Ghosts of the Willow Bottoms

Today’s blog post comes to us from Bob Lott, Producer of Intrepid Outdoors. Bob writes about a Shiras Moose hunt that will be featured during this week’s airings of Intrepid Outdoors: Monday at 6:30 PM ET, Friday at 3 PM ET and Saturday at 12 PM ET.

Shiras Moose hunting is restricted to just a few Western states, and the idea of actually drawing such a coveted tag can be overwhelming to say the least. The “secret” to drawing a tag of a lifetime for Moose can be as simple as having enough preference points, plus access to ground that most other hunters don’t have. Many areas have high numbers of Moose and tags, but unfortunately are also made up of mostly private land. Executive producer Mike Schmid was lucky enough to grow up in the state of Wyoming, and along his 50-plus years of working in the oil fields, and ranches of Southwest Wyoming, he managed to make many friends who just happened to have some of the best habitat Shiras Moose require. Mike has shared his “secret” spot with many of his close friends, and family members, who were all successful in getting their moose. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not so much that the area is unknown by hunters; it’s just that it is very tough to access without knowing the right people.

This brings me to our featured hunter on our show, “25-year wait.” Wyoming resident Murphy Love of Gillette had been putting in for a Shiras Moose tag in his home state for about 25 years, but had not drawn. During the annual “Old West Turkey Invitational” in Hulett, Wyoming, Murphy met Mike Schmid and quickly became good friends with his fellow outdoorsman. During one of their many conversations, Murphy mentioned he had been unsuccessful for more than two decades in the Moose draw. This immediately peaked Mike’s interest, and he quickly made the decision to invite Murphy to put in for his “secret” area.  Mike did have one condition for Murphy. He asked Murphy, “If I take you hunting on thousands of acres of private land, would you agree to be filmed by Intrepid’s cameras?” It took Murphy literally just one second to agree to give Mike’s proposal a shot.

The Draw

Mike keeps up with all of the draw odds across his home state, and knew Murphy had a 100 percent chance to draw this tag because he had the required 12 points for a guaranteed permit in this area. After putting in and waiting till the draw results came out that spring, Murphy was overjoyed that it had finally happened. He finally got his Moose tag. After his initial rush of excitement, Murphy contacted Mike to let him know he did indeed draw the tag, so he and Mike decided on the last week of September — and the first week of October — to try to get Murphy his Moose. Murphy added an element of difficulty to his hunt by carrying his bow rather than his rifle.

There’s a Storm on the Horizon

Murphy and I hooked up during the last week of September to take advantage of the final few days of the archery-only season for these ghosts of the willow bottoms. Mike had obtained permission to hunt one of his favorite ranches in the area, so Murphy and I headed out early to begin glassing for bulls. Mike would meet up with us later in the day.

The morning’s hunt started out with cool temperatures and a hazy overcast that moose prefer. Shiras Moose, being dark in color and enormous in size, makes them pretty inactive on sunny days.  Our initial plan? To drive to the top of a near by butte that overlooks the willow bottoms where these immense animals seem to be able to disappear in. After just a couple of hours, we spotted several Bulls and Cows below us. We decided they weren’t going anywhere, so let’s just continue glassing and wait for Mike to arrive before pursuing any of the bulls we’d spotted. Once Mike showed up, we began pointing out the different bulls we had spotted earlier. After Mike gave all of them all the once over, he decided that there was probably bigger bulls in the area. As we sat and glassed, the sun was beginning to get hot. This caused the temperatures to rise and drove the moose into shady cover, which made it impossible to glass them. At about this time, we also noticed some very nasty looking storm clouds, that included lots of lightening and thunder. This storm was moving quickly to our location, so we took advantage of the break and ran to town for some lunch.

First Encounter

After a quick bite during the storm’s passing, we headed back up to the top of the butte where we immediately started glassing bulls again. This time we spotted a contender that was sure to be the perfect trophy for Murphy. The bull was wide and had at least one split-brow tine.  The big bull was chasing a cow pretty hard, so we made a quick decision to try to move in as close as we could and do some calling. Once set up, I began a little cow calling and within seconds, we all heard a bull in the thick willows. He was on his way, making a lot of noise in the process. We expected the bull to step out into an opening, which would have gave Murphy a 40-yard shot. But as all hunters know, what you think is going to happen, is hardly ever the case.

Instead, the bull took a different path that would put him at around 80 yards — too far for a shot — but worse yet, right in our wind. The bull stepped out. I immediately began calling to keep his mind busy with ideas of breeding. This worked for about 15 yards before he got a whiff of something he didn’t like: Three guys dressed in camo who had other plans for this staggering Shiras. He stopped dead in his tracks, turned and trotted across the creek we set up by, and like so many of these giant animals do, he disappeared. It now was Moose 1, Hunters 0. But it was an awesome rush for all of us!

