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Listen up for hunting success

Change in tactics lands hunter a moose 2 days before season ends

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006


  Matt Churchill of Nikiski poses with a bull moose with a 54-inch antler spread he bagged while hunting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge two days before hunting season closed. Photo courtesy of Steve Chamberl

Matt Churchill of Nikiski poses with a bull moose with a 54-inch antler spread he bagged while hunting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge two days before hunting season closed.

Photo courtesy of Steve Chamberl

Like many men, Matt Churchill of Nikiski made a promise to do less talking and more listening this year.

Unlike men who make this promise to their wives in the hopes of improving their marital relations, Churchill made the promise to himself in the hope of improving his hunting success.

The promise worked.

Two days before the hunting season closed, Churchill was able to bag a bull moose with a 54-inch antler spread while hunting in what he calls an “old burn area” in Nikiski on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

“I was extremely happy to get him,” said Churchill, who in the last six years of hunting this area with friends has only seen one other bull brought down by a bullet.

Churchill chalked up this year’s success to his promise. Unlike past years where he frequently used grunts, cow calls or other vocal methods for attracting moose, he decided to call conservatively.

Late in the evening of Sept. 17, while hunting near a swamp he described as roughly 100 yards long, twice that wide and surrounded by a heavily wooded ridge, Churchill made a modest call.

“I raked a shoulder blade once on a cottonwood,” he said.

Hunters frequently use shoulder blades, axe handles or other items to rake brush in an attempt to emulate the sounds of a rutting bull using his antlers to thrash vegetation.

After making the noise, Churchill listened and almost immediately from on a nearby ridge he heard a reply.

“A bull starting grunting and raking and making his way down,” he said.

Unfortunately for Churchill, the darkness of night was closing in fast and he had to call it quits before the bull made it down to him.

“I snuck out as quiet as I could,” he said, hoping that he wouldn’t alert the bull to the fact that it was a human and not another of its species that had been making the noise.

Early the next morning Churchill returned with some hunting buddies and did his best to sneak back to where he had been the night before.

Even though it had rained and the wetness dampened the sound of his footfalls, Churchill said a moose heard him coming.

“I think he thought we were another moose, though. We started to hear grunting and raking again,” he said, and added that whatever was making the noise sounded big.

Near the swamp where he had been the night before, Churchill tucked in and waited to see what would come into the clearing.

“A 40-inch bull stepped out,” he said. “I thought, ‘aw man, it sounded bigger.’”

Churchill didn’t have much time to lament. Almost as quickly as the sub-legal moose appeared, it disappeared, but hot on its hooves was another bull, and this one was legal.

“This bigger bull came out and had two cows with him. He only had two brow tines on each side, but he was big and more than 50 inches,” Churchill said.

Churchill didn’t get bull fever and rush the shot, though. He said he peered through his scope for a good three minutes to be sure the bull was in fact legal. Only once he was certain did he squeeze the trigger of his .338 rifle, dropping the brown behemoth in one shot.

Then began the work of salvaging the meat and packing it several miles out. Hardly a labor of love for most hunters, Churchill said his friends helped him carry out meat.

“We weighed the hind quarters once we got out and they were 110 pounds. That’s pretty good for around here,” he said.

Churchill said getting so much meat should cut down on costs at the grocery store.

“It’s just me, my wife and our two little girls, so I shouldn’t be buying too much beef this year,” he said.

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