Hunting Moose in Canada: The “Scuba Moose”

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From onX’s own Dylan Dowson:

Born and raised in Eastern Montana, I grew up hunting the sagebrush and coulees with my dad from a very young age, looking for mostly mule deer, whitetails, and antelope. I now try to hunt as many different places and species that time will allow, and have a particular passion for hunting elk with a bow. I currently reside in Missoula, Montana, where I have worked at onX for the past eight years focusing on Western Big Game Marketing. I spend as much time as I can in the field and am now looking forward to passing on my passion and the heritage of hunting to my two young boys. 

The Hunt

I still remember picking up the phone and my dad saying, “I think I am going on an archery moose hunt in BC in two years!”

A couple of months went by and his once-in-a-lifetime trip was booked. He was headed to northern BC for ten days in the fall of 2018 to archery hunt moose with his good friend and hunting partner, Lee. I had to find a way to go, and not long after, my spot was booked as a non-hunter in camp. It would be the very first time either of us would be that far north, on a float plane, or hunting moose and it couldn’t come soon enough.

Almost a year and a half and a thirty-two-hour drive through the most beautiful country we had ever seen later, we stood on a dock weighing our gear while anxiously waiting for the float plane to be fueled up. Little did we know, this trip would turn into one of the craziest adventures and hunting stories we had ever been a part of, let alone heard.

Hunters in Alaska sitting on a porch cabin.

The sound of the Beaver’s roaring motor intensified as we took off. We had about an hour until landing on an unofficially named lake in the middle of nowhere, close to the Alaskan and Yukon border. We made conversation through the headsets while watching the landscape below. I remember trying to take it all in as anticipation grew as my dad sat next to me with a grin on his face for the duration of the flight.

Our pilot announced our arrival and tipped the plane, giving us a good view before circling the lake and interrupting the glassy water with the plane’s floats. 

After introductions to our guides, Pete, Karl, and Pete’s significant other Kelly, we transferred our gear to the two small plywood cabins built by Pete and Karl themselves, many years prior. The contents of ours were a wood stove, three cots, a lantern, and a can of bear spray next to the door. 

The guide cabin’s interior walls were covered with stories from past hunts written with permanent marker. On one wall, there were dozens of arrows hung up with nails, most stained red of dried blood, with names and dates next to them. The “Wall of Fame.” Past mementos from successful hunts. I noticed a couple of iconic names in the archery world written next to a few of the arrows.

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I asked about the sections of the wall that looked newer than others. It was thanks to a few curious grizzly bears that would break in and make themselves at home while the cabin was unoccupied. I quickly realized why there was a sawed off shotgun hanging next to the bed.

We couldn’t hunt that day since we flew in, so we spent the next several hours organizing gear and glassing the lake’s edges from camp while my dad and Lee shot their bows. 

None of us got much sleep that night as anticipation was high. It felt no different than if I were to have had a moose tag in my pocket. I did, however, have a wolf tag with plans to use the rifle the guide carried for bear protection, if the opportunity arose.

The next five days played out the same as the last, with no moose sightings. We covered a lot of country, sitting and calling for hours at a time while glassing. We learned a lot and felt that if we were patient, things had to pick up. 

On the fourth day, after hearing a long, drawn out howl, I glassed up four wolves loping away from the country we wanted to hunt. We decided to let them go instead of attempting to call them back toward us in hopes to get a shot. Still, an awesome experience. 

We didn’t have our first real encounter until day six when we spotted a bull across the lake from us. We could tell it was a young bull but after six full days without much action, we decided to try and call him in. My dad and I pushed forward to find a spot to set up in the thick willows. Karl let out a long, drawn out cow call. The bull looked up and immediately began trotting along the shoreline. 

We could hear his paddles rubbing against the willows and grunts with each step, getting closer and closer. Antler tips appeared and my dad drew. The bull walked right into the only shooting lane we had, a mere fifteen yards away. He stopped, broadside. No arrow was released. Fifteen seconds later, the bull caught our wind. My dad let his bow down and looked back at me with a big smile. He said he was alright going home empty handed after experiencing that and he was going to continue to hold out for a more mature bull. 

On day eight, we woke up to an inch of snow covering the ground and the lake frozen farther out from the bay than usual. Pete used the small boat to drop my dad, Karl, and myself at the end of the lake, then we hiked two miles to another lake. It started snowing heavily again on our hike, turning our camo and gear white. 

We arrived and started the routine we knew well by now. Get comfortable. Call. Listen. Glass. Repeat. A couple of hours had gone by when we spotted a lone cow. 

Minutes later, I was glassing the same area and something caught my eye. At first, I couldn’t make it out. I was looking at two big white objects. As they moved, I quickly realized it was a bull’s paddles that were full of snow. I called for my dad and Karl. The excitement in Karl’s voice confirmed what I had thought, we found a giant.

