I lowed loudly into the moose horn. Rifle up, Jimmie wheeled as a form appeared suddenly in the bushes.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 24, 1936.

“Speaking of moose,” said Jimmie Frise, which we weren’t, “I would like to bag a couple of those noble beasts before my hunting days are over.”

“They tell me,” I said, “that no form of sport has as little justification as moose hunting. You find the huge brutes far from any road or railway. They weigh from 700 to 1,200 pounds, like a horse. It is impossible for the hunter to carry the animal with him. So he cuts off the horns and one or maybe two of the hams, and leaves the rest of it to rot in the swamp.”

“Well,” said Jim, “the whole animal finally rots in the swamp anyway. So what’s the difference?”

“A lot of difference,” I declared. “In the meantime, it lived. Isn’t that a difference?”

“I’m not so sure,” said Jim. “I often look at an animal and sometimes at humans and wonder if it makes any difference, even to them, whether they live or not. What I mean, is life itself interesting to them? Now you take a moose. It is born to trouble. All summer long, from the time it is born, the flies plague it. It nearly goes crazy with flies. It spends a frantic summer, hiding in the swamp and wading in the lakes and then comes winter, and the poor thing, with its long ungainly legs, is forced to plunge and stumble about in the deep snow, with the temperature at forty below. Can you say, offhand, whether life is interesting to it under those conditions? Is lite even worth while?”

“We’re not moose,” I defended. “We have no right to say. Maybe a moose finds it all very agreeable.”

“You are assuming,” said Jim, “that a moose wishes to be born. But it may be nature just forced that poor moose to exist. As if nature were some sort of a willful bully, who said, here you, exist. And then turned loose, to suffer and plunge and stagger about, a creature as ungainly and ugly and awkward as a moose.”

“I still think,” I declared, “that because moose exist, they must find pleasure in existing.”

“Yours is a cock-eyed philosophy,” said Jimmie. “A pollyanna philosophy. All’s right with the world. Personally, I don’t think it matters one way or another to a moose whether it gets shot by a hunter or pulled down in its infancy by a wolf or bear, or whether it lives on year after year, eating birch twigs and wandering about a lot of fly-infested swamps and bitter wintry glens, until, aged and infirm, helpless and starving, it finally lies down and dies, haying accomplished nothing.”

“A lot of human beings,” I agreed, “live the same story.”

“Don’t you think,” demanded Jim, “that a moose’s highest destiny is to be hunted by a man, trailed and pursued and finally outwitted, to fall quickly and mercifully to a hunter’s bullet, and then be consecrated by having its head mounted, with its horns, of which it was so proud, ornamenting, for years, the hall of some fine house, to be admired and respected by scores, by hundreds of men?”

“We don’t know our own destiny,” I said. “How can we figure out a moose’s?”

Just Like a Crooner

“That’s a far nobler destiny,” stated Jim, “than in old age falling down in a swamp and being unable to get up, and taking a week to pass away. And then porcupines come and gnaw its antlers.”

“On the Vimy Pilgrimage,” I said, “I met a New Brunswick guide who taught me how to call moose.”

“Really,” cried Jimmie.

“We had no birch bark,” I explained; “however, the guide – his name was McWhirlpool, or some such Scottish name – got some cardboard off a carton and made a moose caller out of it. It’s a little megaphone. We sat out on the boat deck, calling. The ship’s officers just thought it was somebody being specially seasick.”

“How does it go?” asked Jim.

So I made a megaphone out of some of Jim’s drawing paper and proceeded to demonstrate the art which had been transmitted to me in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

“You call moose,” I explained to Jim, “by imitating the seductive and plaintive sounds of a cow moose. In the very early morning or late evening, you hide yourself in the bushes near some spot where you have seen the footprints of a bull, and commence calling. In case there is a bull quite near, you begin by making soft calls, kneeling down like this and placing the mouth of the horn close to the ground.”

I knelt down and began. The New Brunswick guide had practically given me a diploma for moose calling, because we rehearsed every morning on deck for eight days from Montreal to Le Havre.

Beginning on a high whining note, and muffling it by putting the mouth of the megaphone close to the floor, I let it go, like this “Ooooo-wauuugh”. The ooooo very high and whiney, the waugh falling abruptly to a guttural cough.

