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  • Ken Perrotte

Moose Hunting on “The Rock” – Scenic, Rugged Newfoundland - Persistence, then Redemption

Updated: Feb 6

By Ken Perrotte

Note: Be sure to scroll to the end for additional video and images

If there was one point about which I was certain as I loaded my Ram 1500 crew cab truck and began driving from Virginia to Newfoundland, it was my conviction to not be stuck again with the “ugly stick,” a simultaneously hideous and hilarious troll-like creature on a broom stick. Sleeping with the stick is the final night reward for the moose hunter who gets skunked.

My hunt with Arluk Outfitters in mid-September 2019 saw me return home mooseless, the only guy in camp who didn’t fill a tag. There was an opportunity on a young bull the second day – the only nice weather day of the seven-day hunt, as it turned out – but my guide Tony Caines rightfully recommended passing. The day before our hunting group arrived, he had spotted a huge bull in the area we were hunting. It turned out that the young bull would be the only chance I’d get. The rest of the week alternated between windy, rainy gales, dense fog and miserable hunting.

Redemption beckoned for 2021. I’d be sharing camp with Iowan Steve Skold, a past president of Safari Club International and his wife Sue. We were stoked to see the weather forecast. Incredibly good weather, by Newfoundland standards, was expected.

Skold and I had scheduled a 2020 moose camp with Arluk but, like most international hunts that year, COVID-19 intervened. Borders between the United States and Canada closed, resulting in countless postponed hunts. Fortunately, access opened to fully vaccinated travelers in August 2021 and we rescheduled. Brad Ledrew, Arluk’s operations manager, said he expected 2021 hunters to find an ample supply of big bull moose. “If there was going to be a season in 2021, it would be a season we’d remember,” he said. “Those 8-pointers passed up in 2019 would be this year’s 16, 18 or 20 pointers.”

Caines, Arluk’s head guide at the St. Paul’s Pond camp, said Newfoundland moose typically begin exhibiting rutting behavior around September 20, which often coincides with the second week of the season. Activity can be intense for the next couple weeks. By the last week of the five-week season in mid-October, the rut has largely ended. Skold and I were booked in for the fourth week, a week known for producing big bulls. Visibility can improve a lot between the start of the season and the fourth week as leaves drop from trees and shrubs.

Arluk moves hunters into camps with helicopters. The camps are interspersed along the edge of the Long Range Mountains just north of Gros Morne National Park. I drove from Virginia, spending a night in Nova Scotia and then making the overnight crossing to Newfoundland from North Sydney to Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland, aboard the massive Marine Atlantic ferries. Hunters stay at a motel in Deer Lake the evening before flying in. The Skolds and I boarded the helicopter with anticipation. It was their first trip to Newfoundland, but for me it offered a chance at redemption. I’d again hunt with Tony while Steve would accompany Sherman Caines, a third generation guide whose grandfather built the original hunting lodge at the pond.

A 15-Minute Hunt!

The Northern Long Range sub-region of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, the area where Arluk Outfitters operates, has more rugged terrain than seen in many areas of the island. The scenic "Viking Trail" runs along the western edge of the peninsula. The base camp at St. Paul’s Pond where we hunted is at an elevation of 440 meters, although some stands positioned high above the pond are several hundred feet higher, offering expansive views across countless mossy peat bogs, highland meadows, and slopes and valleys featuring thick stands of tuckamore, dominated by stunted black spruce and occasional patches of balsam fir.

Morning arrived. A gentle weather system swirled, bringing light rain and drizzle every 30 minutes. Tony and I opened our hunt in a familiar spot – one of his favorite locations on high ground south of the pond. It’s a bit of a sweat getting to the location, but pays off with views for miles, including a gorgeous valley feeding into the national park. Tony called in an impressive bull to that very location during the first week of the season. A hand-built rock shelter built around a moss-covered boulder that serves as a seat is the focal point. This spot was so revered by a longtime hunter that a granite memorial to him was placed there after he died.

Further down the pond, Steve and Sherman beached their boat near the original hunting lodge, now used to store boats and equipment in the winter. They set out on foot into the rising sun, following a gentle trail to an elevated hunting blind situated above a river.