A moose in willows in Alaska.

He was close to a mile away, moving left to right. We quickly made a plan and ran to try and cut him off. We made it about a half mile when we ran out of cover. There was a large opening, littered with willows, until the next patch of timber. I relocated the bull. He was headed dead away from us. Karl pushed us out in front and said he would stay in the trees and call as soon as we were set up. 

It was impossible to guess where the bull might come by but after some debate, we set up. My dad nocked an arrow and Karl let out a cow call. It didn’t take long until we caught another glimpse of the bull. He was headed our direction. 

He held up at the edge of the trees, 180 yards from us. I watched through the willows as he stood in the sun, turning his head back and forth, showing off his impressive antlers, trying to get the cow he heard to come to him. 

He finally started across the opening, coming on a string, grunting every step. He disappeared eighty yards out, headed between us and the lake. We realized we should be closer to the lake, but couldn’t risk moving now. We could see the top of the bull’s paddles as he crossed us at fifty-five yards. I thought we blew it. 

But then, he veered left onto a closer trail. I told my dad I would give him a range. He came up the trail and for the first time was completely exposed. I was in awe. Even with little experience with moose, it was obvious that this bull was exceptional. Reading the yardages to my dad: 54, 50, 47, draw. 42 yards. The bull stopped but quartered toward us, not providing a shot. My dad was at full draw for what at the time felt like an eternity with the bull just standing there. 

The bull knew something wasn’t right and wheeled around. I quickly grunted to try and stop him. He slowed for a second and my dad released the arrow. 

A moose mount on a wall.

We both saw his arrow hit him a little back. The bull ran about twenty yards and stopped. “How far?” I told my dad my guess and he released another arrow. It disappeared over the willows, and what I thought looked right into the bull. 

The bull took off but stumbled. He made it around the edge of the lake and disappeared over a rise. It all happened so quickly and we were both unsure of the hits. We took a few minutes to take it in and collect ourselves before looking for his arrow and blood. Without success finding either, we marked the spot and headed back to the edge of the timber. 

Karl was looking through his binoculars with a big smile on his face. He said the bull was bedded down, not thirty yards from where we lost sight of him. 

We told Karl we were unsure of the shots but he was extremely optimistic and assured us that it was a fatal hit. Just minutes later, we heard another bull grunting up the shore and glassed a small bull that seemed to be coming to our previous calls. As he approached, we could see my dad’s bull trying to get up to avoid confrontation. He stumbled to his feet and forty more yards to the nearest timber. Watching the bull, we all agreed that it looked like a fatal hit, but it might take some time. We decided to back out for the night. 

How Dylan Used the onX Hunt App on This Hunt

  • At the time of this hunt, we did not have Canada available (we do now—read more here), but we still heavily relied on the Hunt App and used it multiple times every day during the hunt. Even in places that onX doesn’t support with private/public data, etc. onX offers some very usable functionality and tool sets for navigating the landscapes, regardless of where you find yourself. Some of the key things in the Hunt App we used on this hunt were aerial imagery, offline maps, seeing our GPS location on the map, marking waypoints, and tracking. 
  • Before flying into the lake, I saved several maps for the area we would be hunting to ensure I had access when we were off the grid. We would study the aerial imagery maps in the evenings and plan out the best routes to navigate from area to area, marking potential calling and glassing waypoints along the way, then track our routes everywhere we went. If the route was good, I would save it in the standard track color. If the route we happened to take was not ideal, I would save that track in red to indicate that it was not one I want to take again if possible. 
  • Additionally, I marked all known moose locations in the app, whether it was a sighting or if we heard a bull or cow call. Even the guides, who had years and years of first hand knowledge of this area, were impressed when looking at the app and how we were using it for this particular hunt. When we flew in to recover the moose, we had a different pilot that had not been to this particular lake before, so I showed him the Waypoint I had saved the previous fall and he navigated us straight there.

As hunters, we all respect the animals we pursue. It was difficult to acknowledge that it was not the quick, clean kill that we all hope for. All we could do now, was be smart and not try to push him. We were very optimistic that we would find the bull right away in the morning. 

We began the hike back. Pete asked what had happened when he pulled the boat to shore. Apparently we didn’t have good poker faces. We told the story and that we were going to leave him until the morning. His head dropped. The pilot called and had to move the flight to the next morning due to a major storm coming in. He said the plane was going to be here right away in the morning and unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice in the matter. After a quick discussion, we decided we had to go back and try to recover the bull before dark. 

We got back to where we had shot from in a short amount of time, drenched in sweat. It was dusk and we had to hurry. We went to where the bull bedded and found a large pool of blood and a broken off arrow. 

