The wind was a westerly gust coming up from the valley, blowing against my right side. Walking along a rocky cliff, I kept a watchful eye for any branches that might break if I stepped on them, while simultaneously focusing on what lay ahead of me. Cracking a branch would be a sure way to spook a moose – and banging into a moose with my head down wouldn’t do any good either.
Down over the cliff about 800 yards from where I stood were two ponds surrounded by a sea of trees, with small bogs on either side, a perfect spot for moose. It’s the first day of the hunting season in September, 2020. With four moose hunting trips and one moose under my belt (literally and figuratively), I felt the odds were in my favour: 25% success rate.
Today’s blog is about my hunting adventure this past year, full of ups and downs, beautiful moose and unexpected surprises. So sit back, pour up a coffee or tea, and enjoy another tale from The Eason Clan.
🎶Moose Moose Baby🎶
The call of the hunter/huntress: heading into the wild, tracking and harvesting wild game to provide food for the family. Since the beginning of time, mankind have been living off the land. The ways in which we have has evolved significantly over the years; from hunting animals with bows and arrows, to muskets to high powered precision rifles with optics offering fine tuned accuracy.
The trick is you have to find a moose first.
Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, the North American moose stand at about 5 1/2 feet to 6 feet high, the Bull (Male) weighs on average between 850-1200 pounds, while the Cow (Female) weighs between 600-800 pounds. They are big, beautiful and intimidating animals.
Fact: Moose are not native to the island of Newfoundland.
Two moose were brought over in 1878, a bull and a cow from Nova Scotia, Canada.. Then in 1904 four more moose were brought over from New Brunswick, Canada and the population started to take off. It now stands at 120,000 respectively. The human population of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2019 was 521, 542 (Statcan), so if we break that down, that’s one moose per five people. What do all those numbers tell us? Since there are plenty of moose on the island, one would assume it would be easy to harvest your moose each year, yes?
I would argue this is not the case. Most moose hunting areas throughout the province hover around a 45-60% success rate each year (Newfoundland Hunters Guide 2020). I also believe the majority of those hunters with successful hunts are those that get into the woods and get their moose within the first few days of the season opening. The early bird catches the worm.
They’re not so beautiful though when you see them in your headlights. Moose accidents are a common occurrence here on the island. The thick blackish/brown fur make them very hard to spot, especially at dusk along the roadways. They also have no fear of vehicles, so when a moose decides to cross the road they do so at their own pace. Guardrails are no obstacle, as the their legs are so tall they literally just walk.
The island of Newfoundland logs about 600 moose collisions per year. A yearly average of one death and five to 10 serious injuries are caused by moose crashes.https://www.google.ca/amp/s/nationalpost.com/news/canada/newfoundland-driver-hits-moose-while-looking-at-other-driver-who-hit-moose-and-three-other-moose-crashes/wcm/0a620395-4c24-4bd9-84ca-5b8a9fd57ab5/amp/
Thankfully I have never hit a moose, however I’ve had my fair share of moose darting across roads and along the highway. Below are a two pictures of accidents:
The first vehicle hit a deer.
The second vehicle hit a moose.
Big difference. Now, not all moose accidents turn out like the picture above ^ , however a lot vehicles are “wrote off” and not driveable. You’d almost expect that after hitting a solid animal between 600-1200 pounds.
If you are successful in your moose hunt, you are helping to reduce the moose population, possibly lowering the chance of getting in an accident with one. There has been quite a movement the past few years, to get fencing along stretches of highway where moose frequent. This on top of the annual cutting of brush along the highways to give motorists more of an opportunity to spot moose before it’s too late. It seems like the fencing solution is a long way off and we’ll be stuck with the latter.
However moose hunting is not just about moose reduction.
It’s about bonding with family, relatives and friends.
