Big whitetails are a given in the Edmonton Bow Zone, but let's not forget about their giant cousins, North America's largest big game, the moose!
WHEN BOWHUNTERS TALK about a November hunt in Alberta's bowhunting-only zones, rutting whitetails instantly become the topic of conversation. Having lived in and bowhunted the Edmonton Bow Zone for the past 17 years, I can hardly disagree.
However, the truth is that the primarily agricultural lands making up this world famous archery zone bordering Alberta's capitol city also harbors a healthy moose population. Although I've taken dozens of whitetails within 30 minutes of my home in Edmonton, I've slso been fortunate in being able to put a moose in the freezer most seasons. What makes hunting this area so great is that you can be sitting on a whitetail stand and a moose can just as easily stroll by, unaware that he's totally in the wrong picture!
Through the years, my family, friends and I have taken dozens of urban moose by calling, stand hunting, stalking, still-hunting and even moose pushes. With every season that has come and gone, I've polished up a method that combines at-tributes of all techniques. It is one that I now rely on to create quality moose op-portunities time and time again.
For over 10 years now, we've hunted the same three or four tracts of land east of Edmonton. Like any bowhunter who hunts the same area every year, we've been able to pattern game movements, feeding and bedding areas and escape routes. This is one key to my moose hunting strategy, as well as stand placement for big whitetails.
My choice moose/whitetail spot is a 500-acre wooded area surrounded by crop land within 10 miles of Edmonton's city limits. Like most wooded areas in the Edmonton Bow Zone, this primarily as pen woodlot seems choked with an impenetrable underbrush of alder, willow, rosebush, hawthorn and dogwood. But the more I hunted it, the more I discovered a major trail system throughout the area. The area also has a number of ponds ranging from a half-acre to a 50-acre lake in the middle of the bush. This larger pond proved to be key to all big game movement in the area.
Deer and moose feeding in the fields to the north have to move through narrow wooded passages east or west of the lake to get to bedding and sanctuary areas to the south. In October and November, after the heavy frosts hit, we often find moose feeding right alongside the whitetails in good growth alfalfa that didn't get cut a second time. When the first snow blankets the Edmonton area, the alfalfa fields are the first place moose head to feed.
When I woke up to Edmonton's first snowfall of the season on that first day of November, the grin that filled my face was the same one as dozens before after every major hunting season snowfall. Whether it's to confirm movement patterns of rutting whitetails or track a big bull to its bed, snow means big trouble for big game in the Edmonton bow zone.
It snowed hard that day and all could think about was getting onto a moose track at first light the morning. My strategy is simple enough. Once I cut a good track, I follow it, taking it slow and easy, heads up at all times. Eventually, I'll catch up to the moose already bedded or thinking about bedding. I may get in close enough for a shot, but if I foul up and spook him, plan B kicks in.
I know if stay on the track I will eventually move the moose through one of a select few key intersections. Unlike white-tails, who move out fast, moose tend to trot off just out of sight, wait a bit and walk on until you catch up again. If you jump them again, they move off on a trot but calm down after a few seconds. This allows stand hunters an opportunity for a quality shot.
My office is in the back of World Class Archery, a bowhunting pro shop in downtown Edmonton. I had a couple of whitetail clients coming in that weekend and I wanted to walk the fresh snow in my area, checking whitetail sign in relation to my stands. If I cut a fresh moose track while scouting, I knew I might be able to organize an ambush for a volunteer from the store.
Gary McCartney, an Edmonton Police Officer friend of mine, didn't hesitate to point out he had a moose tag, had never taken a moose, had the next day off and was the natural choice for the next morning's action. Although he was slightly biased, I agreed. The next morning my Dad, Gary and I rendezvoused near my land about 30 minutes before legal light. After dropping Gary off at his starting point, Dad and I drove around to where I would enter the bush over a mile away. Dad headed for his own favorite ambush spot.
I waited until good light before heading out. Although I'd taken this same still-hunt/push loop dozens of times, it's always a rush walking through the fresh snow, knowing that any track I cut is only a few hours old at most. I opted to walk along the bushline bordering the alfalfa field, knowing that any animals feeding on the field earlier that morning would leave a track as they entered the bush. Almost immediately I hit a maze of tracks indicating a number of moose had spent the night on the field; it was just a matter of time where I would pick up their tracks leaving the field. I moved slowly along the bushline for about 400 yards when suddenly the silence was broken by sounds of crashing antlers. Initially I suspected fighting whitetails. Possibly another bowhunter, rattling. I continued to ease along and almost immediately picked out a couple of decent bull moose sparring just 50 yards into the thick bush. The bulls had no idea of my presence. A third smaller bull, just 30 yards away, was watching the biger bulls playing around. As I tried to move in closer, I was winded and the moose were off and running.