The blind, a boxy platform wrapped with waist-high canvas, is a favorite of Sherm. His dad Hebbert says he has taken at least 150 moose from it during his guiding career. Missourian Jay Simpson, a hunter in our 2019 camp, shot a day-two, big bull there within 15 minutes of settling in.

Steve reached the stand and began unpacking. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a dark object in the distance, thinking, “That kind of looks like a moose.” He was grabbing his binoculars for a better look when Sherm climbed in and whispered, “Right behind us.” The moose was 180 yards away. While it looked impressive, Steve wondered, “Is this something I want to shoot in the first 5 minutes of getting into the stand?” Sherm replied, “He’s definitely above average.”

Steve and I both had Benelli Lupo rifles chambered in .300 Win. Mag. for the hunt, only his luggage didn’t arrive in Deer Lake with him on his Air Canada flight. So, he carried his wife’s custom-built 7mm-08, a capable-enough gun but not a .300 magnum. As the moose closed the distance, Steve decided to shoot, connecting solidly on the first shot at 58 yards. The moose absorbed two more rounds before going down.

The moose was a big-paddled 18-pointer with a 44-inch spread, a fine Newfoundland trophy animal and, amazingly somewhat like the moose Simpson had taken there two years prior. “It all happened so fast; I really didn’t know what to think,” Steve said.

“The two moose (Skold's and Simpson's) fell within 50 yards of each other,” Sherm later shared.

‘I think We Can Do Better’

Tony and I took turns calling. The nasal, yearning tones of a cow moose, somewhat

reminiscent of a cat in heat or, maybe, in the case of my efforts, with its tail caught in a ringer, echoed for miles across the yellow bogs and patches of dark timber. Calling a moose can be a bit like calling a turkey. If one is close and motivated, it can be in your lap in minutes, as Steve experienced. But, if it’s a couple miles away, getting to you might take a while. Once you call, you need to stay put for a reasonable amount of time.

Even though a bull moose somewhere likely heard us, nothing showed up. By 1 p.m., we retreated to the boat and returned to lodge to admire Steve's impressive bull and figure out an afternoon plan. A radio call came in soon after we arrived. Hebbert and Ralph, another guide, were working by the old lodge and they spotted a bull. Without binoculars, they were unsure of its size and watched it move on. We decided to check it out, climbing into an elevated stand just 100 yards from the camp.

Tony began calling, sometimes from the stand and sometimes from the woods on the other side of the camp. He’d also use the excursions to scan with binoculars the high, upper meadows where we had been that morning – plus, it was an opportunity for a smoke. At 5:30 p.m., he scrambled up the ladder and told me the bull was coming through the woods along the pond. The moose appeared a couple hundred yards from the stand and marched in, oblivious to the Argo all-terrain vehicle sitting silently at the edge of the small meadow. He was a 10-pointer, the type some hunters might refer to as, “one that’ll be a nice in a couple years.” I love moose meat. “Nice” to me also means full coolers in my truck. Yes, it was the first day, but the skunk smell from 2019 still wafted around my head; here was a chip shot opportunity to avoid the ugly stick and package some tasty protein.

The moose offered itself for 30 minutes, sometimes closing to 50 yards. Tony looked at me. I knew what was coming. “It’s your decision, but this is a young bull,” he said. “We’ve got at least three days of good weather coming. I think we can do better.”

In a way, it was déjà vu - and this bull in front of us now was considerably bigger than the moose I’d passed on two years earlier. In seconds, I processed thoughts about Steve's mature bull and considered the weather. The hunters the week before we arrived had a tough week, with weather like what we’d experienced two years earlier. Our next few days were supposed to offer superb weather, making me confident rutting moose would be moving. I nodded and lowered the Benelli. Had the forecast called for a week of wind and slop, though, things would’ve ended differently for that young bull.

