Soldotna moose caller matches bulls with hunters

Peninsula ClarionDecember 18, 2013 

SOLDOTNA -- Bubba has all the qualities of a top-end matchmaker; he understands what males and females look for in potential mates and then uses that knowledge to bring them together.

"That's when I let the air out of them," said the Soldotna hunter and national champion moose caller.

With decades of experience and field observation, he uses moose biology against them, including a special call that's he's developed that sounds to most people like a raven.

In September, George "Bubba" Hunt brought in a big bull that for years he'd noticed ranging around his Interior hunting area. It took him days before getting the shot. A panoramic of the grounds now hangs on the wall of his Funny River Road home, under the 55-inch rack of the big moose. He won't say where the camp is or on which river it sits.

"I'd be lynched," he said of the hunters that years ago let him in on their longtime location south of Fairbanks.

Using shoulder blades of another killed moose, Hunt creates the convincing sounds of two bulls trashing about and fighting over a cow. That's one piece of his matchmaking subterfuge -- two bulls are fighting, so there must be a desirable cow nearby.

"You'd be surprised, you can hear it from a mile away," Hunt said. "The big ones come in to fight and to see who gets her."

That big bull -- with size comes intelligence and with intelligence comes a predictable behavior -- walks towards the sound on a parallel track to the wind. That's where a carefully placed partner will be waiting to make the shot before the bull catches on to the fact that there is no cow, only Hunt and his bag of tricks.

Another of Hunt's methods relies on moose mating behavior as well. His cow call comes from hands cupping his face with fingers pinching his nostrils and forcing the outgoing air to echo in his sinus chambers as he begins the moan while rolling his head from one side to the other.

"She's complaining about the small bulls," Hunt said of the back-story running through his head as he makes the call to drive the big bulls into thinking that another has dibs on the cow. It's what he does to get them moving in a direction that best suits the hunter.

The moan becomes a conversation between himself and the bull he is drawing in for a hunting partner.

"Sound desperate enough and they come right in on you," he said. "It's about setting the scene."

Hunt's success rate is really an unknown quantity because he stopped counting after 18 kills, but figures maybe he's shot 30 bulls over the years. Careful to point out that he is not a guide, Hunt said he's called in hundreds more moose for partners and friends during his hunting decades. A three-time national moose calling champion, Hunt was brought into the Tonight Show to teach Jay Leno the art of the call.

This year's bull weighed 1,500 pounds and now fills three of Hunt's five freezers with meat so tender that you could poke fingers into it. There's 70 pound of neck meat and 200 pounds of hamburger too, he said.

"I'm a meat hunter," Hunt said. "I just happen to shoot big moose."

Looking for the most meat per shot, Hunt works the mornings before dawn and the evenings after dusk.

"If you sleep in, you ain't hunting with me."

The inverse is true as well, Hunt sleeps mid-day while occupying his camp. Experience has taught him that the big ones sleep on ridge tops by day and then move down to the swamps after the dark. If a moose hunter has gone back to camp before a headlamp is required it is the hunter's mistake. A good hunter is looking for that moose to make the mistake.

"If you can still see when you get back to camp you've screwed up your hunt," he said.

Hunt advocates for attrition. Once finding the range of the moose he is after it's time to watch day in and day out, even if it's too dark to take the shot. This year's bull took nine days of "knocking on the door" before the moose made the mistake of getting up too early in the evening and heading for the swamp.

"That's when I let the air out of him," Hunt said.

 

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