‘We’re going to need a bigger freezer, right?’ (Rookie hunter, on seeing his first bull moose up close.)
If filling your freezer with wild meat is what you want to do, you probably want a moose. But you’ll need a very big freezer, or else more than one. Or plan to give away a lot of meat to your family and friends. Because moose are big!
Alces alces, as it is called, scientifically, is the biggest member of the deer family. The farther north you go, the bigger the moose get. Those in Alaska are apparently bigger than the ones in northern Alberta. And the biggest moose of all live in the Chukotka region of eastern Siberia. Some of them have been transplanted to Russia’s Kamchatcka peninsula, where they are thriving and still growing to an enormous size.
But size doesn’t matter that much to somebody hunting for meat. A good old Alberta bull moose will be plenty big enough.
Speaking of introduced moose, Randy Elm of Marten Beach (and Sherwood Park) is an Indigenous hunter who grew up on a farm in the Hardisty area. Moose were turned loose there in 1980 (on his parents’ farm) and he’s seen them explode in population over the years. Every year he goes hunting there and says it’s a very different experience than looking for a moose on a cutline in a northern forest.
“You take your pick,” he says. “Last year, a guy had planted corn for his cattle and we counted 18 cows and 13 bulls in a quarter section.”
Elm says he has hunted in the north. With his father-in-law, for example, around the Tallcree reserve south of Fort Vermilion. He says the bulls in rut are much more aggressive up there than what he’s used to in the Battle River area near where he grew up. Plus it is much harder to find them.
There are pros and cons to both types of hunting, but it is interesting to know that moose are thriving in prairie areas of the province. Elm says licenses to hunt them are becoming more available too, due to the need to keep the numbers within certain limits. Because they eat a lot of grain (“And peas. They love peas.”) and other crops, farmers are keen to have the animals culled.
“I’m a sustenance hunter,” Elm says. “I eat 90 per cent wild meat.” That includes fish he catches in Lesser Slave Lake. He says every part of the moose is used, down to the tongue and the nose, not to mention the internal organs.
“I do leather work,” he adds, “I make mitts and moccasins.” He says he’s planning to put on a workshop on moose hide tanning at his place in Marten Beach.
Last year’s kill, Elm continues, yielded 460 lbs. of meat, enough to fill his big freezers
According to various sources, the Alberta moose population is around 120,000.