If you nurture an escapist, live-off-the-land fantasy, the northern wilderness is calling

by Brad Fenson

If I ever became a prepper, I would head for the boreal forest in northern North America. To say the boreal forest is teaming with life is an understatement. The forest encompasses close to 3.125 million square miles and consists of aspen, spruce, pine, and tamarack trees, with a rich understory of willow, alder, berry-producing shrubs, and much more. Almost 197 million acres, over 25 percent of the fresh water on earth, is associated with the boreal region.

Fun Facts

  • The boreal forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem, circling the northern hemisphere in countries like the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and China.
  • The world’s boreal forest covers 1.9 billion acres.
  • The Canadian boreal forest is over 1.2 billion acres.
  • Represents 25 percent of the world’s remaining intact forest.
  • The boreal forest in Canada includes more surface freshwater (about 200 million acres) than anywhere else on earth.
  • Each year, 1-3 billion birds migrate north from the United States and as far away as South America to nest in Canada’s boreal forest. Between 3-5 billion return south each fall after a successful breeding season.
  • Canada’s boreal forests and peatlands lock in a minimum of 229 billion tons of carbon.
  • The boreal forest is home to more than 85 species of mammals, including wood bison, elk, moose, woodland caribou, grizzly and black bears, wolves, and a host of other furbearers.
  • There are close to 70 edible plants, herbs, and forbs in the boreal.
  • Boreal medicine is derived from many native and known plants with medicinal qualities.

Into the Wilderness

With international travel restrictions lifted in August 2021, plans to introduce some good friends to the bounty of the boreal forest began. Moose tags were secured through Grand Slam Hunting Adventures and Clay Royer, who has been an outfitter in the region for decades.

The boys arrived in camp early, and it didn’t take long to zero the rifles in preparation for the following day. Hunting moose in the dense forest is a challenge but calling during the rut is a huge advantage when a bull can be drawn out of the heavy timber. The rifles of choice were .300 Win Mag. It isn’t that moose are hard to kill, but when dealing with tangles of tree limbs and a big-bodied animal, a .30 caliber bullet offers extra hitting power. Please do not consider it insurance but assurance.

The first morning out made moose hunting seem easy. We unloaded the side-by-side and headed to a series of lines and meadows where we could call to a lovesick bull. We waited for legal shooting light before turning a wheel and only traveled two minutes down the trail before I yelled, “Moose!”

A series of logged areas provided the perfect browse for a moose. We could see a cow and calf eating twigs at about 125 yards on the careful inspection with binoculars. The rut was in full swing, so we waited and continued to glass. It didn’t take long to spot another moose hanging inside the edge of big timber. Scrutiny eventually identified antlers, and without warning, a second bull appeared behind the first. The two young bulls put on a show, grunting, and sparring as if showing off for the cow, who paid no attention to them.

With the shooter on a tripod rest, we watched the four moose slowly eat their way into the open. The bulls continued to jockey for a downwind spot behind the cow. Eventually, the duo worked onto a slight rise where there were clear shooting lanes through the dense regrowth of trees. The bull buckled and collapsed at the report of the rifle. We had our first moose.

Moose meat is 22.1% protein, providing 130 calories (Kcal/100g), and would be considered healthy meat with plenty of flavors. The bull was broken down, placed in game bags, and hung to cool and age.

What is there to do for a week when you fill your moose tag on the first day? Purchase an upland gamebird license and get after the ruffed and spruce grouse that thrive in the diverse bounty of the forest. Locals hunting grouse do so for meat. It is hard to beat grouse as table fare, and using sub-gauge shotguns is ideal for shooting through tiny windows of tree limbs.

I had brought a Stevens 555 20-gauge over and under, as well as an old Winchester single-shot .410. We cruised the backroads and trails, spotting grouse and stalking our quarry for quick, clean shots. Hunting in different areas means different approaches. If hunting ruffed grouse in Pennsylvania, you would walk miles of timber with the hopes of flushing a bird or two. Covering miles and spotting dozens of birds to stalk is a whole new ball game in the north.

