Black Top Mountain Bulls
“ You won’t have any cell coverage up on Black Top but don’t let that stop you from doing lots of long distance calling “ Terry Smith told me over the phone when I told him I had drawn a NB non-resident moose tag.
The anticipation was fever pitch . I’m over the moon with any chance to hunt moose, however this hunt was going to be epic for a few reasons.
Firstly, although as a non-resident I was compelled to use an outfitter and guide. Luckily for me, I am friends with both the outfitter and guide I would use. It’s a bit of a tangled web, but I work for the outfitter ( North Shore Guide Service) each spring at their black bear camp in New Brunswick. I have also hunted with the owners. More importantly we are friends.
Randal,who acts as the head guide at NSGS and myself became steadfast buds over the last 3 or 4 years while working together guiding bear hunters. Many a spring evening, while waiting for hunters who were on a bear stand, we would kick back on the side x side and talk hunting. We would discuss hunting out of Randal’s camp if I was ever lucky enough to draw a coveted moose non -resident tag. Little did I know 2020 would provide that opportunity.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune albeit through unfortunate circumstances. With travel restrictions due to Covid 19, many of New Brunswick’s non - resident moose tags were going unclaimed. As a result, there was a subsequent draw for those who had applied for the annual lottery but open only for those who resided within the Atlantic Bubble .
That dramatically cut down the odds, as it left only Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland. As a result, my name was drawn in the second draw. Hasty plans were put in place to have me in camp. Both Randal and Terry were committed with other hunters but felt certain Randal’s scouting had delivered more than enough places for me to hunt with good odds at a nice bull.
I drove up on Sunday previous to the opener which was on the coming Tuesday. We scouted, checked cams and kept our eye on the weather forecasts. Things were looking great on all accounts. Tuesday couldn’t come quick enough.
As is sometimes the case, despite best laid plans, Tuesday, despite a full day in the mountains I didn’t see a moose. I wasn’t disappointed as rubs and scrapes had appeared where there were none the day before.
The other hunters in camp had all seen moose opening day. A couple nice bulls were even passed in the hopes a bigger one would come to the calls.
Gerald who was helping me get a feel for lay of the land, spotted a big one smashing trees as he was covering some new territory for us keeping an eye out for rutting activity.
Wednesday broke grey, wet, and cold. That damp kind of cold that goes right through you and settles in your bones. After a short calling session where Gerald had seen the rutty bull the day before, I made my way to a popup blind we had set up a couple days earlier.
One reason was to get a bit of shelter from the weather, and the second reason was just 200 yards away from the blind, the trail cam showed an abundance of bull activity. I had a packed lunch and opted to settle in for the day. I was prepared to stay till dark, or I shot a bull.
Around about 1030 am ( just as some of the enthusiastic keen eyed optimism begins to wane) I hit the electronic call and let it run for about 15 minutes. On Randal’s and Terry’s advice I played it at a volume I would have thought was too loud. The cow calls echoed back to me and bounced off the mountains all around me.
The call was just barely off and I heard the unmistakable snap of a horn hitting branches coming through the thick black timber. No sooner had I shifted ever so slightly to focus on the distants tell tale snaps when I heard the first deep grunt. Even from 200 yards there was no doubt what it was.
Instead of coming up the cutover, it was coming up just inside the treeline. It was literally grunting with each step. Although out of sight, the bull was easy to track. A rough calculation of where I would first see it told me my slightly opened window would not offer a shot. Rather than risk messing with noisy velcro I just slipped out the back door of the popup.
The “urrhh-waa - urrhh-waa’s” drew near. I kneeled and impatiently waited reminding myself to enjoy every second of this encounter. No matter how it would ultimately unfold.
Then I saw the bull. Sides heaving. Nostrils flaring. Intent of finding the cow he had heard minutes earlier. The grunts were now like a bass drum in my ears. The thumping in my chest and temples was all my own doing.
From the trail cam pics I knew there were at least two big bulls frequenting this back corner of the very large cutover. I dearly wanted one of them. One glance at the bull and I knew it was one of the two, albeit the smaller of the two.
I’ve mostly bowhunted only for the last 25 or 30 years and many of those years with traditional archery gear. Almost like a ton of bricks smacking me in the head, I realized I could kill that bull from 50 yards, I didn’t require him to come any closer. I settled the crosshairs right between those 50 inch antlers and gave it some serious consideration. For whatever reason I elected not to pull. Likely because I’m not that good, but I've never been a headshot fan.
I dropped the crosshairs down to the center of that massive chest. If it’s not clear, the bull was straight on to me. Again. I couldn’t bring myself to squeeze the trigger of the ol 7 mag.
Seconds ticked by. I thought to myself, “that bull has no clue” he’s fooled hook line and sinker. Nevertheless , I held the scope on him, my thumb resting on the safety. If he turned to leave or appeared to get suspicious, I’d take the shot.
Perhaps 2 minutes ticked by. The ball was in the bull’s court. He made the next move and it was in my favor. He started walking out towards the cutover.
Slightly before the relative open of the cutover, he turned hard left and was walking towards me. Still grunting. Still unaware.
I had to let him almost walk by me from under 30 yards to get the broadside shot I wanted. As if he was following a TV hunting show script he was headed directly for an opening offering up a perfect shot. I simply followed him in the scope.
Some days are diamonds, to top it off, he stopped perfectly in the opening, still unaware.
The safety flipped off almost instinctively. My finger found the trigger and sent off one 162 grain air mail special.
The bull folded on the spot. I cranked another round into the chamber and covered him, but he was not getting back up. I waited 2 or 3 minutes and stood up slowly.
The view before me was as spectacular as I had hoped. A near 50 inch bull moose down for the count. There was no ground shrinkage on this fella.
Seconds later, I heard another unseen moose running away back into the safety of the timber...was it the bigger of the two bulls?
I unloaded the gun and let the moment sink in.
In this backcountry there’s no cell coverage so I would have to wait to share my good fortune with friends and family.
And you know what? I was just fine with that.
The big bulls of Black Top Mountain didn’t disappoint. This was only my 5th moose, but by far the largest bodied I had ever taken. Maybe the biggest I’ve ever personally seen. For sure there’s bigger, I just haven’t seen them up close.
With luck, maybe I’ll get to hunt Black Top again someday.