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Newfoundland Triple

Sunday, November 20th, 2011 at 7:22 am

I am awakened by some faint noise just outside of my room. The room is in complete darkness and I have trouble initially getting my bearings. “Where am I?” I mutter as I slowly climb out of my brain-fogged state. “What time is it?” Then I remember that I am in a small cabin with seven other hunters and guides in the middle of moose country in Newfoundland far from civilization.

 

I have never been a sound sleeper when I have been hunting. The anticipation of the next day’s hunt always results in fitful sleeps. I like to be able to get up in the middle of the night and wander around the camp. The problem with sharing a tent or cabin with a fellow hunter is that most of my compatriots get in their sleeping bag and within minutes are in a deep sleep accompanied by snoring and mutterings about some lost dog or past girlfriend.  I get to listen to all this as the hours drone by and boredom and claustrophobia set in.

 

The air temperature has dropped since I went to bed and the heat from the cook’s stove has long disappeared so I snuggle back down in my sleeping bag, check the time on my iPod and hit play to try and drift off to my latest Audio book. I assume the outside noise was one of the guides having a midnight pee or smoke. It will be a long night until morning.

 

This adventure started six days ago, when my hunting partner, Brian and I departed from Maine and began the long journey to Newfoundland. Upon arrival in Port Aux Basques we encountered the first of our delays when we found out that we would be spending the first night in a hotel instead of the backcountry, because our transportation was in need of serious repairs. It would seem that the eight-wheeled Argos had a rough time of it coming out of the woods yesterday. The trail of about 15 miles is pretty tough and the equipment takes a horrific pounding. One of the vehicles is being outfitted with a new transmission.

 

We were up early the next morning and by nine we have all of our gear loaded onto the Argos and J5 Tractors. The J5’s resemble miniature tanks and I guess are pretty much unstoppable unless they have a mechanical failure. Brian and I are accompanied by one other hunter and Duane, a likeable young guide and mechanic who will be our driver and tour operator for the excursion to back country. He tells me to hang on and enjoy the next four hours.

 

Loaded and Ready To Go

As we slowly depart from civilization I look back and see the landmark of the Twin Hills disappearing behind me as we venture into backcountry. Somehow it seems appropriate that our outfitter is called Backcountry Outfitters.

 

The next four hours lived up to and surpassed it’s billing. We only had one mechanical failure. A chain drive broke and Duane was able to repair it fairly quickly. We were traveling with one other Argo so we played leapfrog through the mud holes where one Argo would get stuck and the other would have to pull it out. And then the reverse would happen. We crossed a river and then a lake. We climbed impossibly steep hills, we crossed ridiculously narrow bridges, and we bumped over boulders. Our kidneys and tailbones took a beating. I wondered how well the rifles would fare and understood the need for well padded hard cases.

 

Our arrival in camp was met by a welcoming committee of guides, cooks, and the owner, Rick Legge. I had never met Rick before but just talking to him on the telephone I had instantly connected with him. He is a likable upbeat guy who never seems to get down. His goal as an outfitter is to make your hunting experience one you will never forget. His lodge reflects that philosophy.

 

In the middle of the Newfoundland wilderness Rick has constructed a modern hunting lodge. The two-story structure has eight bedrooms and two bathrooms for hunters. It has additional bedrooms for the two full time cooks and guides. It has two common rooms that are equipped with satellite television and a hook up for your cell phone. It even has internet. The kitchen is massive with an industrial sized stove that can be utilized to prepare meals for 20 plus people.  By my count there were at least four refrigerators fully stocked with water, juice, sodas, and milk. There were vast arrays of pies, cookies and other snacks that were available anytime.

Waiting For Dinner

Home Sweet Home

 

Our meal that first night is Jiggs Dinner and roasted chicken. The corned beef and cabbage is excellent and I pass on the fowl. After a call home I am in bed early in anticipation for tomorrow’s hunt.

 

It’s Tuesday morning and day five of the adventure, and we are finally going hunting. Brian and I are in separate Argos, each with our guns ready should we encounter a moose along the way. We are only minutes out of camp when we spot our first moose. A cow moose but she had winded us and was not worth chasing. My moose tag is for either sex and a cow would be a good option as I already have a nice trophy from my last trip here and my primary purpose on this hunt is for meat and a nice caribou stag. We venture on and soon crest a ridge and stop to glass over the area. Our eagle-eyed guide, Cliff spots what looks like a nice moose resting by a lake a good mile or so away and we decide to put on a stalk.

