Up close and personal with a massive Shiras moose on the banks of the Snake River. James Reed, director of BookYourHunt – North America, shares his fascinating story.
It’s getting too dark for the camera. Let’s get out of here and come back tomorrow.”
I had been calling to the bull moose for what seemed like forever, trying to coax him across a beaver dam and into the open so we could get a look at him. But now our hopes were fading as fast as the light. We were filming this hunt for the World of Sports Afield TV show, and even though there was still plenty of shooting light left, we were subject to the limitations of the video camera, which had to dictate the hunt.
We were getting ready to pack it in when the bull suddenly stepped into the open. Well, now what?
My friend and neighbor Mike Reider had drawn a Shiras moose tag in Idaho three years prior. He took a nice moose with his bow and I helped him pack it out. At his urging, I put in for the lottery drawing for the same unit. Mike and I both live along a stretch of the Snake River in Idaho that is fabulous moose habitat, and fortunately the wolves haven’t decimated the moose in this area, yet.
A couple of months later I received a text from Mike telling me the draw results were out and had been posted online. I wasn’t too excited because in sixteen years of putting in for tags in several states for numerous species, I had never drawn a single tag. I logged on to check the results, and to my astonishment was met with “Congratulations!” I called Mike and told him the drawing results were apparently posted in some foreign language I’d never seen before: I had drawn a once-in-a-lifetime Shiras moose permit.
This would be a do-it-yourself hunt on public land, and much of the area is accessible only by boat. Because the unit was so close to home, I took my ten-year-old son, Logan, along on my frequent summer scouting trips to different islands in the river. We found abundant moose sign and soon narrowed our search down to a few very productive-looking islands and crossings. Although the sign told us the moose were there, we didn’t lay eyes on even one moose during our scouting trips.
We hung some trail cameras and soon were reassured by pictures of numerous moose using the crossings, including some very impressive bulls. One beaver dam crossing in particular had a number of moose using it, including a couple of decent bulls, one very long-tined bull, and one monster of a bull. The first photo we saw of the big bull was taken in the dark and we couldn’t really make out the features of the velvet-covered rack, but Mike exclaimed, “He looks like the Hulk!” So he was dubbed. Later daylight pictures revealed the Hulk had massive fronts, long points, and very respectable palms. We knew we were looking at a record-class bull.
With high anticipation, I waited for the opening of the season. I decided to focus my efforts on the beaver dam crossing, hoping for a chance at Long Tines or, preferably, the Hulk.
Because my hunt unit encompasses a great deal of agricultural land and many residential areas along the Snake River, it is designated a short-range-weapons-only unit. This limited me to using a bow, muzzleloader, pistol, or shotgun with slugs. Having grown up in Iowa, which is a short-range-weapons only deer-hunting state, I was quite familiar with the capabilities of the shotgun slug, and soon was shooting sub-inch groups with the combination at 100 yards. I was ready; all I needed was for the bulls to stay in their pattern.
The season opened and I began to spend mornings and evenings sitting at the crossing with Mike, who had volunteered to be my cameraman. For the first several days, this strategy yielded nothing but sightings of a few deer and one very large beaver that would emerge to survey his territory each evening.
Finally, one beautiful morning, we caught some movement to our left. “Moose!” Mike whispered excitedly.
It was a small bull, but it looked like one of the bulls that had been accompanying the bigger bulls we were looking for. He disappeared for a time behind some brush and we strained our eyes, hoping for a glimpse of one of his larger companions. Soon the small bull reappeared and made his way right up to our position. He came up to about thirty yards and began browsing right in front of us. He was a beautiful sight in the morning light, surrounded by the fall colors. Suddenly he turned and stared back at the crossing. We heard brush breaking and the sounds of heavy hoofs on rocks. We were on high alert and filled with anticipation.
I had the shotgun ready and Mike had the camera trained on the crossing when a black nose appeared through the brush, and out stepped . . . an Angus cow. Such are the perils of hunting on public land in the middle of an agricultural area. The small moose blessed us with his presence for a few more minutes and then ambled back into the brush. There was no sign of any of his larger brethren.
That evening we again sat overlooking the crossing. We could hear a bull moose grunting not far away but never laid eyes on him. Nonetheless, we were encouraged.
Mike had to leave for Wyoming for an elk hunt, so we made a plan to continue the moose hunt in a couple of weeks when he returned. Only two days had gone by when I received a text: “You ready to go moose hunting tomorrow?”
Mike had shot a nice bull elk in Wyoming, packed it out nine miles, was home, and had a couple of days before he had to head back to Wyoming to help his buddies. We made a quick plan for an evening hunt the following day.
I picked up Logan from school that afternoon, and he hurriedly finished his homework on the drive home so he could go with us. We met up with Mike and the three of us headed for the river and launched the boat.