“That ought to call something,” said Jim, very impressed.

“You don’t call too often,” I explained. “In case there is a bull handy, you wait fifteen minutes or more after the first call. And listen. The call of a bull is very brief and gruff. It is a sort of choff. A sound, almost, like a distant axe chopping, once. But if you get no reply to your first call, you try again, still leaving the horn pointing down and fairly close to the ground, so as to muffle the sound. You make a little longer, this time. Like this: Oooo-waaaauugh-augh-augh. Oooo-eeeeee.”

“That was a beauty,” admitted Jim, getting up and closing the office windows, in case.

“It is a sound, McWhirlpool told me,” I said, “something like a bugle, something like a fire siren and something like the heaves.”

“You’ve got it to perfection,” agreed Jim. “Then what happens?”

“You listen again for a good fifteen minutes,” I explained. “In the foggy dawn or the increasing dark, it is a chilly and eerie business. You listen for the distant choff of bull. Or the crackling of the bushes as the monster comes to the call. If still nothing answers, you make another call. This time you start with the megaphone pointed to the earth and then slowly as you make the call, you go through contortions, twisting your body around until, at the conclusion of the call, the megaphone is pointing straight to the sky.”

“Just like a crooner,” said Jim, “in a snappy modern orchestra singing a blues number.”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “And McWhirlpool always made the most agonized faces as he called. Again you listen. If you hear the bull answer, or if you hear any sounds in the bushes, you wait. If the bull is suspicious, you can do two things. You can emit a couple of low moans through the horn, muffled, of course. Or even better, you can thrash around in the bushes yourself. Snapping twigs, to pretend there is another bull answering the call. That brings him. He can’t bear the idea of somebody beating him. So with a loud choff and a terrific cracking of bushes, the bull charges into the open. And bang, you’ve got him.”

“Or else you haven’t got him,” said Jim, “and then what?”

“McWhirlpool always said, you’ve got him,” I replied.

“It certainly sounds exciting,” cried Jim. “Compared with ordinary hunting, where you just see a deer and up and crack him down, this moose-calling has everything – mystery, drama, suspense, action.”

“Unfortunately,” I pointed out, “moose are vanishing from everywhere but where the rich and free can go. North of the transcontinental. Over the height of land. In Alaska. There used to be moose right around Peterboro.”

“I’ll tell you something in confidence,” said Jim. “There are still a few moose in Algonquin Park, and occasionally they stray out. This summer, there were moose in around some lakes I fished in Muskoka.”

“No,” said I.

“Yes,” said Jim. “The settlers were all excited. Two of the children on the way to school saw a cow and calf on the road. One evening, the settler where I stayed saw a huge bull wading among the lily pads across a little lake.”

“Ah,” I said, “they’ll all be gone by now. Those settlers.”

“I’ll find out,” said Jim. “The hardware man in Huntsville can drive out in half an hour. I’ll telephone him to-night. If the moose are still there, we’ll go up over a week-end and call them.”

“We can’t shoot them yet,” I reminded Jim.

“We will just call them, for experience,” said Jim, “and the thrill of it and to prove they are there. And if we take a rifle along, it will only be for the protection of life and property.”

Thus, when Jimmie telephoned me at midnight to say the moose were still hanging around the little lost trout lakes a few miles north and east of Huntsville, and it was only a five-hour drive at the most, plans were completed forthwith for the week-end. Jim would take his thirty-thirty and a camera. I would take my 7-millimetre carbine, my binoculars and a knife to cut myself a proper moose call of birch bark.

“There’ll be a story in it,” cried Jim. “A front page story.”

All the Wild World Watching

And Saturday found us steaming at daybreak up Yonge St., and by midmorning amidst all the autumn splendors of Muskoka; and before noon, passing out a rocky and rutted settler’s road to a lonely and miserable cabin on a lake where a tall and amiable settler, his wife and five children, all assured us the moose were still very much in evidence.

“You really did see a bull moose across a lake, this summer, didn’t you?” I checked up.

“Well, it certainly looked like it,” said the settler.

“And the children, I hear, saw a moose cow and call on the road?” I double checked.

