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Moose hunting

The learning curve of four great enthusiasts

Comments collected and contextualized by our hunter Émile David.

First of all, I have to tell you that I’m not a moose hunting expert. I do go hunting when the opportunity presents itself and I’ve been filming my adventures intensively on the ground for two years with the Chasse Québec team, but I wouldn't dare tell you what to do to improve your success rate.

When Sépaq approached me to write an article on common moose hunting mistakes, I quickly realized that I’d need advice from better hunters than me. So the Sépaq team offered to give the podium to women. I started working on this article by telling myself “it’s easy; I just need to find an expert woman who’ll reveal her secrets.” But to be perfectly honest, I didn't know who to turn to. It has to be said that when it comes to hunting, most of the time, women take a back seat. They guide, they accompany, they initiate other women, they hunt with their spouse or family, but in general, they're less likely to share their exploits than male hunters. However, modesty aside, many female hunters have really well honed skills. And some of them are so passionate that they often tell stories with fire in their voices and express thoughts about the hunt that deserve to be shared.

So I present to you, through the stories of four great hunting enthusiasts, common mistakes to be avoided when moose hunting.

Mélanie Dion Émile David | © Sépaq

1. Véronique’s tip: stay on the lookout

The first woman I spoke with was Véronique Gagnon, a hunter from Stoneham in the Quebec City region, with more than 10 years of experience. She hunts most of the time with her spouse, the hunting guide David Falardeau. Her story is particularly relevant for those who avail themselves of the services of a guide or who accompany someone more experienced in the forest.

“On a chilly morning in late September, David and I were climbing a mountain of leafy trees when we suddenly heard the languid call of a female. I was struck by how close by she was. We quickened our pace and arrived in a clearing. The female was there, less than 50 metres away. David started talking to the moose. As I'm used to doing what David asks, I waited, just a few steps from the scene of the action. I admired what I saw and what I heard: the female calling and a big buck who answered just a bit further away.  David made a series of sounds, and I watched the show motionless and fascinated, while waiting for the signal to fire. My gaze was fixed on the big buck in the distance who constantly answered David. I was so engrossed that I didn't even notice the nice little buck approaching right out in the open, around 40 metres in front of us. I clearly relied too much on my guide's signal. At one point, the female moved away, followed by the little buck. Finally, the big buck also stopped responding to David’s calls and headed off to join her.

David then turned toward me and gave me a half discouraged and half angry look, begging me to pull the trigger. I finally sprung into action. As soon as the moose hit the ground, my spouse said “What took you so long? What were you waiting for? He was about to leave! And you let the small buck slip away without even reacting!”

“I was waiting for you to say go!” I replied.

David had the last word. “You won't always have two bucks in front of you. It's better if you're quicker and shoot without waiting next time. There are people who dream of seeing the scene you had in front of your eyes. Next time, trust yourself more and fire away.”

A mistake that I make very often as a hunter is to rely too much on the other person and to let myself be guided without keeping on the lookout. As I follow my guide, armed with my crossbow or rifle, I'm less attuned to what's going on around us. I wait for a sign from my guide rather than listening and analyzing more carefully what's going on around me. It's a mistake that has nearly cost me my harvest on a number of occasions. Even though it's not easy to trust yourself when following someone more experienced, you’ve got to stay very alert when you're out hunting and pitch in by being vigilant, without always waiting to be told what to do. Because all it takes is to be one second too late to miss your dream buck! Having a guide is wonderful, but to be successful, you have to team up with them and not just be at their service. In short, you’ve got to trust yourself.” 

2. Corinne's tip: the importance of context

The second woman I spoke with was Corinne Gariépy. Having grown up in a family of hunters, she took over her parents' hunting and fishing store, located in Prévost in the Laurentides, in 2009. A chronicler on the QVO television program since 2015, she hunts moose with her husband every year. Here's what she had to tell me.

“During fall 2017, I was seven months pregnant. My pregnancy doesn't have much to do with the story I’m about to tell you, but still, I'm providing some context. We arrived early in the morning at a woodshed and soon heard moose in the distance. My spouse acted as a caller and was a little out of the way in the woods. I was with a cameraman and I walked on the path. You know how it is, one person in the woods is one too many, so three people, you can imagine... Nevertheless, we got closer and at some point, we saw the animal on the edge of the forest at the bottom of the hill and, behind it, the sun was rising just above the trees. What an incredible backdrop!

As we always do in these cases, we started moving very slowly into position, calculating every move and we still felt in control, especially since the moose was proving to be quite receptive. Then, at a certain point, it hit us that not only was the creature no longer receptive but was beating a hasty retreat. That's when the cameraman and I looked at each other and realized just how much in the spotlight we really were. The first rays of daylight were shining on our vests, on the camera lens, and on the rifle barrel. Whereas my spouse was perfectly camouflaged in the woods, we were in high definition out there on the path. I was holding the rifle at the time, but at no point did I feel comfortable pulling the trigger. I have to say that firing away at an animal and hoping for the best just isn’t in me. So all we could do was watch our moose lumber away, without lifting a finger.

