Voila...a Moose Tag

About 15 years ago, it seemed as if I had a decent chance of drawing a Montana moose tag within my lifetime. However, with the dramatic decline in their moose population within the past decade or two, I realized a few years ago that my odds of drawing a tag before I was too old to hunt were slim to none. So instead I started putting my twenty-something year old son in for the draw, hoping that within 30 years he just might draw a coveted Shiras moose tag for himself.

Fast forward a couple of years to July 2018. My son and his wife had stopped by for a casual visit. A few stray pieces of mail addressed to him had arrived at our house so I handed them over. I wasn’t at all surprised when he pulled out the Montana big game proclamation from the large white 9x12 in. envelope since we’ve received one yearly since putting in for the Montana draw. However, I was completely confused when he said “Dad, how long have you known about this?” I truly didn’t have any idea what he was talking about and said “known about what?” We went back and forth for a minute or so each thinking the other was joking around until he said, “my moose tag”. With a bewildered look on my face, I sprang from my seat to go have a look for myself. Voila, there in his hand he held a Montana moose tag!

wood duck while moose hunting 

                 Saw a bunch of wood ducks along the way

Drawing this tag was like winning the lottery. He literally had less than a 0.1% chance of drawing the non-resident moose tag. In fact, most websites (including Montana’s) showed his odds of drawing were 0%. Yet he had done it…for all intents and purposes a once-in-a-lifetime tag.

Since we had never hunted in Montana and were completely unfamiliar with unit 105, we began by Google searching for articles related to hunting the Cabinet Mountains. Unfortunately we weren’t able to find the detail that we had hoped for. We then called several outfitters only to find out that none of those we called guided in unit 105. More than once we got the response…why are you hunting unit 105, you should get a tag for unit such and such. I wish it were that easy, haha, apparently they didn’t understand the difficulty of drawing a non-resident tag. And living 12 hours away from Libby Montana made scouting the area impractical for us.

In the end we finally found an invaluable source for information, that being the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks personnel and the local biologist. They were all more than willing to answer our myriad of questions and gave us some great advice. After weeks of research and planning, the date was set. We’d be hunting moose the first week of October which would hopefully coincide with the beginning of the rut.

On Tuesday night October 2nd, we arrived at Libby Creek National Gold Panning Area. The rain which had been a relentless downpour for the past several hours had eased to a constant drizzle as we pulled into our camp spot. We disconnected the camp trailer from the truck, quickly organized our gear for the morning hunt and jumped into bed. While I was extremely excited to be here in the wilderness of the Cabinet Mountains awaiting the adventure before us, I was not looking forward to starting our hunt in the rain. My fingers were crossed that the rain would quit by morning.

shiras moose hunting bear track 

                Skiff of snow showed a bear was nearby

And quit it did. When our alarm sounded just a little bit before dawn, the first thing I noticed was silence. The gentle pitter-patter which had persisted throughout most of the night had finally stopped. Actually the rain had turned to snow, but only enough to barely cover the ground. Surely a dusting of snow would make spotting a moose just that much easier. After a day of hiking along old logging roads and bush whacking up canyon bottoms, we realized that hunting this country would be as difficult as we had been warned. The forest was exceptionally dense. There were very few places where we could see more than a stones throw in front of us. It seemed as if the only way we’d see a moose would be to catch one walking down the same old logging roads we roamed…which never happened. Hopefully a new day would bring different results, especially since we planned to explore a new area.

montana shiras moose hunt Ramsey Creek   moose hunting waterfall

Logging road up Ramsey Creek, some visibility                           Crystal clear waterfall in canyon bottom

Just before sunup we arrived at the Granite Lake trailhead. The hike to Granite Lake was just under 7 ½ miles, so it would be another 15+ mile day logged to the GPS. As we started our hike we noticed that the wet dirt covering the horse trail didn’t show any sign of use since the recent rains had washed everything clear. We were encouraged to be the first ones into the area at least within the past couple of days. We became even more hopeful when we saw fresh moose tracks along the trail about ½ mile into our hike. One set of tracks was absolutely huge, maybe a bull following a cow? We were on high alert.

Moose hunting Libby Montana giant cedar tree 

                  Giant cedar tree up Granite Lake trail

As we ventured further up the mountain the terrain opened up, allowing us to see at a distance of several hundreds, at times. But for all of our efforts, the only big game animals we saw during the entire day were a few whitetail deer. Worn out and somewhat dejected we shuffled our way back to our vehicle in the fading light. Sitting there in the cab of the truck we wondered how we’d possibly get the energy to do it all over again in less than 12 short hours, but deep down we knew we would.

montana shiras moose granite lake trailhead   montana moose hunt

                Hiking into Granite Lake                               GPS shows another long day of hiking

Day 3 proved to be a little easier because we went back to hiking along the relatively flat logging roads. But as the day dragged on we were wearing out. The GPS showed 12 miles for the day, with our 3 day total well over 40 miles. We needed a break. We headed into town to fill up with fuel and to strategize. We decided that we’d drive up to the head of Upper Bear Creek and glass for the remainder of the day. That area was the only place that we had discovered where it was possible to glass without having to firstly hike for miles. If we hustled we could be there in time for some late afternoon glassing.

Moose hunting Libby Montana 

Sign in Libby proves that moose should be everywhere, ha

We arrived just before 4:00 p.m., parked the truck and started glassing. We settled into a lying-on-our-backs position and began to look over the area. After 5 – 10 minutes of glassing, our eyelids grew heavy. Old mister sandman was working his magic. I looked over at Dallas and he had actually leaned his head back and was staring at the back of his eyelids. A couple of minutes later I consciously closed my eyes just to enjoy the momentary eye strain relief. Seconds later my eyes popped open, with time running out I couldn’t afford to fall asleep and possibly miss a moose sighting. I whispered to Dallas, “wouldn’t that be something if we dozed off and awoke to a gunshot from someone who had pulled up behind us, spotted a moose on our hillside and then shot it”. Dallas, with his eyes still closed, said yeah that would suck. I surely wasn’t going to let that happen. I continued to watch and occasionally glassed the mountain to the north of us. Not five minutes had passed since I had spoken to Dallas when out of the timber popped a moose. “A moose…it’s a bull!” I exclaimed. The moose, at a 45 degree angle to us, trotted into the open 130 yards away and was heading toward us, parallel to our position. 

Dallas snapped to a sitting position and immediately saw the massive moose lumbering across the open. He swung around and grabbed the gun, quickly moved to a standing position and frantically chambered a round into the .340 Weatherby. The bull obviously saw his movement, but instead of kicking it into high gear and crashing away into the forest ahead, he stopped to survey the situation. A moment’s pause was all it took, Dallas fired. The bull, obviously hit, took off like a shot. The lethal heart shot would have been enough to do him in, but Dallas quickly worked the bolt and followed up with a running spine shot to the neck. The bull dropped 50 yards from where we stood!

montana shiras moose   montana moose libby montana

     Mountain we were glassing                              Awesome to have shared this Shiras moose hunt with my son

We had done it! Elated, we stood and looked at each other in total disbelief of what had just transpired. We had hiked for miles and miles without seeing a single moose, only to have a bull come ambling to us as we sat at the end of a dirt road. It kind of seemed like we had somehow cheated. However, I’d like to think that we were rewarded for doing our homework and putting forth a decent effort.