 

The stalk will take us down over the ridge, across a brook, and then about 600 yards through scrub brush and put us behind some large rocks. The wind is howling but in our favor as we will approach from downwind and any noise we make should be completely drowned out. We take minimal gear and set off on the hour or so stalk that it will take to get to the moose.

 

Cliff and Brian

After some hard hiking through tough brush and across a stream we reach our goal. Brian and Cliff crawl up to a vantage point and spot the moose that is bedded down. I can’t see anything and I don’t want to be in the way so I hang back and watch the two of them trying to figure out what is going on. Cliff crawls back and tells me he is going to circle around so the moose will get his scent and then hopefully stand up. I scramble up next to Brian and see the moose for the first time. Brian wonders if he is a shooter and I tell him that it’s his call, but if he doesn’t take it I definitely will. He looks wide but has uneven pans. Brian has never shot a moose before and he is pretty pumped up right now so I tell him to make sure this is the moose he wants and that we still have plenty of hunting ahead of us.

 

Cliff works his magic. The moose catches his scent and stands up. Not for long. Brian drops him like a sack of potatoes with his .30-.06. We high five each other and cautiously approach the downed moose. He is big. These animals can easily top a half ton in weight and this one probably is in the 900 pound range. The rack is very wide with ten points. Brain’s grin is almost as wide and we settle into taking pictures and recounting the stalk while we await the Argos to arrive. Cliff sets about the task of field dressing the moose and we lend a hand.

Brian's First Moose

 

By the time the Argo arrive it is after lunch and we decide to put the moose on the Argos and return to main camp. At the main lodge the moose is admired by all and measured. He’s 48 inches wide. A very wide rack and Brian has bragging rights. A couple other moose were taken today but Brian has by far the largest and widest in camp.

 

After another large hunters breakfast the group is on its way again to the remote camp. Today we have three Argos and a crew of six. Brian decides to give his .06 a break and leaves it at the lodge. We get about a quarter mile from camp when Brian’s Argo snaps an axle. This will cause a delay so Cliff, Brian and I jump out and head on up the trail.

 

The hiking without the Argo is pleasant. The country is beautiful and without the noise of the engines is very peaceful. I enjoy the walk even though we aren’t seeing any moose and we cover a couple of miles before we hear the distant sound of the approaching transports. We spot a nice loon on a small pond and conclude that there must be decent fishing there.

 

As we approached the remote camp Cliff spots a moose and we start a hike across country. This stalk takes close to an hour and we cross several bogs and brooks. This time I am huffing and puffing a bit as we get closer. I switch off the safety as the cow moose stands up and I have the cross hairs on her waiting for her to give me a better shot. I am about to pull the trigger and suddenly a calf pops up. I switch the safety back on. I don’t want to orphan a calf.

 

We arrive at the remote camp and grab some dinner which consists of pea soup, boiled potatoes and Newfoundland steak – bologna.  We all turn in by 9:00pm and I know it will be a long night ahead.

 

Remote Camp

After surviving my fitful sleep and the constant snoring I am up and ready to go. A hot breakfast is welcomed and we then spot a really nice moose in the valley where we tried yesterday in vain. I guess it’s not called “Moose Valley” for nothing. We load up and are off.

 

Our trek out of the valley is accompanied by one of the Argos getting stuck and as we are digging it out we spot our moose across a ridge. We decide to put on a stalk and so Brian, Cliff, and another guide; Vincent and I are on our way. We arrive at a ridge of thickets and Vincent disappears into it. I can’t believe he can walk through this stuff. Cliff and I give chase. I struggle to get through this but we get pretty close to the moose. Cliff and I circle around to get a better shot and when we arrive at our destination I quickly set up my shooting sticks. The wind is blowing mercilessly and it is difficult to get a stead rest. The moose is standing now and soon he presents a nice side shot. I slide the safety off my Browning 300 win mag and take what I am sure will be a great shot. Boom! Nothing happens. I shoot again. Boom! Again nothing happens. I shoot yet again. Click. Obviously nothing happens.

