On Second Thought
Pushing the edge on a rare opportunity
Wyoming moose tags are hard to come by. If you don’t want to spend $20K-$30K for a governor’s tag, you’ll have to enter the draw and be very patient.
For the past 19 years, I’d been applying for basically the hardest area in the state. Since I was two points down from maximum, it was an uphill battle, and after doing the math, I determined that I had another 18 years before I’d be guaranteed to draw that area. My dad, having one point less than me, agreed that we needed to deviate from our plan and research some other areas.
For the past few years, there have been a couple of places that caught our attention. One had high moose populations, but overall lower odds for the upper-end caliber of moose we were after. A second area had low moose populations, but was once known as a top area before wolf introduction. We talked with a few people who had drawn tags in recent years, as well as local biologists and game wardens in both areas. We decided to apply for the area with fewer moose but a higher chance (at least in our minds) at a trophy bull.
Based on 2015 odds, we believed we would both draw the tag. We decided to go for it, as we really wanted to hunt together, and we believed that if we both had tags, it would keep us from allowing our busy fall schedule to interfere.
When the day came to check the results, I was excited. I looked up my name first and it said “Successful”! As luck would have it, a few other people decided to do the same thing as us, so, unfortunately, my dad didn’t draw the tag.
Now the real research started. I had been in the area a few times in the past but had never hunted moose there, so I went in basically knowing nothing. Since I had no opportunity for boots on the ground until August, I researched from afar by phone, Google Earth, and more.
Even though archery hunting would be tough, I had always wanted a moose in the velvet, so I was going to try anyway. August scouting turned up no moose, so the opener for archery looked bleak at best.
7 Days, 3 Moose
September is a bad month for me - we have a busy construction company, a landscaping company, and an outfitting business, so the fact that I got to hunt seven days in September was all I could ask for. However, after seven days and countless miles, all I turned up was three moose (a small bull, a cow, and a calf all together).
A Genervous Tip
I had clients to take hunting off and on from October 1 through November, but I set aside a number of days for my moose, in late October/early November. I was unexpectedly able to break away for a few days with a friend while my dad helped on a hunt we were guiding, so on the night of the 6th, my buddy and I left headed for the mountains.
I had made a list of likely areas to look, but each spot was an educated guess. We got up bright and early and headed into the office at the lodge where we were staying to chat with the owner and get some coffee.
After a brief conversation, he said that he had heard talk recently about a big bull that had been seen near a local lake. I had scouted the lake earlier and there was very little moose habitat there; mostly just heavy timber with few places to glass. Still, we decided to head that way for a look.
An Agonizing Choice
As we closed in on the lake, I found myself overwhelmed with excitement, because this was the first we had heard of a possible shooter. We climbed higher and the snow from the fresh storm was getting deeper, showing us the movements of the animals in the area. We saw lots of elk tracks, deer tracks, and a not-so-welcome fresh grizzly track, but no moose.
We were headed back out to move on to some different country when we passed by a little road we had been on in August. It wasn’t very long, but it did have a meadow at the end with a little creek that we tried to fish. As we went by it, I hit the brakes and said to my friend, “Hey, should we go up to that meadow? It probably won’t have anything, but we can check it for tracks.”
He agreed, so I backed up and headed in. As we got to the edge of the meadow, I looked out and saw what looked like two sets of large tracks. I headed over to check them out. They were moose tracks, but not fresh. The wind had blown them half full of snow. I told my friend they were moose tracks, but probably just a cow and calf from the day before.
A while later, a coyote came blowing out of the timber in front of us headed across the meadow. We watched to see if anything else might come out, as the coyote was looking back like he was being chased.
After a few seconds, the coyote disappeared and nothing else followed him, so we continued on. I looked to my right across the opening where the coyote had gone into the timber and suddenly there stood a moose! My friend announced, “It’s a bull!”
To my disappointment, what I saw was a just cow. I kept looking, and to my surprise, 100 yards to the left was a bull, and a big bull at that! I set up my spotting scope to get a better look and determined the bull had very long points and super mass, but his palms were average.
Going into this hunt, I had a goal of a 160-plus B&C bull and I believed this bull to be right at 156. This is where I should have taken the advice I’ve given hunters for years. I’ve always believed you shouldn’t get too caught up on score. It’s a good scale to shoot for, but you can miss out on some amazing opportunities at some real trophies if that’s all you’re focusing on.
My buddy kept asking why I wasn’t shooting, and I kept saying I wanted to be sure. I mean, heck, we were only two hours into the first day of my rifle hunt.
I decided I needed another opinion, so I tried to send my cousin a few pictures I took through my spotting scope. However, the pics wouldn’t go through.
So, call me crazy, but I just felt like I was rushing the decision. I felt pressured and didn’t want to be rushed into making a mistake. I told my buddy to pack up; we were moving on. He looked at me like I was from another planet, shook his head, and said “Okay”.
Never Too Late to Make the Right Call
As we moved out, I had this sinking feeling I was making the mistake of a lifetime. We didn’t have to go far down the road to get enough service to send the pictures. As my cousin started to receive the pics, he had the full attention of others on his construction crew and - more or less - they all said I was crazy and needed to go back and kill the moose ASAP.
That helped me realize I was walking away from a once-in-a-lifetime bull. I hurried back, hoping that by some miracle the moose was still there.
As we got back to the edge of the meadow, I could see both the bull and cow hadn’t moved a muscle. So, as I should have done to begin with, I got out the rifle and lay down for a steady rest. With one well-placed shot from the .30-378, it was over. I felt both relieved and excited.
We taped the bull out at 154-6/8 with a 45-inch spread. In the end, the only disappointment that came from the hunt was that my father didn’t get to be there. On a positive note, he should draw the tag next year and I’ll get to do it all again.
Randy Morrison, Wyoming, 2016