Following the blood trail, we made our way to the edge of the timber. We lost blood and fanned out looking for the next sign. I heard Karl whisper to my dad. We both quickly made it over to see the bull below. His head was down and at first, looked expired. But then, he sprung from his bed without giving my dad a shot. We did the one thing we didn’t want to do, we bumped him. He ran straight for the lake, just forty yards down hill. 

From the time we got to camp, Pete and Karl assured us that moose float and over the years they have retrieved several that expired in the lakes. 

The bull made it out past where he could touch bottom. He was thirty yards into the water and expired just seconds later. By this time, we had made it to the shore and watched, helplessly, as the bull disappeared below the water’s surface. I looked at Karl and said “he’s going to come back up, right?” He had a confused look on his face but nodded. Moose float.

Five minutes had gone by with no sign. Karl quickly shut down my idea of trying to swim out to see how deep it was by reminding me how frigid the water was. It was almost dark when we heard Pete and Lee coming around the corner, expecting to help take care of my dad’s bull. Karl met them. My dad and I stood motionless, staring into the water. I overheard Pete’s response to Karl:

“Moose don’t sink.”

It’s impossible to describe the rush of emotions. It had been a long day ranging from the highest of highs to the very lowest of lows. A series of incredibly unfortunate events that felt like a bad dream. 

It quickly grew dark enough that everyone was digging for headlamps while my dad cut his tag. There was nothing we could do now, but hike back and take the boat ride in the dark back to the cabins, now even more exhausted, physically and mentally. 

The hike back in the dark was one of the longest two miles I can remember. My mind was racing. What if he stopped broadside instead of quarter to? What if the other bull hadn’t come and bumped him out of his bed? What if we were able to leave him overnight? Why did he sink? Would he float overnight? None of that mattered now. Just one foot after another, through thick willows, following the light that our headlamps illuminated while hoping not to cross paths with a grizzly. 

We decided we were going to pack our gear that night and when the plane arrived in the morning, Pete and I would fly over to the lake the bull was in. He said that the moose should float over night. The plan was to fly over, find the bull, land and use the plane to pull him to shore. We would then start taking care of the meat. He said he wanted me to go so he could put my youth to work. 

The plane would then go back to pick up my dad, Lee, and as much gear as possible and fly them out before coming back to pick the meat and me up. 

That night over dinner, I showed everyone the video I got. Pete’s eyes lit up. He didn’t understand just how big he was until seeing him with his own eyes. We added to the “Wall of Fame” and hung my dad’s broken off arrow on the cabin wall. 

It was a sleepless night for the most part, but morale was higher than expected as we packed our gear and crawled into our sleeping bags. 

We sat on the shore the next morning expecting to hear the distant Beaver’s motor. It wasn’t until several hours later that we heard it over the horizon. The plane was late, and we would have had time to leave the bull and recover him that morning. Just one more frustrating “what if” to ponder on.

In no time, Pete and I were over the lake the bull was in. Pete explained to the pilot where the moose was. We got as low as we could and the pilot tipped the plane to better our view. With each second of not spotting the bull, my heart sank. He was right there, and there was nothing we could do. Any optimism we had was stripped away as we made one more pass and the pilot said he was calling it. 


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Flying back was a horrible feeling, knowing my dad could see us and knew the outcome. As we landed and floated to the dock, I saw the same look as when we watched him sink. I stepped off the plane and hugged him before starting to load our gear for our trip home. 

Everyone was still in disbelief but it was no one’s fault. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t meant to be. 

As we lifted off the lake for the last time, we waved goodbye to our new life-long friends, not knowing if we would see them again. It was a somber flight back to civilization. We passed directly over the lake the bull was in. Looking down, searching frantically one last time. 

Although we wanted nothing more than to take home the bull, I started thinking about how we came for the experience, the solitude, the camaraderie, and the hunt. And we experienced all of those things, and then some. That bull would not be made into steak and burger, but he would enrich that lake, soil, and species in and around it. Thinking about these things, I had a strange peace with the outcome. 

We had a thirty-one-hour drive home, plenty of time to articulate my thoughts to my dad. He agreed and we moved forward. Still, we couldn’t help but wonder: What if he had floated by now and was right there?  

The Recovery

Not more than a week after arriving home, I got a call from my dad. He had excitement in his voice as he said he just got off the phone with Pete. They were scheming to fly back in the spring to try and recover the bull. We knew exactly where he was, we had to try. Even if unsuccessful, we would know we did absolutely everything we could. We were heading back North in the spring. 

Nine months, and many gear discussions later, my dad and I started the long drive. We had a wetsuit, rope, shackles, pulleys, an underwater camera, camping gear, and enough food for five days. Pete would have an inflatable raft, Come Alongs, fish finder, and whatever else he thought we might need. It was a long shot, but we had nothing to lose. 

