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My hunting partner Gord Trenholm and I have enjoyed hunting moose in this unique boreal region for several years. The thought of it all going to blaze was not one we relished, not to mention that the area had previously succumbed to a wild fire in 1997. The recovering forest had become ideal habitat for moose and hunting had been very good. Sadly, it appeared as though the process was about to repeat itself once again.
- photo Dan Wetlauffer

Nonetheless, we went about preparing for this trip as we had done many times prior, subconsciously wishing the fire would either be put out by forecasted rains or strong westerly winds that would redirect it away from our intended hunting grounds. As fate would have it­—neither occurred! Indeed, we later received aerial photos from Dan showing most of our hunting area had burned to a crisp. The raging inferno halted a mere 400 metres short of our traditional camp.

I will confess that my heart sank. A dry summer had obviously generated ideal conditions for wild fires and it seemed as though our moose hunt had also gone up in smoke.

In spite of it all, we made our way north in late September. A quick fly over our lake confirmed our worst fears. The fire had ravaged hundreds of hectares. We unloaded the two bush planes and proceeded to erect our hunting camp as we had done so many times prior. I had looked forward to setting up our new camp accommodations for weeks; a brand spanking new 10’ X 15’ Deluxe Wall Tent with interior aluminum tubular frame and a 5-foot porch extension—a real beauty! However, the usual exhilaration of getting camp ready was missing. Things weren’t the same.

We planned our first morning hunt in an area that had proven successful in the past, now located in the heart of the burn. The fire had been out for seven weeks now and we felt a twinge of optimism. We traveled to the location well before dawn, got set up and proceeded to call, but to no avail. As the sun broke the horizon, we quickly came to realize the devastation brought upon by the fire. It literally looked like a lunar landscape!

With few words spoken, we headed back to camp for lunch. Our meal turned out to be most eventful as we were visited by the largest black bear either of us had seen in years. The big boar was interested in the sausage fry up and stopped only metres away from us, level with the camp’s electric fence. A bear cracker sent him off in a hurry. We were consequently quite excited as we had, at last, seen something that survived the fire! There was hope…

We returned to the same calling spot the following morning. As early light replaced total darkness, we were astonished to spot eight moose dead smack in the most heavily burned area. Remarkably, a combination of cows and calves were feeding on something right in the burn. This certainly peaked our curiosity. We opted to go in and explore the area as soon as the moose would leave. We later found a variety of fresh greenery growing on the south facing slopes. The moose were particularly interested in the new protein packed red willow shoots and fast growing fireweed (Epilobium augustifolium - a.k.a. willow herb), which was emerging out of the scorched ground.

Needless to say, this changed our entire outlook on the hunt! We had only just discussed the merits of hunting the non-burned areas. We thought the moose would have certainly relocated to the mature forest, away from this desolation, but we were wrong. Not only were the moose in the burn just a few weeks after the fire had died, but they were there in good numbers.

Five days later I had the good fortune of harvesting a yearling bull, likely the most delicious moose we’ve had grace our forks in years. It was also taken right out of the burned area.

Reg Cook's bull taken a year earlier in the same area as the 2008 burn.
Although we never did connect on a good-sized bull in 2008, the experience we acquired in hunting a fresh burn was immeasurable. We saw more moose on this trip than ever before and all were in the fresh burn. Hiking through the charred hills and forest and seeing first hand how Mother Nature rejuvenates the land is something we will never forget.

Gord and I were first introduced to this particular area in 2001, only four years after the original fire of 1997. We've since connected on seven large bulls and one yearling, all harvested within the old and new burns.

Hunting burns can be tough and challenging, but it is most rewarding.

On our last morning in camp we heard bull grunts coming from the lake. Gord and I were astonished to witness a two-year-old bull swimming directly toward us; likely interested in the noise made taking camp down, or perhaps intrigued by Gordie’s cow calls from the night prior. We played him for a few minutes but opted to leave him—he would undoubtedly be a magnificent bull in a few short years!

We complimented the enjoyment of our 2008 hunt by fishing for large lakers and monster pike and by hanging around our very cozy camp. Being safe and comfortable at a remote camp location is a must.

The moral of this story is; don’t be intimidated to hunt burns, fresh or old. Most burned areas will be productive for up to 20-years, with the best opportunities available between four to 12-years following a fire. Do your homework, enquire where recent fires have taken place, investigate pre-fire moose populations, browse topographical maps, scout the area if you can, and decide on a location near fresh water. You will most likely encounter very few other hunters, but you could find a lot of moose in the most unexpected places. ■

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