Prayer Creek Bull by author unknown
“Let me tell you a story,” I began as we sat in the truck waiting for daylight to break. The faint purple tint in the Eastern Idaho skies just giving a hint of morning’s arrival.
“You see, I read a story the other day about the Ojibway Indians and their ancient custom of sprinkling tobacco on the land and the water before a moose hunt and saying a prayer for the Spirit of the Moose to give the life of one of it’s own to sustain the hunters who had traveled far and faced the perils of the wilderness to hunt them.
Both of my brothers, Leo and Wally, listened intently as I recounted the story to them. They were all ears as I spoke, not leaving out any details of moose hunts gone by… When I finished the story, the morning light was just brightening enough to make out objects close by. The purple sky gave way to a soft red glow as the sun approached the horizon. Soft white clouds drifted in waves across a deep blue sky. It promised to be a beautiful crisp fall day. The brilliant colors of fall were upon us in the first few minutes of the breaking day. The yellow, red and orange tones of the fall foliage bursting before us like fireworks. “It couldn’t hurt!” quipped Wally. We all laughed at the idea of repeating an ancient Indian custom. Then I said,” Let’s try it! We need all the help we can get!” We all piled out of the truck and made our way to a small stream at the bottom of the hill. I took out my cigarettes and passed them around. They had been trying to get me to quit smoking for some time and got quite a kick out of tearing up my habit. I figured, why not? This is the best use I’ve made of a pack of cigarettes in a long time. We each broke some up and spread the tobacco around in a big show of bravado, befitting the ancient warriors whose tradition we borrowed. We each said a few private words to ourselves, and when we finished, we made our way back to the truck. We dubbed the little stream as “Prayer Creek” in honor of our little ritual, and we were full of energy and anticipation of the hunt. We were all in fine spirits, as we started up the faint tracks in the breaking dawn.
Moose hunting in Idaho has never been a big calling card, because of relatively small populations of moose, and the fact that not many permits are issued for them. Populations have exploded in the past twenty years, however, allowing a few lucky hunters to draw a permit to hunt them. A moose permit in Idaho is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so the few permits issued are coveted. Those who draw these permits can and do have a quality hunt, both in numbers and quality of animals available. These moose are of the Shiras subspecies, and although they are not as large as their Canadian or Alaskan cousins, they still amount to a daunting challenge for hunters. A bull sporting horns of thirty-five inches is a very respectable trophy in Idaho, and a bull with horns approaching fifty inches wide is a trophy in anyone’s eyes. The moose population continues to grow and good numbers can be found throughout the state.
My brothers and I have hunted the Southeastern corner of Idaho for many years for both deer and elk, but had never hunted moose. We have all taken our share of deer and elk from this area and are familiar with the terrain and wildlife patterns in our area. One thing we noticed was an increase in our sightings of moose over the last ten or so years. When we began to compare notes around the campfire, it became obvious to all three of us that we had seen a lot of moose, and that large bulls were everywhere! We came to the conclusion that we would all apply for a permit, and if one of us drew a permit, we would all come along to share the experience. We could scout three areas at once, logging sightings of bulls and attempting to find their patterns of movement. This would make our chances of finding a good bull three times easier.
Special permit applications for moose in Idaho must be mailed before April 30, along with the application and tag fees. If you don’t draw a permit, your money is returned. If you are one of the lucky ones that draw, your permit usually arrives by about the middle of May. This leaves ample time to scout the areas and locate some likely prospects. The season begins in late August and runs till about the middle of November. With such a long season, and ample scouting time, finding a respectable trophy is virtually assured.
My youngest brother, Leo, was lucky enough to draw on his first attempt. Our strategy sessions began shortly after we found out that he drew. We got together and planned scouting trips, discussed the season dates and pored over topo maps of the area he was to hunt.
We began our scouting trips in early June. These trips would serve to also help us keep track of elk and deer movements in the area in preparation for general hunting seasons. On several of our scouting trips we saw moose but failed to find a real bruiser. We saw a few that showed great promise, but were a year or two from being what we were looking for. We saw lots of elk and elk sign, but the deer seemed to have vanished. Evidently the continuing drought in our area was having an effect on the wildlife.
By the time moose season opened, we had a pretty good idea where to go and what to look for in our chosen area. All three of us would be able to make it for the opening and the first week of season. We planned on scouting, visiting, and generally just having a great time together. The day before season opened, we sat up camp in a favorite spot of ours near the Blackfoot River. Camp consisted of a camp trailer, tables and chairs, countless boxes of food, and a lot of enthusiasm. By the time camp was set up, it only left about an hour of daylight to scout before time for supper. We decided to glass a couple of canyons near camp and just relax for the evening. I prepared a large pot of chicken and noodles while Leo built a fire. Wally made the beds in the trailer and gathered some firewood. We ate dinner and sat by the fire talking till well after dark. We cleaned up the supper dishes together and then went to bed in anticipation of opening day.