Day Two Tribulations

We began our second day exactly like the the first. We were at the lookout butte at first light, and once again, began spotting bulls. The only difference was we hadn’t spotted one that was worthy of a stalk yet. We glassed all morning and into the afternoon before finally seeing a bull that looked big enough to chase.  The mature bull was nearly a mile away, so it was very tough to determine just how big he was. We agreed to head down into the crick bottom and get as close as we could.  From there, we began a calling sequence of cow calls and an occasional bull grunt. Once we were set up, I began calling. I called for about 20 minutes, but we heard nothing. We made the decision to move closer to the group of willows where we had last seen the bull and try another call sequence. The decision of moving proved worthy, but our set up was horrible.

The bull immediately answered with his own grunts, and was posturing, walking right at Murphy and I. The problem with this? The bull was on the opposite side of a giant willow bush that we could barely see through, let alone shoot through. We were literally 10 yards from this trophy of a Shiras Bull Moose and could only get glimpses of him. He eventually got a whiff of something other than the cow he was expecting to see and took off at a nice moose trot. A moose trot can put a lot of distance between you and him in just seconds, so needless to say, this day was done. We’d meet up again in the morning for yet another game of chase.

Hunger Saves the Day

On our third day out, we meet up at the usual coffee spot, deciding to ride together to our lookout. On our way, we spotted a nice bull that was standing over a cow in an old any field. The bull was on private property that Mike wasn’t sure of the owner. We decided to just drive on and get to our lookout, where we once again began seeing bulls.  One bull in particular had all of our attention. He was with a cow and calf, and was in a pretty easy spot for us to get to. It took us all about a minute to decide to go after this bull, so we were off to the willow bottoms. We had the land owner’s son stay on a lower butte to help hand signal us close enough to do some calling. Everything was working great, until suddenly the cow, calf, and the big bull just got up and ran. We all decided that somehow, our wind, which was perfectly in our face, must have swirled just enough that the cow had gotten a nose full. This was getting a little frustrating — three days, three bulls — and all of them got our wind.

We were all a little wet from walking through the crick and dew soaked willows and a little hungry, too. We decided to go to town for lunch to help us dry out and get over our frustrations. Food can fix a lot of things!  On our way back to town, we drove by the hay field that had the bull in it earlier that morning. We almost couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw him still in the same hay field not 100 yards from the road. He was bedded down with the cow, so we knew he probably wasn’t going anywhere for a little while. Mike immediately got on his phone and found out who the land owner was, and in doing so, realized it was a lady he had known from his youth. We drove straight to her ranch and Mike knocked on her door. He explained who he was, and that we’d love to try and put a stalk on the bull moose that was making her hay field home for the day. She didn’t even hesitate, “go ahead and give it a try,” so we were off .

Twenty-five Years in the Making

Our plan was very simple: park on the road, out of sight of the two moose then sneak within range behind the tall sage. The scheme was to then call to get the big bull standing.  After getting set up, I slowly raised my camera high enough to see the bull and Mike held up a bull moose shed to add a little more realism to the calling. Our hopes were that he’d hear the calling, see the big white moose shed and stand up in defense of his cow. Murphy was in position to draw and shoot at about 42 yards, so the only thing to do now was give it a try. I began calling with cow calls first, but he never moved. I switched to bull grunts with Mike, at the same time, raking the sage with his moose shed. This did the trick. Both bull and cow stood up, giving Murphy a perfect broadside shot!  He let the arrow go. The bull jumped a little, like nothing happened, then slowly ran off with the cow. As I followed the bull with my camera, I thought, did he miss? The bull ran about 200 yards before starting to the funky chicken, as described by Murphy later. He stopped, laid down, and succumbed to the razor sharp broadhead that Murphy put perfectly behind the shoulder.

The feeling of having waited for more than a quarter of a century to hunt a Shiras Moose was coming to an incredible climax that is in no way describable. We were all elated that this had just took place and the idea that if we hadn’t decided to go eat lunch, we probably would have worked many more days to get Murphy Love his first Shiras Bull. What an awesome and unique experience! Having filmed six moose hunts in the last three years, I’m here to tell you that none of those six were even close to being the same experience. I’m very blessed in having the opportunity to film such a rare hunt that only a small fraction of hunters will ever get the chance to do. It’s the people, and the emotions I capture, who make my chosen career the best damn job in the world!

For more about this moose hunt, watch the Intrepid Outdoors premiere of “25-year
wait” this week on the Sportsman Channel — Dish Network channel 395 and DirecTV
channel 605. This show will air three times, beginning Monday at 6:30 p.m. EST. You
can also check it out on Friday at 3 p.m. EST and Saturday at Noon, EST.