Moose are by their nature a solitary anti-social species. They don’t run in herds like elk and deer, and they rarely tolerate the presence of other moose except during the rut or in winter when feeding grounds are limited. For this reason, it’s rare to see more than one or two moose in a square mile. So, when four cows started a muddy moose melee on Bennet Lake, it was a hunt to remember.
We really enjoyed having Dennis in camp, he had hunted with us twice before and had previously taken a really nice bull on Paddle Lake from a boat. On this his third hunt, Dennis’ health had taken a turn for the worse. He was suffering terribly from emphysema and we had to cart around an oxygen bottle for him. But Dennis was a patient hunter, and this virtue did him well moose hunting.
We kept our hunts limited to a handful of easy access lakes where we could ATV right to the hunting stand on the lakeshore. One of our best moose lakes, close to the lodge and easily accessible, is Bennet Lake. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success here over the years - some hunters question whether it’s because we hunt it more because it’s so easy to hunt, or if moose frequent the area more than others. Either way, our record is 7 moose in one year off Bennet Lake, and it’s only about 200 yards across and 600 yards long. Our hunting stand halfway down the lakeshore means you can shoot the entire lakeshore from one location, the furthest shot would be 350 yards.
With Dennis’ health being as it was, we hunted Bennet a lot that week. I can’t now remember how many or even if we had seen moose previous to the night Dennis got his bull, but that night was unforgettable.
We had been sitting on the lake since about 3pm. I had been calling soft cow calls sporadically when around 7 pm our first cow moose emerged from the NW corner of the lake. As is typical, she made her way to the water to begin feeding. Dennis was out of position to shoot that direction so I carefully shifted his position so he could shoot the north end if a bull showed up.
The cow hadn’t been there very long when a second cow moose followed her trail onto the lakeshore and proceeded to run after the first down the lakeshore. The first cow retreated for a few dozen yards before turning to defend herself and the two cows began striking at eachother with their hooves and making aggressive moose calls. The dirt was flying as they fought to chase each other off.
Dennis and I were pretty pumped up by this, two adult cow moose together, there had to be a bull nearby keeping these two in his harem. We watched these two cows with anticipation for several minutes when another cow moose entered onto the lakeshore from the NE corner, and right behind her was another mature cow. They made their way towards the first two moose and when all four were together they proceeded to kick up one of the largest racket’s I’ve ever seen or heard.
Grunting, barking and moaning as cows do when irritated, they were kicking, biting, and striking at each other in a battle along a lakeshore that can only be described as a muddy moose melee! And it kept going, and going, and going! No moose would leave or abandon the lake to a rival. I fully expected a bull to come wandering out to collect his harem at any moment and Dennis and I were diligently searching the timber behind them for signs of antlers.
The fight which had now lasted more than half an hour was moving along the northern end of the lake, in and out of the water, back and forth, and we were so fixated on the cows and their ruckus that Dennis and I had completely forgotten there was any other part of the lake. So when the grunting started behind us, we were caught completely off guard. I whipped around to see a beautiful bull standing not 150 yards from us on the south shoreline.
I have no idea how long the bull moose had been there or where he had come from. But Dennis, in position to shoot the northern end, was now way out of position to shoot this bull to the south. To make matters worse, daylight had faded and we only had about 15 minutes of shooting light left. I quickly tried to reposition Dennis to shoot the bull, but I was panicky, our movement was too erratic and he immediately made us and before we had even gotten half way turned around the bull turned tail and ran into the trees.
I was terribly disappointed. It was tough enough with Dennis’ health to get him a moose, but I had just blown what would likely be the last opportunity of his life to shoot a bull moose. The cows paused their fight briefly to see what the commotion was all about but were otherwise unperturbed. As the four cows still bickered on the north end, Dennis went back to watching them as the evening faded away. A little wiser now, I moved Dennis to where he could shoot the south end, and I watched the timber like a hawk.
With a little imagination perhaps you can imagine just how attractive it is for several females to be fighting each other in a muddy melee. It was a sight no male could resist. It took about 10 minutes, and just as the last light was leaving, I spotted the bull on the edge of the timber only 50 yards from where we had first seen him. I quickly got Dennis’ attention, but it was so hard to see the bull in that light that it took me a minute to get Dennis on the bull. I knew it had to happen now or never, another minute and it would be too dark to shoot. With a little encouragement from me he made his shot. And in that moment the bull disappeared. I couldn’t find him again and began to worry that I had made a mistake pressuring Dennis to shoot.
We walked the 100 yards or so back to our quads where I left Dennis and proceeded to walk around the lake to where we had last seen the bull. For a guide this is one of the most agonizing walks you’ll ever do, looking for a moose that’s disappeared after a shot, not knowing the outcome. I had nothing to worry about though, Dennis’ shot had done it’s job and I found him right where he was supposed to be.