Published by archerchick on 21 Feb 2010
NEWFOUNDLAND COMBO – By Joe Bell
Down to the wire best describes this bowhunting adventure for moose and caribou
With eight days of walking across inhospitable landscape. Dean MacDonald and I were just about worn clean. Besides that, it was 9:30 in the morning and the bush plane would arrive at 3:30 to take us back to civilization. We were still an hour and a half walk from the lake’s edge where our boat was docked, and then we’d have another half-hour gliding the lake. There simply wasn’t enough time to think about moose.
“We might as well start back,” remarked my trusty guide and good friend.
As we marched up a steep embankment, overlooking a wide basin we had glassed earlier with our binoculars, Dean turned and peered once again across the massive piece of mountain tundra,. Essentially it was a giant land sponge dotted with trees and shrubs, water puddles and streams. With a light snow falling overhead, the country looked dreamlike. It was one of the most beautiful vantage points to look upon.
Seconds later, as Dean studied the landscape with his 10-power glasses, a blurry fleck caught his eye. A tweak on the binoculars focusing dial turned doubt into positive affirmation. “Moose!” There was not only one moose, but an entire group of about a dozen, including two nice bulls.
Simultaneously we glanced at our watches and stared each other in the eyes. My Casio wristwatch read 10:10. “If we’re going to go, we better do it fast,” I enthusiastically announced. “The pilot could always wait.”
Without hesitation, we double checked the wind and began our jog across the mile or so of bog. I’ve hunted a few places where the spot-and-stalk bowhunting is on par with Newfoundland. The country is plenty open, with just the right amount of cover and jagged topography to make it a stalker’s paradise. Big game is plentiful too, which includes Canadian moose, woodland caribou and black bear.
Though moose are abundant in Newfoundland’s mountain country, they can be tough to stalk. The moose usually hug tight to the dense spruce woods, making them difficult to approach. During the pre-rut, however bulls can be called in close enough to give you goose bumps.
Black bear sightings aren’t all that common but I’ve seen enough to warrant a tag riding in my pocket. Tags by the way are only $100 so it’s a no-brainer.
Really it is the woodland caribou that provide incredible stalking appeal. In the past three seasons I have arrowed three nice woodland stags with Dean. Every one was gorgeous big-bodied caribou with unique compact-size antlers.
But what makes woodland stags more attractive to the hunter is that they are more of a “roaming” caribou than one that migrates in masses. Essentially, they behave like a meandering mule deer. Woodlands are also hunted during the cool months of September and October where you’ll experience no threat from bugs. You can’t say this for other caribou hunting.
On the first and second days of my 2001 moose and caribou combo hunt, Dean and I covered nearly 15 miles looking for an outsized woodland stag. I was hoping for a giant stag, something that would well exceed my largest woodland that net scores 251 2/8 Pope & Young points. I simply love to hunt these critters, and trophy hunting them makes it all that much more fun.
During this intense hiking and glassing, we saw a good number of animals. I counted six moose (two small bulls), one black bear, and nearly six dozen caribou. Most of the moose and the bear were out of striking distance, but I had plenty of chances at caribou. The largest stag we spotted wore nice antlers with immense double shoved points but lacked crucial heavy top points. I simply knew the area held larger trophies. Besides, it was only our second day on the tundra.
But good times don’t always last this far north. Constant weather changes simply occur, and by the next day high wind, fog and freezing rain plummeted the region, making sitting in one place and glassing tough enough, let alone trying to glass through the dense fog. The animals didn’t seem to like the cold and wetness anymore than we did. There was the occasional stag here and there, but we didn’t see anything eye grabbing.
The next day Dean and I came up with a hunting plan and headed for a far-off honey hole
destined to hold some super stags. It was a good 7-mile hike just to get there, 7 miles to get back and of course plenty of foot time in between stalks. How’s that for foot hunting? Caribou may not be the wariest animals on earth but they demand physical ability
With us hunkered against a huge piece of granite, shielding ourselves fi:om the pelting wind and rain, Dean and I would step from the rock from time to time to glass what we could of the huge bogs surrounding us.