Remembering the bull we’d heard grunting two days ago, I brought along a birchbark moose call that the camp cook had made for me on a successful moose hunt in Alberta a couple of years before. It was early, so we still-hunted on a couple of other islands we wanted to scout, hung another trail camera, and then, as evening approached, headed for the beaver dam crossing.
Mike cut the motor and paddled the boat into an inlet to keep the noise down. After unloading we made our way to the trail camera to see what activity there had been in the two days since our last sit. Incredibly, both of the big bulls had crossed the river within the past forty-eight hours.
Excited that the bulls were still in the area, we headed for our spot on a point overlooking the crossing. I let out a few bull grunts and started raking the brush with my call. I repeated the sequence several times, but the only thing that made an appearance was a huge skunk. The sun was just settling on the far horizon as I tried calling once again.
Waugh, came a response. I called again, and again heard a waugh from the brush on the far side of the crossing. The moose wasn’t far off, but was hidden behind a screen of brush and trees.
I started raking the brush and he instantly reciprocated. I could hear his antlers raking against brush and branches. His call was deep and guttural, but we could see nothing of him. We were losing light fast as I traded challenges with the moose, both of us calling and raking the brush. My adrenaline was flowing and Logan was getting so excited he was shaking.
We seemed to be at a stalemate. Finally, I told my companions that we had best quit messing with him and get out of there so we wouldn’t spoil it for a later opportunity.
The words had hardly left my mouth when, like a ghost, the moose appeared on the far side of the crossing. He was obviously big, but we couldn’t tell which bull it was from the side view he presented. I held the bright red triangle reticle of the Trijicon on his shoulder as he made his way across the beaver dam. Then the words “It’s too dark” came from my left.
I lowered the shotgun as the moose disappeared into the brush on our side of the crossing. I could hear the disappointed sigh from Logan as he expressed the emotion we were all feeling. Mike zoomed the camera back out and said he thought there would be enough light if the moose came into the clearing close to us. I began calling and raking again, and the response was immediate. I could see the moose coming through the brush, grunting all the way: Waugh. Waugh.
I responded and raked the brush with vigor. This was it. Now he was coming to kick some butt. I readied for the shot, thinking I might have to shoot in self-defense when he found that the source of his irritation was not another bull moose but only three scrawny humans.
“I’ll let you know,” Mike said, keeping the camera on the incoming moose. The bull cleared the brush and stopped thirty yards away. The massive fronts gave away his identity. It was the Hulk!
“Too dark?” I whispered. “Not too bad.” The bull came another ten or fifteen yards straight toward us and stopped, fixated on us, huge in the camera’s viewfinder. Shredded velvet hung from his antlers, adding to his intimidating appearance.
Mike said, “I’ve got him.” The 12-gauge broke the silence and the bull whirled. I bolted in another round and hit him again, in the shoulder. He took two steps and tipped over into the brush.
“Good job, Dad! That was awesome!” exclaimed Logan. I asked, “What did you think as he was coming in?” “I was ready to run!” he replied.
We all laughed and headed to look at the massive bull lying just a few yards away. As we came around the brush, we were amazed. Before us lay a behemoth of a Shiras moose! Everything about him was even bigger than we’d thought. Antler width, points, and body size all exceeded our wildest expectations.
After handshakes, hugs, and photos, we began the tremendous task of field-dressing the moose and removing the quarters. The river was strewn with downed trees, and we knew that navigating it in the foggy darkness in a small boat laden with hundreds of pounds of moose meat would be too dangerous. The temperature was supposed to drop into the 30s overnight, so we weren’t worried about spoilage and decided to return the next day to pack the moose out.
It was late, and the trip out was slow and nerve-racking, but we were all grinning from ear to ear. I looked back at Logan and saw that he was smiling, looking up at the stars, obviously soaking it all in. We had just experienced one of those cherished moments you can’t script or buy.
“What do you think?” I asked him. “I almost cried, I’m so happy,” was his response. We shared a smile and he went back to looking at the stars.
The next morning dawned clear, beautiful, and cold. We made our way back downriver still riding the high from the previous night’s events. The river was alive with eagles, ospreys, waterfowl, and pelicans. We beached the boat and readied for the daunting task ahead, which, strangely, I was looking forward to. Fortunately, we were able to get a little game cart to our fallen giant and, four heavy loads later, our boat was sitting much lower in the water. The moose rack riding on the bow was wider than the boat itself.
When we put a tape on the antlers we were astonished once again. The Hulk had ten points on one side and twelve on the other. His fronts had four points per side and when we stretched the tape across the spread it went clear to 51½ inches. This was truly a magnificent bull for a once-in-a-lifetime tag. Best of all, I had shared the adventure with a good friend and my son. The hunt for the Hulk is one of my most treasured moments afield—one, I hope, of many more to come.