The difficulty of the hunt is not directly proportionate to the size of the coveted game. This may be true in certain cases, however, our evening outing did its best to prove that theory wrong. Our quest: searching for the biggest ungulate in Europe, the Russian moose, involved great risks. Mid-September. It was early evening as we arrived in Moscow, and darkness already loomed over the Soviet megalopolis. The customs formalities were disconcertingly easy, after which we were free to breath in some fresh air. On the roads we found an extremely diverse collection of cars. From old, busted Lada’s, to enormous Teutonic limousines with tinted windows, they wove in and out of a mishmash of trucks sporting license plates that would make even a baccalaureate in geography scratch his head. There were still close to 300 kilometers to go, and so it was with a heavy heart that we left the Red Square behind. After covering only thirty kilometers in one hour, we finally disappeared into the night and arrived at our final destination three hours later. Waking up at 5:30 am, the thermometer read-2°C. This temperature sufficed to awaken the “franzouski”, whose biological clock had not yet integrated the two hours of time difference. Andrey quickly introduced Mikhail Dubov, the man in charge of the hunting territory, who then invited us to climb into a machine that appeared to be straight out of Star Wars. It was a Trekol made in Russia, conducted by Andrey a colossus who had nothing in common with a ballet dancer. As we left the Jedi’s coach, it was still dark out. We loaded our rifles before commencing a stalk on sandy soil that was extremely favourable for this activity. Five-hundred meters into the journey the convoy stopped, the headlamps were turned off, and we remained immobile, scrutinizing the celestial arch rising in the east. The cold was starting to take its toll, when far off in the distance, a strange moan echoed through the woods. Mikhail and Andrey remained unmoved, a simple nod sufficed to communicate that our animal was ahead of us. The moose rut takes place from mid-September to mid-October. Unlike red stag, these giants of the taiga adopt a more discrete strategy. Sure, the males vocalize their interest, hoping to seduce a female, but this ruckus also calls for confrontation and spectacular combats. Once a bull has found a female in heat, he stays silently by her side, until the lady gives in to his flirtation. Only the arrival of another male can provoke a potentially violent altercation. Just imagine two colossi of more than five-hundred kilograms hitting each other head on… As the stars vanished one by one and the sky lit up, we could finally make out the biotope that surrounded us. The very dense forest was composed of resinous and birch trees, regularly interspersed by vast meadows covered in fern and heather. The silence was absolute, only interrupted from time to time by the song of a northern hawk-owl who flew overhead. It was probably quite intrigued by the presence of bipeds in this area, since man rarely sets foot in this wilderness. A veil of fog stretched over the meadow before us and Andrey decided to provoke a duel with the bull, who should be no more than a few hundred meters in front of us. As confirmed by the ungulate’s rapid response, the imitation was perfect. The sound of his antlers smashing against trees put us on guard. Though only a very light breeze, the wind was not in our favor. Andrey and Mikhail questioned what the best strategy would be, but the quarry beat us to it and was the first to take initiative. A bellow resounded a few dozen meters from us. Chaos ensued, and two rifles were orientated towards the impenetrable undergrowth where branches were cracking, causing an appalling racket. However, it was impossible to distinguish what the bull was. The steam escaping our mouths left no room for doubt, we were upwind. Once again the taiga resumed its usual silence and we remained motionless, waiting in position on our shooting sticks, just in case. Our vigilance did not pay off. Fifteen minutes and multiple attempts at sound provocation later, we were obliged to face the truth that the moose had discretely vacated the area. Andrey did not want to quit, so we tried to skirt the area to get downwind. After an hour of walking on sandy trails that wove through a forest already in its autumnal attire, we launched a provocative cry once more. From far off in the distance, an animal answered. The area was marshy and the stalk was made considerably more complicated, if only from the noise generated by the human convoy. Andrey frequently remained in contact with the moose who was replying, but after a kilometer, it was a young bull that we met head on. Unimpressed, he greeted us with an impressively powerful alert cry. The hunt was over for that morning. We returned to camp, which we now discovered for the first time in daylight. Mikhail beckoned us to join breakfast, after which he proposed a tour of the property. Three cabins, each with six double bedrooms, a building housing the offices and staff dormitory, as well as a game larder. And don’t forget the sauna! There was nothing missing, and everything was new. This all belonged to him, and the 24,500 hectare territory was rented on a lease agreement of a century. Essentially, we were the first “strangers” to hunt here. Until now, only close friends were invited to experience this little paradise. Welcome to Russia in the 21st century. In accordance with the program and (almost) with the scheduled time, we set out in the middle of the afternoon for the evening sit. At this time of the year, night falls quickly and an evening stalk is therefore impossible. Several dozen stands