Alternative title: (Moose) Stalking, am I THAT good at it? … But seriously what is the use if I cannot see?
Several days now into the September moose hunt in Northern Sweden. Our elkhound Aslan is on “vacation” with it’s owner till Friday. Outside the rain has poured down for 2 days and we’ve taken the opportunity to clear the cabin, stock up on our supplies and we’re to return before sunrise tomorrow at the cabin – mayhap it has cleared up by then?
Anyhow, this entry is really about a type of hunting, moose stalking, that I’m getting pretty good at, although (as you’ll read) I still have lots to learn.
Three days ago I was scouting out our most northern area for tracks. This is an area where we normally don’t hunt for a number of different reasons. I got surprised when I saw lots, and lots of moose tracks. A few of them fresh and with two tracks from a moose cow and it’s calf. The tracks were made this night or maybe just recently.
I decided to stalk them and got lucky, or well, almost. The moose tracks were relatively easy to follow. The tracks went alongside a tiny path in the forest, making sneaking easy as it was less brush to stay clear of and also making the prints of the moose easier to spot. 1 hour and 45 minutes later I had followed them for approximately 1 km. In front of me was trickier terrain, I could continue on the path but had to dodge 4 trees with low branches that went over the path, or I could walk around the trees but the high brush would also make that much slower and increase the possibilities for mistakes. I decided to dodge the branches.
The first tree went just fine. Some 17 years of martial arts have helped my balance and some ridiculous slow acrobatics moved me over a tiny spruce, under and sideways of some branches until I was in the clear. I took my time and surveyed the surroundings. Up ahead I could see the clearing, a bog, that I was expecting. I had planned to stay put at the clearing for 20 minutes and then head back again since the sun has started to get low.
I guess I was too focused on the clearing and if any moose was grazing far ahead. I just completely missed what was almost in front of me. Just to the side of the next trees to dodge, behind a thin spruce was a moose cow. A sudden, but not too sudden movement of gray alerted me. I froze in place. I heard the calf up ahead. Had they heard me? Had they seen me? The cow had been very close, ludicrously close even. I was hoping they they hadn’t but my mind was a blank. I did not try to go through, or sidestep the spruces I only waited for them to show up on either side.
After what felt like an eternity, but was probably just a couple of minutes. I heard the brush rustle as they moved away. Maybe a trick of the wind had given them my scent? Or maybe they were just moving away. Either way they had stayed for those minutes, just beyond the spruces and close enough for me to act on, if my mind would’ve worked…
I moved up and checked out the area. Yes, it was the moose and the calf that I had tracked. No doubt about it.
I went back to where I had stood and measured with steps the distance from my position to where the moose cow had hidden. It was a distance of 12 steps. 12 steps! That would be approximately (for me) 10 meters or 33 feet. Amazing. And I missed it.
The next day I just had to return. I measured the steps again. Checked the tracks and took a picture with my IPhone. Of course in the morning light it looks impossible to miss a huge moose behind the thin spruce (just left of the center). Use your imagination,. the trees to the right of it was casting a dark shadow. As the moose was in the deep shade and hard to see I still think it was short of a miracle that I missed it. Funny, Crazy, Sad and Unbelieving.
I know that hunters often come very close to moose. Usually when dogs are involved and the moose is on the move they can almost run over the hunter. So 10 meters away isn’t remarkable that way. However, 10 meters away, when walking straight at the moose THAT my friend is remarkable. The closest I got before was 25-30 meters, but then I knew the moose was there, now I didn’t and was just trying to be “sneaky” (if you get my drift)
Tomorrow is a new day. Rain or not I’m gonna stalk the bogs, the clearings and the forest. This time …
2011-09-25 update: Too bad the rain just kept pouring down. Of the hunting days all of 4+ days just rained away. 160mm of rain in 4+ days. Flooded swamps, roads and just very, very wet. At least I got a good last day. Tracking a bull moose for almost 4km,. then he made a semi-circle and if I would’ve continued he would’ve gotten wind of me so this year (so far) no moose meat in the freezer. But in 10 days I go hunting again 🙂
So how do I do moose stalking? Below I’ve written down my ideas how I do the moose stalking. I’m sure I’ve lots to learn but it seems to be going quite OK.
Stalking is painstakingly slow. Apart from the wind catching your scent and signaling the moose the animal also has great hearing and although it has pretty bad eyesight it’s still good at spotting movement . So for a successful stalk you need to basically have the wind in your favor, being virtually completely silent and moving so slow that even if the moose looks at you it won’t easily see your movement.
This type of stalking is something I’ve practiced the last 4 years I’ve been hunting. My neighbor told me how he hunts and inspired me, hopefully I’ve even stepped it up a notch. Basically it’s very, very, very slow moving. Each step being placed carefully, slow, deliberately with a precise shifting of my weight on the next foot. This way you can stop mid-motion in case there’s a hidden branch under your foot that you missed – you can change the placing of the step and avoid a disastrous “crack” that would alert the prey.
Every 10 steps or so, or whenever the terrain is suitable I slowly lower myself so that I can see under the branches, getting a different look at your surroundings is important.
Every now and then, say 30 steps or whenever suitable I just freeze in place. Take in the forest sounds even more and try to penetrate visually what’s beyond the spruces.
Of course moose have a sense of hearing that is just short of incredible. They can move their ears in any direction without moving their head which helps them pinpoint very accurate where a sound comes from. So how do I avoid getting noticed by sound? Well, I use “active hearing protection” (see image of a similar product) with this I can magnify sound a lot (I think approx. 17-18dB). This is great for hearing animals in the forest but above all it makes it very obvious how much sound I make.
By magnifying all the sounds nearest. i.e. my sounds I can really hear the rustling of my clothes, the sound of a tree branch sweeping across my pants or the crushing of a leaf under the boot. This will make you learn very fast to control your movements until the sounds you make are less than the natural sounds of the forest.
What about mistakes? Yes. They do happen, but by taking care and following the advice above they should be minimized. When a mistake happens, a twig cracks, or you *whatever* … then the solution is simple. Just freeze in place. One sound is no sound. After all the forest is full of sounds, it’s only when consecutive sounds (mistakes) come from you that the animal will react.
By using this tactic I have successfully (knock-on-wood) being able to sneak close to moose, spotting them and moving closer – hopefully for a killing shot- 3 out of 4 years (this hunt is still ongoing,. and I guess it’s debatable whether or not I managed it so far this year — top section)