Big challenge, huge rewards
RIVER OF PONDS, Newfoundland When it comes to hunting, few animals put the "big" in "big game" like the moose, the biggest member of the deer family and the second largest land animal in North America. The animal, which can weigh well over 1,200 pounds, is sought after not only for its antlers, which can grow to 50 inches or more, but also for the challenges associated with hunting it and the incredible beauty of the regions it calls home.
While moose are found throughout much of Canada and several northern and Rocky Mountain states, few places in North America offer hunting opportunities for them like Newfoundland. With its breathtaking scenery, rugged landscape and healthy population of animals, the province offers an outdoors experience that's second to none.
"If you can get a remote location away from people, I don't think there's anyplace in North America where you're going to see the number of animals that you're going to see in Newfoundland," says Eric Patey, owner of Patey and Sons Big Game Outfitters, which has been offering guided moose hunts on the island for the past 30 years.
According to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, the province is home to some 120,000 moose and has the highest densities of the animal in North America. One of the strongest populations in the province is on the Northern Peninsula, where Patey offers fly-in hunts in the beautiful and remote Long Range Mountains. In 2009, approximately 27 percent of the province's moose licenses were allotted to that region.
"Depending on the location, the time of the year and the weather, we've seen probably 25 different animals in any one day of hunting," said Patey, who regularly attends the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg. "I've seen the weather change, and the next day you hardly see any, but if you can get good weather you can average 15-25 moose a day."
While finding moose usually isn't an issue, the hunt itself is challenging enough to test even the most physically fit sportsmen. Glassing with binoculars from ridge-top vantage points is how most animals are located, and it's not uncommon to try and catch up with a bull that's spotted a mile or more away. On any given day, a person can expect to walk 5-plus miles up steep mountainsides, over spongy bogs and through unforgiving stands of gnarled black spruce that make even the most dedicated hunter question why he would choose to pursue moose. Then there are the strong winds and rain, which make quality rain gear an absolute necessity.
"A good pair of binoculars is important and so are good rain gear and good waterproof boots," Patey said. "If you come to Newfoundland for a week of moose hunting and don't get two days of wind or rain, then you better double-check, because you weren't to Newfoundland."
For sportsmen interested in hunting the island, provincial law requires them to use the services of a licensed guide or outfitter. The tradeoff, however, is that every person can get his or her own moose license as opposed to having to go through a draw or needing more than one hunter to tag an animal.
Thanks to the relative abundance of moose, the province's outfitters as a whole boast a success rate of more than 85 percent. In the Long Range Mountains, where Patey has camps, opportunities for success are even higher due to the region's relative inaccessibility. Last year, for example, Patey hosted 82 sportsmen who took 80 moose, including 66 bulls up to 58-inches wide.
"We have people come up here who are 70 years old and are not used to the walking and they all manage to get a moose," Patey said. "We have never gone below 95 percent kill for moose in all the years I've been at it."
For more information on moose hunting with Patey and Sons, visit them at the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg Feb. 6-14, or contact them at www.biggameoutfitting.com or 709-225-3221. For more information on big game hunting in Newfoundland and Labrador and the province's official big game hunting guide, visit www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/hunting.