were dispersed in strategic spots, and this evening we would try to locate the same moose that had escaped Mikhail the preceding week. On our way to the seat, we watched a lone cow moose and hundreds of black grouse, whose mating calls echoed throughout the entire taiga. It was rare for these nuptials to be taking place at this time, but could be explained by the particularly mild weather these past few days. After a kilometer of walking, we climbed the ladder of a nice observation platform from which we had a panoramic 360° view. Two very large trails ran on either side of the post, which is also used for winter driven hunts. On those hunts one can see female and young moose, but also cross paths with gigantic wild boar and even wolves, as proved by pictures that Mikhail showed us. Andrey stayed on the ground, he justified his reason while laughing: “moose aren’t easy prey, they know well enough that their comrades don’t climb into highseats.” We remained still and silent, soaking in the spectacle provided by the Eurasian cranes flying towards the south. Andrey let the first call loose. No reaction was heard. He repeated this love song every five minutes. Twenty minutes into the game we heard violent cracks coming from a small valley situated 250 meters further down from us. Andrey discretely retreated to a hundred meters behind us. He seized a dead branch, and beat it against a tree while continuing his rutting calls. The moose responded and we watched the tops of bushes shake like wisps of straw. The rifle was loaded, shouldered, the reticle shone on the impenetrable wall of thick vegetation, but the moose remained invisible. The wait didn’t last long, and a dark, colossal mass emerged 130 meters from the stand. In compliance with Mikhail’s instructions, the red point hovered over the animal’s shoulder and the detonation put an end to Andrey’s languid conversation with his lover for that evening. The animal gathered himself, regained his feet, and ploughed straight ahead, crushing all vegetation in his path. A second bullet tried to stop his escape, but a large birch stood in the trajectory. Calm returned very quickly after the storm, and we listened for sounds that would help us locate the moose. No luck. We were quite confused about the turn of events, but Mikhail was delighted, convinced we’d find the beast in less than 200 meters. Better safe than sorry, so Andrey went back to retrieve his female Laika. Meanwhile, we started a fire in order to ward off the cold that was approaching at the same pace as nighttime. In Russia the distances are not what we were accustomed to in Western Europe, and Andrey rejoined us two and a half hours later. After sharing a bit of water, we embarked on a very unique blood tracking job. The dog, equipped with a GPS collar, was put on the track of the wounded game and we somehow followed through the tangle of pines, birch, fern, and finally reeds, since the trail ran into a swampy area, of which there were many in this region. Fairly quickly a confrontation between the moose and dog took place, but our progression through this botanical hell was too slow to catch up. After a two hours pursuit we were on our last legs and decided to temporarily abandon the search. Andrey was confident in his dog’s abilities, and this search gave him reason to be. We returned to camp at two in the morning, regained our strength, and slept for an hour and a half. At 4 am we set out towards the marsh. We didn’t use the ride on the amphibian vehicle to catch some shuteye, the adrenaline was already flowing like water. The dog’s GPS signal was reassuring: the moose was not moving. Perhaps he was dead? Arriving 500 meters from the signal point, we continued on foot and heard the dog barking: what endurance and what bravery! The reeds blocked our view, so we steered towards the barking until we could finally see the dog, standing at the edge of some water. Our boots sunk into the mud up to our calves. Andrey illuminated the opposite bank and we discerned the massive silhouette of a moose, who tried to flee as soon as the beam hovered over him. Once again a shot rang out in the taiga, and our animal disappeared into the water, swallowed up by the swamp. There was not a minute to lose, we had to retrieve the moose before it was too late. Andrey used his radio to call in the reinforcement who had stayed behind. The sky lit up majestically, morning was here. The Trekol was put to work and we soon could appreciate the usefulness of such a vehicle. The pressure of the machine’s six oversized tires could be adjusted to the type of terrain. In the present case, the earth was particularly spongy, so the tires were deflated to offer a greater load-bearing capacity, and Mikhail joined us up until the bank. We waited another hour before we could traverse the water, thanks to an inflatable canoe. Then, with the help of a winch, the fishing mission was concluded. On the end of the line, was a nice Russian bull moose weighing 470 kilograms. It was not a brilliant trophy if we consider the size of the antlers but a brilliant and outstanding teamwork that is far more valuable than some kilograms of bones. Spaciba my friends! Author: Philippe Jaeger Philippe Jaeger is originally from Alsace and in his youth he was opposed to hunting. He changed his opinion when he met people who explained to him that the foolish behaviour of some hunters had nothing to do with real hunting. Philippe got his hunting licence and bought a hunting dog, which he trained himself. Today he can’t imagine his life without hunting. He is now 46 years old and has a son, and, when he is not travelling around the world to go hunting, he enjoys his family life in the Vosges Mountains.