Some hunters start the season by heading to “the cabin”. Some range from simple structures like small box shaped shacks, complemented with a bed, table and wood-stove to large cabins with TV’s, washrooms, hot water, electricity, etc. Essentially a base of operations, where hunters leave from and return at the end of their hunt. Since I don’t own a cabin, I venture from my house in the early hours of the morning, and drive to my designated hunting area and wait for the legal time to start hunting, a half-hour before sunrise.
Enough with the background information, let’s get this story on the go.
My alarm goes off next to my bed, beeping until I reluctantly hit the silence button. 5:00am. Dang it’s early. Snooze once. Dragging myself out of bed and I grab my clothes that I had laid out the night before; better to make it easier with the clothes ready, rather than grope blindly around the room. Downstairs the coffee maker is getting my brew ready, with that sweet robust aroma traveling up the stairs.
Time to rock and roll.
Forty minutes go by while I gather my gear and eat some eggs and ham, when I notice the lights from my Father In Law’s truck pulling into my driveway. I quickly grabbed my gear, rifle and our coffee thermos and walked out the door into the cold, dark, crisp morning. Driving for ten minutes we arrived at our hunting area in complete darkness.
30 minutes to go till the season opens.
Sitting next to Karl, my Father In Law or “FIL” for short, we quietly chatted about our plan. Essentially: Keep it quiet and hopefully we walk up on one (moose). Outside it was starting to become brighter. To our right was an overgrown field, with dense trees and thick brush scattered on the outskirts, with a path no wider than three people abreast heading through the middle. This was to be our starting point.
Outside it was becoming a dull darkness, if that makes sense; not enough light to see really clear, but enough light to shoot a moose.
It’s was almost time.
I could feel the anticipation rising inside. I like to think of myself as a ethical hunter, dispatching a moose with hopefully one shot, humanely as possible. My father taught me that one shot is all you need. I can hear Mel Gibson in The Patriot instructing his children for shooting, “Aim small, miss small.” Now his children were shooting at British Redcoats, but the principle is the same.
Hunting brings out a primitive side of mankind, where your instincts and senses start to switch on. Your hearing becomes more acute. Your smell becomes more sensitive. Your eyesight seems to sharpen.
I glance down at the rifle resting between my legs: a German Mauser bolt-action rifle, made and used during World War Two. A piece of history. Why am I hunting with a German Second World War rifle, you may ask?
Well the story starts with my grandfather, Francis (Frank) Marshall who served during the Second World War, in the 59th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery, the British Second Army.
He once told me a story about a beautiful rifle he fired during the war. It was a German 7.92mm Mauser 98K bolt-action rifle.
The Germans made quality rifles and firearms during the First and Second World Wars, known for their excellent durability and accuracy. Sometime between July 1944 and May 1945, my grandfather was in a troop column making their way through a towering forest, somewhere in Western Europe, possibly the Ardennes forest. As they were passing through the woods, hauling their big artillery guns with their Scammell Pioneer trucks, the column stopped for a break.
The Newfoundlanders got down from their trucks and someone noticed a dead German soldier lying on the ground. This was not an uncommon site, as dead soldiers would often be on the sides of the roads from previous combat, until burial teams could properly bury the bodies.
***I will pause for a moment of reflection. This was NORMAL to see deceased soldiers (not to mention civilians) on the sides of roads. Let us remember those who fought and died for freedom, the scenes they witnessed and encountered. Truly a sacrifice and experience many of us can’t begin to grasp. ***
However this soldier wasn’t your average infantry man. No, this was a Deutscher Scharfschütze.
Revered by their fellow soldier and hated by the enemy, snipers would often position themselves in hard to see places shooting at soldiers as they passed by.
Lying next to the sniper on the ground was a Mauser 98 K bolt-action rifle with a scope. Some of the Newfoundland soldiers, including my Grandfather, went over and began target practicing with the rifle. He told me this story almost 60 years later in my mother’s TV room. He said it was the most beautiful rifle he’d ever shot, and if he had his time back he would have taken it apart and brought it home.
