Sunday, May 23, 2010
NEWFOUNDLAND MOOSE - SCI SILVER AWARD
PART I - THE BEGINNING
Have you ever flipped through the pages of Field & Stream or watched an exciting big game hunt on the Outdoor Channel and said to yourself, “Someday I would like to do that?” I guess all hunters have a specific species they dream about pursuing and mine has always been a moose. In terms of my “bucket list” for animals I want to hunt, the moose has always been number one. For years, I have sent my check to Vermont and Maine in hopes of getting drawn in their moose hunting lottery; but it never was. But last Fall I received an email from Amsterdam hunters Dick Andrews and Marshall Knapik and Rich Kraus(Ballston Spa) about their Newfoundland moose hunt that finally lit the fire under me. And the results is that in 3 weeks my dream hunt will finally become a reality.
The moose, which is derived from the Algonkian name meaning “eater of twigs,” was not native to Newfoundland. They were introduced, two bulls and two cows from New Brunswick, in 1904 and today it is estimated that there is a population of 120,000. Moose are the largest member of the deer family with a weak eyesight but their most acute sense is their hearing. Their habitat is includes swampy areas as well as forested higher ground around lakes.
The destination, which I choose mainly because of Dick’s recommendation and the fact that he has hunted there successfully five times already and will be returning in 2010, is Sam’s Hunting and Fishing Camps located in Portland Creek, Newfoundland, Canada. Owned and operated by Sam and Hebbert Caines, they have over 30 years of experience guiding and outfitting hunters. Sam’s has three hunting camps located in Area No. 3 on the Northern Peninsula: St. Paul’s Big Pond, where I will be hunting, which is one-half mile from Gros Morne National Park which is 35 miles from Deer Lake; Long Range Mountains at Trophy Lake and High Pond which are each 60 miles from Deer Lake which is the pick up point for all Sam’s hunters. Now although we will be hunting from fly-in remote sites, which I am looking forward to, it is comforting to know that there is two-way radio and cell telephone contact with these camps.
There are two ways to get to Deer Lake; driving and flying. If you drive there is a 5 - 8 hour ferry crossing depending upon the weather or, my choice, drive to Montreal and fly into Deer Lake. Here I will spend the night, be picked up early the next morning and flown in to camp by helicopter. And this, the helicopter ride, is something I am looking forward to also. All the camps are built to Newfoundland Tourism specifications and include indoor toilets, showers, two bedroom with two single beds in each, a large dining room and a kitchen. And each camp has a full time cook. Each hunter has his/her own guide. The actual hunting is done by spot and stalk, which is walking and glassing a variety of terrains, and/or sometimes glassing from elevated blinds.
Now when choosing a guide/outfitter success rate should always be a major consideration. In the case of Sam’s Hunting and Fishing Camps he has a 90 percent success rate for moose and 100 percent for caribou. Unfortunately, I applied for a Woodland caribou hunting tag but did not receive one; but I did get a black bear permit which I hopefully will be able to fill during this hunt. As for the caribou, I will try again next year.
When hunting in Canada there are a number of forms and documents that are needed when crossing the border. The easiest way to travel to and from Canada is with a passport. As for your firearm, this too is fairly simple and most of the paperwork can be competed before you go. You cannot bring a fully automatic weapon, handgun or pepper spray into Canada. Your regular hunting rifle/shotgun is not a problem as long as complete a Nonresident Firearms Declaration(CAFC909EF) form. Sam sent this form to me when I confirmed my hunt with him in February. The form is very simple to complete and on it you can register up to 3 firearms and the cost is $25(Canadian) which you pay at the time of crossing. The registration is good for 60 days. Do not sign and date the form until you are at customs. In all the times I have traveled to Canada with a firearm(s) to hunt it has been a very simple process which usually will take no more than 30 minutes. To download this form Goggle “Canadian firearms declaration form.”