 

When you miss a 900-pound bull moose at 100 yards with a 300 win mag that has a Leupold tactical scope you have a problem. I have shot moose, whitetails, mule deer, bison, and all sorts of animals and so I am not a rookie and I don’t have buck fever. I am not panicked. I am however puzzled because I don’t understand why I missed the first two shots and now why my third shot didn’t fire.

 

I quickly eject my clip to see two bullets and wonder why the third shell didn’t chamber. I snap the clip back in as Cliff informs me that the moose is on his way and will disappear in a matter of seconds. Now all I have is a spine shot. I take it and dump the moose on the spot. Cliff and I high five and I am one happy and tired camper. However I can’t explain why the first two shots didn’t know him down.

 

As we approach the moose I am still thinking that we will find two bullet holes in the beast. Brian catches up and we high five and I tell him I have no idea what happened on the first two shots. When we get to the moose we see that he is a real beauty. Fourteen points and a very nice animal. No bullet holes other than the spine shot. How did I miss the first two shots?

 

We take pictures and I still can’t explain to all how the first two shots could have missed. Brian thought for sure that my rifle must have been damaged on the ride in. However no one seems to care as we get the moose cleaned and loaded onto one of the Argos. We are headed for caribou country and Duane and Chester are headed back to the main camp with my moose.

 

Cliff, Darrell, and Vincent

As we head into caribou country we run into a problem with one of the Argos. Once again it is the chain drive and so we stop for repairs. While taking a break I notice that the safety on my gun seems loose. In fact the entire trigger and bolt assembly seem loose. I flip the gun over and realize that the bolt connecting the stock to the barrel is loose to the point where it is almost falling out of the gun. No wonder I missed the moose. It’s a miracle that I hit it on the third shot. Now I also understand why the third shell didn’t chamber. The result of this loose bolt meant that I was probably shooting a foot or more over the top of the moose. I got lucky on the spine shot. Well I guess it is sometimes better to be lucky than good. I tighten up the bolt and explain to everyone what had happened. I am not sure they care but I at least feel vindicated about the poor shooting.

 

 

As we enter caribou country I am not optimistic. However we stop for a break and Cliff and I both spot seven caribou at the same time. A small herd is grazing about a quarter of a mile upwind from us. Perfect. I grab my gun and Brian, Cliff, and Vincent join me in the stalk. As we approach the herd we see a couple of stags off by themselves. One is a real trophy and we decide to go after him.

 

We use a ridge line and the caribou’s poor sight to assist the wind advantage we have and I creep closer. At about 300 yards I get down on the tundra and crawl towards him. There is a small hill ahead of me and I can use it as a perfect shooting rest. The wind is blowing like crazy so I forgo the shooting sticks and lie prone. The caribou spots something in my direction and starts trotting towards me. I can’t believe it. He’s getting closer by the second. I have the safety off and when he gets to about 100 yards he stops turns sideways and then is on the ground as I didn’t wait for him to go any further. What a stalk. What a hunt. A beautiful bull moose and caribou stag four hours apart.

 

My first caribou

Everyone greets us as we pull up to the lodge. Not many caribou are being brought in these days and I am told I am the first client to do a double – moose and caribou. I am just happy that I had a lucky day and some how I managed to get the gun to work.

 

A hot shower and then I head down to a special meal that Dan has prepared for me. He has a steak for Brian but caribou liver and onions for me. I can’t believe how good it is. Afterwards I open my celebratory bottle of wine and share it with Brian, Cliff and the kitchen staff. We drink our beer. Another bottle of wine appears. Chester prepares a generous cheese platter. Then a boiled shrimp platter arrives. This is way too much fun.  I sleep like a baby.

 

Our last day in camp. We are thanking everyone for a great week and I give a generous tip to all for the kindness and hospitality. The J5’s are loaded with the meat. Every hunter tagged out but Brian and I got the truly big moose. We have three trophies between us and a load of meat to go to the butcher shop tonight. I am looking forward to sleeping in the hotel tonight and then on home tomorrow on the ferry. Its been eight days since we left Maine and I miss Carolyn a bunch and I know Brian misses his wife. We have had a hunt to remember but it will be nice to get home.

 

The ride out is similar to the one coming in. Thankfully its not raining and we manage to get out after only one mechanical breakdown near camp none too worse for wear but enough to remind us that we truly were in the backcountry!

 

 


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