That was it. I was hooked. My dream rifle, the German Mauser. Interesting how someone close to you can have such an influence in your life. After 11 years of patiently waiting, a man from Carbonear, Newfoundland posted the listing for a rifle for sale. It was up for a good price and I had to bite.
I called him up and purchased the rifle. I immediately called my wife’s Uncle and asked if he could pay for the rifle and pick it up for me, since I was an hour drive away and he was about fifteen minutes. When he arrived, the man said he’d been flooded with calls about the rifle, and that it was good that I called when I did.
I now owned a German Mauser, quite similar to the one my grandfather fired. Oddly enough I felt a little bit closer to him, even though he had been gone for six years.
“Let’s do this.”
We exited the truck, closing the doors as quietly as possible. Moose have excellent hearing and smell, so the less noise the better. I took the rifle from my shoulder, grasped it in my hands, and slowly started to walk down the path towards the woods. On either side was tall, hay-like grass. I kept scanning to my left and my right for moose, and checking the ground for any sign/prints.
I felt my adrenaline start to rise.
Close behind with his large walking stick and backpack was FIL. He looked like Bilbo Baggins, starting his journey across Middle Earth, going on an adventure.
After walking down the winding path through thick brush and trees, we broke out onto an old farmers field that was no longer in use. I scanned the tree line. No moose. We continued along the edge of the field, following the path towards the valley directly ahead of us. As we walked along, I couldn’t help but admire the environment that was around us. Fall was officially in full swing: the leaves were golden, red and brown; the birch trees mixed with alder and spruce gave a crisp smell of Autumn. I was taking it all in.
We came to a bend in the trail, and there before us lay a valley. A sea of trees, with a winding river through the middle, complimented with small bogs scattered throughout. This was moose country. I stopped and lifted my binoculars, scanning for any sign of moose.
I looked back at Karl, and nodded my head towards the trail leading up a hill, following along a cliff. He took a few extra minutes looking through his binoculars, double checking the area and then caught up to me. As ascended up a small beaten path which ran up the side of a rocky hill, the terrain changed from brush and trees to rock and lots of mossy ground. ‘This will be a perfect vantage point.” I said to myself. I could see down over the hill a wide open cut over which led to a clearing.
FIL came along side of me as we both canvassed the area, when suddenly I saw a dark shape. I quickly turned my head to the left, and down over the edge of the hill, were two shadowy looking figures next to the trees.
Both were like dark statues under the shadow of the trees, about fifty yards away. A cow and a calf. A perfect shot.
A burst of adrenaline went through my body. I reached for the bolt on my rifle, and pulled it back. It didn’t move. I looked down and noticed that the bolt was already pulled back, with a bullet ready to push forward. I fiddled with the bolt release and slid it forward, and when I did….two bullets went into the breach of the rifle.
I had jammed my rifle.
I looked down at bullets pushing against each, like two people trying to fit through one door… it wasn’t going to work.
Oh my gosh. What had I done.
As I started to fix the jam, I watched in disbelief as the two moose bolted into the woods. They quickly darted through the trees, up a towering hillside, back into some thick brush again and over the top of another rocky hill.
All this happened within thirty seconds.
I looked back at Karl’s blank stare. Then we both expressed our frustration at what just happened. *Insert random words* That may have been our only opportunity to see a moose.
However rather then get frustrated and give up, we calculated our next move based on the direction of travel the moose last went in. They can cover a lot of ground in a short time, so we decided to get in the truck and drive to the Trans Canada Highway, about 20 minutes away, and hopefully cut the moose off.
We arrived on the other side of our hunting area and started to make our way towards the last location of the moose. We walked a wide open trail, keeping an ever watchful eye for any sign of moose. After twenty minutes we heard a loud bang. Followed by three more quick shots. Someone was firing really close to where we were. I felt my heart sink.
I missed my chance and now someone else got em.
Was it the same moose we saw? There was no way we could tell. So we didn’t stick around, just in case the other hunter had missed their array of shots, there was still chance to find the two moose from earlier. After all we had only saw them about 40 minutes ago now, so the odds were still in our favor.
