By Justin Nelson
October 30th 2016,
It’s been a little over 24 hours since T.J. and I left our Newfoundland moose camp. The reality, we came with a plan, but we are leaving with much more than we could have imagined. A film crew depends on successful hunts, plain and simple. We all know the risks and failures associated with hunting. The challenges are real and sometimes things don’t work out as planned. Our success this season has been a blessing. With more than 8 hunts, and all kills captured on film, we went into this hunt with high hopes that we would continue to be efficient and notch a tag on a spectacular moose in Newfoundland.
We arrived in Newfoundland on Friday, October 21st at 2:30 am. We gathered our gear and headed to the local hotel. The weather was cold, the town was small, and our eagerness to get to camp was growing. Sleep deprived, we woke up to a quick breakfast and then waited for Iron Bound Outfitting to pick us up. When Lea (an employee of Iron Bound) arrived we threw our gear into place and started down the highway. 2 1/2 hours later we pulled into our helicopter take off point. There were other hunters already there and you could tell everyone was excited for the hunt to begin. The rain and wind had moved into the area and stressed us all out. We learned that if it was going to get worse, there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to fly and we would be stuck there until the weather lifted. We anxiously waited for the chopper to arrive. Loud helicopter sounds rang out in the air. Our pilot landed the chopper just feet from us. He frantically fueled the chopper and we loaded our gear. Thankfully the weather was holding out and before we knew it, we were in the air. I’d never been on a helicopter before and had always wanted to fly in one. It was amazing. We flew low and along a river bed to avoid the heavy clouds. It wasn’t long before the pilot came on the radio and pointed out caribou to our left. Then shortly after pointed out a bull moose to the right. The area we were hunting was about 50% water. There were ponds, lakes, and streams in every direction we looked. It was at that point I realized our most significant piece of gear would be our rubber boots. Circling one of the bigger lakes we looked down and saw our hunting camp. We had made it, and the hunt was about to begin.
After meeting Jerry (our guide) and the head cook we were showed to our rooms. We unloaded our gear inside the hunters cabin, which was more like a storage shed. We both laughed and cracked jokes but later would find out that our cabin would be more than enough for the 7 day moose hunt. Once we were settled, T.J. shot his bow into a make shift target to see if his bow was still on, which it was. After lunch the plan was to go out and try to find some animals for the days to come. Gear and cameras in hand, we climbed aboard a small fishing boat and Jerry steered us to the far side of the lake. Riding in that little boat reminded me of a quote from one of Donnie Vincent’s films, “We want to experience fantastic things, and to experience fantastic things, we have to put ourself in fantastic places” Looking through my view finder on my camera I knew this place was indeed fantastic. Once we reached the other side of the lake, we got out and tied the boat up. We followed Jerry to some higher hills to glass for the evening. The ground was soft. It was like walking on a wet sponge. Every step we took was a different height and mud was deep. When we climbed to the first hill Jerry crawled to the edge and quickly pointed below whispering, “moose”. We quickly slid to the edge and watched the big cow moose vanish in the dense timber. It was easy to see how the moose could be in the dense timber and we wouldn’t even know it. Jerry spotted a few more cow moose way off in the distance but all of them were out of reach for our cameras. The darkness started in and we headed back to camp. After dinner, T.J. and I stoked our wood burning stove and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning we awoke to the sound of the generator and rain, lots and lots of rain. At breakfast Jerry told us we wouldn’t be going out until the rain slowed way down. With five more days left, we were still optimistic. Around 10 a.m. the rain slowed, and we headed back out on the boat to a similar area. Covered from head to toe with rain gear, we were prepared to sit out the storm. Thirty minutes into glassing, the sky opened and it flat out dumped on us. We sloshed our way back through the tundra and headed back to camp. The rest of the afternoon we sat inside talking with our guide about the difficulties we were in for. With rain, wind, and fog in the forecast he said it was going to be pure luck if we could get close enough, let alone even see a moose. He also bashed our dreams of calling in a bull saying the rut was over. He mentioned that we were the last hunters in the camp of an 8 week season, so a lot of the mature moose had already been harvested. By the end of that night are high hopes were turning for the worse. I must have woke up 10 times that night to the wind and the rain pounding on our cabin. It didn’t let up at all.
The next morning our fishing boat was completely full of water. Everything was soaked and water was everywhere. We couldn’t believe just how much it had rained in the last 24 hrs. The lake had nearly risen 2 feet. To make things worse, the fog was so dense you couldn’t see 25 feet in front of you. Since the rut was over and the dense fog was in place, we ended up staying in the cabin in to the afternoon. I think Jerry could tell that we were frustrated with the elements so after a while he asked us if we wanted to go out and give it a try. We were on our way once again. That afternoon we sat in the wind and fog. We waited and waited for it to lift. A few hours into the hunt the fog finally started to break. We managed to glass up a few more cow moose in the area and even spotted some caribou way off in the distance. With the fog melting away and the rain clouds clearing out, we were given a glimpse of a beautiful sunset. We headed back to camp, ate dinner, and went to bed.