The next morning, we again headed for high country, this time to a stand not far from an overnight cabin Arluk hunters sometimes use when pushing out into distant territory. Views from “Tony’s Stand” stretched to the Long Range Mountains and across St. Paul’s Pond to our lodge, 12-kilometers distant as the crow flies. Reaching the stand meant a jostling, 90-minute ride in the Argo, including two river crossings, followed by a mile of mostly uphill hiking. An Argo is, at once, a savior and an implement of sadistic discomfort. The passenger position sometimes requires you to awkwardly contort your left leg into an area seemingly designed about 6 inches too small for the average man. But the machine helps you reach inaccessible places and does the work of multiple pack horses or several men once a moose is down. It even runs when half of its tires are flat. So, I love Argos.

We parked at the edge of a hill, an uphill climb of about ½-mile still ahead. The slog up spruce-laden, rocky hillsides and zigzagging across watery, yellow bogs, generates a robust sweat, especially for old, “husky” flatlanders. On rainy days, you might never dry out. On sunny windy days, though, sweat-drenched clothes can be aired out. I stripped to my waist below the blind, turning my lightweight jacket inside out and hanging my base layer shirt and sweater on spruce snags. The resulting aroma downwind from the makeshift clotheslines likely wouldn’t do us any favors with moose approaching from that direction, but it was the only way to dry out and get warm.

At 2 p.m., Tony spotted a black speck in a yellow bog about two miles away. Through binoculars, we could discern that it appeared to be a young bull. It seemed to be coming to the calls. We watched as it crossed a narrow stretch of river about a mile away. It disappeared into a stretch of timber a few hundred yards below our stand. About 30 minutes late, Tony glassed another, bigger moose following the smaller bull’s track across the distant bog. It crossed the river at the same spot as the younger bull and then seemed to move into the large block of spruce directly below us. Field-judging the bull at long distance was tough, but he looked like he had some wide antlers. I chambered a cartridge.

No moose appeared from the spruce. Tony slipped out of the blind, carefully moving closer to the woods to call. Returning, he said he heard a cow moose calling in the timber. Trying to call a bull moose from a receptive cow is about as fruitful as trying to coax a gobbler turkey away from a harem of hens. At 4:30, Tony shrugged, saying we needed to begin the long trek back to main camp. “We ran out of time. There’s a lot of cover up here,” he said. “The bulls are down in the timber and until they’re finished with the cows, it can be hard hunting.”

Something to Work With

The remote, overnight camp was near the high-ground stand, positioned in a block of woods a few hundred yards from where the moose crossed the river. We decided to return at daybreak, bringing provisions for a stay.

“Seeing those moose gives us something to work with,” Caines said.

Heading up in the Argo during the first hour of daylight the next morning, Tony paused at a fork in the trail. He wanted to head higher and again hike to the high-ground platform stand, declaring, “You get more an advantage up high when you’re looking for a trophy moose.” For two reasons, I preferred traveling straight to camp. First, an Argo makes a helluva lot of noise. The sooner we quieted it, the sooner moose might settle down and respond to calling. A quiet late morning might result in a productive afternoon or, at least, opportunity the next morning. Second, I wasn’t keen on another sweat fest; it was even windier than the day before and that high-ground stand was totally exposed.

Tony’s intrinsic desire to get as high as possible clearly conflicted with my thoughts. “Okay,” he said. I didn't perceive that as a case of Tony caving in with a “customer is always right” outlook, but instead a willingness to listen and collaborate. I observed a lot of that consideration with Arluk's guides. Sometimes, that is a rarity with guides and outfitters.

Once at the overnight cabin, I was surprised to see how close it was to the small yellow bog where we first spotted the moose the day before. A rocky knob, about 10-feet high, a few hundred yards from camp was Tony’s favorite hunting spot. Moose funneled through there on the way to the nearby river crossing. The spot was perfect, offering excellent views of the river, surrounding bogs and patches of timber. Hunters bagged many moose from this vantage point over the years. It was so close to the cabin we even brought a lightweight folding chair. Talk about plush comfort on a moose hunt.