Or so I thought.
The trail that we were walking on ended abruptly when we came to this huge marsh/bog. ATV tracks stretched northward with the mossy grass pressed down with two distant lines. As I stepped onto the marsh it felt like I was walking on sponge. The trick now was to watch for bog holes as one wrong step could end me up in one up to my waist. Which could be quite dangerous, especially if you were by yourself in the wwhich
The journey across the marsh was one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever had on my legs (probably hardest was doing a Canadian Forces workout with my cousin Steven). We stayed to the right of the bog to avoid any big holes. Every step I took I had to lift my leg high to compensate for the other foot sinking down in the ground. Rinse and repeat this process for hundreds of yards. If I had saw a moose crossing the marsh, I probably would have missed anyway since my legs were like rubber. I kept thinking to myself that these moose better be waiting for us on the other side, especially for all this effort we were putting into this trek.
Once we neared the far end of the bog, we crossed over to the left and found a trail heading towards the previous spot where we had seen the moose. It was then I spotted some fresh moose tracks.
We were hot on their tail. The race was on.
We continued down this new trail, heading deeper into the woods and away from the bog. Tracks were scattered all throughout the path: big prints, small prints, too many to count. Either they had just gone this way or it was a well travelled area for them. Both scenarios were a bonus for me. Karl began poking and prodding spots in the trail that look suspicious. Below is a video of one such instance, where we had to maneuver around a mud hole that was right in the middle of the trail.
By now it was nearing 11:00 AM and I started to feel my stamina wearing out. Yeah, I am not in the shape I used to be years ago, I blame that on my “Dad Bod”. Although my resolve for making up for jamming my rifle pushed me on. Not to mention my FIL was like a gazelle, cutting through brush, leaping over streams and mud traps. Like he is in his 50’s and I am 30, and I can’t keep up with him? No way, I was going to push myself.
At least that gave me an extra boost.
It was then I made an error in judgement.
We came to a fork in the trail. To the left was wide open trail; to the right were steep crevices in the path that were made by a woods truck, leaving huge wheel tracks for us to walk in. I decided that I would trust the satellite view on my phone, and walk down that logging trail to the right and bush-wack for a short distance, until came out onto a separate trail that I could just make out on the screen. Yeahhhhhh….bad call.
FIL and I started to make our way into the thick, dense trees and bush, one step at a time. The foliage grew thicker as we continued, and I suddenly realized I couldn’t see where I was walking anymore. It honestly felt like we were lost; all you could see ahead was trees and branches, and in order to see where you were stepping you literally had to push down branches with your arms and hold them back to see the ground, like Edmund leaving the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narina: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
To make matters worse, the elevation had changed significantly and we were now walking downhill on a steep angle with windfall trees (trees that the wind had blown down) scattered in front of us. Holes were everywhere from roots that had been hauled up when the trees fell down.
Good lord, where had I gotten us too?
Karl took the lead through this maze of trees, poking and prodding his way along, like a soldier searching for landmines. Following blindly behind was the soldier carrying the rifle and pack, keeping a watchful eye for the guide. I saw a couple of larger trees down in front of me, and I tried to go around them, but alas there was no where to go. The ground was slippery on one side, and on the other side there more fallen trees. So I decided to take my chances and cross over the fallen trees. After clearing the first hurdle (by sitting on the trunk then swinging my legs over, holding my rifle in the air) I attempted to cross the second tree the same way. It was then I noticed that Karl was gone…
“Karl?” I said with my voice slightly raised.
He called back to me, but I could barely hear him due to the thick brush. I then spotted the top of his head a little ways through the trees, so I proceeded to climb over the second tree trunk. I placed my right foot down on the ground and when I placed my left foot, the ground gave way. I felt my left foot go down in a tight, deep hole that swallowed my leg right up to my groin. My ankle was left on an awkward angle.
“Arggghhhhhhhhhh!” The pressure from my weight pushed my leg down further into the hole.