“The very day after I saw the bull,” said the settler, “Reenie here and little Wilbert came rushing home from school with the news.”

Jim said he preferred to go out with me alone because of a bad attack of bronchitis the settler had that caused him to bark a great deal. The settler rented us his canoe and gave us directions for going up the lake to a creek and following the creek through three other lakes until we reached a country of spruce swamps and rocky ridges, which was the likeliest country to find moose. I cut a bark horn 15 inches long and four inches at the exit. And two hours before dark, Jimmie and I, moving with all the caution that McWhirlpool had advised, hid our canoe in the brush and took up our stand on the edge of a little lake margined with beaver meadow and surrounded with dark and forbidding spruce.

Just the act of moving stealthily induces a curious excitement. Jim and I were shaky and our voices, though whispered, were unsteady as we set the stage for action. I took post back of a log and Jim stood back of me, with his rifle ready, in case. Because everybody knows a bull moose, especially when excited, is liable to be an ugly customer. My own rifle I rested handy.

The sky was fading to a lovely color. The mysterious still little lake reflected the menacing darkness of the spruce. A sense of all the wild world watching made us shiver.

“Begin,” whispered Jim.

Setting the horn’s mouth close to the rock, I let go the first anguished cry.


Though I uttered it easily, that weird call echoed and rang and vanished across the quiet evening, and even the spruces seemed to stand stock still with astonishment.

Jim and I stared fixedly at the surrounding wilderness. Not a sound. Not even a dry leaf rattled. Not even a chickadee called.

Ten minutes passed, by the watch.

“Let her go again,” whispered Jim, turning to stand back to back with me, so as to guard all fronts.

“Oooooo – waaaaugh – augh – augh – mmmmmmmm!” I wailed through the trumpet, ending in a long drawn moan.

Again we sat immobile, our skins prickling, while the unearthly call rang across the lonely silence and vanished away in the distance.

“Psst,” said Jim, backing up against me.

Unquestionably, something on the far side of the little lake was moving in the brush. Without a shadow of doubt, something was now crashing amidst the spruce. Jim wheeled to face the same way as me, and I heard the snick of his rifle hammer as he cocked it to fire.

Silence. Silence vast and mysterious and throbbing.

“Gi-ive,” whispered Jim, “the little moans.”

“Mmmmmmm,” I lowed in the horn. “Arnnhh, unngh, mmmmmmm.”

Instantly, the distant crashing across the lake was renewed. We could hear the monster coming around the left side. Through spruce and alder and underbrush, something was coming, at an anxious, eager pace. We could hear its antlers crashing on the trees, hear the plunging of its great body.

“Don’t shoot,” I hissed, “unless it charges.”

“Take my camera,” whispered Jim hoarsely. “Get it ready.”

“Light too poor,” I answered, resting my rifle handy.

The thrashing suddenly ceased, forty yards away amidst the dense spruce. Ceased, and left us with hearts thudding in our ears and our eyes bulging with strain. I looked at Jim. He nodded.

In a confidential and almost whispered tone, I let go a low, enticing moan.

But the great bull did not come charging into the open. Instead, as we stood there rooted to the rock, we heard the unmistakable tiny sounds of something walking with stealth, with cunning, with caution known only to the wild, and coming, through the colored dusk, towards us.

A deep exhaled breath suddenly blew right at our backs. Jim wheeled, rifle up. I, after waiting a dignified instant to feel the hoist of giant antlers on my back, wheeled too.

A cow, a plain common barnyard cow, with eager and delighted expression on her countenance, was thrusting her head through the brush.

Jim laughed first. I joined later. Because the music of human laughter was a sweet and pleasing sound amidst that dark land. The cow followed us and saw us off in our canoe, mooing to us in the gathering dark as we headed south.

And the settler said it probably was his heifer that had wandered away last August in the hot spell, and he thanked us very cordially for locating it for him, which he would go and get at the earliest opportunity, maybe next week some time, if he got the chance, because he had so much wood to get in before the snow.

Editor’s Notes: The Vimy Pilgrimage was the trip made by thousands of Canadians to France in 1936 for the dedication of the Vimy Memorial. This happened for Greg and Jim that same year in the spring.

A thirty-thirty is a .30-30 Winchester rifle.