The next morning the rain and wind was back. With the lack of time in the field we were going to hunt no matter what. We sought out in a new direction heading more towards the north. We worked our way through the marsh land and glassed the hills in front of us. To our left a very large bald eagle caught our eye. There was something about that bird that gave us a feeling that we were moving in the right direction. The bird vanished in the distance. Shortly after losing sight of the eagle, we found our first bull moose of the trip. It was at least an 8 point bull and was close to the 30 inch wide mark. The bull was about a half of a mile away at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately the wind was blowing right towards him so we took the long way around. Rays of sun began to shine through the clouds. It was the first time we had seen the sun in the last 4 days. However, it was short lived. As we made our way around the lake towards the backside of the mountain, more clouds and rain began to fall. When we reached the backside of the mountain we gained some elevation to glass the surrounding area. We still had that 8 point bull on our minds but definitely wanted to find something bigger. Animals were stacked in this new area. We were spotting multiple moose on the far hills, multiple caribou, and even spotted 6 different black bears. Thats when I heard T.J. say, “big bull”. I quickly looked in his direction, gauged where he was looking, and put up my binoculars. It was indeed a big bull and we were ecstatic. We decided to leave the 8 point bull and try our luck on the much bigger bull. He was about one and a half miles away when we started in his direction.
We unfortunately lost sight of the big bull. He was down off of the hills in the dark timber. Working our way to the bull I caught a glimpse of a moose right in front of us. We tucked down below some rocks and glassed the moose. It turned out to be a mature cow. Behind it lay a calf, and directly to the left we could see a small set of antlers in the weeds. It was a 6 point bull bedded down. We were undecided on what we wanted to do. Do we stalk in and try to get a shot on this smaller bull, which seemed to be a much greater chance for success? Or should we pass the opportunity in search of the big one? The difficult weather all week made us think about all the time lost. We decided to stalk the moose right in front of us in hopes to get close enough for a shot.
With multiple sets of eyes, the challenge was to avoid being seen by the cows. We got within 100 yards and expected our guide Jerry to let us sneak in by ourselves. We both were in shock as we all kept working in on the moose. In a split second another moose rose up out of her bed and all of the moose were on the move. What seemed like a reasonable area and fairly easy stalk ended in an instant right in front of our eyes. At that moment we were extremely disappointed. Getting close was going to be nearly impossible with all of us. Thoughts of us going home empty handed were weighing heavy on our minds. We sat for a brief moment, had lunch, and then walked around a timber patch. Once again T.J. got our attention and pointed out a moose. It was the same 6 point bull from earlier headed towards the timber. Had we been there a second earlier or later, we probably wouldn’t have seen him walk through the opening. With both the big bull and the small bull in the same area, we worked our way through the timber and along a beautiful river bed.
In disbelief, we looked up and there he was. No not the small bull, but the bull we had dreamed about. He was only 200 yards away feeding with two cows. As soon as we crossed the river, T.J. told Jerry that we were going to go in on this one, just us two. From the time we left Jerry it felt like T.J. and I were connected. We moved step for step. I knew every movement he was going to take before he would do it. We have been on a ton of hunts together and know each other’s tendencies, so it definitely helped. The rain was back but the wind was now calm making a longer shot more of a possibility. We inched our way through the thickest brush, closing the distance step by step. Through the branches T.J. ranged the bull at 62 yards. He instantly pulled back, and I was ready to capture the shot. Despite getting close enough for a shot, the bull’s body was well covered up by a tree. T.J. began to weaken after being pulled back for quite some time. The stare down continued. Every once in a while we could hear the moose grunt. I kept whispering to T.J. to be patient and that the bull would turn. After letting down his bow we carefully repositioned T.J. right in front of me for a better shooting lane. Growing restless the cows started to move and the bull stepped out from behind the tree. T.J. instantly pulled back. I zoomed in on the moose just as T.J. sent an arrow through the air. The way the arrow cut the water as it flew to the moose was almost like watching it in slow motion. Blood spewed from the moose. It was a perfect hit. The bull was hurt but still upright so T.J. grabbed another arrow and shot the moose a second time. Shortly after, the moose laid down right in front of us and expired. We had just killed this magnificent animal all on film! We couldn’t believe what we had just done. Walking back to the camp that night, the sun came out. The wind stopped and the rain was gone. The lake surrounding our cabin was calm and the water looked like glass. It felt like God was telling us that he was proud. He was proud that we didn’t give up, and that we had faith to keep pushing on. We had been blessed.
The rest of the week was filled with laughter, stories, and good food. All the weight had been lifted. No more would we stress to capture the hunt on film. We relaxed and before we knew it the chopper landed and picked us up.
This hunt will always be one of the greatest hunts I have been part of. I felt like I shot the moose. I was beyond happy for T.J. but more than anything, I was happy for the entire group. We would have been happy with just about any moose after the third day. To have killed a beautiful 17 point 45 inch wide bull moose with a bow in Newfoundland was remarkable. We film our hunts to inspire people, showing hunts in away that motivates others and really tells the story of our journey.
As I sit here on the airplane headed for home, I’m thinking about the memories we made. Most importantly though, I am thinking about my family and the stories I get to share with them.