By Steve G. Morgan
Steve G. Morgan (right) of Ogden, Utah, fulfilled his dream of harvesting a big moose while his son, Digger, and wife, Trish, were with him during the hunt.
-- January in Utah brings cold wind and fall hunting applications. The state is known for big game, but prime hunts are difficult to draw. Thousands of people apply every year and only a lucky few are chosen. I had applied for "once-in-lifetime" moose hunt for years, but lately my dream seemed to be fading.
Growing up, I remember Bullwinkle hanging on my grandfather's living room wall. Bullwinkle was a monstrous Shiras moose, which was harvested in the early '60s. My grandfather told many a story of his marvelous hunt. Later, when I married, my father-in-law showed me photos of a moose he had taken in 1967. He held the state record for a while and bragging rights for a lifetime. Needless to say, I had plenty of moose hunting advice, but no permit.
Now fast forward to May 2008. I received a call at work from my wife. She was concerned about a recent charge to our credit card. Agreeing that neither of us had made a purchase that large, I immediately called the bank. The lady on the other end of the line was able to connect the dots for me. The charge was from Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. BINGO! I had hit the lottery!
After celebrating for a week or so, I went right to work. I had decided to make the most of my good fortune and began scouting the mountains of northern Utah almost immediately. Systematically, I covered areas where moose are known to frequent. Even though I tried to stay objective when determining where I would be opening morning, in the back of my mind I knew where I would be sitting - a secret spot, a moose mecca, the honey hole.
Using a digital camera, a spotting scope, notepad and pen, I began to document all the moose I scouted. I was out almost every weekend. I recorded time, date and location as well as noting the features of the animal (e.g. estimated spread, points, brow tines and other characteristics). Over the 4th of July weekend, I ran across a set of moose sheds. They were found a mere 10 feet apart. The set of sheds was a 10x10, and I suspected a spread of 40 inches.
In June and July it was tough to tell how big the moose antlers would grow. The animals were still in the velvet. It was difficult to know how many points would emerge. I found myself guessing, and by September I realized I was guessing much too low. It was surprising to see how much growth occurred over the last couple of months.
My summer scouting produced 19 different bulls with numerous cows and calves. The larger bulls (those of interest) were given names, and the top three were given rankings. Number one in my ranking was Mr. Biggs. I only got to see Mr. Biggs once at 40 yards and probably for less than a minute. It was in early July, and my buddy, Mark, and I walked right up on it. Mr. Biggs was running with two other bulls, which gave us a good reference. While the number of points was not established, the antlers were very wide and sported three brow tines on both sides.
I referred to the second bull as Spike. We called this one Spike because its brow tines did not fork, however, they were very long and pronounced. Spike was a most impressive animal. I saw Spike on three different occasions before the hunt. Unfortunately, bull number two was not seen in the weeks prior to opening day, which caused me some grief. The number three choice was Mike. This bull was a good looking 9x9 spotted just days before the hunt.
Finding moose in the heat of the summer is fairly predictable. They like the water. However, as the weather cools and the moose start to rut, all bets are off. The advice I'd been given time after time was to follow the cows.
Opening day brought jitters. I was not concerned about filling my tag. I had been looking at moose all summer long. I was more concerned about shooting the first animal that got within range. Mark can attest to the fact that I am not picky when it comes to antlers. I've shot my fair share of smaller deer. I am referred to as a "management" deer hunter by fellow hunters.
Mark wanted to employ the Barney Fife method of hunting. This is where Mark would give me one bullet only after I had "signed off" on the moose I wanted to shoot. However, my self-control was outstanding. I was solid as a rock. I was able to pass on several animals, including Mike over the first couple of days.
On the fourth day of my hunt, I noticed four black spots 2,000 yards off in the distance. My spotting scope revealed that one of the spots had a very large rack. It was getting late so I scrambled to get within range. There was no question as to who it was sitting on the adjacent hill - it was Spike with three cows. The bull had grown and was now enormous.
Its rack had blossomed into a 10x11, with long developed points. The only downfall to Spike was that its brow tines did not fork. This would cost me a lot of points when it came time to score the animal. I debated with myself until finally it was to dark to shoot. I climbed out of the mountains with a lot of "what if" questions running through my mind.
I returned to the hill with my family and friends that weekend. I also returned with a new ranking. Spike was now at the top of my list.
We hunted hard Friday night and Saturday morning with no Spike in sight. I was beat come Saturday afternoon and decided to take a nap. Digger, my boy, runs on pure energy and has yet to grasp the concept of a mountain nap. He decided to take advantage of the intermission by taking his dog out to hunt some grouse.
Ten minutes after he left, he returned in a wave of excitement. It had seen Spike and the three cows, he was sure of it. He reported seeing them just over the hill at an area we call the "Love Seat." It was time for the 300 Win Mag to go to work. We wasted no time and my teenage moose guide led me right to them. Spike was at the bottom of a deep draw holding up in some quakes. I took a quick poll of the group, and this time there was no debate. That was the moose I wanted.
Mark, Digger and I moved down the mountain to get within range. The lead cow spooked and the chase was on. Three ridges later, they held up in a grove of trees about 160 yards out. I set up my sticks and waited for the cows to lead Spike into the open. The second Spike stepped out, I caught it in the front quarter and the moose went down hard. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trophy.
As I suspected, Spike's brow tines kept him out of the Boone and Crocket all-time book, but it was also his brow tines that made this animal so impressive. He was a 10x11 that we estimated to weigh 1,200 pounds. He had a 22-inch brow tine on the left and a 20-inch brow tine on the right. Spike's overall spread was 50 inches. I could not have been more thrilled with my hunt. It was especially nice to have my family and friends with me in the field.
Steve G. Morgan
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