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Moose Hunt in Newfoundland April 2011
September 2000 – Part 1
Roger Turner


Hoarding all the frequent flyer miles finally paid off! We made arrangements to fly first class at zero cost. We left Phoenix on Thursday morning and flew to Philadelphia where we had a brief layover. From there, we flew to Ontario.

The first thing you do when you deplane from an international flight is go through Immigration.

Anyway, the first order of business is the dreaded “pick the line you want to stand in” game. I usually have terrible luck in this department, so I deferred the decision, and resulting blame, to my lovely wife, Tami. All the lines were long; a few planes had landed at approximately the same time, and the resulting crush of people resulted in about 40 to a line.

Time continues passing. Finally, we decide to line hop. We shoot for lane #3. After a quick question or two we proceed. Elapsed time of wait: 55 minutes. Elapsed time of questioning: 1 minute. On to baggage claim!

By this time, almost everyone else has already claimed their bags. Oh well, at least we can identify ours easily.

The rifle’s not too tough to spot, and still sitting there, so I’m relieved. Guess what? Time for another line. This time, it’s the Custom’s line. By this time, it’s a short line. We’re ushered into place by yet another official and we wait. We’re about sixth in line.

If the other line was slow, this line virtually refused to move. More time passes. My only thought is, “Damn, it’s a good thing we don’t have to worry about a connecting flight. For once, some planning actually works.”

By the time the agent finally gives up with the Asian in front of us, we are at the front of the line. I’m hoping after such a prolonged effort with the Asian, this guy will pass us quickly. Of course, the first thing he wants to see is the gun. I tell him the hunting tale as I unlock the case.

Immediately, I sense a problem. The rifle is single shot, break open action with a bull (target) barrel. Nothing like this guy has ever seen before. He just can’t find that damn bolt action or assault weapon magazine and really doesn’t know what to think. He ponders a moment then decides to bail out and call for a supervisor. Fortunately, his supervisor is more versed in weaponry and immediately recognizes the break open single shot part. That barrel though. Hmm. “That’s a target barrel.” He had that, “I know there’s a silencer built into that thing somewhere.” look in his eye.

“What kind of barrel did you say that was?”

“A target barrel. It’s extra thick the whole way down. It’s kind of heavy, but it works well. Do you want to pick it up and see?”

“No thanks, that’s fine. You can go.”

Elapsed time: 1 hour 35 minutes. The friends we were meeting thought we had missed the plane but hung around just in case. That evening, we saw some of the sights and had a wonderful dinner.

The next morning, it was off to Nova Scotia (for a brief layover), and on to Newfoundland. The bus dropped us off next to the plane, and as we scampered up the stairs, I looked for the gun case. I didn’t see it, but tried to have happy thoughts.

The airport at Deerlake, Newfoundland is about as small as it sounds. It only has one baggage conveyor, but that makes life much easier. After we landed, I watched once again to see if something looking like my gun case exited the plane. This time I saw it and our other suitcase. Good! Gun and ammo. All the rest is optional. True to form, the rifle was one of the last things off the plane. We were also keeping an eye out for the outfitter’s representative. I saw a different outfitter’s rep wandering around, but did not see anybody with a “Viking Outfitter’s” T-Shirt on. Hmm. At this time we realized we did not have the outfitters phone number with us.

Right about that time, a gal with a very hoarse voice asked if we were Roger and Tami. Bingo! She had been expecting someone older, and had been asking everyone that grabbed a rifle if they were us. Since we were the last ones to get our rifle, we were the last she asked. We squeezed into a smallish 4-door coupe and off we went. Unbeknownst to either Tami or me, our drive North was to be 3 hours long. Hmm.

The population density in Newfoundland is not terribly high. We drove along some extremely scenic ocean views, with only occasional towns to break things up. Finally, we turned onto a dirt road and headed inland. We crossed a small bridge, traveled farther along the road, and turned toward a lake. The name of the lake is Hawk’s Bay. There was a floatplane sitting at the dock.

It turns out we stopped at Bess’ place. She and Ralph live on the lake, are both retired, and both now work part of the year for Viking Outfitters. Bess and Ralph are wonderful people, warm and knowledgeable. The dock and floatplane to take us to our destination was next door. When we went next door, there was no plane. The weather was cool and sunny, but the clouds were moving in. We met another couple of hunters and all waited for the floatplane. When it showed up, I realized during the ensuing confusion that something was amiss. I had the sneaking suspicion that Tami and I were about to get hosed.