Circling back quickly, I walked right to the lake without cutting a track. They were headed in the right direction but still had a half-mile to go. Although Gary was 600 yards away, he was in for a big surprise-possibly three four-legged ones- in the next couple of minutes.
I followed the tracks slowly and as quietly as possible. On two occasions I actually got a look at the bulls. One was a monster - bigger than any moose I'd ever seen! As I followed the tracks toward Gary's location, I got more and more excited, moving into a walking/run.
The grin on Gary's face told the story. He saw the moose coming at some distance (it turned out there were four bulls, including the giant). As they closed in on him, the smallest bull was the closest. It gave him the best shot so Gary took it, making a perfect hit with his 72-pound Browning Ballistic Mirage. His Thunderhead 100-tipped 29-inch Easton shaft passed through the vitals. The bull dropped just 30 yards away! But the big bull was still out there and heading south into the bedding area.
That night I called my brother Brian, brother-in-law Wes Skakun and good friend Brian Burrows to convince them that they should join us for another effort to get the big bull. Normally, I like to wait a couple of days to let things settle down, but I reallywanted to take advantage of the fresh snow before it got too tracked up. I was banking on the bulls' desire to get right back to that alfalfa and hopefully catching him in the same place the next morning.
My ritual rendezvous occurred the next morning prior to legal light, just as it had happened so many times in previous years following good snow. I told my brother Brian to man the stand in the tree Gary was posted at the previous morning. Brian Burrows would plant himself on the ground just 70 yards to the west of my brother at a secondary escape route. Dad would be at his usual ground blind situated in a spot to catch any backtracking bulls. Wes would help me in moving the moose.
Wes and I hadn't gone 100 yards when we cut a big bull's track. I had Wes stay on the solitary track and I circled wide in case the bull tried to circle back. Unlike the morning before, however, the bull had only one thing on his mind once he realized he was being followed. No stop and go action today. Get from point A to point B, a mile away, as fast as possible. Unfortunately for him, he followed the same route as the morning before.
When the two Brians saw that lone bull coming, the pressure was on to do what it takes to complete their part of the plan. The big guy was on a route that would take him between the two bowhunters. As it turned out, the monster stopped in his tracks just 15 yards broadside to Brian Burrows. Unfortunately, Brian had come to full draw with his 95-pound Fireflite 3-D and had a tree blocking the bull's vitals. My brother, 20 feet up a tree, had about a 50-yard shot but decided not to take it. Meanwhile, the bull had picked out Brian B. and was waiting patiently for even the slightest movement before crashing off. Holding for what seemed like minutes, Brian was sweating, knowing he had to make the first move. Still at full draw, he calmly took one full step backward, which opened up the vitals for a dear shot. In that split-second he released just as the bull lunged forward to escape. Brian's 29-inch Easton arrow, fitted with a 130-grain Wasp Cam-lock, took the giant through both lungs. The bull crashed off toward my brother and cratered just 30 yards in front of his stand. He collapsed only 50 yards from where Gary's smaller bull fell the morning before.
The five of us gathered around the monster bull. As an official Pope & Young scorer, I always have my measuring tape. With a 54-inch spread and 28 scorable points, the bull greened around 190 and had a chance at Judd Cooney's Alberta Record 192 bull! When the 60-day drying period passed, I officially scored the bull at an even 186, making it number two in Alberta and beating the previous resident bowhunting record by over 10 inches! Besides winning the largest moose taken in Alberta, Brian also won an award for Alberta's largest big game taken with a bow for '94, beating out a 195 4/8 typical mule deer and an 84-inch antelope.
This truly was a monster bull, but what really makes it so amazing was that it was taken in the Edmonton Bowhunting-Only Zone less than 10 miles from the city limits.
Just a week later, on the same property, out of a tree stand less than 400 yards away, Tom Chadwick of Anchorage took a five-by-five whitetail buck that officially scored 151 7/8 typical!