Cresting into Boulder Valley
A hunter’s memoirs in British Columbia.
By Doctor Yannick Cucca
The shrill scream of the bugling elk awoke me from my first comfortable sleep in three days, sending a shiver down my spine. They were several hundred yards away but their call was so loud it was as if they were in the next room. They were brazen now, its like they knew that elk season was closed. This was it. I was finally here in BC after 15 years of dreaming, planning and logistics and a healthy slab of cash. I was in northern BC, about to hunt the Western Canadian moose. I was in a lofty double bed in the base lodge at Folding Mountain Outfitters. The sleeping arrangements over the next few weeks were not to be as deluxe as Folding mountain Outfitters lodge, where I was waking now. The sun was just lighting the majestic slopes pock-marked with evergreen spruce and impossibly golden poplars and alders. The snow capped peaks glowed pink. She was as beautiful as promised.
We had a string of six horses; three riders and three pack horses, food for two weeks, camping equipment and our hunting gear, all ably managed by our guide Dodge. It was a surprise to find the hoprses so tame and rideable after a long time living wild without a saddle on their back. My horse we called Hank. Hank the tank. He was a black and white paint mountain horse, nearly 17 hands. My saddle would need some adjustment as I don’t possess the long legs of a Canadian lumberjack and a few extra holes needed to be punched in the stirrup leathers in order for my feet to reach them.
Dodge was an Aussie himself, from Sydney, and owner/operator of Accurate Hunts booking agency. We set our first spike camp up after a 6-hour ride in and made a fire with wet alder stumps and spruce twigs. We roasted cheese sausages over the open flames and nothing could taste sweeter for my first dinner under the open northern sky. I fell asleep with knots of anticipation in the pit of my stomach and a dull throbbing ache in my saddle sore sacrum.
Some BC Moose Facts
Being this far North in BC, the genetics in the Moose is truly more of a Yukon sub-species. Although technically registered in B&C as a Canada Moose, these monster Moose score high in the record books and look great above a fireplace … a big fireplace. Moose hunting takes place in September and early October. Spot and stalk, along with calling are both utilised for finding and harvesting trophy Moose.
Riding for another three full days to get to the final hunting camp, Boulder Valley, we spotted a cow moose first morning, browsing on the underbrush. Soon enough our glassing caught the reflective ivory of a bull that was following a short distance behind her. This was it! My first bull moose in the flesh. We wasted no time and got the spotter onto him.
‘Is he legal?’ I asked, struggling to hide the boyish excitement in my voice.
‘He’s not a monster, but he’s definitely legal,’ Dodge replied. In BC, a bull must have either three scorable points on his fronts or else a total of 10 scorable points on one antler in total to be considered legal to harvest during the rut. We plotted our advance. We would circle around them and come into the valley where they were headed from the back, with the sun and the wind in our favour. We set out, got the horses nearly permanently bogged in some muskeg, climbed a near 45 degree incline and dropped onto the north side face of the next mountain face to find… nothing. The brush was so thick that again we found that visibility was great when you weren’t in the thick of brush over which you couldn’t see even when you were mounted on a 17 hand horse. We made our best cow moose impressions from the hillside for the best part of the morning to no avail.
Next morning we rounded a granite finger, snaking down into the valley. About a mile up the valley, I looked up a bare hill. It was green, its peak sitting just above the treeline. On the very apex I noticed a black smudge, with a white smudge seemingly resting on top of one side. I’m still unsure if it was my imagination but the white smudge moved down to the ground then went back up to its original spot. I yanked on Hank’s reins and pulled up my binos. Sure enough there stood a bull. A big bull. Looking down upon the valley floor as a noble surveys his land. He seemed to stand only ankle deep in alders I knew to be taller than me. He looked to have at least 11 points a side and tall, wide palms with unnecessarily long time on his fronts. This was the bull we had come to Boulder for. So, I slid a round into the chamber of Dodge’s .300 Win. Mag. and we planned our approach on this monarch of the mountains.
Closing the distance we saw him start to come down the mountain face. We had tied the horses up in plain view and it seemed he could make them out and was curious as to what they were. It was a race to get into shooting range as at the foot of the mountain was a dense stand of spruce and he seemed to be heading for it. We knew if he made it there before we could get close enough for a clean shot finding him would become a challenging proposition. The mass of a bull moose could disappear with ease in those thicket depths. We kept ranging as we closed in. 800 yards, 600, down to 460 yards, before watching him crest over the side of the mountain and down into the bowels of the spruce grove. We must have scanned every square inch of the grove, thick with fresh sign, scat, tracks and rubs, but he had vanished seemingly into thin air. It was three solemn bodies that made their way back to base that night.