After a few questions, the story unfolded: There was a mix up on who was supposed to go where. Viking Outfitters operates two cabins; Cloud Lake and Graydon Lake. Some of the Graydon Lake hunters ended up at Cloud Lake, some of the Cloud Lake hunters ended up at Graydon, and most of the equipment ended up at Graydon. The floatplane made a few trips to straighten all the hunters and equipment out. The weather started turning bad, and the sun started going down. They still did not have all the guides in the cabins, and only 4 people maximum could ride in the floatplane. By the time the sun was setting and the weather blowing, Tami and I were the only ones left. Yep, hosed again.

This was particularly annoying, because opening day was Saturday morning and this was Friday night. The owner did some explaining, and wanted to send us to a hotel for the evening. I was getting even more annoyed because the nearest hotel was about a half hour away. Ralph and Bess to the rescue. They offered to put us up for the night, and we accepted. Of course, the Vodka didn’t hurt either.

Actually, we had fun that evening. We talked about Newfoundland, the Atlantic fishing industry, and the intricacies of the local cuisine. Ralph and Bess have a very nice wood cabin. Half of the conversations they had were via cell phone, and the other half were via short-wave radio. We dined on “bottled moose” and Rum. The next morning, the weather cleared up and the floatplane arrived by 9 am.

After a 20-minute plane ride, we arrived at the cabin. We had an unexpected surprise: They had made us a special 2-person bunk, and given us our own room. Okay, now I’m getting impressed. I was happy with the accommodations, but anxious to get out in the field. The owner’s son’s name is Kirk. “Like Captain Kirk on Star Trek.” Now I know I’m going to get along with this guy! Kirk worked occasionally as a bouncer, but was functioning as the cook at this time.

Anyway, the cabin consists of a main room with a large table in the middle that has picnic style seating for 10. In the corner of the room is a wood burning stove. Behind the main room is the kitchen and a small room for the cook’s bunk. On each side of the main area are two rooms separated by a bathroom. One of the selling points of this outfitter is a hot water shower in each bathroom. Given the water supply for the cabin is a stream on the top of the plateau behind the cabin, the water pressure was adequate for all uses.

Each room normally has two rows of double-decker bunk beds nailed into opposite walls. Our room had one set of bunk beds replaced with our double bunk. Upstairs from the main room is the attic which is currently used for storage. The whole cabin was built from the trees cut down to make room for it. They made a sawmill in the near area to cut the lumber.

We stowed our gear and I was really hot to get to it. We waited for Dave to return. Dave was the most experienced guide and the person in charge of the cabin. The floatplane landed again and Dave got off. He knew where the other hunters were, and had seen a decent moose on the flight in. Now I was getting really jazzed.

I was assigned Johnny as a guide. Johnny was new to the guide gig, and I was to be his very first customer. Great. Johnny was a great outdoorsman however. He was out of high school, and when not working on a fishing boat, spent all of his time hunting. He was relatively familiar with the area, because he snowmobiles (skidoo’s) it during the winters.

Even so, Dave decided that all three of us would go out together the first time. Sounded good to me. They got dressed and I knew I had another problem. There is waterproof and then there is waterproof. Both Johnny and Dave donned bona fide Atlantic fisherman garbs. You know, the chest high, heavy rubber over canvas outfits that are impervious to gales. Gulp. The boots are separate; they put those on first, then pull on the chest high waders. After that, they duct tape and/or rubber band the cuffs. Gulp gulp.

We hopped into a blue motorboat, and headed to the corner of the lake. We disembarked and headed into the woods. “Damn,” I thought, “this is the densest stuff I’ve ever been in.” We meandered around and slowly headed uphill. Little did I know this was the “easy” way. We stayed on the game trail because you couldn’t really do anything else.

We saw some bear tracks, and they looked fresh. Hmm. I’ve got a bear tag, but the visibility in these woods is only about 5 feet. Hmm. What is the average speed of a black bear? Hmm. I really wished I had my standard sidearm. Anyway, after about an hour or so of walking we were on top of the plateau.

