If it's all about the meat, why pass up a cow moose?
Ask most moose hunters what drives them to pursue the largest member of the deer family and chances are they’ll tell you it’s about the meat. And why not? A single moose can fill up a couple of freezers in one fell swoop. That goes for cows as well as bulls, but it seems hunters are always far more interested in the big guys.
Now, I understand completely the thrill of hunting bulls during the rut. If there’s a more exciting hunting experience than calling a randy old patriarch into tickling range, I surely don’t know about it. Few of us, however, have the extra wall space and dollars to consider taking our cape and antlers to the taxidermist for the full treatment. If the meat is truly at the heart of moose hunting, give me a cow or a calf any day.
Perhaps bulls get all the attention because many hunters are of the notion that hunting cows is no different from hunting bulls—that one will be found in the same place, using the same strategies, as the other. This simply isn’t the case, and we need look no further than the biology books to learn there are definitely some differences between how the sexes behave and where they’re most likely to be found. Incorporate this understanding into your hunting methods and it can pay real dividends.
The early season:
As the summer draws to a close, bulls are frequently found in open areas where food is most plentiful, striving to grow the largest bodies and antlers possible for the coming rut. Their long legs and sheer size give them a two-pronged defence against predators, so being exposed poses minimal danger.
Cows, on the other hand, want security for their vulnerable calves, so they’re most often found in the protective cover of the forest, willing to feed on whatever is available nearby. By sacrificing additional nutrition for safety at this time of year, a cow also ensures that her next calf will not be too large, which can put both of their lives at risk during the birthing process.
Early-season hunters can use this behaviour to their advantage by focusing on locations with dense forested cover and avoiding areas where natural predators such as wolves and cougars, both of which prefer the paths of least resistance, are likely to travel. This means staying off trails, roads, cutlines, ridge tops, creek banks and the like. In short, get into the thick of the forest to hunt.
In particular, look for areas with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. While deciduous trees provide forage, conifers offer thermal cover, where moose can bed down and find cooler air during the warm days of late summer and early autumn. Hidden springs, beaver ponds, natural wetlands and creeks within the cover of a dense forest round out the resources for a cow and her calf.
Examine aerial photos and topo maps to help find these otherwise undetected oases, which can provide ideal locations for treestand hunters. Set up your stand on the downwind side of any spot that shows evidence of recent, and regular, moose activity. At this time of year, cows seldom move far if they believe they’re safe from predators, so opportunities should arise.
If you prefer to still-hunt, the challenges of getting into these areas undetected can be daunting, as moose have near-supernatural hearing. Making your way over a carpet of twigs, leaves and deadfall can’t help but generate noise. To improve your likelihood of success, head out when it’s unusually windy or there’s a steady rain, both of which impair a moose’s sense of hearing.
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