It is the biggest European mammal, yet it has been hunted since time immemorial. The quest for moose requires more than just passion. To approach and vanquish a giant of the Swedish taiga, one must invest body and soul, going beyond one’s own limits.
Arriving at Medstugan Lodge in the eve of the afternoon, meaning that it was already completely dark out, we didn’t have the chance to admire the scenery in which our accommodation for the next five days was set. Therefore, as soon as the sun was up the next morning we surveyed the surroundings of this hunting camp that had seen 1896. Needless to say, this was a historical monument and hunting gem. Celebrities come here often, such as the King of Sweden, who visits each autumn.
The sky was blue, the air frosty, and through the mist we could make out a lake in the distance. The horizon constituted of mountains topped with heathland and skirted by dense forests. Johan, our host, was busy in the kennels adjoining the house but rejoined us to show us the sitting room, where a gargantuan breakfast adorned the table. The ambiance was feverish and we were invited to fill our plates, this day was going to involve sport! After stocking up on energy, we met on the lawn to leave for the hunting area…via helicopter! Each hunter paired up with a guide, accompanied by a Swedish Elkhound, and were swept away by the helicopter. Thus, we formed three equipped teams, deposited in intervals of approximately two kilometers, in the heart of the 15,000 hectares of this private territory. Each team had a radius of ground to hunt, determined by the dog’s encounters and of course the safety of the shot.
Once the transmitters and receivers of the GPS were active, we departed into the wind. The dog was kept on the lead until our canine friend picked up the scent of a moose. Elkhounds are focused on one game only, therefore no risk exists (theoretically) of them being distracted by another trail. The perfect weather allowed us to appreciate the grand countryside which we traversed. After covering a mere kilometer, Snöa, Johan’s dog, stood still, sniffed the wind and whined. Released from her leash, she dashed towards a forested valley. For us, the waiting commenced. It was an “active” waiting however, since the GPS allowed us to follow the dog’s progress. Johan was a master in interpreting the displacing signals. According to the speed of the displacement and the direction of the signal, he knew exactly whether or not the dog was on a moose track. An hour passed like this, during which we rested on a boulder, scrutinizing our surroundings in the hopes of spotting a giant of the taiga. It was not easy for our eyes, that had never laid eyes upon Alces alces before, the largest European Cervidae. Suddenly, Johan straightened up and stared at the mountain facing us. He pronounced the magic word: moose! An enormous, somber mass had just popped over the ridge and was working towards the valley in which the dog was in. The moose, a superb male, had most likely been disturbed by our colleagues who were hunting the other side of the mountain. As he approached the valley, our dog stumbled upon another moose and began to bark. Immediately, the old male stood still and spun away on his heels. It just wasn’t meant to be this time. Johan looked at his GPS and busied himself with finding out where the game jumped by his dog could have travelled to. As anticipated, the animals departed into the wind.
We set off on an infernal dash to catch up. While running, Johan explained to us that his dog would try to put the moose at bay and we would have to be utterly discrete in sneaking into a shooting position. As we neared the bayed moose the dog’s barks became more pressing. It was impossible to see past 10 meters, as the vegetation was thick and our feet sunk into water soaked peat with each step. Heart rates rising, our muscles and lungs were screaming, but we had to be quick. Coming within 50 meters of the dog, we lightly set down our backpacks and advanced in single file towards the ruckus. The visibility was reduced, branches cracked before us, and the dog barked relentlessly to attract the moose’s attention. A short pause allowed us to turn down the riflescope magnification to 1.5x, then we continued. Our breaths had resumed a near normal rhythm, but we could only see the moose’s legs, who was facing the dog. A shot was impossible. After a few minutes the moose decided to vacate the area, followed by the dog who would not manage to stop it again. Our first attempt at the discipline had been tough, but we had expected that. Hunting moose is a high level sport. It was time to gather our forces. The sandwiches pulled out of our packs were a welcoming sight. Thirty minutes later it was time to go again. The dog was released and disappeared into the spruce. We went to a clearing and remained immobile, to hear the slightest of sounds. Johan was silently scrutinizing his GPS screen, when suddenly we were following him across peatland. We set out, once again trying to follow without losing sight of him.
The first few hundred meters were covered without too great of difficulty, since the soil was supporting and the vegetation sparse. Once we descended towards a valley however, Johan’s red hat became the only thing we could see. This Swedish devil seemed to be able to walk on water whereas we got bogged down in the peat. Yet there was nothing to do but follow our guide, who was doing his best to get us a shot opportunity. After having crossed our third river of the day, our boots were transformed into a hot-water bathtub thanks to the wool socks, which not only became soaked but also kept in the heat. Another 200 meters of pursuit uphill and everything stopped. Backpack thrown to the ground, the rifle was poised on a dead pine and we waited for the dog, whose barks were coming closer. Heart still beating wildly, a gigantic somber form came across the peatland at 100 meters. The moose, a young male, appeared to be peacefully trotting along, while our dog was following a hundred meters behind in a full gallop. Reticle poised chest level, the .270 Win bullet took flight and struck the animal…in the gut! It was a rookie mistake, as the disproportionate legs of the moose had tricked us into thinking that the moose was quite slow, and the lead had not been enough to compensate for his speed.
Luckily a second round was chambered after the chaos of the first shot, and this time the reticle was more than one meter in front of the game, which crumpled upon impact. Once we arrived close to the inert, muscular mass, the dog had already taken her piece of the venison, but she had earned it and appreciated our pats. An hour later the field dressing was finished, and the helicopter came to recuperate the carcass before coming back to collect the spent hunters and their dog. The following two days allowed us to shoot young bulls, cows who weren’t accompanied by calves, and calves, but the old bulls played hard to get. Johan decided to change his tune, and the next morning we would hunt by calling.
It was still dark when we left Medstugan in a 4×4. After driving a few kilometers we set out on a nocturnal march by foot and remained positioned on the flank of a mountain, beneath which a lake reflected the first signs of daybreak. A glacial wind stopped us from sliding into the arms of Morpheus, and luckily Johan finally decided to imitate the call of a rutting moose. It was a wild mix of lament and quacking that could compete with a mallard. While we were trying hard to stifle our laughs, a nearby moose answered Johan’s calls. Point taken. Binoculars were quickly put to use to find the 400 kilograms and antlers of an adult male. To spot a maroon hide concealed in the taiga at first light requires on-point optics, and we quickly localized our animal. We were out of luck, however. It was a young bull who we decided to spare. This less sporty hunting technique was fruitful for two hunters of our group however, one of which shot a splendid twelve year old bull.
Hunting areas that require no criticism are rare, but Medstugan is one of the few. If the call of the Swedish Great North beckons, Johan can take you to the Holy Grail of the taiga.
Text by Philippe JAEGER
Translation by Savanna Koebisch