Moose rutting behavior and vocalization. A hunter’s guide to getting in close. Part 3 – Main Rut.
The main rut runs from approximately September 28 to October 10 in most of the northern regions of Canada. About 80% of all moose harvested will be taken during this two week period of prime rut activity. I must admit this is my favorite time of the year. The land is awash with the brilliant colors of change, the skies are full of south bound geese, warm days are followed by frosty nights, and the forest is alive with the sounds of rutting moose.
During the main rut, both bulls and cows are very vocal, with slight vocalization changes when compared to the pre-rut period. One of the biggest changes in moose vocalizations comes from the cows. During pre-rut, cows primarily make calls of annoyance due to being pestered by excited bulls, but during the main rut the cow’s calls change to an inviting call for love. Unlike the aggressive calls cows make to show their displeasure towards unwanted suitors, they now make long, flowing, almost musical calls in an effort to attract the strongest of the bulls. Along with the long mooing calls of love, the cows also make very soft, short grunts and bawls. Knowing when and how to imitate these calls can make the difference between having a bull come out into the clearing or hanging up just out of range.
I was once told by a senior woodsman (who I considered a genius when it came to moose calling) that you could call in a moose with a bad cough. That might be true for some bulls, but if you want to get a look at every bull in the area in your quest for that trophy bull, I think you have to play your cards right and “talk moose.”
The cows will be calling day and night if they are not in the company of a bull. Time is short, the cows need to make sure of the next generation of moose and they know it. As a hunter we can use this to our advantage by imitating “come check me out” calls to bring the bulls in close.
I like to get out on the edge of a large swamp, lake shoreline or open ridge over a valley at first light in the morning and start cow calling to locate bulls. The call I make is a moderately low moo that is slow and steady with a slight nasal tone. I usually make two long calls, 5-10 seconds each, followed by a shorter, softer mooing call. On a calm morning these calls will travel a long way and get the attention of any bull in the area.
I repeat this call sequence three to four times with a couple of minutes between call sets. When a bull hears this and he is not already tending to a cow, he is quite likely to come in to check you out. When traveling in to check out your call, bulls will often grunt. It is not uncommon to make one or two sequences of calls and have a bull announce his interest from a couple of kilometers away.
One thing many hunters might not know is that a bull will generally only grunt when he is moving. I have seen bulls stand at the edge of a lake or swamp and grunt a couple of times while standing still, but this is not common. The bulls will grunt loudly while walking and moving towards the cow call. As a hunter you have to remember that if a bull stops grunting, it’s likely because he is standing still and listening carefully to try and pinpoint the position of the calling cow. This is a very important, as my experience shows that this is the most common time for a hunter to “get busted” by a bull moose.
I have learned never to change my position when a bull is stopped and listening. I usually freeze and make no sound at all, just to keep the bull guessing. If the bull hears nothing for a couple of minutes he will often grunt loudly in an effort to get a response from the cow. If that happens, I give him a response. I come back at him right away with a short, soft, sexy cow moo generally directed at the ground. The bull will usually start walking again towards your position with steady rhythmic grunts. This is when you should move if you need to get in a better shooting position.
Moving while the bull is moving and grunting will help you hide any unnatural sounds you might make while traveling through the bush. Two good simple rules to follow: When the bull stops and listens, you should stop and listen. When the bull moves and makes noise, you can move and make noise. If you have played the role of a hot cow correctly and a bull has come directly in to you, but then hangs up just out of range, there are a few tricks you can use to get the bull to step out. One thing I like to do to enrage hesitant bulls is to imitate the sounds of a young bull that has joined the cow. This gets the blood boiling in a mature bull and he will usually come in spoiling for a fight.
To imitate a young bull I use a couple of different methods. I will turn in the opposite direction of the mature bull and grunt to simulate a bull approaching from the opposite direction. I will also rake or rub the trees and brush to imitate another aggressive bull. These two techniques will agitate the mature bull into coming in. To imitate antlers rubbing the brush I use a beef shoulder blade that I have cleaned and bleached white to simulate the sound of bone on brush. Over the past 20 years I have also on occasion used an old canoe paddle for the same purpose. The shoulder blade and canoe paddle work both as a sound stimulant and as a visual stimulant, providing flashes of whitish brown that the bull can key in on and then approach directly.
The aforementioned techniques will work to get the bulls in close, but if the bull is already in the company of a cow you could get into what I call the “Yo-yo Effect.” This happens when you are calling the bull and he calls back and starts his approach towards you, but then suddenly the cow close to him calls him back. This can go on for hours. The bull starts to come to you and then the cow calls him back. This happens when the cow has determined that this bull is her preferred suitor, and she does not want him to leave when she is close to readiness for breeding. When this happens, rather than playing “Yo-yo” I like to move in close a put pressure on the bull.
I usually approach the bull as slowly and as quietly as possible, except for making small bull grunts and dragging the shoulder blade on branches as I get close. When you get within the comfort zone of the bull and you are imitating a smaller bull he will think you are challenging him for the right to breed his cow. This will provoke him to come in and challenge you. This technique can be successful but it can also be hazardous, as the bull will be in an aggressive mood and can approach you very quickly.
Years of calling moose has taught me that if you find a trophy bull with a cow, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The bull’s attention will be fully consumed by the cow, which often gives you the advantage. You can slip in undetected and fool him into making a mistake. When faced with a bull and cow pair, be very careful not to get busted by the cow and you should have little difficulty getting Mr. Big to present himself to you in a vulnerable manner.
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- Moose rutting behavior and vocalization. A hunter’s guide to getting in close. Part 1.
- Moose rutting behavior and vocalization. A hunter’s guide to getting in close. Part 2 – Pre-Rut.
- Moose rutting behavior and vocalization. A hunter’s guide to getting in close. Part 3 – Main Rut.
- Moose rutting behavior and vocalization. A hunter’s guide to getting in close. Part 4 – Post-Rut.