With regards to transporting firearms to Canada , which they may or may not inspect at the border, is in a protective and lockable case, and obviously, unloaded. It is wise if your gun is a bolt action to remove the bolt, and if it a clip remove the clip.
Weather-wise, during September it is usually very pleasant in the mid - 40s which is good hunting weather. But Dick and other hunters who have been to Newfoundland in September all agree that things can change very quickly. “You will hunt in the rain,” they tell me and things will get damp and therefore layering you clothing is the best method. The absolute must for this trip is quality rain gear which should include quality rubber boots that are 16 or 17 inches high and with aggressive tread.
Now those of you who know me are probably saying: “First moose hunt; he will surely have to buy a new gun.” That’s what my wife thought also. Well, believe it or not, the gun that I will be using is one that is already in my gun cabinet. In fact I have had it for at least 7 years now and never really shot anything with it. It is a ported Remington Model 700 BDL in the .300 Win Mag caliber. I told you I knew that one day I would be making this hunt and actually bought the gun solely for the purpose of hunting moose with it. The only action it has seen up until now has been a twice a year complete cleaning and oiling. But now that my dream hunt is going to be a reality I have added a quality optic and spent some range time getting acquainted with this gun; and I am very impressed with its performance and power; just what is needed to bring down a large bull moose that stands higher than a large saddle horse and can weigh as much as 1500 pounds.
When I asked Sam and Hebbert what to expect in terms of the range of shooting distance he said that it could be anywhere from 50 yards to 400 yards; which was another reason I chose the .300 win mag cartridge.
With the number of quality scopes offered today my selection of the right one for this rifle and especially this hunt was difficult. At the Shot Show in January I spent one day visiting optic manufacturers booths and reviewing what they were offering in scopes. One in particular impressed me; Hawke Optics. And when Brad Bonar, their Sales Manager, let me look through their Endurance 30 series 3-12x50 L3 Dot IR reticle scope all I could think about was placing that red dot on the shoulder of my Newfoundland bull moose. Other important features include a 30mm matt black mono tube, it is fog and waterproof, shockproof and has an 11 setting rheostat to adjust the Dot’s intensity to any light condition.
After mounting and bore sighting the scope I headed for the range where I tested 3 brands of ammunition shooting from a Caldwell Lead Sled shooting rest which is the only way to sight in a firearm for two reasons: one is that you get the best accuracy and two, it absorbs almost all of the felt recoil. My 3-shot grouping with the Endurance was quite impressive(one-half inch) and the best results were with the Winchester Supreme Elite XP3, 180 grain 2-stage expansion bullet with delayed controlled expansion, deep penetration and high weight retention. Ballistically it has a muzzle velocity of 3000 feet per second and energy of 3597 foot pounds. Just the right medicine for taking a moose down. Zeroed at 200 yards it will be 1.4 inches high at 100 yards and 6.4 inches low at 300 yards. And should I get that 400 yard shot, my holdover will be 18.5 inches.
One other service I found helpful when dealing with Hawke Optics was their Ballistic Reticle Calculator(BRC) which is a free software package that will help you to choose the right ammunition for your gun and print a copy of the results. This program covers calibers from a 177 air rifle, up to a 300 Weatherby magnum and even will calculate the best crossbow bolt for your crossbow. To get the BRC go to their web at hawkeoptics, click on “Hawke BRC” and they will email it to you. And while you are there click on “NEW Reticle Information” and see how my L3 DOT IR looks when sighting in a bull elk in the field.
PART II - THE HUNT
Forty five years ago when I realized how much I enjoyed big game hunting I promised myself that someday I was going to go on a moose hunt. And two weeks ago my wish came true in Newfoundland at Sam’s Hunting and Fishing Camps; and I can honestly say it was the most exciting hunting adventures I have ever experienced.
