I was hunting elk in the White River National Forest. It took 4 days to find fresh sign and they were way back, about 5.5 miles from the trail head, in a steep river valley. It was my last day when I found them, and I ran out of time.
On the morning of day 2 I had a memorable run-in with a bull moose. I left my campsite at 6:15am and worked my way through a stretch of willows between a creek and a meadow. By about 6:45am I reached the far end, turned off my head lamp, and took a seat up against a tree looking back at the open meadow. Sunrise was at 7am but light didn’t hit the meadow until closer to 8am.
At 8:30am a mature bull moose walked out of the willows I had just walked through. He was moving straight towards me from about 100 yards. The idea that I could have bumped into him in the dark, in a tangled marsh was a wake up. The adjacent creek was littered with downed timber and pools too deep to stand in. It would have been a bad place to suddenly need to escape.
Where I sat I had the advantage of being able to retreat uphill along the forest-meadow boundary, to a developed hiking trail 150 yards away. There was hardly any wind, but it looked like he was following my scent trail, sniffing the air and the ground. It was too quiet to move undetected. He was too big to spook. He was about 50 yards away when I stood up. He looked at me and kept coming.
I introduced myself, “Hello, my name is Ryan.” and nocked an arrow. I side stepped around a couple trees, uphill towards the trail. My backpack, sitting pad, and hat were left on the ground. He walked all the way to my backpack, sniffed it, and pawed at the ground next to it. Then he turned and raked a tree with his antlers before browsing on grass and slowly making his way back towards the willows he’d come out of.
After he disappeared I waited about 12 minutes and then slowly crept back towards my spot to get my gear. As I got within 5 yards of my pack, I heard a branch snap from a direction I wasn’t expecting. The moose had cut a circle and approached from the forest I’d escaped through.
Earlier he’d been making a huffing sound, but just then he’d snuck up on me completely silent. He was 20 yards away when I heard his footstep. There were two trees between us. I bolted uphill through the meadow.
A hiker on the trail was passing and stopped to see why I was backpedaling with an arrow half-drawn. I told him a bull moose was taking my sitting spot. 3 minutes later the moose came out of the woods into the meadow. He looked pleased with himself. The hiker said, “He’s pretty big. Do you think that arrow would drop him?”. I said, “No. He would mess me up.”.
The moose bedded down in the shade about 35 yards from my backpack. I watched him for half an hour before deciding I should try to scoop up my gear. His antlers are like a radio dish amplifying sound, including the crunch of dry plant material under my boots. I got all the way to my spot without him rising from his, but his posture was not relaxed. I transferred my bow and arrow to one hand and picked up my backpack and seat pad. When I reached to pick up my hat the moose stood up. I picked it up, but he took a couple steps towards me and I dropped it to get two hands on my bow.
I backed out and left the area for 2 hours. It was still an adrenaline surge going back for the hat later.