Constantly wiping our binocular lenses clean and attempting to see something other than solid white was becoming annoying. Plus we knew the clock was ticking. Though my goal was not to shoot a big Canadian moose. I did want a bull on this trip. And time was running thin. We had three and a half days left to get a moose.
I’ve hunted with Dean for long enough to know he was thinking what I was’ “We better go after the first decent stag we see” I declared. “Don’t you think?” I said already knowing his response.
An hour or so later the fog rose just enough so we could catch a glimpse of a small herd of caribou. “There’s a stag in that group. He’s not a huge stag, but he’s not bad”‘ muttered Dean as the wind belted our sides.
We followed the caribou until they rounded a small hill, then I made my move. I raced across the open at a hunkered jog. Just reaching the hill, I spotted the tops of antlers including a mob of ear tips that belonged to the harem of cows accompanying the stag. I dropped to my chest and slithered forward. Dress in Gore-Tex rain gear, top to bottom, I was staying dry until the nearly frozen bog water seeped in from my sleeve cups and waistline. With no cover at all I was nearly in the open. I would move only when the caribou bowed their heads.
As I kept slithering along, I came to a section of tanglefoot spruce – a heavy scrub bush responsible for more ripped clothing and twisted ankles in all of Newfoundland. Trying to snake my way through these natural clinging vines with my hip quiver on was death. I removed the quiver and laid it on my bow and pushed it ahead foot by foot. This awkward traveling, along with the frozen water now tainting my body had me screaming for mercy.
An hour later, I had crept to 50 yards of the now bedded stag. I slowly removed an arrow from the quiver, cleaned what brush and bog grass that I could from it and snapped it onto the bows string.
I warmed my hands, “ranged” the distance with my Bushnell rangefinder, and slipped forward on bent knees. As I did so, one of the cows picked me out. I quickly and smoothly hit full draw. The stag stood confused by the herd’s spookiness, and turned sharply quartering away. I waited and waited, knowing the angle was wrong.
Eventually, he took one step to his left and I sent the Beman Metal Matrix shaft on its way. The arrow covered the 45 yards in a blink, hitting the caribou perfect along the last rib to angle forward into the chest. The stag bailed downward. I ran a few steps to catch a glimpse of what appeared to be a perfectly hit animal.
To my amazement the arrow. had skidded off the animal’s ribs, shaving a line of hair from the last rib to the armpit, then embedded into the shoulder blade . I was dumbfounded.
I quickly made a half circle, got in front of the moving herd and eventually got a long shot opportunity to down the stag. From what we could figure. it must have been the sharp angle
(causing the arrow to fly tail left) and a faulty prototype broadhead that I was trying that caused the arrow to glance off the rib bone. He was a nice, mature caribou -a trophy for sure.
Over the next couple of days Dean and I did what we could to get a crack at a moose. We scoured the landscape with binoculars from prominent hilltops, took up position and called, still-hunted woodlots and even did a couple of drives. We had seen 11 moose up to this point, but only
one cow that walked within bow range.
So it came down to the last day. The last hour. The last minutes.
In that moment as Dean and I hop-scotched across the big bog, with puffs puffs of snow sheeting the sky, I had forgotten all about the clock. I was on a stalk of a lifetime! Possibly it would end with my first archery moose.
Though Dean and I travel across rough country well together, our cadence on this particular stalk surprised me. It seemed in only a few minutes’ time we were there . I could hear the moose. By the sound of it, two bulls were issuing low grunts as they embraced in a minor sparring match.They were in the perfect place to ambush too – a deep sparsely wooded gully bordered by a small bog.
As we neared the gully’s edge, Dean fingered for me to move in front. I peeked over the lip of the edge, saw a carpet of brown hair and antlers, and took a step back. I drew my bow and crept slowly forward. The 30-yard pin was just about to touch the bull’s chest when he darted away. I swung until the bull stopped on a huge mound. I quickly guessed the distance, aimed and shot.
The arrow flickered in slow motion as it arched above the bull’s lower chest. It arrived high, square in the spine. The crunch of metal hitting bone was followed by an immediate collapse. The earth seemed to shatter as I ran down the slope and issued a finishing arrow. My first archery moose was stunning. His 30-inch spread and nine points glimmered in the wet Newfoundland grass. It was something I just couldn’t believe. So good, so fast <—<<
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