Sliding a round into the chamber of the silver worn model 70 for the second moose hunt in as many months, just as the sun was breaking, I was feeling pretty confident.
I knew the moose numbers had diminished from the haydays of this mountain, aptly named Theodore Fricker Mountain, for a man who had witnessed it first hand. Not only witnessed it, but lived it.
The hump over the hill is not tricky or dangerous, but it’s long, steep and very demanding. As leg busting as it is, the rewards are worth it. The views are as breathtaking as is the leg testing hike.
Throw a moose into the remote, long packing that would be required if we were successful was why we contacted Meat Cove Outfitters .
My brother in law drew a much coveted moose tag for the highlands of Cape Breton in the non motorized zone. He graciously asked myself and another brother in law to be a part of his hunt. I was thrilled to get the chance. I’ve applied some 30 years without being selected.
Hector, who owns Meat Cove Outfitters, told us to dismiss the old stories of seeing a dozen or more bulls a day to look over for just the right one. He said, be prepared to walk all day with few moose sightings. He did say however, with a commitment to hunting hard, and being prepared to stay for the entire week, we had a good shot at tagging out.
I appreciated the straight forward talk and we were willing to give 100%. Plus, we were staying in tents camps which were close to where we were going to hunt. We met the guides the first afternoon and got paired up.
The first 3 days of the hunt we covered countless kilometers. Actually they were counted. Two days were over 20 K while the middle one checked in around 11. We experienced snow rain and wind, with brief moments of clear skies.
My guide Sheldon ( I hunted with Hector one full day) was very fit and I had to dig deep to keep up. He kept offering to stop, but there was no way I was gonna quit on a once in a lifetime chance for this hunt. We circled giant barrens. Pushed thru brush laden with wet snow. The type of snow that just laughs at pricey gortex.
There were moments where I literally had to muster strength just to put one foot in front of the other. But we trudged on. The norm was to leave long before daylight and return long after the sun had set. I would eat, practically hug the woodstove for 30 minutes and crawl into my sleeping bag. Sleep came easy.
For the fourth day, a plan was devised if I was up to it. And to steal a phrase from a well known series/movie , we were to “ boldly go where no man had gone before”. Almost literally. They had never explored the area we were about to hunt. They had hunted it from each end, but had never hunted the ground in the middle between the two access points. Our plan was to hunt straight through. With the short days, it was made clear to me, rests would be few and far between. In short, we needed to hustle along and hope to spot a moose. The plan's recipe was simply to cover as much ground as possible with the hopes of crossing trails with a moose. The key ingredient was determination.
I was impressed with the willingness of Sheldon to tackle this trek. I can say without hesitation Meat Cove Outfitters give 100%. All day. Every day.
On day 3 my brother in law saw a big bull but the shot opportunity never presented itself. It wasnt the range, the bull was close, but the only part of the bull in the clear was it’s wide pale white paddles. It fed away unharmed.
At age 60, I’ll take whatever fitness compliments I can get. Two I walked away with from this brutal hunt were :
There’s no doubt in my mind, covering those kinda distances while hunting rough terrain are or soon will be nothing more than great memories. In fact, more than once, Sheldon said “are you sure you wanna keep going”?
My reply was always “ let’s go, one day soon I won’t be able to do this” . He later told me that he tested me on the first day. Mostly because I said I could go all day and anywhere he went I could go . He said I passed after the first 20 k day.
But I’ve digressed while patting my own back….
Back to thumbing those 7mag bullets into the model 70 from the opening paragraph. We started cutting more and more fresh sign in the falling snow. Easily the most sign I had seen on the hunt. My hopes bagan to soar.
I knew when we hit unfamiliar territory as Sheldon stopped more often to check his GPS. I know we were really into legit wilderness when I noted he had not one but 2 GPS’s , in case one failed or became lost or broke.
After 4 hours of steady walking, other than to check where we were on the GPS, we were in what Hector and Sheldon referred to as “Pole Thickets”. These pole thickets were great for still hunting, especially with fresh snow. Visibility was 75 yards or more in many places we crept through.