The following afternoon we sat across the valley from where we had seen the big bull, set up and made our very finest, mournful, lovesick cow calls. The sound carried far on the wind. Glassing the massive, near vertical cliff face which formed the valley perimeter Dodge managed to spot a Rocky Mountain goat effortlessly side-hilling across the face.
‘Antlers, coming through the alders!’
Devin had been glassing the far right hill while we were focused on the goat. A glint of ivory caught my attention and my eyes locked in on the area and the massive brown body of a mature bull moose seemingly materialized out of the tangle of alder brush. I had to pinch myself. This visual confirmation had somehow turned the volume up; it seemed we could hear him thrashing the brush with his paddles as he closed in on us. We kept calling and he responded.
‘Ouah! Ouah!’ the spine tingling guttural rutting bull call carried over the still valley air. I swapped the glass for the Remington. The Swarovski Z6 made the portrait crystal clear. The misting of his breath with his calls contrasted against his dark chocolate coat. He looked incredible, his ungainly crown of paddles and tines swaying back and forth with a stunning display of lust mingled with rage. Old Hank, and his mates must have looked pretty good beneath us because he was making a beeline straight for us. We ranged him at 800 yards. We could still hear him grunting and thrashing the brush as he pushed through the spruce. He was 500 yards just before he entered a thicket. He emerged on a bare hill. I swung the rifle around and sized him up. 350 yards. He was standing between two spruce trees. Dodge had him in the glass. We realized in that moment, this was the bull from yesterday. He had the same fronts with an unbelievably long first tine off his palm on both sides. He was legal in every sense of the word. The seconds ticked by. My crosshairs danced around his vital zone. I flirted with picking up the trigger slack.
‘Dodge can I take the shot?’ ‘Wait for him to step further out into the clearing and give you a broadside shot,’ ‘I have a clear shot..’ ‘Just wait!’
Eventually the drive to breed broke his resolve and he took those final steps out into the clearing. As if in slow motion he turned broad side. The crosshairs settled just behind his shoulder. I didn’t wait for permission. The blast of the shot reverberated with deafening finality and he bucked up at the withers in the characteristic fashion of a solid lung shot.
‘Rack another round!’ shouted Dodge behind me. I was on autopilot now. I sent another Barnes TSX on its way and made contact again. The second shot was unnecessary. The giant was expired on his feet. He made a circle on the spot then tried to take a step forward then collapsed, motionless. Disbelief had stolen our tongues. We stared at each other. Then shouted in triumph. Our cheers echoed through the valley.
There is no ground shrinkage on a moose. I knelt at his head and took him in. I brushed his eyes closed for the last time and thanked him under my breath. He had made one of my greatest dreams come true. 15 years of dreaming culminated in this one moment. I ran my fingers over his antlers. The rough bone felt surreal. He had three heavy fronts on each side, one front tine almost palmating in its own right. On either side he carried a huge first tine off the main palm. We spanned him at 54 inches. But inches mean little in the end as what this bull represented to me was too vast to measure with a tape.
The next two days we paid him the greatest honor we could. We took his skin and his antlers and as much meat as our packhorses could fit on their backs. The sheer volume of lean protein we carved from this bull could have fed a small army. We feasted on his flesh for the rest of the week. The following days saw a cold snap for the ride out. The pickup and horse trailer made a sight for sore eyes. We thawed our fingers over the truck’s heater and made our way back to the lodge for a long awaited shower.
More Moose Facts
The Western moose inhabits British Columbia, Western Ontario, eastern Yukon, Northwest Territories, southwestern Nunavut, northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the upper peninsula of Michigan, northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, and some of western Alaska.
Male Western moose stand anywhere from 1.9 to 2.0 metres (6.2 to 6.6ft) at the shoulder. Their antlers span 1.5 to 1.7 metres (4.9 to 5.6ft) and they weigh anywhere from 380‚Äì720 kilograms (840‚Äì1,590lb). Female Western moose stand at 1.8 metres (5ft 11in) on average, and weigh anywhere from 270 to 360 kilograms (600 to 790lb).
With a population of about 950,000 individuals, they are hunted every autumn and winter in both Canada and the United States. Annual quotas vary depending on local population estimates and hunter success from the previous season.