bellies aching.
Despite all this camp fun, we never ignored the fact that our moose tags weren't going to notch themselves. Each morning we'd head out optimistically, praying that the weather would break or a bull would make a mistake.
I thought our luck had changed on day three when Gord and I glassed a cow and calf traversing a distant bog. Next, a small herd of woodland caribou was spotted, their frosted manes glistening in the morning light. Shots soon rang out in the distance. Bang, bang! My friend Richard Mann had just shot a bull, and our group was no longer skunked. What's more, the animals seemed to be moving.
However, this didn't hold true. Despite doubling our efforts, the weather front proved more stubborn than us, and no new opportunities occurred during our final two days of hunting. As Gord and I parked the ATV in camp on the last evening, sadness overcame me. I was not ready to leave moose camp or the splendor of Newfoundland.
Strange things happen in life. That night, after our final dinner together, Gord approached with a stern face and a furrowed brow.
"Your flight leaves tomorrow at noon. We have time for one last morning hunt if you'd like."
Gord's job was done, and the hunt was over. He had given me an opportunity, one I had foolishly passed. But if he wasn't ready to toss in the towel, neither was I, so I graciously accepted his offer for one more chariot ride through Newfoundland's countryside.
Over the past five days, we'd covered ground like a pack of hounds, ranging farther and farther from camp, trying every trick in the book to find another bull. Nothing seemed to work. Then, we rounded a corner and hit pay dirt not 3 miles from camp.
Gord killed the engine as I dismounted and racked the bolt on my rifle, stripping a round from its detachable AR-10-type magazine. My scope panned the gravel road and revealed two cows. I spotted a third animal alongside the road, broadside and behind a shrub alder. I went on autopilot, and two shots roared, my Winchester E-TIP bullets quickly anchoring the bull. It was a quick death.
I knelt by my first bull moose more than 15 years ago, with my father and grandfather by my side. On this October day, as my family spread the ashes of our patriarch 3,500 miles away, I sat next to my last bull moose in Newfoundland. All the bumpy roads and all the stress that life piles upon us simply melted away. Grandpa would have been proud.
Gord beamed as he counted each of the bull's points. "A For 'een pointer!" he shouted. As I stroked the bull's course brown hair and admired his paddles that stretched just short of 46 inches, I realized then and there that I would scrimp and save for as long as it takes to hunt moose again.
Why? Well, it's in my blood. And like my grandpa, Hub Faubion, once said: Because I can.
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