We followed a couple fresh tracks but they meandered in a direction other than where we needed to head. And we didn’t have the luxury of following them for a couple hours. So we reluctantly let them be.
Just before 11 am, Sheldon stopped to check our whereabouts on his GPS. As he was looking at the hand held unit, I glanced to my left and saw a huge cow staring at us from maybe 50 yards.
I assessed the shot situation before saying anything to Sheldon. I noted she was mostly facing us and there was signicent brush between us. I peeked through the scope and thought I had an opportunity, albeit not a perfect shot.
Although this transpired in seconds my thought process went something like this: You carry this magnum for a reason. You practiced with it at the range through the summer. It may take a second shot, but with the fresh snow, odds are very good you will recover the moose.
Right or wrong….I decided I would attempt it. I was nervous but felt pretty confident. I whispered to Sheldon that I saw a moose and was gonna shoot.
The cross hairs bobbled on her big chest. I picked slightly to the right to hopefully break some shoulder bones as well do some major damage to the vital organs.
I touched off a round. She took off and I was unable to hit her again despite Sheldon saying “ shoot her again….shoot”
The shot felt good I told Sheldon but the cow didn’t shudder or otherwise appear to have been hit. We waited a bit and went to where she had been standing. We found blood pretty quick. Not as much as I had hoped for but it was blood. We opted to wait a few minutes. I tried to eat a sandwich to kill some time but I wasn’t able to finish it.
After a bit and with hindsight , perhaps a bit too premature I took off on the blood. I hoped that it would get heavier, but it didn’t. Right about then I was butt kicking myself for taking that shot. But we had blood and plenty of daylight. Neither Sheldon or myself give up easily.
We hadn’t gone very far when I saw movement up ahead. It was the cow getting up. She was up and moving by the time I shouldered the rifle. I found her in the scope and squeezed the trigger. This shot drove her sideways but she kept going.
After a short break, we picked up the trail again. This time the trail was heavier and I was sure we would find a dead moose at the end of it. We were lucky to have the snow. It made tracking pretty easy. I felt she must have been hit fairly hard with the first shot as she had bedded so quick. Although there was not a ton of blood in the bed.
Rounding a spruce I saw her going again. I was dumbfounded.
This time, we decided to give her another hour or more before taking up the track again.
Sheldon was checking his gps when I noticed an odd brown spot 30 yards in front of me. I took a small step to the left and the cow was bedded. One shot to her neck ended it.
After the normal congrats and pictures, Sheldon went back to his gps and said with a big grin“ Hector’s gonna kill us” . It turns out we were just about in the worst spot we could have been. Quite literally , we were right in the middle from the access points from either end.
We had no cell coverage to let the others know we had used the tag. Luckily, the previous evening we said if we killed, we would fire a couple quick shots once we found the moose to let the others know to stop hunting. We were the only hunters on the mountain so it was a decent plan.
Although it was barely noon time, with a 4 hour hike back, there was no way we could get the moose out this day. We completed the field dressing and then we rolled the cow under a nearby spruce tree and as an added protection we covered her completely with spruce boughs. As an added protection from birds and coyotes we rolled/pushed/pulled the paunch and entrails about 50 yards from her.
We shouldered our packs and beat it to a spot where we could get cell coverage to let the others know. That turned into about a 2 Kilometer forced march until we got a bar on the phone. But we did manage to get a text out.
Early the next morning we returned with packs and saws. Five able bodied guides ( plus me) made the loads manageable. It was still a grind tho.
I enjoy a hard hunt, but I will advise anyone drawing a zone 5 tag to try and get into some kind of physical shape. It will make your hunt more enjoyable and quite likely more successful.
I should add, earlier weeks or weeks in the rut will likely produce more moose sightings and a bit easier hunting. By the time our week rolled around they had already taken 12 bulls I think from the general area.
My 30 year itch to hunt the highlands had been scratched.