A Redemption Bull For A Hunter

The following is available in the February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:



Frustration was the name of the game with how my 2019 hunting season began.

It started off with work schedules canceling an August sheep hunt. Then, a week-long caribou hunt turned into chasing bulls but not having an arrow connect. Later, an excursion for moose only turned up sublegal bulls.

I was running out of time to fill the freezer. I was down to a few weekend hunts and after-work wishes. I was vocal to everyone around me about the mishaps and blunders that I had endured.

I texted one of my clients that I figured my luck had finally run its course and this was the year I’d get skunked. He’s a decade-long friend who has as much passion for the outdoors as I do. His response back was, “You’ll get something. You’re one of the most dedicated outdoorsmen I know.”

His words of encouragement didn’t fall upon deaf ears. I had to put faith in them. I left after work that day to head to the mountains.

Photos by Brian Watkins
Watkins’ earlier hunts didn’t go as well. He wanted to do better with a bow.

MY PLAN WAS A simple one. I went to an area that I knew held moose from summer hikes and past seasons. It was an archery-only zone and I hoped that the season’s pressure hadn’t pushed the moose too far out.

During this time of year – mid-September – the bulls are cruising. They can walk for miles while thrashing brush and picking up cows to mate later in October. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

I have called bulls in on this trail in previous years, so I was hopeful. As I got to an area where I could shoot, I walked slowly and thrashed brush trying to imitate another bull. I used my bull horn to project grunts and scrape every tree within arm’s length.

Within minutes of hunting, a bull stepped out at 200 yards. With a rifle, it would have been a short hunt, but I had to close the distance. I dropped my bull horn and threw both arms in the air trying to posture like a rival bull.

Calling in bulls.

Using the whites of your hands as “paddles” will usually trigger a rutting bull into a fight. They’ll sway their heads back and forth trying to show you their paddles in an intimidation game. It was still a bit early for this tactic to pay off for me, as the bull wasn’t very interested in going toe to toe.

He slowly started to walk in the opposite direction of me. I waited for him to disappear down the trail and I high-tailed it toward him. I was hoping to close the distance without scaring him off. This was a cat-and-mouse game that I was losing. Every time I did this, he would get further away.

I decided to let out three long cow calls. I knew it was too early in the year to utilize cow calls to bring bulls in, but I hoped it would slow him down. It worked!

Success! And a full freezer for all the hard work.

The bull stopped in his tracks and allowed me to close the distance. I wish I could say I used some kind of amazing tactic to get closer, but I literally walked straight at him. I let an arrow fly at 61 yards and hit him hard in the lungs. He let out a loud roar – almost like a bear. I listened as the moose thrashed around in the thick alders and then lay to rest.

The bull ended up being only 50 yards off of the trail, making the pack-out a lot easier. I was over a mile back, but the hike out was all trail. I used my inReach to get a hold of my buddies and six of them came out to help pack.

When hunting moose on foot, you must have reliable friends to lend a helping hand. Thanks to all those guys for helping me pack a dream bull back to my truck. ASJ