I settled in, monitoring the valley, occasionally calling. Tony periodically ventured higher, close to the swath of spruce that swallowed the moose the day prior. He’d call for a few minutes, then retreat toward our position, calling while moving. It was a wonderful strategy – mainly because it worked. As the afternoon sun’s intensity dimmed around 3:30 p.m., Tony returned from a calling sortie, sitting to my left. Minutes later, I heard behind me the distinct “mrruph” of a grunting bull moose. I quickly turned and retrieved the Benelli from its rest against a small spruce.

The moose stood motionless, facing us, looking big even at a couple hundred yards. It was about halfway between our rocky roost and the overnight cabin. I chambered a cartridge while sizing up the animal. The bull seemed wary, as though he spotted my movement as I grabbed the gun and turned. Worse, he might have smelled us. I worried a course reversal into the timber was imminent.

The only shot I had was a nearly head-on frontal. That’s not always the best look, but it’s one familiar to me having taken deer, kudu and a summer 2021 Cape buffalo that way. I established a solid rest and centered The Steiner Predator 4 scope’s crosshairs near the base of the bull’s neck, slightly skewed to the left shoulder. At the trigger squeeze, all I could see was a flash of brown followed by a geyser of water shooting high from the ground. Clearly, the Hornady ELD-X 200-grain round had rammed home. Watching the scenario through his binoculars Caines thought so, too. In the “best laid plans” category, we had hoped to collect video of the moose responding to the call, coming in, taking the shot, etc. Sorry, but this bull was acting too tense for me. From the time the moose arrived until the shot, only about 8 seconds passed.

Tony and I high-fived, reasonably certain the aim was true. We gathered our gear. The moose had, seemingly, flipped at the bullet’s impact, its head facing 180 degrees from where it faced at the shot. Two-thirds of its body was submerged in a deep, watery bog hole. Thank goodness for the winch-equipped Argo. Pulling the approximately 1,000-pound animal out would have been difficult or impossible, even for two men.

My moose was an old warrior, a tough animal with some busted antler tines and its left eye recently blinded, probably from fighting. The 17-pointer measured 50.25 inches wide. My hunt was over. Elation, relief washed over me. That ugly stick would stay in the closet.

Caribou Postscript

The Skolds had booked a follow-on woodland caribou hunt with Efford’s Outfitters. Steve’s gear and his Benelli Lupo showed up in time for that hunt. Both tagged impressive ‘bous, with Sue’s coming after about five or six miles of hiking the always soggy ground.

Sidebar Notes - Planning a Trip

Hunters traveling to hunt in 2021 saw considerable logistical and regulatory difficulties. Travel to Canada necessitated registration in the “ArrivCAN” app, uploading proof of COVID-19 vaccination status and providing proof of a negative COVID “PCR” test within 72 hours of entering the country. If hunting in the Maritime Provinces, each province also had its own forms to complete with further proof of vaccination. Border checkpoints were in place in Nova Scotia and at the Marine Atlantic ferry landing in Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland.

Still, even when approved for entry and deemed exempt from quarantine and reporting requirements, it was possible to receive persistent emails and phone calls related to quarantine requirements. I know I received several, much to my dismay, given that I was told I was fully cleared to travel.

Arluk Outfitters worked to make things easier for traveling hunters, hiring extra staff and ensuring links and instructions for the online reporting forms weeks were emailed before clients began travel. “People who had already completed the registration online quickly moved through the checkpoints,” Ledrew said.

Hunters arriving by land, driving to Newfoundland and taking the ferry from Nova Scotia, had better luck with their gear than many air travelers flying into the diminutive Deer Lake airport. Downsized aircraft often were unable to accommodate all travelers and their gear. Ledrew said outfitters were talking with Air Canada representatives to address the problem, noting that lost luggage not only inconvenienced hunters or hampered their opportunities. It also resulted in extra effort for outfitters who had to try to find ways to get guns and gear to hunters in remote locations. Until pandemic-related restrictions abate, hunters traveling in the future need to closely coordinate with airlines and outfitters to avoid delays or problems.

