In my Blog of April 15th, I included an excerpt from one of my BAREBOW! stories — about a moose hunt in the Northwest Territories, during which Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law notoriety) found a way to deny me a phenomenal Alaska-Yukon bull by equipping me at the time with the wrong type of bow. The circumstances of that particular situation, when the moment of truth arrived, were such that a compound bow had virtually zero chance of success, whereas a recurve or longbow would almost certainly have gotten the job done.
As someone who has taken the entire North American archery Super Slam (as well as the better part of a second one), and with roughly half of all my harvests made with each of the two major bow types (compounds versus stickbows), I should have some credibility when writing about the advantages and disadvantages of each. Blog #2 discussed at some length the plusses and minuses of the two general types, and I would urge the reader to read that blog first, before reading this one — if you have not already done so.
Just as my previous blog told a tale “favorable” to the stickbow, Blog #3 will recount a true story “favorable” to the compound. Both stories revolve around a huge bull moose of genuine Boone & Crockett quality, and — yes — both star Mr. Murphy in his fiendish role of helping me (once again) make a chump of myself. The first misadventure took place in 1990; the second transpired twenty-two years later in 2012.
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The date was October 1st. The Outfitter was Terry Wilkinson, Ceaser Lake Outfitters, based in Watson Lake, Yukon Territories. By early afternoon, the weather had cleared enough for flying, and as Terry helped load me and my gear into the Cessna 180 he assured me that my guide, Josh Johnson, was already in camp waiting to greet me. The bush flight would take about an hour and a quarter, the pilot opined, and I knew I could hardly wait to breathe the air of “pure” wilderness once again.
The remote dirt airstrip, cut right out of the timber, lay on top of a flat ridge that overhung the Beaver River. As we taxied to a stop never the old cabin and the makeshift tents which had been set up for hunting season, Josh greeted me with a handshake and a warm smile. He introduced me to the bowhunter he’d been guiding for the past week, but that hunter had trouble mustering any kind of a smile at all — so distraught was he, still, over their never having been able to recover the big bull he’d arrowed four days earlier. For sure, they had hiked far and wide, searching high and low, but the blood trail had petered out, and they had finally given up after three days of fruitless effort. Having known such an experience a time or two, myself, during my 50+ years in the field, I can attest to the fact that few things in life are more devastating, or more debilitating psychologically. Such an experience also weighs very heavily on the guide, who wants only the best for his or her hunter — and for the success of the outfitter.
In the Yukon, as is the case now in several of the hunting jurisdictions of the far North, I must explain to the reader that current regulations severely limit one’s options in the field — once a shot has been made. Regardless of your choice of weapon, as soon as a drop of blood has been drawn, that animal becomes “your” animal — to be recovered or lost, as the case may be. The hunt is over. If the efforts of you and your guide succeed in locating your quarry, then you return home a very happy hunter. If the animal is not found, your tag is considered “cancelled,” and you are not permitted to hunt another one.
The regulation may sound harsh, but there is sound biological reasoning behind it. Winters in the far North are unforgiving, and the population of large Grey Wolves is abundant. These most efficient of all predators are uncannily adept at spotting and exploiting any perceived weakness in members of the prey population. Even an otherwise-healthy, mature bull moose, has significantly-reduced chances of surviving the winter if he is trying to heal from even a superficial flesh wound — administered by a bullet, an arrow, or whatever.
As Josh and I said goodbye to the dejected hunter who flew back to Watson Lake on the plane that had brought me into the bush, my heart ached for the wound in his heart, and I found myself saying a silent prayer that my hunt might not end on the same sour note. Little did I realize that, within less than 24 hours, my hunt would be over, as well.
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By half-light of that first morning in the vast wilderness which is the Yukon, a hike of less than a mile had brought my guide and me to the edge of the Beaver River. High and dry, pulled up on the bank, was an 18-foot, aluminum jet boat. Because I was suffering from a pinched nerve in my back at the time, I wasn’t much help to Josh in wrestling the heavy watercraft into the river. Before long, however, we were skimming downriver at nearly 30 mph. Almost immediately we started seeing moose along the banks. As rivers goes, this one was medium-sized — averaging perhaps 30- to 40-yards wide. The few riffles or rapids we encountered were pretty tame, and the forest passing us by on both sides was a lovely mix of evergreens and deciduous trees. Colorful fall foliage was abundant in many places, and the rising sun soon combined with largely blue skies to create a truly magical landscape. On top of all that, everything about the riparian margins of the river just seemed really “moosey”. Veteran moose hunters reading this blog will know what I mean.
After traveling downstream four or five miles, I heard Josh cut the engine behind me and realized we were about to put ashore. With the rut being “in full swing,” so to speak, my guide assured me that virtually all the moose would be close to the river, since the breeding activity for such heavy animals requires relatively flat ground. We were scarcely 30 yards inside the fringe of the forest, when Josh began “cow-calling” with a long, modulated, languorous, wailing sound. Within seconds, a bull grunted a mere hundred yards distant. Then we caught brief glimpses of two cow moose moving through the brush. Soon the bull showed himself fully enough for us to judge him as a definite “shooter.” Josh knew that I was wanting to “upgrade” that species from my Super Slam list to Pope & Young quality, and that I had no interest in releasing an arrow at just an average-type bull.