*** Announcer’s Voice: IN THIS CORNER COMING IN AT 6’1, 240 POUNDSSSSS…CHRISTIANNNN THE DOOMMMMEDDDDD HUNNNNTTTEEERRRRR. AND IN THIS CORNER, COMING IN AT THREEE FEEET DOWN AND ONE FOOT ACROSS…..A GIANGANTICCC HOLLLLEEEEEEE ***
The Hunger Games motto with a twist: The Odds Are Not In Your Favour.
I seriously couldn’t move. I laid my rifle to the side and tried to push myself up with my arms, didn’t work. I tried to shift my weight and lift my left leg, but the way I was in the hole absolutely restricted me from doing this.
Thankfully Karl heard my groan and made his way back to my location.
“Are you okay? You didn’t break anything did you?” he asked.
“No I don’t think so, but I can’t move. My foot is buckled back in the hole. I need you to help me out.” I watched as he pushed back some branches and maneuvered between trees until he was standing over me. Dang Christian, you didn’t want your ol FIL to out perform you in the woods, now your Leia crying out to Obi-Wan Kenobi as your only hope. I grabbed ahold of his arm while he grabbed a tree with his other arm, and hauled me up out of the hole.
Things can happen so easily when your in the woods.
If Karl hadn’t been there, I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten out. As I limped my way down the hill, I pondered that very question, thinking of people who died in the woods or were injured seriously in accidents like mine.
Wrapping it up
We finally broke out of the thick woods and onto another trail. It was hard going but we made it. The whole bush-wacking experience may have lasted fifteen minutes, however it felt like an hour. It was near lunchtime and the temperature was about 17 degrees, so we decided to call it a day and make our way back home. Hunting when it’s warm outside is no fun for me: you get quite hot under your hunting clothes, and not to mention the amount of flies you’d attract if you did manage to get a moose.
Looking back, day one of hunting was a pretty eventful day. We saw two moose within the first hour of the season opening, we crossed some serious bog and got a ridiculous cardio workout in the process. We also had a trust building exercise, compliments of a huge hole calling my name. Sure I was a bit bummed out about not getting the moose, even more bummed out that I jammed my rifle, but you know that’s how life goes. Not everything comes together every time, and there is no sense beating yourself up over it.
After some self-reflection and analysis, I know why I jammed up my rifle…I jammed it because I did something I never did before. I had the bolt pulled back on my Mauser, thinking that if I did see a moose, I could quickly put the bolt forward to load a bullet. I wanted to make sure I was ready. I wanted to make sure I didn’t make a mistake. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t screw up with my father in law with me.
It was the first time we hunted alone together, and he kindly offered me his rifle with a scope, however I declined because I wanted to use my Mauser, with plain sights. So I had my rifle ready to go with a technique I never tried before, bolt back rather than the normal position. I allowed my pride to get in my way, and because of that, I let myself down by my own decision.
So what do I take away from this? Will I solve this problem by hunting by myself next time? Or maybe purchasing a Mini-Gun to ensure the speed and efficiency of a auto-loading gun?
No. I will be myself and learn from my decisions. I have nothing to prove, and I don’t believe my FIL thought that either.
You may be wondering if I got a moose after? Well, after 7 trips into the woods from September till December, we spotted three moose in total, and I had zero shots at them. We walked about 20kms through forests, bogs, marsh and fields. Eventually my father joined in with us on the hunt, however three against one still never improved the odds.
Moose hunting can be hit or miss, sometimes you find them and sometimes you don’t. But if your out there just to get moose, then you’ll miss out anyway. There is so much more: comradery, the beauty of nature, and the wildlife you see.
Overall I had a great experience this year. Sure I would have loved to add a moose to my freezer, but there will always be next time. I enjoyed speeding time with my family, and hitting new records on my step counter.
Check out below for some more pictures from this years hunt. I hope you enjoyed todays blog. Tune in next time for The Eason Clan’s self-isolation and COVID tests!