bull moose
Justin Hoffman

Hunting For a Brute East Coast Bull Moose... (with my Camera)

My annual pilgrimage to Nova Scotia in search of a big bull moose would be a test of determination in 2017.

As a wildlife photographer, the larger-than-life bull moose is a coveted subject to capture with the camera. With enormous racks fastened to bodies that literally stretch to the sky, these regal giants portray the true ruggedness of the north like no other animal on this continent can.

What has become a ritual of sorts, I make my way to Nova Scotia each fall in search of these magnificent subjects to photograph. Timing my trips to coincide with the rut, I aim for the last week of September - upping my odds of capturing the behaviors these bulls are famous for.

My trip during the fall of 2016 was a special one. Cape Breton Island is my destination each year, specifically the intoxicating scenery of Cape Breton Highland's National Park. This world famous location, which butts up against the ocean as the Cabot Trail carves its way through forests and mountains, is known to hold a healthy population of moose. The Skyline Trail is often a sure bet to find them.

Last year I was fortunate to photograph eight separate bulls, three cows, and two calves over the course of three days. This brute bull, which was the biggest of the bunch, was the icing on the cake that trip:

bull moose

I thought about that bull moose for the next eleven months. Finally it was time to make a return back to 'my second home' on September 25 of this year. I was anxious to see what the woods would hold.

Arriving in Cheticamp that morning, a beautiful town situated just outside the park, I hurriedly made the twenty minute trek by car to the Skyline Trail. This 5.1 mile loop carves across the top of French Mountain, offering the hiker views of the vast ocean, rugged forests, and myriad of open fields. It is perfect habitat for moose.

I did the trail twice that first day. Other than a friendly spruce grouse, not much in the way of wildlife was seen. Slightly dejected, I consoled myself with a cold pint of beer and some fiddle music at the Doryman Pub and Grill that night. I went to bed eager to see what the morning would bring.

I hit the Skyline Trail bright and early on the Tuesday, hiking the loop without any luck again. Decided to give Benjie's Lake Trail a try next, which is located a short five minute drive from the Skyline. This scenic 1.9 mile trail leads you down to a beautiful lake, which would seem the perfect attraction for a thirsty moose. And although the trail did show moose tracks scattered throughout, none were in fact visible that day.

Day three of my five day trip was a dark and gloomy one. After a hot breakfast at the motel, I made my way back to the Skyline Trail once again. I have faith in this location, and it has never let me down in the past, but this year definitely seemed to be a strange one. My luck was about to change.

Halfway through the loop, with scattered forest to my right (as well as the ocean) and open fields to my left, it finally happened. A glance through the trees and I was surprised to see a cow moose and her calf no more than 15 feet off trail.

And twenty-five feet behind this pair, with swaying head and copious amounts of grunts, was the bull I had been searching for. I immediately began shooting with my camera.

bull moose

bull moose

bull moose

bull moose

I had found what I had been looking for, and it felt good. Here's some footage I shot of this magnificent bull moose:

I rounded out my trip with one other moose sighting, this time a small bull walking clumsily across the highway that weaves through the park. It disappeared into the forest before I could get my camera out.

As I drove back to the motel on my last night in Nova Scotia, I was greeted with this spectacular sight. A send-off of sorts, I suppose.

Or how I look at it, a beautiful reminder of why I love this part of Canada so much.

bull moose

I'll be back once again next fall, hiking boots tied tight and camera in hand, hoping to spend time with these awe-inspiring animals. I'm counting down the days already.

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