Unwilling matadors thankful they weren’t first in the ring.
The first morning of Steve Rider’s seven-day moose hunt, we spotted a bull bedded in swamp grass at the north end of the lake. We could see only antler tips rising above the grass, but enough so that we began slowly paddling closer.
When our hopes for a better look were dashed by a shift in the breeze, we decided to abandon the bull, at least until that evening, perhaps after the wind died.
I was guiding for Ceaser Lake Outfitters out of my Yukon fishing lodge on Toobally Lakes. Steve, a very accomplished bowhunter from Indiana, made it clear from the moment he got off the airplane that he was looking for a bull that would score at least 200 inches by Pope and Young’s yardstick.
After spooking the bull, we were slowly making our way out of the area when we spotted another moose.
Unlike the first one, that bull didn’t even get up until we were within 30 yards. And when it did, it was with great effort.
After it gained its feet, we could see why. It had been beaten up badly; hair was scraped off its neck and shoulders; and puncture holes were weeping blood.
During lunch, Steve and I talked about what a fight it must have been and how we would’ve loved to have witnessed it. The old saying, “Be careful what you wish for,” was something we would be thinking by the end of the day.
That evening, when the breeze died, we decided to go back to the north end of the lake and try to call the bull we had seen earlier. We killed the motor about a quarter-mile from our destination and paddled in quietly. We then sat for 15 minutes, listening before I started calling.
I had just finished my first call when we heard what sounded like a bull raking a tree up on the mountainside. A few minutes later, we heard it again, except that time it was obvious two bulls were fighting.
I tried calling for another 10 minutes, thinking one or both of the bulls might break off the fight and come to us, but my calls went unanswered.
The bulls were up a steep hillside in some thick spruce about half a mile away. With only an hour of legal shooting light remaining, we decided to try slipping in for a closer look. In a hurry, I left my back-up rifle in the boat. That was a decision I would regret.
The sounds of jousting guided us up the mountain. Thick moss helped silence our approach. The fight didn’t sound too serious ... just antlers clashing together every few minutes.
The timber was so thick that we didn’t spot the bulls until we were within 20 yards of them. What we saw was something we will never forget. The bulls were both big; each would easily score more than 200. They had been fighting for a long time, too. The ground was torn up all around them. Trees the size of a man’s arm were sheared in half.
After watching for a few minutes, it became apparent that the bull on the downhill side was getting the worst of the fight. Its movements were limited due to some large trees behind it, and the other bull knew it.
The bull on the high side was bigger. Its paddles were unusually wide, and it had more countable points than I had ever seen. We slowly moved uphill until we were broadside to and 15 yards from the beast.
While the animals were locked in battle, Steve made a perfect shot. His arrow disappeared behind the shoulder of the bigger bull. As soon as the arrow struck, the bull intensified its attack, as if it thought the other bull had scored a jab.
Within seconds, however, it started to wobble. As soon as this happened, the smaller bull, thinking it was gaining the upper hand, really went after the wounded moose. The weakened bull tried to ward off the attack, but soon realized it was futile. When it turned to get away, the smaller bull went after it, catching it broadside, lifting it right off the ground and sending it crashing downhill.
Steve’s bull never got up. It stayed right where it landed 30 yards from us with the smaller bull standing over it. We didn’t think the smaller bull had seen us, so we couldn’t believe it when the bull turned and started back in our direction.
With eyes bulging, it came to us in that stiff-legged, aggressive walk. We had nowhere to go, the small trees offering little protection. We were hollering and throwing every stick we could find, but still the bull came.
At 20 yards, its head went down as it rushed forward. The antler on the downhill side caught in a tree just enough to turn it, and its momentum carried it downhill another few yards. Our yelling and stick throwing had intensified by that time.
Spent after its last charge, the bull turned and looked back at us before walking slowly into the timber.
It was a very narrow escape and added to my respect for these giants. I also learned not to leave my back-up rifle in the boat.
Steve’s bull had paddles that measured 19 inches across. It had an incredible number of countable points and scored an impressive 219 inches.
Editor’s Note: Steve Rider’s Yukon hunt took place in an area Ceaser Lake Outfitters (www.ceaserlake.com) has set aside for only bowhunting.
– Photos by David O’Farrell
This article was published in the October 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.