It was 2a.m. when I stepped off the plane in Deer Lake along with several other camo clad passengers and headed for the baggage claim conveyor. Now if you have ever traveled with a firearm on a hunting trip you know how good you feel when you see that gun case come out on the conveyor; and mine did. But my suitcase, with all my hunting clothes, boots and other accessories, didn’t. Now I had a real problem because in just 4 hours my outfitter Sam Caines was going to pick me up and take me to the helicopter that would fly me into St. Paul’s Big Pond; which was the only access to the camp.
At the airline desk I completed the missing baggage claim form and explained the situation and asked how, when they found my bag, they would get it to me. They would have to send it to the outfitter who would then have it flown out to me at the camp. So when I climbed into that helicopter later that morning I was wearing my hunting clothes: jeans, Nike shoes, long sleeve cotton shirt, baseball cap and a photographer’s vest. Not exactly what I needed for the spot and stalk hunting in wet bogs in the wind and rain and temperatures in the low 40s.
The helicopter ride was great and I got a chance to see just how beautiful the Newfoundland wilderness really is; and it was then that I felt the excitement of the upcoming hunt despite the knot in my stomach because of my lost luggage. I could not hunt like this and all I thought about was having to stay in camp for 7 days and not being able to hunt; something I waited a lifetime to do.
After settling in, which did not take long for me, I got to meet the other three hunters: Oscar Primelles, my roommate from Florida; and Victor Chandler and Wayne Cleveland who were both from Nova Scotia. The staff included guides Hebbert, Sherman and Harrison Caines, Ralph House and Derrick Kelly our camp cook. Each hunter at Sam’s has his/her own guide. Ironically all had heard of my problem with the airlines and they all said “they would dress me.” Each one of them contributed to my hunting outfit and when I dressed for hunting on Monday morning the only piece of clothing I was wearing that was mine was my underwear; which by the way, I washed each evening and hung over the wood stove to dry.
That evening before the hunt I felt lot better knowing I would be able to hunt comfortably and thoroughly enjoyed Derrick’s ham dinner with all the trimmings which we all found out was equally outstanding all week. And that included the home made bread, pies and cakes.
It rained all night and it was raining at 7 a.m. with 5-10 ph winds and temperatures in the mid - 30s when Sherman, my guide, and I along with Oscar and his guide Hebbert, all climbed into an 18 foot aluminum boat and headed for the other end of the pond. This “pond” by the way was the size of Saratoga Lake.
Once on shore we all started up 12 STOP mountain which is the name I gave it because it required 12 rest stops where I would catch my breath before I reached the top. Sherman and I stayed on one side of the top while Oscar and Hebbert went over the top to the other side to set up. Each of the guides would call, using only their mouths, but nothing came in.
By 9 a.m. the wind had picked up considerably and that combined with the heavy rains made sitting difficult; and at by 11:00 we were back in the boat and headed for camp. And when we got there Derrick’s homemade turkey vegetable soup was just what we all needed. No one that morning had seen a moose.
The afternoon watch took us up another steep incline( 10 Stop mountain) and the bad weather conditions were the same. I remember reading that moose do not move much when it is rainy and windy and they didn’t this evening either. Victor and Ralph reported seeing two cow moose that evening but they were about 500 yards across the bog.
Anticipation was high that morning despite the fact that conditions had actually gotten tougher and we had to wait about an hour for the fog to lift before we left camp. This time Sherman and I headed out behind the camp for an area they called the Waiting Rock stand. It was an 8 stops climb for me and we climbed into the 20 foot high tower. These towers are quite unique. They(guides) find four 10 - 12 inch trees that are in a square about 5 or 6 feet apart, trim the branches from the ground up, cut the tops off the trees, and build a platform blind enclosing the sides with canvas and with seats. It is quite comfortable but I found out that temperatures were a bit colder at this height. And at times the high winds would create horizontal rains which added to our discomfort. But that’s hunting. And again, by 10 a.m. we were headed back to camp without sighting a single moose.