For the next couple of hours, that handsome bull played Ring Around The Rosie with us and the four cows in his harem. We saw him several times, but neither Josh’s grunts nor cow-calls could entice him to come within my comfortable bow range. I was hunting with my trusty 60” Whitetail Hawk recurve (made by Steve Gorr’s Cascade Archery), and I knew I wasn’t willing to take a shot at much more than 20 yards.
Josh finally suggested we head downriver and try calling in another location. That effort produced no results, so another few miles further down, we put ashore for the third time to see if that might “prove the charm.” A hunter’s luck, I have found over my lifetime afield, is something that tends to run in streaks — either hot or cold. Starting with my September Roosevelt Elk hunt in 2011, I had been having the hottest streak I’d ever experienced. Five consecutive hunts had produced five record-book harvests. Had I not used up my quota of good fortune in the field for perhaps the next five-to-ten years? As I said goodbye to my wife upon leaving home for this moose hunt, I expressed that thought and told her not to expect me to come home with any more meat for the freezer. Maybe allowing the negative idea even to enter my brain was my recipe for failure.
As Josh and I entered under the canopy of the forest and he placed his hands to his mouth for the first cow-call, I did not know that within 120 seconds I was destined to have a broken heart of my own. The sounds of that first call were just trailing away when we heard a loud grunt and some heavy breaking of brush. Suddenly he was coming, at 70 yards and closing fast! Immediately, I flipped my camo-cap around, letting the camo face-mask sewn into the back of the cap fall down over my face and neck. Hurriedly, I yanked a cedar shaft out of my bow-quiver and slapped it on the bowstring. One quick look at the bull through my binos told me this was a true monster, with as many as 30 points on his 60+” rack.
In the two seconds I had taken to examine his impressive antlers, I suddenly knew I wanted this trophy bull as badly as I had ever wanted any game animal in my life. The bull never slowed his momentum until he quickly came to a halt, broadside at just 30 yards. I was vaguely aware that I hadn’t had the time (or taken the time) to tuck inside my shirt-front the long “bib” of extra fabric my wife had sewn onto the bottom of my camo face-mask. Yet now such an action was out of the question. I had no cover save my utter motionlessness. It would have required two hands and necessitated putting my bow down on the ground first.
Josh was urging me to take the 30-yard shot, but I was reluctant to do so, because I was pretty sure our quarry was not yet wise to us and would give me an even closer shot, if I could remain patient. After standing stock-still for more than half-a-minute, the bull began walking slowly straight ahead. His direction of motion off to my right gave me some brushy cover to use, and the opportunity to parallel him somewhat obliquely, as I sneaked ever closer during the ten yards or so that he traveled.
When he stopped for the second time at about 22 yards from me, I was already coming to full draw. It was now or never. Sad to say, I no longer remembered the ample sheet of fabric hanging off my face halfway down my chest. All I could visualize was seeing my wide, two-blade Zephyr-Sasquatch broadhead disappear right through both lungs of the still-broadside, monster moose. Alas! It simply was not to be!
At the release of the arrow, I was shocked to see it dart a good 10 to 11 inches to the right of where I had aimed. THWACK! The excruciating sound of steel hitting solid bone rang out loud and clear, and I instantly knew the broadhead had just buried itself in the bottom trailing edge of the bull’s shoulder blade. It was one of the most sickening sounds I had ever heard. A high-powered bullet can pass through the thickest end of such a scapula, but no arrow can. Two inches farther left, and my arrow would have had clear sailing through both lungs. Fifteen yards along the bull’s flight path, my arrow shaft broke off, flush with the hide — leaving about six inches solidly embedded in flesh and bone.
To be sure, a few insignificant specks of blood were found over the next several hours of fruitless searching, but both Josh and I were keenly aware that my arrow was most unlikely to take the life of that magnificent creature. Perhaps the wolves would, during the coming long winter, but he was definitely not going to expire from my arrow.
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Now, why was it, in the introductory section of this blog, that I promised to tell a story “favorable” to the compound bow? For one huge reason! Namely, because I feel absolutely certain that had I had a compound in hand, at the moment of truth on this particular moose hunt, my bowstring would never have picked up that fold of bib-cloth that jerked my shot nearly a foot to the right. Modern compounds these days have an axle-to-axle length of from 30 to 34 inches. By contrast, my recurve bow had a 60” length. The key point is this: At full draw, the string of a short bow angles forward away from the archer much more sharply than is the case with a much longer bow. In general, I can state without fear of contradiction that longer bows always offer significantly greater potential for conflict with clothing. This is especially true in very cold weather, when the archer is wearing several layers of heavy material.
So, there you have it! Two blogs, back-to-back, offering very different lessons to be learned, and both based on true stories that cost me a couple of amazing trophy animals. Naturally, Mr. Murphy is proud to take some credit for both my failures and misadventures!