A few years ago I was invited by my friend Matt to go deer hunting in a range of mountains neither one of us had ever been to before. He had gone up a few days ahead of me to claim a nice camping spot and to hunt with his son for a few days on their own.
The day I headed up I had found their camping spot only no one was there and concluded they went hunting early as it was after sun up now. I decided to go explore and hunt on my own and come back around mid day thinking they would be back by then. I had brought two rifles to hunt with. An old world war 2 Mosin Nagant with open sights and a .25-06 with a scope. I chose to go with my Mosin Nagant for this adventure and proceeded to unload my ATV, donned my hand sewn ghillie suit I just made the week before, slung my rifle and head out.
After a while of driving around and taking short hikes into areas that seemed to me like a sure thing that there would have been a deer in there and getting “skunked” as we call it locally when you don’t see anything when hunting.
I stumbled on an area that had been burned up in a forest fire earlier in the year.
I had never been in a burned up area like this before and was absorbing in all the visual shock of the devastation. I was walking along the ridge line of the burned area looking as far as I could see across all the other ridges where the fire had burned it up.
I found the burned up skeleton of some poor little creature too unfortunate to escape the blaze.
Shaking my head to clear my mood and focus on why I came here. I was trying to gauge distances with no points of references. I spotted a clear patch of dirt down at the bottom of the ravine I was standing over. I guessed it to be 250 yards give or take. I set the riser sight on my rifle to the 250 mark and took a shot at a rock roughly the size of a small dog in the middle of the patch of bare dirt.
Nailed it. Satisfied with the shot and seeing that it was mid day I headed back to camp.
As I was nearing the camp I saw a skinned and cleaned out deer hanging from a tree. I met up with my friend. We chatted for a bit about his son bagging his deer, the burned up area, and all the moose that he saw. Moose are unusual to us as the mountains we grew up around have a very small population of moose and you never saw them. We cooked up some lunch and sat down by a campfire.
My friend said he was going to run down the mountain to get a cell signal and call his wife to pick up his son. We put the fire out and they took off.
I decided to go out hunting again, but headed in the opposite direction this time away from the burned up area. I found a nice trail for ATV s and drove up it. It was a beautiful drive through an aspen grove. It was mid fall and the leaves were all golden in color. The mid afternoon sun almost seemed to make them sparkle. The cool crisp autumn air was filled with a perfumed aroma of the aspens.
I came to the end of the trail, only because a huge tree had fallen down across the path some years ago that had never been cleared out. I got off my ATV and walked up the abandoned and overgrown trail. After a bit of a hike I was in pine trees with low hanging branches just at my head level and had to do a lot of ducking to get through. After a while I noticed that all the low pine branches were all broken and roughed up like deer or elks antlers had been tearing them up.
Feeling like I was in the lucky zone I kept going up the trail. I finally ran into an area that had no grass on the ground and could tell what kind of animal was on this trail. Sure enough I seemed to have found the deer and elk highway. I was stoked now. Further up the trail I found some leg bones of a deer. I have a habit of trying to find the whole skeleton in hopes of finding a “dead head”. The skull of a buck or antlered elk as a kind of trophy.
searching around for a few minutes I found the whole skeleton but it was a female deer. I also noticed an elk leg bone nearby and went to look for that skeleton as well. I found it a few moments later only to see it was a small young female.
I started to get a funny feeling like I should get out of the area and started to back out. Looking around I noticed carnivore scat and bones of smaller animals as well. The whole way back I was looking over my shoulder until I got to my ATV.
I made it back to camp and started the fire again and sat there drinking until my friend Matt made it back. We stayed in camp until his wife showed up to pick their son up and take him home. Matt and I discussed our hunting plans for the next morning. As we were sitting there we saw a large black animal walking on the hill across from our camp. At first, we assumed it was a ranchers cow but took a second look through binoculars after we realized it was alone and cows tend to stay in herds. Another moose Matt said looking through his binoculars.
The hunting plans we came up with was that Matt was going to hunt where his son shot his deer and I was going to hunt at a creek near our camp where Matt said he saw plenty of deer there in the mornings as well as moose. I opted not to go with Matt as I didn’t want to take a long drive to where they were hunting on the backside of the mountain near some farm fields.
The next morning we got up around 4:30 AM and boiled a kettle of water to make some instant oatmeal, a true hunters breakfast. Matt asked me one more time if I was sure I didn’t want to go with him to his spot. I said no, I have a good feeling about hunting here at the creek. He gave me one last warning about watching out for moose and took off.