The drive gifted us many hours of reminiscing on the hunt and discussing all possible outcomes. 

The next day, we made it to the small town we flew out of. Talking to locals that evening, we discovered that word had gotten out, and my dad’s bull was known by everyone as the “Scuba Moose”. 

The next morning, the roar of the Beaver came to life as the pilot pressed down on the throttle. I can still feel the anticipation and nervousness from inside the float plane as it gained speed and then slowly lifted off the water. It had been nine months since the last time we lifted off this very lake.

My dad sat next to the pilot and used the only other headset on the flight in. We had been flying for about an hour when the pilot told my dad to hand me the headset. I was sitting behind him and he wanted to be able to talk to me as he banked the plane around the lake, giving both of us a good view. 

I saw the exact spot we were standing when the bull walked by us as I explained into the mic where he sunk. As we approached, the pilot told me we were going to take three passes before landing. He then slowed the plane as much as he could, making it a little easier to search. 

I remember trying to cover every square inch with my eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of him, just like nine months prior from a different plane.

When we made it around the lake, my hope faded. I remembered my dad and Karl could not hear my and the pilot’s conversation. As we approached where the bull sunk again, the pilot banked the plane harder, giving us an even better view. As we passed the spot again, I remember thinking that we were going to just have to do it the hard way. 

Moments later, the pilot cranked the plane 180 degrees as he said, “I see the bull, he’s on the bank!” I couldn’t believe it. At this point, I still had not seen him myself and asked the pilot one more time. I wanted to be 100% certain before telling my dad. 

Hunters with a recovered bull moose skull from an Alaska lake.

I remember tapping my dad on the shoulder. My smile definitely gave it away. The look on his face was pure relief. I guarantee we all looked like we had won the lottery because in our eyes, we had.

The pilot told me he could already tell it was the biggest moose he had seen come out of the area as he eased down to the lake for our landing. 

The engine was cut about fifty yards from shore, letting the Beaver drift into the bank. We all looked out the window to see the bull shining in the sunlight. 

After reminding everyone a bear might be close, we told my dad to lead the charge. A few seconds later, we peaked over a rise and there he was. Laying palms down, the fronts of his paddles barely touching the water, the rest of his detached skull and giant paddles shining in the sunlight. We were speechless, just like when he sunk in front of us, nine months prior. To top it off, it was in near perfect shape. 

onX Hunt App for Canada
Prepare for your trek north: onX Hunt is now available in Canada.

We did it, we found him. And he was every bit as big as we remembered. We discussed what we thought happened and agreed on a variation of the bull floating after we left and a grizzly pulling him to shore, as picked apart bones and a dug out bank were the only remains left. 

We took turns putting our hands on the bull before taking a minute to look around and appreciate this wild place one more time. 

It was bittersweet. We were extremely bummed we weren’t able to recover him last October and utilize the meat, but we had closure. 

As the pilot tied the skull to the top of the float, I jokingly told my dad that based on our record of events, there was a chance it might fall off in the air. I then checked to make sure it was absolutely secure, before climbing in. 

The floats lifted off the water, pointed toward what little civilization was around, all our gear still packed behind us. I sent a pre-made inReach message from the plane that read “We found him!!” I was hoping I would get to use that one when I made it. I remember looking down, past the bull, and seeing a cow and calf moose standing next to a lake. I couldn’t help but think about having to make it back again someday for a hunt of my own. 

onX Hunt App used to recover a moose hunt in Alaska.

That night we celebrated over a campfire. We couldn’t thank Pete, Karl, and Kelly enough for not giving up. They thanked us for the same and we left the next morning with “see you later”, not knowing if or when that would be true. We began the long drive South with moose paddles sticking out of the pickup. Two full days driving later, we made it to the US border. When it was our turn, the Border Patrol behind the glass asked what brought us to Canada, my dad told the short version of our story. The gentleman looked confused and said he had never heard of a moose sinking. Us either. We couldn’t make this up if we tried. 

Not long after, I was at home helping my dad hang the bull in the house I grew up in. Looking around the room, there are a lot of memories that my dad and I share. From my dad’s biggest mule deer where I was right beside him at the age of five; to this top twenty-five all-time Pope and Young Canadian Moose, where I was right by his side again, at the age of twenty-six. 

My dad and I have shared many memorable hunts over the years, but most won’t hold a candle to our Northern BC moose adventure, and the story of the “Scuba Moose”.

Author’s note: a version of this story was originally published with Huntin’ Fool in October 2020.

Dylan Dowson

Born and raised in Montana, Dylan grew up hunting the sagebrush and coulees of eastern Montana. He now lives in Missoula, where he’s worked at onX for more than eight years and is focused on Western Big Game Marketing. He spends as much time as he can in the field with tags in his pocket, and is always looking forward to planning the next hunt.