The BAREBOW! Chronicles: Bug-eyed at Five Yards!
Dennis Dunn 01.30.15
The Canada moose was the last of the three subspecies of North America’s largest deer to succumb to my often-suspect hunting skills. Just as it had taken me three different hunts to finally bag my Alaska-Yukon moose, so did it take me also three separate tries to claim, at last, my Canada moose. Although I’d made two serious efforts in 1995 and 1996, both failed, and it was not ’til 1999 that I had a chance to hunt the Canadian species again. I persisted in keeping faith with my outfitter friend, Dan Stobbe, and my efforts (and loyalty) were rewarded in the end with a fine Pope and Young animal that I arrowed on the shores of Hyland Lake, right in the heart of Dan’s moose area.
Another friend of mine, Mike Parsons from Western Montana, was also in camp with me that week, so it turned out to be an especially enjoyable week of hunting. My guide was an older fellow—nearly my own age, actually—named Don Chambers from Clearwater, British Columbia. He was a really pleasant, down-to-earth kind of guy, and we got along famously.
My hunt had been scheduled to coincide with the peak of the rut (as nearly as that sort of thing can be predicted). On September 27, I flew from Seattle to Juneau, and then across the border into Canada via Ward Air. Their floatplane set me down right on Hyland Lake, which drains by means of a narrow channel into the famous Teslin River. A Canadian Customs Agent had checked my papers at the Juneau airport to make sure my “backdoor” route for entering the country was not masking nefarious purposes. I believe the sight of my bow and arrows set his mind at ease.
Our camp consisted of a small but comfortable wilderness cabin with a wood stove and another tent nearby for extra sleeping quarters. As I recall, there were four hunters and three guides. The daily routine was pretty much the same. Hunter and guide would depart early in the morning in an aluminum boat with an outboard on the back, travel to different parts of the extensive lakeshore, land, walk a ways, and start calling for moose. Both cow calling and bull grunting were utilized for the purpose of drawing bulls in, and either one could be equally effective. Sometimes we would exit the lake altogether and drift down into the Teslin, which was not far away. Once in that bigger river, we could travel either upstream or downstream looking for moose.
I remember that a couple of miles upstream there was a big spruce tree right on the edge of the river that towered above most everything else nearby. The guides from Hyland Lake liked to use it as a lookout because you could glass down over some extensive forest-meadows which were close at hand. Climbing 60 feet up into any tree is an adventure by itself, and more than once Don and I made the trip upriver to that tall spruce to make the climb for scouting purposes. In the heavy brush on the backside of the tree, away from the river, we thought we detected—on two different days—some very slight sounds, as if there were some creature stirring within, ever so softly.
On the third day we climbed that same tree, we finally caught a brief glimpse of what it was. A cow moose was nursing a serious wound to her backside—no doubt from a grizzly bear attack, and she had made that thicket beneath our lookout her sanctuary, and perhaps her final hospice.
On the fourth day of my hunt, Don took me downriver into Hutsigola Lake. Hutsigola is infamous in the annals of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for the tragedy that had occurred there on March 19, 1985. During an intense manhunt for “Crazy Mike” Oros, who had killed a German trapper named Gunter Lischy, Constable Michael Buday of the RCMP was killed in a shootout. Well known throughout northern BC as a superb bushman who had lived in the wilds for more than a dozen years, Oros had a hatred of society in general, and of law enforcement in particular. He was known to have shot at airplanes flying anywhere near his cabin at Hutsigola Lake. When the RCMP sent a squad of Mounties to “get their man” in the spring of 1985, he was lying in wait for them in the bushes near his cabin. After sneaking up behind Buday and shooting him in the back, Oros was immediately killed by another Mountie nearby.
Don Chambers, with whom I’ve remained in touch since our hunt together in 1999, told me that just a few years ago, the RCMP erected a big monument at Hutsigola Lake on the place where Constable Buday fell—to honor him and all other Mounties who have given their lives in the line of duty. He told me the dedication ceremony was quite something, and possibly the biggest of its kind ever to take place in the middle of such a vast wilderness.
Day number five of this third hunt for the species was the one Lady Luck picked to smile upon me, and to reward my perseverance with success. One of the other hunters in camp had bagged a dandy bull just at dusk the previous evening, but—come morning, when they went to retrieve his meat—they discovered a grizzly had found it overnight. The horns had not been damaged, but we could see the meat-salvage operation was going to take some time, so Don and I decided to go hunting! It was about 11 a.m. when we headed down the lake in the boat, and it wasn’t five minutes before we spotted a very respectable bull standing on the edge of the lake looking our direction.
