The Best Trip Yet: Hunting Moose in Newfoundland - Part One: Preparation

Central Newfoundland, near Buchans.

     "He's goofy-horned, are you sure you want him?" whispered Fred Thorne, owner of Red Indian Lake Outfitters in central Newfoundland.  I assured him I did. I wanted nothing else at the moment. About 260 yards from us in a patch of trees stood a magnificent bull moose, facing in our direction. He wasn't a giant, but he was probably pushing 900-1000 lbs. His right antler sported 4 long tines, and his left antler was noticeably absent, likely broken off in a fight with another moose.  It was our last day hunting, and we had yet to take a moose, despite some close calls. I steadied my rifle in the shooting sticks, and put the cross hairs on the brisket. 

    "I'm gonna get him to turn then." Fred told me, before cupping his hands and making a long, nasally, drawn out call that mimics a female moose.  The bull started to turn, but something about his body language hinted to me that he was about to bolt, and if he went more than a few paces he'd be out sight into thick woods. He hadn't quite turned broadside, but I placed the crosshairs on the front of his shoulder, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger. A ringing in my ear replaced the sound of my own pulse as my rifle cracked and he vanished from view in the scope...


Part One: Preparation

    My dad and I had been talking about going on a moose hunt together for years. Our timeline for the trip was always "someday", but over the last couple years we'd had lots of reminders that someday is not a given. Neither of us was getting any younger, and business has been good for me, so suddenly a guided moose hunt was financially feasible for the first time in my life. We settled on the island of Newfoundland for our location. It made sense for a lot of reasons, namely that as long as you hunt with a licensed guide, non-resident moose tags are over the counter, and the whole package is about half of what a similar hunt would cost in Alaska or the Yukon Territory. Overall the moose are a bit smaller in Newfoundland than out West, but there are a ton of them. According to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, the island's moose population hovers around 120,000, while Alaska's tops out at around 200,000. Alaska, though, is about seven times the size of Newfoundland, and with that many moose in a much smaller area, the success rate for a hunt is around 85%. My dad and I really like those odds, and what's more, getting to Newfoundland from the Northeast doesn't require expensive flights. You can drive to the Eastern tip of Nova Scotia, and take an overnight ferry to the island. This meant we could load the truck up with coolers, and bring back our haul of meat without incurring hefty shipping fees. 

    Friends of my dad had hunted in Newfoundland with an outfitter whose camp is only accessible by helicopter, and while this sounds fun, we wanted to find a camp we could drive to. Helicopter fuel adds a lot to the cost of a hunt, and I was worried about potential weather delays preventing my from getting back to New York in time for work. It was difficult to choose an outfitter. There were so many, and almost all of them claimed the same success rates when hunting with a rifle. I remembered seeing a post by chef Michael Hunter, one of my culinary heroes out of Toronto, of a moose hunt he'd gone on in Newfoundland, so I reached out to him on Instagram to ask if he'd recommend his outfitter. He immediately wrote back with Fred Thorne's number, and said "That's the guy you want to go with." This was good enough for my dad and me! Fred's camp was located on Red Indian Lake, in central Newfoundland, near the town of Buchans, which was also the setting for one of my favorite episodes of the late Anthony Bourdain's show Parts Unknown, where he dined lakeside on an over-the-top moose feast prepared by chefs Jeremy Charles of Raymond's restaurant in St. John, and David McMillan and Fred Morin of restaurant Joe Beef in MontrĂ©al. If you haven't seen the episode, stop what you're doing right now and go watch it: Parts Unknown: Newfoundland

    In January I emailed Fred to see if he had space for the following season, and he told me we could come hunt at the end of October into the first week of November. It would be the post-rut, passed the prime weeks of mating where the moose are most likely to come investigate calls, but during the time where bulls are likely to be seen in bachelor groups again, now that they weren't fighting for mating rights. I got my check book out and mailed Fred a check, and the journey was set into motion! We were going moose hunting! It was time start preparing.

