|Hunting for Conservation||
Welcome to the TSO Blog:
|Hunting for Conservation||
Welcome to the TSO Blog:
Yesterday we made the five-hour drive south from St Anthony to Deer Lake. I’m now waiting it out in a hotel room until my flight for home leaves at 5:30 am on Tuesday. One year ago today I was in the hospital with my wife and our sweet little girl, Leela Bell, was coming into our lives. I really miss my family and can’t wait to get home to see everyone.
I’d like to wrap up this adventure with a few thoughts about my hunt and hunting in general. One could write a book on the topics below, but I’ll try to stick to the salient points.
When I was planning this hunt, I was surprised by how little information I could find on Newfoundland natural history, culture, or tourism. There are a few useful websites, but if you search Amazon for books about Newfoundland, you’ll mostly find information on the Newfoundland dog breed. At 42,031 square miles, Newfoundland is the 16th largest island in the world. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is the world’s largest estuary. It’s people are wonderfully friendly and mostly of Irish and British decent. The culture ranges from eclectic, European-like city life in St. Johns to outlying, hardscrabble communities with small economies and people who derive much of their sustenance from the land, including berries, cod, moose, caribou, and seal to name a few iconic wild foods.
Newfoundland’s nickname is “The Rock,” as there is very little soil here. It is bedrock, covered in just a few feet of soil, peat, moss, and mostly WATER. Other than very small gardens, I saw no commercial crops in my travels and, at least in the west, for the most part trees don’t grow large enough or fast enough to permit sustainable forestry. On several occasions we hunted near the site of a large forest fire that burned in 1979. The site has recovered very little and after nearly 40 years supports only a low density of trees that are mostly under knee high. I could go on and on about travel, natural history, etc, but what I really want to do is give a few bits of information about bowhunting conditions.
Caveat. I only hunted in the far northwest of “The Rock” and conditions elsewhere are likely to vary.
The weather was as unpredictable as I have ever seen. I’d say that forecasts were only accurate for 8 to 12 hours. You’d go to bed with a forecast for sunny skies the following day, but awake to wind and rain with a forecast for more of the same throughout the day. It seems that small, unpredictable frontal systems develop quickly over the ocean and then move inland. Though we continued to hunt, I functionally lost two-and-a-half days of a six-day hunt to weather. If hunting Newfoundland, bring good rain gear, wind-proof clothing, and consider fletching a few arrows with plastic vanes or at least bring something to cover your fletching while hunting. Even when it’s not raining, the vegetation is so wet and thick that it will drench your fletcchings. After several day of having my feathers soaked, they would no longer stand tall even when dry, so I swapped some spare arrows into my quiver. I also touched up my broadheads nearly every night, as the wet conditions caused them to rust. I’m not sure that rain bothers moose, but I suspect it was the high winds, in part, that kept moose from moving and calling.
Walking/Stalking—With a foundation of bedrock, water simply cannot percolate through Newfoundland’s soil. Standing water is everywhere. You can hike an hour to the top of a mountain and it’s as wet as the lowest bog. Furthermore, the ground is composed of moss, open peat, sedges, and mucky soils. In many places, every step will find you in ankle to calf deep muck and three out of ten steps will submerge your leg to nearly the knee. High quality, knee-high rubber boots are a must. In fact, I’d recommend bringing two pairs or a set of boot dryers. I wore LaCrosse Aeroheads and they did pretty well, but my right boot started leaking near the end of the hunt. Don’t even bother to bring leather hunting boots. At most places, stalking to within stickbow range of a moose would be nearly impossible because of the wet conditions. Every step starts with the splash of a foot meeting surface water and ends with the sucking sound of boot being pulled free.
Moose are hunted in three primary ways: 1) spot and stalk, 2) ambushes along trails, and 3) calling during the rut. Where I hunted in Newfoundland, numbers 1 and 2 are difficult. As I’ve already mentioned, the stalking conditions are not favorable for getting to within 30 yards of a moose. Sit and wait strategies might be productive, but there are trails, food, and bedding cover scattered everywhere, so patterning a moose here in northern Newfoundland would be difficult. Furthermore, the moose population here has been declining for at least the past 15 years. Densities used to be around five animals per square kilometer, but at this density moose were having negative impacts on forest health, especially regeneration of balsam fir, which is a favored food. Through aggressive hunting, the wildlife agency in Newfoundland has recently thinned the population to around 1.5 animals per square kilometer, making a sit and wait strategy less effective. I saw LOTS of moose sign and plenty of moose at long distances, so I’m not suggesting that the current populations size limits hunting opportunities, it just reduces the number of effective techniques. Killing a moose with a rifle in northern Newfoundland is not difficult.
This brings us to the rut. Moose are far more vocal than any other deer species, including elk. Bull elk bugle on a regular basis during their rut and cows give subtle but regular calls too. Both bull and cow moose, on the other hand, call loudly and frequently during the rut. Cows give estrous bellows to attract bulls and bulls grunt to attract and defend cows. These behavioral traits mean that both cows and bulls reliably come to human-created calls and, at the right time, bulls become so fixated on calls that they come without much regard for caution. This Youtube video (careful somewhat graphic at the end) shows an entranced bull throwing caution to the wind.
For bowhunters, this means the rut is vitally important in getting close, especially when stalking conditions are poor. My hunt seems to have fallen at the very beginning of the rut here in far northern Newfoundland. What little information I can find, suggests the rut tends to be a bit later in Newfoundland than other moose populations at similar latitudes. Predicting the precise breeding period of any animal is never easy and will vary among years. That said, if you are planning a moose hunt, do your best to time it with the rut.
Some hunts just don’t go as planned. I saw nine moose during six days of hunting, but only had one shot opportunity and we know how that went… When I talked with my wife on the phone after missing the cow moose on day 8, she said, “I don’t understand. You never miss.” The fact is, we all miss. I was shooting great throughout this hunt. I’m still not sure why I missed, but I’m chalking it up to a combination of wanting it too badly and a touch of moose fever. Below was my perspective of the approaching moose.
I’m bringing this up because I think it’s important to acknowledge that missing is part of hunting. My stomach was in knots after I missed that moose. As traditional bowhunters, we don’t get many chances and blowing your best shot at success is really painful. On the last day of hunting, my guide asked if I’d like to carry a rifle. I declined. To me the hunting method is more important than guaranteeing of success. Missing is simply an opportunity for reflection and learning. That’s how we improve.
Okay, enough for now. Below I've posted some additional photos from my trip.
Thank you all so much for following along. It truly means the world that so many people are interested in my adventures and writing.
Also, many thanks to The Classic Year sponsors: RMS Gear, Three Rivers Archery, Sporting Classics, and Mountain Muffler Strings.
Stay tuned for information on the drawing for the Bear Super K, custom arrows from Three Rivers, and other prizes.
Now it’s time to go home and hunt whitetails!
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
I’m Ron Rohrbaugh, a professional conservation biologist, author, and long-time traditional bowhunter. For the next year, I’ll be hunting exclusively with vintage archery gear in what I’m calling The Classic Year. We’ll explore natural history and travel, geography and culture, and of course archery and hunting. The adventures and stories will be steeped in conservation, both past and present.