Down on the farm
Across Canada, moose inhabit pockets of prime cover in the midst of farmland—and that makes for a whole different kind of fall harvest
An early-season rainstorm had made most of the roads in my hunting area impassable, so I had to access the forest I wanted to hunt by walking across a series of large alfalfa fields. By morning’s end, however, it was clear the hunt was a bust, so I left the forest and headed back across the fields. That’s when I spotted a moose feeding on the alfalfa. Using some hay bales to conceal my approach, I soon harvested my first-ever farm country moose. That was almost 30 years ago, and since then, my friends and I have taken many nice moose in farmland environments (below).
Yes, that’s right, farmland.
It’s no secret moose have long inhabited farm country within close proximity to forests. These days, however, farmland moose hunting isn’t limited to forest fringe areas. Thanks to good cover, a lack of predators and an abundance of grains and alfalfa, moose populations have expanded out of the forests and into open farmland across much of Canada. In the West’s parkland and prairie regions, you can even find moose hundreds of kilometres from the nearest forest. Wherever you find big bulls down on the farm, here’s how to effectively hunt them.
In spring and summer, farmland moose don’t venture too far during daylight hours. Why would they? Life’s good down on the farm, where they can hang out in shady groves of trees or adjacent wetlands and feed on agricultural crops for days on end. For example, they can remain hidden and stand up only as needed throughout the day to feed on the leaves, flowers and pods of canola plants.
At this time of the year, the best way to scout for farmland bulls is to review maps of your hunting area to locate potential bedding areas. Then set out a few trail cameras in the thicker timber areas, or along potential travel routes leading out of the trees and into the open farmland.
Things change in late August and early September when moose start to enter the pre-rut phase, feeding in more open spaces as temperatures drop and the days shorten. Bulls will also start patrolling their territories to get an idea of where the various cows are. Daylight moose activity increases with each passing day, peaking when the rut kicks in near the end of September through to the middle of October.
To scout out a bull for opening day, drive back roads early in the morning and late in the afternoon, stopping to glass open fields and the edges of wetlands and isolated tree groves. While it’s great to see some bulls on these scouting runs, it’s even better to find as many cow moose or groups of cows as possible. Why? Cows on farmland often have small home ranges and don’t venture too far, and bulls will gravitate toward them. So, if you find cows, bulls will be nearby.
A few years ago, for example, I spotted a big mature cow with a nice bull in a pea field a few days before the season started. When I returned on opening morning, the cow was still there, but now with seven bulls—proof that farmland cows can often be found in the same place day after day. And those that do move usually cycle through an area every three days.
During the rut, it’s best to call early in the morning and late in the afternoon. If no moose are within sight when you start calling, try using a series of cow moans to draw in any nearby bulls. Start by calling softly in case a moose is close, and stay alert for a bull coming in on a dead run. If nothing happens after a few minutes, increase the volume of the calls. And be patient. Moose have excellent hearing, so a bull could be moving toward your calls from an extended distance. Give each calling location a good half-hour before moving on to another spot. As well, always approach the calling area as quietly as possible to prevent spooking any moose from the area.
If you spot a bull moose in the distance before you start calling, evaluate the situation. If he’s alone, try cow calls to bring him into shooting range. If he’s with a cow, try bull grunting to make him think he has to come defend his cow from another suitor. Once you have a bull coming in, stop calling and let him work his way closer. If he hangs up short or heads in another direction, however, call again.
Since moose are so good at pinpointing the location of the caller, try hunting with a partner. Position the shooter 50 yards downwind of the caller so the shooter has the opportunity to see the moose as it swings downwind and keys in on the calls. To increase the odds of success, maintain visual contact between yourself and the other hunter so you can use hand signals to let each other know what’s happening.
Spotting and stalking is another option that works well both in the early and late season. This tactic is so effective because moose are on the move during the rut, as well as later in the year to feed on high-protein cereal crops when the temperature drops. They’ll cross vast open spaces of agricultural lands while travelling between the small islands of marshes and tree clumps scattered throughout the farmland.
Once you spot a bull, you usually have to move in closer for a shooting opportunity. If the moose is feeding in the open or on the edge of some trees, a true stalk must take place. Advance with the wind in your face, and where possible, keep some type of cover or terrain between you and the moose to remain hidden. If you’re forced to move toward the moose without any cover, move slowly. Quick actions will put bulls on high alert, but slow movements don’t seem to bother them.
When a bull is on the move, try to get in a position where you can ambush him or cut him off. Move quickly and always aim for a cut-off point well ahead of the moose. Bulls can cover a lot of ground in short order, even when walking slowly.
During midday, you can also try setting up a drive to push bulls out of any available cover, such as a stand of trees. Quietly position one or two hunters in hiding spots to watch over escape routes, then have other hunters walk through the cover to force the moose into the open. The pushers should walk into the wind, as the moose will also want to work into the wind. Unlike deer, which often circle around the pushers and run out the back door or sit tight, moose will typically trot out of the trees and into the open. Once clear of the trees, they’ll stop to look back to see what startled them, then slowly head toward another bedding area.
Farmland moose can be taken at both close range and long distances. Given a bull’s large size, it’s easy to judge how far away he is if he’s within 100 metres. If the bull is standing in a wide-open field with no reference points to help estimate the distance, however, it can be difficult to determine where to hold the crosshairs for a clean shot. In that case, you need a good rangefinder to help guarantee an ethical kill.
Moose can be tough to bring down. For rifle hunting, I recommend using good-quality bonded bullets in calibres of .270 and up (above). They hold together on impact and provide maximum expansion, penetration and energy transfer at both long and short ranges. As for muzzleloader hunting, a 50-calibre rifle with 300-grain sabots (below) propelled by 150 grains of powder works well.
Although a bull moose is a big target, shooting sticks can also help guarantee an accurate shot in open farmland. They’re also good for resting your binoculars on when glassing open fields—and boosting your chances of taking a moose down on the farm.