A slight breeze rustles through the treetops as the morning sun begins to flicker just over the top of the ridge. The forest is illuminated as daybreak penetrates the mist and fog.
The only sound you hear is the occasional chirping of a bird and your heart beating in rhythm with every breath you take. Suddenly, the tranquil forest is awakened by the bellowing sound of a moose call.
A half a mile away, a sturdy, 1,200-pound bull jerks his head up from his grazing, and the charge is on. You can hear the grunts and shrieks from a distance as the ground begins to rumble beneath you.
There in an instant, huffing and puffing not twenty yards away, is a majestic bull moose, his hooves pawing at the ground. His antlers measure almost six feet across from end to end, and he stands an imposing eight to 10 feet high.
He swings his head wildly from side to side as tufts of the forest debris embedded in his antlers are slung into the air like a warrior’s calling card. Steam from his breath billows out of his nose, surrounding his head like a dragon’s.
The grunting and howls continue as he makes his final approach in a charge that can reach a speed of 30 mph. You take aim from a tree stand 12 feet above as the hairs stick up from the back of your neck. Your heart is beating wildly as you try to squint away the sweat that is pouring down the sides of your face.
A shot rings out like an explosion of thunder and the startled moose charges away in retreat. About 30 to 40 yards from the initial confrontation, the enormous behemoth lets out a wail and tumbles to the ground in a massive heap.
Big game hunting is not for the faint of heart. It’s much different from hunting 200-pound deer in the quaint Litchfield countryside. Big game hunters travel to such places as Oregon, Montana and Canada to land their 1,000-pound and bigger prizes.
Ron Shortell, owner of Astro Electric, and Jim Fenn of Prospect have been on the prowl of big game hunting for close to 25 years. They have landed elk in Oregon, bear in Montana and most recently, in September, came home with a 1,200-pound moose from New Brunswick, Canada.
“Actually the kill is only about five percent of the trip,” said Shortell, 65. “It’s the camaraderie among a great group of guys and the adventures of hanging out together for a week in the wilderness.
“We traveled to New Brunswick last month and stayed at Taxis River Outfitters hosted by Larry Davidson,” he added of the most recent excursion. “His wife Bonnie is a super chef and cooked three meals a day for about 25 hunters and guides. The guide Billy DeLong is such a great moose caller. It’s mating season, but the moose are coming in to fight another bull and they are very ornery, to say the least.”
An average trip with an outfitter can cost close to $2,000 a week for five days and five nights of accommodations, including meals. Moose tags, fishing licenses, custom meat cutting and preparation and taxidermy services all cost extra.
When it comes to big game hunting, the proper equipment can be the difference between a successful hunt and coming home empty handed. Shortell and Fenn leave nothing to chance and equip themselves with top-of-the-line gear.
A Weatherby 300 magnum is the weapon of choice and is listed as the most powerful commercially-available .30-caliber rifle. Avid big game hunters like Shortell and Fenn also equip themselves with Matthews Bows. Since the company’s inception in 1992, inventor Matt McPherson has made modifications to the single-cam bow and added several patents.
Zebra bowstrings guarantee optimum speed. Also added were string suppressors, roller guards, string grubs and a harmonic stabilizer to stifle recoil and dampen vibration up to 75 percent.
“I have been using a Matthews Bow since they came out,” Fenn said. “We practice up at Ron’s place in Watertown, an 86 acre parcel with life-size targets. It’s a complete setup with a deck built in the trees and when we go on our hunts, we are shooting at our best.”
That skill certainly comes in handy when one runs into a 250-pound bear, as Fenn did on the recent hunt to New Brunswick. Shortell landed the 1,200-pound moose with his trusted Weatherby, and Fenn had a little excitement during his encounter with the bear.
“The guide said the bear was nicknamed Psycho,” Shortell said. “They have run into this bear before. It just ran back and forth and before you know it, it was behind Jim and high-tailing it up the tree next to him.”
“I couldn’t believe how this bear climbed that tree like a squirrel,” Fenn added. “It certainly got your adrenaline going. Hunting bear is a little tricky. With the pads on their feet, you don’t usually hear them. The next thing you know there they are ten feet in front of you.”
The two friends began their treks out west about 20 years ago by traveling to Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and have made this an annual trip. Along with the hunting there is usually more than enough time for a little fly fishing in the many salmon rivers at their destinations.
Judging from the mounted fish on the wall at Shortell’s office along with the bear skins, moose heads and a walk-in freezer filled to the racks, the annual trips have been quite successful over the years.
“Next September we are going back out to Oregon,” Shortell said. “A few years back I landed an elk out there and we are looking for another one.”