What a trip! I’d never been in Arctic Tundra before. The area is essentially open, with strewn boulders and a 20 – 40 mph gusty prevailing wind. My first thought was, “How can anything hide in this?” Then I was educated. Even though the terrain is open, there are ravines, gullies, and my favorite, bogs. Spruce trees grow up the incline to the plateau, and even on the downwind side of hills and in the ravines and gullies. Bogs are just plain bogs. The height of the spruces are inversely proportional to the amount of wind they endure. On the side of the hill, going up to the plateau, they are normal sized. Once on top of the tundra, they are only about six inches tall and grow as thickets. You can walk on top of them, but you have to be careful not to fall through and twist a knee or ankle. The guides stay on the game trails if at all possible and I decided that would be a good idea for me as well.

A word about bogs. Actually, a few choice words about bogs. Bogs appear to be only an inch or two deep. Not so. As you walk across the bog (when you have to), it’s like walking across a massive waterbed. The ground gives a bit under your feet. I wondered how the guides figured out where to step and where not to. As we meandered across one of the bogs, I heard the vegetation tearing under my feet. I then realized I weigh more than either of the guides. I wonder if they kept that in mind.

Lesson number 1: Do not attempt to run across the bog. After freaking out about the tearing vegetation, I decided it was in my best interest to exit the bog as quickly as possible. Hindsight dictates this was the wrong answer. Running tends to finish tearing the vegetation beneath one’s feet, and in this case, I found myself knee deep (one knee) in bog. Fortunately, adrenalin being what it is, that knee did not stay in the bog terribly long. Also fortunately, my next step did not tear through the vegetation. I’ve never almost had my fillings sucked out through my foot before. I also found out that my pant cuffs, which tie around my ankle, really could keep mud out when necessary. The guides of course, merely chuckled.

After extricating myself from the bog, I noticed the weather getting bad. They have a saying in Newfoundland, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” The only problem was, I really kind of liked the weather. No matter. It started raining. Not just a little, a real monsoon type of blowing rain (the wind did not stop for the rain).

We were moving toward a chest high boulder when Dave, who was leading, hit the dirt. Instinctively, I did the same. Neat thing about tundra, it is covered with an inch or so of that nice spongy lichen and moss stuff. Soft with no cactus quills. I looked a little farther up, about 40 feet or so, and the back half of one of the biggest animals I’ve ever seen. Lurching up on my knees, I flipped the scope caps open, pulled the hammer back on the single shot, and was getting very happy. “Wait a minute until I check it out.” Dave whispered.

Dave peeked around the bush and delivered the verdict: “It’s too small. The rack is only a two point, and it’s not big enough to put in the freezer.”

“Not big enough?! Its butt is taller than I am. Are you sure?”

“Yep.”

“You guys are killing me.”

Now it was really raining. The young moose wandered off and disappeared over the nearest ridge. I released the hammer, pushed the caps on, and tried to think of a warm place somewhere. We walked to the next few ridges. It stopped raining, I stopped shivering, and Dave decided to part company with us. He was intent on finding the moose he saw from the air. He positioned us on the top of one ridge, looking along a ravine, and he went to the next ridge over. I found out that Dave used to be a cross country runner in his youth. I’m glad he’s old and smokes now. Sure as shit, Dave got to the next ridge, looked around, and started waving.

Damn. Since we were in a hurry, we tried to get there as fast as possible. That meant jogging over the spruce thicket, walking over the bog, and jogging up the hill to the crest. Once there, I try not to barf, and Dave points down the ravine.

“Look, over there are two cows lying in the thicket. I’ll bet the bull is around them somewhere. Let’s go down wind of the cows, cross behind them and get on the ridge above them.”

That sounded like a good plan. The cows ended up being about a half mile away, and it took us another 45 minutes or so to get into position. We were on the top of a ridge with the cows below and to the right of us. There were some small rocks in front of us, and a two-foot high rock to my immediate left. We crouched against the rocks as a windbreak and took a look around.

Behind us, off in the distance, were three big bulls. Unfortunately, “off in the distance” had to be greater than 5 miles. We easily agreed we could not stalk them, shoot one, and get back to camp before dark. We looked in all directions for about a half an hour, when Dave hit the dirt again. Not that going from crouching to prone really changed much, but the tundra was soft and kind of fun to jump down on. Right below us, at about 50 yards, was a bull! WHOA! This one had decent horns. I could see its horns as it shook its head, but couldn’t see anything else. I hit the dirt too and lay prone with my front hand on the rock in front of me. Caps up, hammer back, ready for love. Going down the incline, there were rocks and a small open space, a stand of about 3-foot high spruce, and then a small drop off where the moose was standing.

