Smith: Hunting moose a rare challenge

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 26, 2012 - 1:15 AM

Few get to hunt moose, even fewer shoot one, and in the BWCA there's yet a bigger challenge.

hide

Moose antlers stowed in the canoe tell the story of a successful moose hunt in the BWCA this fall by Colby Smith of Corcoran.

Photo: , Photo courtesy Colby Smith.

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Colby Smith peered through thick early-morning fog atop a rocky knoll in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and grunted like a bull moose.

"It was probably the worst moose call I've heard in my life,'' said Smith, 39, of Corcoran.

But something grunted back.

"I grunted again, and something stood up -- it sounded like a car rolling over in a ditch. I thought, 'Oh my god,' and my legs started shaking. I couldn't see anything, but I knew it was a moose,'' said Smith, who was on a once-in-a-lifetime moose hunt in northeastern Minnesota on Sept. 29 with his brother and brother-in-law.

Then the woods went silent, so Smith called again.

"He raked the brush, grunting and stumping, and started coming my way,'' he said. "Oh, my gosh, you could hear the brush clicking on his antlers.''

Smith shifted 10 feet closer to the ridge where the still unseen moose was approaching, and made more grunting sounds.

"All of a sudden he walked out of the fog, swaying his antlers aggressively. It was an unbelievable scene -- just like the movies. He stopped about 110 yards out, broadside. I had to tell myself to calm down or I would miss.''

He didn't.

The big bull's antlers measured 49 ¾ inches, and the animal likely weighed more than a half-ton.

"It was phenomenal,'' Smith said of the experience. He had intended to camp and hunt for 10 days. Instead, he had his moose just 37 minutes into the season.

Moose hunt's future

Shooting a moose -- or even getting a license to hunt one -- can be a long shot in Minnesota. Smith's was one of 46 out of 76 hunting groups totaling about 300 people who bagged a bull moose in Minnesota's 16-day season, which ended Oct. 14. That's a 60 percent success rate among those who received a license, but nearly 3,500 people applied for a license.

Since 1991, the moose hunt has been a once-in-a-lifetime hunt; those who receive permits through a random drawing are ineligible to reapply.

But the state's moose population has been declining, and it's uncertain how long moose hunting will continue. The state's moose population, now estimated at about 4,200, has dropped by half in the past five years, and some say if the trend continues the animal could disappear from here in 20 years.

Hunting isn't the cause of the decline, say Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials. And cancelling the hunt won't reverse the trend.

"Biologically, you can hunt a species, when you're only taking males, without having a negative impact,'' said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager.

"There's a strong tradition of hunting moose in Minnesota. But does it make sense to continue it if we continue to see lower numbers? That's a conversation we'll have.''

Researchers believe the decline is related to disease and parasites, including liver flukes, winter ticks and brainworm.

Preparing for the hunt

Colby Smith and his brother Taylor, 38, also of Corcoran, avid deer hunters, knew this hunt was special, so they went to great lengths to plan their trip. Neither Taylor nor Brian Mastel, 39, of Greenfield, their brother-in-law, had moose licenses, so they couldn't carry firearms or aid Colby during his hunt, but they could help him afterward.

Colby elected to hunt deep in the BWCA, which meant he'd have to butcher and haul his moose out of the woods without the use of vehicles or power equipment.

"We figured it's a once-in-a-lifetime deal, let's do it right,'' he said.

That meant getting in shape.

"I started training in June, walking 1 mile with a 25-pound pack,'' he said. "I ended up walking 3 miles every other day with 75 pounds on my back.''

Taylor Smith hiked with 50-pound sacks of chicken feed strapped to his back. Mastel is a marathon runner.

"The training made a big difference in our endurance,'' Colby Smith said.

Scouting also was key. Smith said they'd fished the area during previous canoe trips and often seen moose. And Taylor Smith and his 10-year-old daughter went to the area last summer, scouting, and found a little-used portage into a "secret lake.''

The fun is done

The celebration of bagging his first-ever moose ended quickly, Smith said, and the real work began.

"The temperature was in the 60s," he said. "We didn't want the meat to spoil.''

The threesome set up a tarp to shade the carcass, then gutted and butchered the moose with bone saws and knives.

"The head and neck were so big you couldn't move it by yourself,'' Smith said. "It was unbelievable.''

They packed the meat into eight bags weighing a total of about 600 pounds. Smith also kept the skull and rack, which he plans to mount.

They cooled the meat in their aluminum canoe, which they left in 45-degree water overnight, then headed out the next morning. Each had to make four trips across six portages, carrying their gear, three canoes and moose meat. That's seven trips across each portage.

Said Smith: "It was the perfect hunt. We did our homework. We had the right tools. It was an amazing experience, but it's not for the faintof heart.

"It's such a neat thing. If moose hunting ends, it would be very sad.''

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com Twitter: @dougsmithstrib

  • related content

  • Brian Mastel of Greenfield, left, and Colby Smith of Corcoran, with a bull moose that Smith shot in the BWCA in late September. Also along on the trip was Smith’s brother, Taylor, also of Corcoran. The bull’s rack measured 49¾ inches.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota 0 Top 4th Inning
Baltimore 0
Philadelphia 1 Top 5th Inning
NY Mets 0
Miami 2 Top 5th Inning
Atlanta 0
Boston 0 Bottom 3rd Inning
Tampa Bay 3
Cleveland 0 Bottom 3rd Inning
Kansas City 0
Detroit 2 Top 4th Inning
Chicago WSox 0
Texas 0 Top 5th Inning
Houston 0
Colorado 0 Top 1st Inning
Arizona 0
Chicago Cubs - T. Wada 7:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Gonzales
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke 7:40 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 8:05 PM
San Francisco - J. Peavy
Oakland - J. Samardzija 8:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Washington - S. Strasburg 8:10 PM
Seattle - R. Elias
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 Delayed 9:55
(6) Auburn 38
(16) Clemson 21 3rd Qtr 5:42
(12) Georgia 24
Liberty 15 3rd Qtr 11:35
(23) North Carolina 21
Ohio U 14 3rd Qtr 6:38
Kent State 7
Louisiana Tech 0 2nd Qtr 10:00
(4) Oklahoma 24
Stephen F Austin 0 2nd Qtr 9:29
(20) Kansas State 21
Fresno State 0 1st Qtr 1:21
(15) USC 14
Southern Miss 0 1st Qtr 3:50
Miss State 7
Texas-El Paso 7 1st Qtr 11:16
New Mexico 0
North Texas 0 1st Qtr 11:22
Texas 0
(1) Florida State 0 1st Qtr 15:00
Oklahoma State 0
Idaho 0 Delayed
Florida 0
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 1st Half 15:00
Montreal 0
FC Dallas 7:30 PM
Chicago
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 34 3rd Qtr 8:45
Indiana 42
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close