Ledrew says the pandemic created huge logistical and financial challenges for many Newfoundland outfitters. Some outfitters saw 50% cancellations in 2021, Ledrew said, a number devastating to small operators who had already endured a lost season in 2020. Looking ahead, Ledrew said Arluk anticipates streamlining operations and improving advance contacts with scheduled hunters. He said they’re also considering buttoning down one or two of their several camps, essentially resting and rotating areas to give bulls a better chance to mature. “I like that idea of taking 80% mature bulls,” Ledrew said.

“With the moose population dynamics, some hunters will take some smaller animals, but if we can rotate our camps, we feel we can offer a good chance at a mature bull. In Newfoundland, if you harvest anything over 40 inches, that’s a trophy; anything over 50 inches, you’re lucky.”

Ledrew said Arluk focuses on offering an experience that transcends just the moose hunt but notes that weather can always intervene. “During our third week, we had four-and-a-half days of monsoons on a six-day hunt. We still had good success, but it should have been easier if the weather was better.” He advises hunters to do their homework before booking a Newfoundland hunt. “Where we hunt, there are a lot of rolling hills. It isn’t marshy, but it’s squishy,” Ledrew said. “When you come to Newfoundland, make sure you’re waterproof all the way around. That alone can make the difference between having a good time or a miserable time.”

Tony Caines advises hunters to bring warm clothes, good rubber boots and a comfortable backpack, noting, “It can get cold on top of those knobs. And this is rugged country. Almost everywhere you go, you’ve got to do some steep climbing and you’ve got to be able to lift your feet and not everybody can do that.” The walking and climbing can be challenging, especially for people with arthritis, with climbing down a mountain more difficult or discomforting than climbing up.

“Shot placement means everything,” Caines adds. The rifles most popular with clients, he said, are chambered in .300 Win. Mag. Rifles in .30-06 are also fine, with most Newfoundlanders commonly shooting .308.

“Be prepared mentally and be patient. Our area has more moose per square mile than anywhere else in the world, but we also have all public land and a lot of cover. (thick boreal forests, laden with spruce and balsam) It’s possible to go a couple days without seeing moose, but the next day might have you seeing a lot of moose or seeing the one that you want,” Ledrew said “Trust your guide. Our guides have been in some of these areas for 35 years or more. They know these areas. Communicate with your guide, your hunting partner for the week. Make sure you become a team.”

Arluk also offers “stumble-on” opportunities for black bear. One bear that took a liking to the St. Paul’s camp was killed by a hunter during the first week of the season. A dearth of berries, usually common on the hillsides of the area, resulted in few bear sightings in 2021.

I’ve always, when possible, cut my own meat from any wild game, easily processing a couple deer over the years. Caines said it’s not unusual for hunters, mainly those who drove to Newfoundland, to want to process their own meat, either in camp or by loading moose quarters into large coolers for flying out and later attention. A local processor near Deer Lake, Countryside Abattoir, operates 24/7 during moose season, cutting meat to specification, offering a variety of sausages and arranging for drop shipping of boxed, vacuum-sealed meat to several U.S. cities. “Most people, when they can, like to cut their own meat,” Caines said.

Except for some meat that I wanted ground into sausage, I cut up my own moose. Skold helped me vacuum seal one afternoon. Once back in Deer Lake, the meat was loaded into three large (2 100-liter and 1 75-liter) Calcutta Renegade coolers. With frozen sausage helping chill the many semi-frozen packs, and augmented with a few pounds of dry ice purchased in Maine on the drive home, the meat easily stayed cold during the 2.5-day trip home that covered 1,400-road miles and an overnight ferry crossing.

How Moose Got to Newfoundland

Moose were introduced to Newfoundland starting in 1878. The government’s goal was mainly to see the animals reproduce and flourish, with the subsistence meat they provided helping to develop the island’s interior, attract big game hunters, sustain mining and forestry workers, and create recreational and economic opportunities. The island province’s moose population did flourish, especially since there were no predators such as wolves to contend with. Moose numbers were estimated at about 140,000 by the late 1990s. That number has reportedly declined and is now estimated at around 112,000 (not including national parks such as Gros Morne and Terra Nova). The government has been actively thinning the moose in the parks in recent years due to habitat concerns.

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