It was on this trip back to camp that I found out about what Newfoundlanders call a bog hole, and why they told me to always watch and duplicate where your guide steps; which I did on the first day. However on this day I got caught up in looking at the beautiful scenery and my right foot with the 18 inch high boot found its way into a 24 in hole full f water. I knew than that I was done hunting for the day. But as it turned out, because of the bad weather no one went out that afternoon.
Finally Mother Nature turned off the water, reduced the wind and replaced them with chilly 34 degree temperatures. At daybreak Sherman and I headed back up for the Waiting Rock tower; but we never made it. The evening before Hebbert had told me that in the history of this camp Waiting Rock had produced at least 100 moose harvests and on this day I was about to make it 101.
Several hundred yards from camp we stopped and Sherman made a few cow calls but got no response. Continuing up the hill we were just about 100 yards from the bog that the tower was located in when Sherman stopped, tapped his ear and pointed at the thick spruce off to our left. I heard the scraping and then saw those large palmated antlers thrashing the trees and brush about 80 yards from us. I think I froze momentarily in awe. It is one thing to watch something like this on the Outdoor Channel, but it is nothing like actually being there. Quickly and quietly I chambered a round and turned the Hawke scopes power down to 4. I don’t remember being nervous but I am sure I was.
By watching the movement of the bushes and trees we could see the bull was heading parallel to us and hopefully he would cross a 15 foot opening about 50 yards from me. Sherman motioned me up a few yards where I set up on a small rise in the trail, got down on one knee, clicked off my safety and laid my cheek on the stock.
All the time I could feel the chill running up and down my spine and my heart was pounding. To keep the bull headed in our direction Sherman cleverly turned his back on the bull and called again making it sound like this love sick cow was leaving. It worked.
Not only did the bull step into the opening but he started to turn down the trail towards me. I don’t know remember my feelings or even pulling the trigger when that big bull was just 40 yards from me slowly tossing his head from side to side. I knew I had hit him, but I am not sure he knew. Shot number two got the reaction I was looking for and shot number three put him on the ground. It was then that I remember what the veteran hunters and guides in camp said; “ shoot until he is down.”
My knees were a bit shaky when I stood up and so were my hands as Sherman and I waited a few minutes before moving cautiously toward the fallen bull. And when we were sure he was dead the high 5s, hoots, hugs and handshakes began. I don’t know exactly how many times I thanked Sherman, my 27 year old guide, for my first bull; and he thanked me also; because I was actually the first client he had guided.
I believe I stood over my bull for at least 15 minutes just admiring his rack, head, swollen neck and shoulders. Everything about him was “BIG.”
Now the real work was about to begin for Sherman. That big half ton at least animal had to be rolled over and not only field dressed but boned, quartered and carried out on a pack frame.
Back in camp that afternoon after another long photo shoot Hebbert gave me my bulls statistics. He estimated that the bull weighed 1500 pounds, was 7-8 years old, had 22 measurable points, 13 inch palms, a 48 3/4 inch spread and the bases of his antlers measured 9 3/4 inches around.
As for the other hunters in camp they too tagged out by the end of the week. My cabin roommate Oscar, shot a 10 point bull, called in by Hebbert, just about 550 yards from where I took my bull on the Waiting Rock watch. On the next morning, Thursday, Harrison called in a 3 point bull and a cow moose to Victor, who chose to shoot the cow. And at 9:10 a.m. on Saturday, the final day of hunting, I was in camp when Ralph called in to report he had called in a 4 point bull at the Waiting Rock tower, which Wayne dropped with just one shot at 158 yards. It was this 73 year old gentleman’s 10 th bull and his 10 th year of hunting with Sam. The first week of the 2009 moose hunt at St. Paul’s Big Pond was 100 percent successful. And I later found out that only one hunter in all three of Sam’s outpost camps had not taken a moose this week.
If you have ever considered a moose hunt I highly recommend that you contact Sam’s Hunting and Fishing Camps(709-898-2535).