    Until this point, I'd only kept one firearm at home, Rosie, my Winchester 1300 12 gauge pump shotgun. I'd hunted deer with her, but shots with a slug are limited to within about 50 yards. Fred told us to be prepared for a 200+ yard shot, so Rosie wasn't going to cut it. I'd used my dad's Remington model 700 30.06 (Gillian) on my last several deer hunts in Pennsylvania, but I haven't had enough practice sessions at the range to feel comfortable enough out to 200 yards with her. I really needed my own rifle, something I could keep at home and take to the range a few times before the trip. After reading about a dozen Battle of the Calibers-type articles on Outdoor Life and Meat Eater, I'd settled on getting a rifle chambered in 7mm Rem. Mag. I wanted a gun that would shoot very flat out to long distances, and something with enough knock-down power to hunt anything in North America (except probably grizzly bear, I don't know that I'd ever want to tangle with one of those.) While the 7mm Rem Mag is arguably a bit overkill for whitetail deer, it seemed like the perfect caliber for moose and elk, as well as black bear, all of which I'm hoping to pursue in the near future. I decided to buy the rifle from Tikka, Finnish firearm manufacturer under the Sako company. They're known for their buttery smooth bolt actions and their out-of-the-box accuracy, and personally, I think they're some of the best looking rifles out there. Retailing at around a thousand dollars, the T3-X Lite in 7mm Rem Mag even comes with a threaded barrel and a muzzle break, and there was a dealer in the Queens (Woodhaven Rifle and Pistol Range) that would order one for me. I drove to their shop on the morning of my birthday in late April, and after completing the background check and showing them my permit, I paid for the rifle and was told to come collect him in about two weeks.

    For a scope, I decided to purchase my buddy Greg's Vortex Viper PST, in a 3-15 X 44. He hadn't used it much, and was willing to give me quite a deal on it, so I ordered a Picatinny rail and some high quality Vortex scope mounting rings, and soon enough I got a call from the gun shop that Valtteri (named after Finnish Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas) was ready to be picked up! It was love at first sight.

Valtteri (above) and Gillian (below) in our camp in Newfoundland.

    Finding someone who could mount the scope for me proved to be a bigger ordeal than I would have anticipated. I had to try two separate gun shops, the first guy told me he didn't have the right tools to mount it, and the second guy I tried told me he wasn't confident he'd gotten it perfectly level, and he refused to take payment because of it. Turns out this wouldn't matter too much though, as I'd booked a few hours of long-distance shooting lessons at a place in New Jersey called Griffin and Howe, with the understanding that lesson would include making sure my scope was properly installed and setup for the rifle before we began shooting.  

    Griffin and Howe is actually a custom gun manufacturer of precision rifles and shotguns, but they have a shooting academy where you can tailor a private lesson for your exact needs. They are partnered with a private hunting and fishing club in New Jersey called the Hudson Farm. This place is on a different stratosphere compared to any other rod and gun club I've ever seen.  The property is almost 4,000 acres, with a lodge that looks like a southern plantation, and a helicopter pad out back. Annual membership is more than what a lot of folks make in a year, but it is a very impressive place. Thankfully you don't have to be a member to book a lesson with Griffin and Howe, but you do have to abide by their dress code (no jeans, and gentlemen must wear a collared shirt.) 

Getting dialed in at Griffin and Howe.

    I invited Greg to come do the lesson with me, as he wanted to learn a bit about long distance shooting as well. Upon arrival we were met by Mike Murphy, otherwise known as "Murph", who would be our instructor. Murph is the real deal. He's a marksmanship prodigy. He even knew offhand what rating to set the torque wrench to for my particular scope mounting rings that I'd bought. After driving us to the range, which was several miles deep into the property along paved roads, Murph got my scope leveled, mounted, and bore-sited, and it was time to send some lead down range. If I'm being honest, I was a little nervous to shoot my new gun. I'd been told that a 7mm Rem Mag has substantially heavier recoil than a 30.06, and my dad's 30.06 kicks like a mule. Murph had me change my form right off the bat though, placing the butt of the gun closer to the center of my body, near where my inner pectoral muscle meets my collar bone. He said since this area is muscle, as opposed to the softer tissue of the shoulder pocket where most people are taught to place the rifle butt, that you will feel much less recoil from the shot. What's more, it helps you with target acquisition in the scope, you find the animal with your naked eye, looking directly over the scope, and then since the scope is already centered under your eye, you simply lower your eye directly down to the scope, and there's your target. This would prove critical in Newfoundland, as conditions on the island during our trip had the moose acting very skittish, and only giving us very brief shot opportunities. 

    Between this new way of shouldering the rifle and the muzzle break that was included with purchase, Valtteri had very little recoil to him! I was relieved. And after just a few rounds a few adjustments, my shots were touching holes at 100 yards, and less than an inch apart at 200 yards. Murph taught us some drills to help us slow our heartrate down, as well as when the optimal time to squeeze the trigger with our breathing, and soon greg and I were firing downrange at 500 yards, and hitting our metal targets just about every shot! Murph would tell us the settings to dial the elevation to on our scopes for the distance, the after shooting he'd yell "Contact!", and several seconds later we'd hear a faint PING as the noise from the metal targets made its way back to us. It was a great afternoon, and I'd highly recommend anyone book a few hours with Murph to improve their skills ahead of a big hunt.

    Feeling dialed in and confident, we booked our ferry tickets, and then it was time to start packing! Check back soon for Part 2 of the adventure.


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