Come Track This Wounded Moose With Me
It is an unfortunate reality that some small portion of big game animals shot at and hit will never be recovered. Our hope and consolation is that many of the lesser injuries are not life-threatening. We have all seen 3-legged deer that recovered from grievous car impacts, flesh tears from barbed wire, and bullet/arrow injuries. One acquaintance found a fully mushroomed and encysted .308 slug nestled against the pericardium (heart sheath) of a healthy cow elk. I have seen a 3-legged cow moose with healthy twin calves. The restorative power of animals is astounding, yet, many also succumb to their injuries — hopefully we get to eat those. Then there is the category of hit, died, not found. What can we do to reduce this category to the bare minimum? Shoot well, use enough gun, trail extensively.
Hunters don’t often talk about this difficult and troubling eventuality because it feels like we are giving oxygen to the fire of anti-hunting, yet, if one is to be honest, there is a measurable wounding/non-recovery rate. Hunt long enough and this WILL happen to you. Even if no animal comes of it, knowledge, compassion, and resolve should.
Here is the story of one such event. See what you think.
We were hunting an extensive aspen brushland when just at sunrise, saw the back of an adult cow moose — our intended quarry –at 250 yards and moving into a woods edge in Central Alberta Canada that looks a lot like this:
It was a narrow strip of brush so guessing she would hold up there, I sneaked around the back side, gave her my wind and she departed the side into which she had entered, right into the sight of my partner.
My partner is an accomplished rifle shot and this would not be a difficult target for him so his .30–06 snagged a rest and launched a 180 grain TSX into the cow. I heard the shot but troublingly I also heard the bullet scattering through twigs — fine twigs I don’t think he could see at that range. My hope was it was a pass-through but that is doubtful in hindsight.
He watched her run in full moose high-step gallop for 300 meters through the brushland and we followed up on her track and encountered this:
I took up the trail in new snow at 7:15 AM. It was easy to follow in the new snow at -21C. There were abundant deer and occasional other fresh moose tracks as she made her first 1 km forest crossing. She slowed to a steady walk and an hour later, in phelgmatic moose fashion, bedded down here:
It appeared a low right hind leg injury that was seeping a little blood (a moose contains over 5 gallons of the stuff). Clearly exsanguination was not going to kill her in the first 24 hours. This washuman nose-bleed volumes of blood trail.
I pressed on for another 2.5 hours at a steady walk on the premise that days are short and maybe I could get another bullet in her. My partner would check in periodically and re-post himself in the event she broke cover. I don’t like using cell phones while hunting but this was a humanitarian retrieval issue. She never was near an edge with him nearby.
Her second bed showed the same left rear injury with much less blood.She seemed to be clotting up and I pressed on thinking to open the wound or if internal injuries were present, to bring on a lethal bleed.I inspected trees and brush along the trail and saw no blood brushing or spray.
She had bedded watching her back trail and had been downwind of me a few times so she must have known I was following her. I was being very quiet in the new foot-deep light snow and in fact, had a heart stopping moment when a moose appeared 60 meters ahead. I glassed carefully for injury then noticed he had antlers –drat –wrong moose! He never detected me though so I know I was quiet.
When she left her second bed she left at a walk and stopped to poop and pee.
Now 6 hours in and probably 5 km of trailing, the track was still visible but the blood specks reduced to frozen specs the size of half a lentil were falling from her fur as frozen pellets. I would get one speck like this every 100 meters or so.
This is her final bed at about 7 hours in. She left this one in a hurry, blasting snow over the bed and taking long strides, seemingly healthy and not dragging hooves or with any detectable asymmetry in gait.
The blood had stopped entirely now and I was relying on her tracks which was fine until she got into a willow thicket with 2 or 3 other moose tracks and without blood I couldn’t sort them out. Besides, I was 4 km from the truck, sweated through, quite tired, unsure of exactly where I was and the sun was setting. I didn’t want to spend the night out without shelter at -22 C either. I finally took a compass bearing east and headed for the agricultural zone where I knew I could orient on the prairie farm houses and my buddy could locate me. I had been on her for 7 hours and an estimated 8 or 9 km and she had cleared 4 fences effortlessly and not slowed.
As I hit open ground, the sun was setting and this porcupine was roving about probably seeking a few errant barley seeds. It was a relief to see the 4X4 coming up the range road with heater blasting to pick me up.
My buddy and his son will be out there tomorrow but I think the tracking work is over and they will be looking at tracks, raven behavior etc.
What do you think happened to that cow moose?