Moose are Maine’s largest big game animal by far. Bulls have been known to top the scales in excess of 1,000 pounds! Because of their sheer size and body mass, they can be difficult to put down, even with a high-powered rifle, if shot placement is not good. For ethical as well as practical reasons, moose hunters need to zero in their rifles carefully and practice their marksmanship at various distances long before the fall hunt of a lifetime. Shot placement is key, even more important, really, than the caliber of choice!
A big target, a moose. What do you aim for? There have always been different schools of thought on this question. Wives tales abound. “Shoot for the hump. That will put the animal down fast,” it has been said. In his book, “Moose Hunting,” Aroostook County moose guide and author Dave Kelso strongly advocates what he calls “the collar shot.” He writes, “Over the years I have found the best possible shot to take on a moose is in the neck, a comparatively large target. Within the neck you have major arteries and the spine, so even if you miss the spine, you will likely cause severe arterial damage.”
Despite his years of moose-hunting experience, Kelso seems to be a voice in the wilderness when it comes to his collar theory on moose shot placement. No other moose-hunt guides of those whose opinions we sampled agree at all with Kelso. In fact, to a man, these moose guides are all on the same page: a heart/lung shot behind the forward shoulder is the only way to go.
“My advice to hunters is take a lung shot, followed by another followed by another until the moose goes down. The lungs are a big target and a 30 06,180 gr., solid copper bullet will destroy lungs and the more you shoot the quicker he’s down.”
– John Richardson, Moose Guide
“The average hunter. Shot placement to head or neck at close range can also be problematic based on discussion with other professionals. Point of entry for a bullet is like a needle on a moose. Heart/lung broadside is the largest target there is and a killing one at that. We have witnessed wounds to the head and neck that are atrocious and negligent. A slight and imprecise hit results in a gruesome unethical shot. Better to hit the vitals with bigger margin for error.”
-Lee Kantar, Maine moose biologist
“For the most part, clients arrive with an understanding of shot placement and vitals (heart/lungs) in a textbook way. We certainly discuss it before every hunt, regardless of species. However, when a hunter sees a trophy bull or any live moose for that matter for the first time, right in front of them, the initial reaction is — SHOOT! It’s a classic case of buck fever but elevated to a higher degree I believe because of the nature of a moose hunt; it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for some that causes a panic shot and the complete breakdown of shooting fundamentals.”
– John Floyd, Moose Guide
In the realm of moose-hunting ethics, there is another consideration: shot follow-up. Because of the sheer size of a moose, even after a well-placed shot, there may not be tell-tale indications, like hair or blood, at the site of the shot taken. It is imperative that moose hunters do a meticulous, exhaustive follow-up to determine whether the moose was hit. In most ground conditions a moose is quite easy to track.
Maine’s fall moose hunt begins in September. Good luck to those fortunate enough to have drawn a moose permit. Hunt safe!