I noticed if I shot from my current position, the bullet would hit the low rock in front of me. Bad. I crouched up and leaned against the 2-foot rock to my immediate left. While I was doing this, the moose turned broadside. That was the good news. The bad news was the moose’s hindquarters and front quarters and head were totally hidden behind spruce “bushes”. I could only see the top half of what was left because the rest was covered by low brush. Okay, all the moose has to do is take one step forward and his front half will come into view. Cool. I’ll just wait. I did. The moose laid down rather than take a step. Shit! Okay, I’ll still wait.

Every fifteen minutes or so, Dave would sit up just enough to see if the moose was still there. Yep. This happened four times and even Dave was getting a bit frustrated. He crawled around to my left, hoping to get a view of the moose, or at least position us where a shot could be had if the moose simply stood up. He continued to crawl and motioned for me to follow. Hmm. Drop the hammer on the single shot without letting it go off using frozen fingers. Okey dokey. A tense moment followed by success. I then crawled off after Dave. We crawled for 10 yards or so, obliquely to the moose. When we stopped, Dave was to my left and the moose was in front of us. I could see the tops of his horns but nothing more. He was down in a ditch, lying on the far side of the ravine. If I sat up, I could see most of him. Dave whispered for me to get ready, and he let out a low moose call.

Suddenly, a calf stood up and started running around the bottom of the ravine! Oh great, that will complicate matters. And the head of a cow lurched up and started looking around. The bull of course, remained motionless. I looked at Dave, he looked at me, and we wondered just what the hell it would ever take to get the bull to even twitch. Another 15 minutes pass and most of me from the belly button down has fallen asleep and was numb. Dave whispers and asks if I think I could get a shot if I moved closer to him. Hell, anything is worth a try. I butt scooted next to him and the bull came into full view. Lying down but quartering toward me. Not a bad shot. I slowly raised the gun and put my elbow to my knee only to find out that when I did so, I wasn’t high enough to see the bull fully anymore. Shit shit shit! I looked at Dave, whispered “Are you ready?” and sat full up unsupported. A quick correction and I let go. BLAM! Dust flew from the bank behind the bull and I knew I got him.

The bull stood up! What?! I didn’t drag this cannon (a 12 pound .338 win mag) all the way out here to have the bull stand up! It got up quickly but shakily and trotted 10 yards down the ravine. The entire time, Dave is telling me, “You got it, but shoot it again.” It takes a moment to reload a single shot, and by the time I had, the moose had turned his head around to look at us. Now I’m standing, trying to draw a bead on the moose’s neck. Remember the prevailing 20 to 40 mph gusting wind? No workie. I told Dave, “I need to lean against you.” Stuck an elbow on his shoulder and BLAM! Off goes another round. The moose trotted another 20 yards and went around the corner. Damn! Either moose are really really tough, or this .338 is not what it’s cracked up to be.

I reloaded and we went back to the top of the ravine to track the moose. Johnny had been up there all along, and was paralleling the moose. He said it had gone another 10 yards or so from the corner, and then he lost it in the spruce. We crashed through the 3-foot high spruce to the moose’s last known location, and it was still there, dead as a stump. As is my custom, I took a moment to be thankful and respectfully stroked the moose’s neck. We did a field dress, and the guides told me the moose most likely tipped the scales a bit above 900 pounds. Wow! It did take three of us to roll it over and reposition it. After we repositioned it, I did the usual forensics. The first shot was as good as I thought it was; it had gone through both lungs and put a three inch long by quarter inch deep nick in the heart. On the way in, it went between two ribs, but the shock broke out good-sized pieces of each and threw them into the chest cavity with the bullet. Damn, that should have been more than enough to do it. The second shot missed the spine in the neck by about an inch and a half. It entered about four inches above the shoulder and exited under the chin. Damn, there’s a lot of really important stuff there too. That should have more than done it all by itself. Two shots that had damage zones four inches in diameter through major, vital organs. My conclusion: Never ever ever piss off a moose without mortally wounding it first.

We cut off the rack, marked the spot, and hiked back to the boat. Four guys with backpacks returned the next day, filleted the moose, and brought back a bit over 200 pounds of boneless meat. It turned out I was the only one to get anything the first day.

Roger’s Newfoundland adventure continues in Part 2 …

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