The wind was also traveling down the lake with us, so we continued on a good 400 to 500 yards. Once we could see he was clearly paying no further heed to us, we put ashore and started walking back into the wind in his direction. When he next came into view for us, he was perhaps 200 yards away, feeding near the water’s edge. All along the shore of the lake between us lay a broad, semi-marshy area that was scattered with numerous clumps of willows—many of them six to eight feet tall. Don had carried an oar with him from the boat, for the purpose of raking branches, to get our quarry interested in coming to visit. His “rival,” after all, just might have a cow or two in tow.
The plan Don and I devised called for me to start moving in on the bull, advancing from willow-clump to willow-clump, and every time I stopped Don was either to beat the brush with his oar, or give a lonesome cow call—alternating between the two. The scheme worked to perfection. Peering through each batch of willows, I was able to keep the bull in sight most of the time. Whenever he hung up and stopped his forward motion, I would freeze instantly. He was clearly starting to get “hot and bothered,” so each time he resumed his journey toward me, I would scoot a little closer toward him. Don did a great job with his rake-and call routine, and before I knew it the bull was at 30 yards and closing fast.
I had covered nearly 100 yards of ground since leaving Don, and I knew my quarry was now so mad that he was not likely to stop again. The willow bush I had chosen for my final cover was only 10 yards from a bigger one further out, and I knew the bull would have to cut left or cut right when he came to that one. If he cut to his right, then he would pass by a narrow opening to my left at just five yards; if he went left, he’d pass by another shooting lane I had to my right at only 12 yards. I quickly drew my arrow as he started to his right, and I pivoted leftward for the five-yard shot.
Just before reaching my shooting lane, he slowed to a walk. As his front shoulder started to fill up the gap I had to shoot through, I realized he was so tall I needed to raise my aim a bit. His peripheral vision picked up that bit of motion, and I shall never forget the look on his face when he paused for a fraction of a second, with one front hoof suspended in midair, to turn his head in my direction. His eyes grew big as cow-pies and practically bugged right out of his skull! By the time his instantaneous lunge forward could even break his static inertia, my arrow had passed through his heart and into the lake 15 yards beyond. Knowing right away that he was already dead on his feet, I looked at the second hand of my watch and began timing the swiftness of his demise. He ran out into the shallows of the lake, stood there for a few seconds, then “hit the deck” with a big splash. As soon as he went down, that was it! No leg-kicks, no bubbles underwater from his muzzle, nothing. Sixteen seconds was all it took for the half-ton animal to expire from the well-placed arrow.
I was stunned. I thanked the Good Lord for His blessing—feeling very grateful, and more than willing to believe that He had had a hand in the whole proceeding. I yelled at Don, and by walking out to the water’s edge I was able to see him pumping the oar with both arms over his head. I could tell that he’d been able to see my bull go down for the count. Don said he’s retold the story many times to rifle-hunting friends of his, and they just sort of shake their heads in disbelief. Don actually only worked for Dan Stobbe that one season, and I believe I’m the only bowhunter for moose that he’s ever guided. So it’s a story we both treasure and will never forget.
In the hunting world, you hear many horror stories about how much work awaits you once you get a moose down. In the case of my Canadian moose, it could hardly have been easier. We went back and got the camp manager’s bigger boat with the bigger motor, and upon returning we tied a rope around one antler of my bull, pulled him off the shallows into deep water, then—with the motor turned on high—towed him back up the lake right into camp. Once there, we attached a cable to him and winched him up onto the beach, where the skinning and butchering of the meat could be handled with only a modicum of difficulty—and with cold beers available every time you needed to rest your back. Would that all moose kills were so easy to deal with!
Editor’s note: This article is the fortieth of the BAREBOW! Chronicles, a series of shortened stories from accomplished hunter and author Dennis Dunn’s award-winning book, BAREBOW! An Archer’s Fair-Chase Taking of North America’s Big-Game 29. Dunn was the first to harvest each of the 29 traditionally recognized native North American big game species barebow: using only “a bow, a string, an arrow—no trigger, no peep sights, no pins—just fingers, guts, and instinct.” Each of the narratives will cover the (not always successful, but certainly educational and entertaining) pursuit of one of the 29 animals. One new adventure will be published every two weeks—join us on the hunt! You can learn more about the work and purchase a copy on Dunn’s site here. Read the thirty-ninth Chronicle here.
Top illustration by Hayden Lambson