All this to say that what works well in certain contexts can be completely ineffective in others. Always stay in analysis mode and constantly adjust to the scenarios at hand. We often talk about the wind, but here, it's the light that worked against us. The moose was in an advantageous position, but we realized it too late. In a situation like this, we needed to go to a shaded area or else head right into the woods.”

Mélanie Dion Émile David | © Sépaq
Réserve faunique de Matane
Réserve faunique de Matane Beside | © Sépaq

3. Sophie’s tip: stay in the role

The third woman with whom I conversed was Sophie Boisvert. She grew up in a family of hunters and harvested her first moose in her twenties, after a number of years spent accompanying her grandmother on hunting expeditions. She has been a moose guide with an outfitter for four years now. Sophie has never been one for half measures. As she says, “when I hunt moose, I don’t imitate the moose, I turn into a moose.” And this becomes perfectly clear when listening to her story. 

“It was an incredible morning. At dusk, our calls were being answered from all sides. There seemed to be two moose pairs. With my client, we had climbed up on a stump overlooking a woodshed. We caught a glimpse of some movement, but nothing seemed to be happening for quite some time. Then, a female came out of the woods. We had a permit to harvest her, but a hunch was holding me back, and I asked my client to wait. In the following minutes, a fine male specimen then came out and we culled it.

This story made an impression on me because it shows how we're on a different pace from animals. When hunting, we're in a hurry for things to happen; we'd like everything to unfold quickly, at a human rhythm, but animals are on a different schedule. They're not there for us. When hunting, you have to take on the role of the creature you're tracking and stay on script. In the case of moose, it often means slowing down and waiting, over and again. There are always moose; you just have to find them and always be ready, because you never know when things are going to happen. So the other moral of the story is that you absolutely have to listen to your instincts.”

4. Mélanie’s tip: setting off with a plan

The last woman I spoke with, but not the least, is my friend Mélanie Dion. I had a chance to shoot with Mélanie in recent seasons as part of the Chasse Québec web series. I saw her make incredible progress in her independence as a hunter and in her general skills in the forest. She has been interested in hunting and gravitating around moose for nearly 20 years now. Last year, she came very close to harvesting a first moose for which she had done the calling herself.

“I was with my dad, him with his crossbow, me with my bow. We arrived at a hunting site where I'd spotted signs the day before. Quickly, my calls were answered. The moose was nearby, and I quickly knelt down in the brush. I could see that the moose was on the other side of the branches, around 40 metres away. The creature was a little out of reach, both for me and for my dad, who was right behind me, in the middle of the path.

At that moment, I began to hesitate between preparing my bow and trying to get the moose to cover the last few metres separating it from the shooting corridor so that my father could fire away. It was while watching my dad in the path that I realized that we didn't have a plan. He seemed as hesitant as I was. I imagine that we assumed that the first one who would have a chance to fire would be the shooter. My moose pallet was on the ground, I was on my knees, and I didn’t dare move anymore. This moment of indecision was probably the game changer. The moose finally took cover again and we lost contact.

From such a distance, I’m certain that my moose pallet would have been the key to tricking and confronting this creature. The moose was so close that it must have been looking for the shape of its rival, but there was no rival, only two hunters who were no longer sure what to do next.

To this day, I remain convinced that if my father and I had been prepared for every possible scenario, we would have been able to harvest our prey. This experience has taught me the importance of having a clear plan, defined roles, and communicating with your hunting partners. That’s some of the best advice that I can give.”

Réserve faunique de Matane
Réserve faunique de Matane Beside | © Sépaq
Véronique Gagnon © Sépaq
Sophie Boisvert © Sépaq
Réserve faunique de Matane
Réserve faunique de Matane Beside | © Sépaq

5. In summary

Here are common mistakes to avoid during your fall hunt:

  • If you're being guided, stay proactive, watch for signs, try to stay oriented and focused on your goal. Keep in mind that your guide can't see everything. In short, keep on the lookout, and avoid going on autopilot.
  • Also, stay aware of your surroundings. This includes wind, light, the topography of the terrain, the vegetation, and the time of day. These are data which can completely change how you think about a location.
  • Stay in the role. Act like a moose, think like a moose; slow down. Your hunter’s instinct only stands to be honed this way.
  • Make plans and discuss them with your partners. Hunting is unpredictable, and you always have to be adaptable, but by discussing different scenarios beforehand, you'll have the right reflexes and a toolkit of strategies that will enable you to react quickly when confronted with a particular context.

To conclude, try stuff, take risks, and make mistakes. Regardless of your level of expertise, there are still things to check out, experience, and learn in the forest. That’s what makes hunting beautiful and what gives it all its flavour. Then, remember that what makes us become good hunters is our ability to analyze what we've done right and what we’ve messed up, both in success and in failure.

Good hunting to one and all!

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