The next morning found us sitting on a small road waiting for daylight as I mentioned earlier. The small road wound around hillsides and across canyons as we continued to climb. Sagebrush gave way to small patches of creek willows and quakies. Soon we were passing small thickets with scrub pines mixed in. As we rounded a corner, we spotted a flash of black on the far hill. After setting up to glass, we spotted our first moose! It was a medium sized bull with horns approaching 35 inches. We watched him for a few minutes, and then decided to move on. As we rounded the very next corner, we again saw the familiar long-legged shape of a moose moving through some trees. Again, we sat up to glass, locating a cow and calf. A few moments later a small paddle bull walked out in the open. This wasn’t what we were looking for either, so we moved on.
We had gone about another half mile when we all saw a glint of horns in the rising sunlight. As we stopped, a large bull stepped out into the open and turned to look directly at us. The size of his horns dwarfed his huge body. Even at 800 yards, we could see that this bull was the one we had been hoping for. When we set up the spotting scope, he looked even better than we thought. He had a wide rack of horns with long points on top. We guessed him to be at least 45 inches wide. Leo took one look and decided that this one was worth a try! He gathered up his gear and started across the canyon toward the far hill.
We had decided that Wally would make the first stalk with Leo and I would stay at the truck, hopefully keeping the moose in sight so that I could direct the stalk in the event that they lost track of the moose. They disappeared into the bottom of the canyon and began a circuitous stalk that would put them about 150 yards from where the moose was standing. Leo’s favorite rifle is a 257 Weatherby Magnum that was slung over his left shoulder as the two disappeared. This rifle was very accurate and had proven itself many times in the past on deer and elk. Leo was very confident that a properly placed shot would make a clean kill.
The stalked progressed very slowly as I sat and watched the drama unfold before me. Leo and Wally were out of my sight for what seemed like and eternity. I saw three cows exit the trees and begin to feed near the monster bull. After what seemed like hours, I spotted Leo and Wally on their hands and knees. They looked to be very close to the animals from my point of view, although Leo told me later that they were more than 150 yards away. I could see both my brothers and all four moose in the glasses at the same time. Wally stopped as Leo continued to crawl closer. When Leo appeared close enough to touch the bull, he came to one knee slowly. The big bull turned his head and looked in Leo’s direction. The moose hadn’t heard or scented him, so he wasn’t quite sure what he saw. He never moved, just thrust his ears forward and stared. I heard the sound of a rifle shot echoing back, but the bull showed no sign that he was hit. A second report echoed back and the moose turned completely around and stopped again. After the sound of a third shot, the bull just calmly walked into the trees and out of sight. I sat dumbfounded by what I had witnessed.
Leo stood up and started to dance around like a wild man. Wally was up and running to meet him. As they met, they really whooped it up! They were able to see the big bull fall as he entered the trees out of my sight. If anyone had seen those two, they would have really doubted their sanity! They waved at me and I started across toward them with my butchering tools in hand. When I arrived, we took some pictures. What a tremendous bull! When my tape measure showed 52 inches across, I nearly died! This bull was much larger than any of us had thought. This prompted another round of dancing and hugging. Finally, we set ourselves to the task of cutting over half a ton of meat into manageable chunks. While we were gutting the bull we saw that all three shots had entered behind the front shoulder, taking out both lungs. All three shots were within a two-inch circle. This bull never knew what happened. After the third shot he had only taken about four or five steps and laid down.
The skinning, caping and quartering took the better part of two hours even with three of us. By the time we transferred the meat, horns, and cape to the truck, the sun was really warming up. We all decided to leave camp where it was for now and get the meat to a locker in town as soon as possible. We hit the main road and turned towards home, all of us deep in our own thoughts about our experience. We would return later to break camp.
After the required sixty-day drying period, Leo had his bull scored by an official Boone and Crockett scorer. It was officially scored at 174 3/8, placing it well within the top 100 bulls in the book. This huge bull now graces Leo’s wall, and everyone who sees it is amazed at the size and uniformity. His mount has one distinguishing feature that makes it quite unique. The left ear is completely gone, due to frostbite during a cold winter.
This hunt was very special for all three of us. We were able to share some good times and make memories that will last forever. As I sit here writing this, Wally called to tell me that he drew a moose permit in the same area for this year. Here we go again!