By Otha Barham
If you want to avoid the crowds in western elk and mule deer country, give some thought to going after a moose.
The Shiras moose inhabits parts of Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Washington. Populations have been growing in most of these states, but all of them may not have open seasons yet and some restrict hunters to residents only. Wyoming has historically issued the most permits and non-residents have been welcome.
Applications must be made for Wyoming moose hunting licenses early in the year, like January or February. Check with each state wildlife management agency for all details because careful management programs often have changes year to year.
When I applied for a non-resident bull license in Wyoming in the early 1990s I was drawn on my first try. And so was a buddy of mine, although he applied in a different area than I. We both got our bulls. But moose hunting popularity has grown to the point that such drawing luck is not likely today. Still a hunter's odds for a draw are usually better than many elk, deer, bear and lion licenses throughout the mountain west.
I contacted a rancher, Tim, who is a friend of a friend, in southwestern Wyoming and I was able to camp on his ranch property and even hunt with him for a few days. I paid him with a hind quarter of moose which kept him and his wife in meat the whole winter and beyond. A moose is big, people! They were so happy to get the meat that his wife sent me Christmas cards of thanks for several years, and I never actually met her while on their ranch. Western ranches are big, people!
One day Tim and I took our 4-wheelers far up into that tip of Wasatch National Forest that spills over into Wyoming from Utah to help a crew of several get a bull moose cut into pieces and brought down to civilization. The moose lay some 10 miles from a paved road and beyond a healthy creek. There was four inches of snow on the ground in the shaded part of the forest.
On our way down the mountain, Tim stopped and pointed out a moose track that was so big that it compelled him to stop and comment on it. "That's one of the biggest tracks I have ever seen," he said, these being one of the longest sentences I heard him use. Cowboys say very few words and have short first names.
Hunting alone, my preference, I climbed that mountain the next day in search of that big bull. No sooner had I parked my 4-wheeler and walked 40 yards than a bull came charging down the mountain right into my scent that was drifting up his trail. Was he coming in for a fight or just upset that a human was in his territory? I don't know. But I had an emergency at home in Mississippi and had vowed to take the first bull that gave me a shot.
So I sent three or four 180 grain Speer Grand Slams at his boiler room as he ran with my scent in his nostrils. Either two or three bullets found the lungs (one hit a tree) and he kept going for 60 yards (five seconds or less) and ran over a 25 foot tree, flattening it in the snow and piling down on top of it stone dead. With good gear on my 4-wheeler and working alone, It took me the rest of that day and all the next until dark to ferry the pieces of the big brute out to my truck.
The bull had been headed for a wide basin full of willows, the primary food for elk. Glass such basins and it shouldn't be long until a moose shows up. They are not that hard to hunt and find and their heart-lung area is bigger than a foot tub. Hunter success in many areas is around 90 percent.