I put on my ghillie suit and my headlamp and walked over to the creek. It was wasn’t far from our camp, a few hundred yards at best. I couldn’t see anything through the darkness. My headlamp only seemed to light up the area four feet ahead clearly and anything beyond that was dim and hard to make out. My batteries weren’t as fresh as I thought they were. I managed to find a spot I thought was going to be good and sat and waited for a daylight.
The sky was lightening up and I could make out more of the landscape. Dim, but clearer than my headlamp could make it. A little while later I could see well enough to make out a better spot to wait out an animal in a clump of aspens with a clear line down the whole creek. I walked over as quietly as I could and set up there.
As the morning light was getting bright enough to see totally clear I could hear all sorts of things moving around in the thick brush beyond the tree line of the creek. I sat and planned out scenarios through my head of what I would do if I saw deer in certain areas. Out of the bushes on my right side within two feet of me trotted out three coyotes in single file. I could have reached out and grabbed one by the tail they were that close. I was amazed at the effectiveness of my home made ghillie suit.
It was made out of an old zip up hoodie and a pair of old snow bibs that I had sewn strips of burlap to: sage green, tan, dark brown, and black in colors.
A few moments later I heard something getting closer to the creek through the dense brush. I could tell the direction it was heading and moved quietly out of my hiding spot and heard it was just on the other side of a large pine tree. I was using my scoped rifle this time and set my scopes zoom to the lowest power and knelt down and had one eye looking through the scope and the other eye looking at the tree waiting for the animal to pop out.
My heart was pounding in anticipation. The animal sounded large. I had a second thought about the situation. I realized just then too little to late that never have I heard a deer walk that loudly through the brush like it didn’t care what knew it was around. That moment I was thinking that the head of this huge animal came out from behind the tree. at first it was looking down at the ground. It noticed me and looked over my way.
This was the biggest moose I have ever seen. I could have used one of this moose’s paddles as a hammock. Magazine photos, trophy mounts, This animal was larger than any of those, and standing ten yards away from me. That moment you realize you’re in trouble and time seems to stand still and let you think of an option. I dove prone to the side as close to a willow shrub as I could. I had gone too far away from the tree line to have been able to run into the thick aspens where I had been.
My hope was that my ghillie suit would confuse the moose and I hoped that getting close to the willow shrub could save me from getting stepped on. I couldn’t see anything going on around me. The hood of my suit was large and was covering my head. I could hear the moose snorting and grunting angrily.
Now, I could hear the sounds of at least five more individual, large animals moving out of the thick brush and heading to the creek. I’m in deep, is all I could think to myself. I am shaking and it’s hard to manage to stay still. I had the thought of shooting my rifle and trying to scare the moose away and take the risk of being stepped on by a 2000 pound animal. As I went to slowly move my hand up to my trigger my wrist had been wrapped by my sling as I dove and I couldn’t move my arm up to the trigger.
As the old saying in the military goes, “There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole during a firefight” I found myself praying for a way out. After what I think was five minutes I hear the herd head back into the brush. I waited for a few moments for silence again. I peeked as best I could under my hood to my sides and didn’t see anything. I slowly pushed myself up pulled my hood back to look around a bit and I hear a snort. I look behind me to see the alpha male five feet behind me and now I have ticked it off. I went back down and put my hood back up real quick.
The moose starts snorting and grunting. I hear it start thrashing the willow bush with its paddles. I am shaking uncontrollably at this moment. I start praying for someone to drive by and scare the moose away. I didn’t know if anyone would drive by as the whole day before I only saw two people drive up the road we were camped on.
The moose had finally stopped thrashing on the willow bush and was just snorting. I forced myself to calm down. I still had a little shaking from the adrenaline, but I was calmed down. What seemed like hours passing waiting for this moose to move on A truck finally drove by. I heard them stop and comment on the massive size of the moose. A few moments later the moose trots off into the brush after its herd.
The truck drove off and I got up and got out of there as fast as I could. I jumped the creek and jogged up to the road. I went and sat next to some small bushes and went over what the heck just happened. As I was sitting there some deer happened to pop out and get a drink. I raised my rifle to shoot. I thought to myself just then, How can I take this animals life moments after having mine be spared.
I lowered my rifle and said ” Not today buddy” and walked back to camp to wait for my friend to get back. When my Friend Matt showed up to camp I told him the story of what just happened. I’m sure he thought it was a BS story and said to me “I told ya’ there was moose” laughing.
To this day I still wonder if those people in the truck took a picture of that moose and perhaps have a man in a ghillie suit on the ground next to it. In the sublet mountain range in southern Idaho by the creek near the abandoned ranger station.