It may sound easy, but you simply do not walk up to a grouse and shoot it, even if it is standing on the ground. The sharp-eyed birds do not miss much, and they get nervous and take to the wing without warning. Occasionally, the birds will start clucking, giving you a few seconds to get a shot or watch it wing away.

Some hunters are likely rolling their eyes and questioning why one would shoot a grouse on the ground. A regional perspective, though, has a lot to do with abundance. It is not uncommon to go for a drive and see more than 50 ruffed grouse in high-cycle years. There have been days with sightings of over 100 birds. Most northern bird hunters cut their teeth on ruffed grouse and shooting them in the head with a .22 LR is how most people learn how to shoot. As the season progresses, birds can get flighty and difficult to approach. That is when the sub-gauge shotguns come into play. A .410 still requires precision accuracy and does not allow much room for error. A 20-gauge is insurance on the days when most of the shots are at birds winging away. It is a strategy that means ruffed grouse hors d’oeuvres when in moose camp.

The grouse hunting was as fun as the moose hunting, and my buddies embraced the new style of collecting tail fans. Both red and gray-phased ruffies were harvested, and we even had a few birds with colorations from both color phases. The male spruce grouse is a handsome bird that looks like he is dressed in a full tuxedo. The black and white feathers, orange tail band, and brilliant red comb above the eye makes it a striking bird. The drab brown females are just as good eating but well camouflaged for avoiding predators.

Early trappers and settlers considered ruffed grouse to be a medicine bird. Anyone with a cold or who was feeling under the weather would use a ruffy to make hearty soup or stew to feel better. The berries, herbs, and forbs make the bird a natural herbalist, and they are what they eat.

Any prepper living in the boreal would have a beautiful log cabin, plenty of firewood and freshwater, and an abundance of wild proteins to dry for the winter. The second member of our hunting party proved that moose don’t come easy. If you pass one up, there may not be another opportunity. The second bull was harvested on the second-to-last day of the hunt. It provided enough time for everyone to join in the grouse gathering and burn some gun powder.

Fiocchi Field Dynamics High Velocity

The positive thing about an ammunition shortage is that it can force people to try something new. Fiocchi Field Dynamics shotshells were ideal for harvesting grouse during the week in the boreal. The .410 loads were #6 lead and proved deadly to 50 yards. The 20-gauge loads were ideal for the over and under, where the full choke barrel provided extra range or precision shooting in tight spaces. A modified choke in the second barrel offered a genuine scattergun approach.

The Fiocchi Upland Game line of hunting shotshells was the perfect medicine for putting grouse on the table, whether winging through the trees or running for cover. The Field Dynamics line utilizes the same attention to high-quality components and industry-leading manufacturing standards as in Fiocchi’s premium-level waterfowl and competition shotshells. The Upland Game loads proved reliable with a consistent pattern and exceptional downrange performance. It is available in 12, 16, 20, and 28 gauge, and .410 loads. There is a good list of shot size options for many upland species.

Fiocchi Hyperformance

Most people associate Fiocchi with shotshells, but the company also offers a full lineup of big game cartridges, handgun loads, and defense options. Fiocchi Hyperformance Hunt provided accuracy and performance on our hunt and would compare against any premium line on the market. Bullets provided maximum performance at short and long range and anchored moose quickly. The selection of high coefficient, flat-trajectory bullets in the lineup is a critical component engineered for controlled expansion and maximum weight retention across a broad range of velocities. The consistency provides hunters the assurance of terminal performance on any big game animal. Hyperformance Hunt is available in most popular calibers.

Brad Fenson is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys unique landscapes and outdoor adventures. His passion for the outdoors leads him across North America, collecting incredible photographs and story ideas from the continent’s most wild places. His passions are hunting, fishing, camping, cooking, and conservation. Fenson started writing over three decades ago and has been in print in over 65 publications in North America. Fenson co-authored several bestselling book projects and has earned over 65 national communication awards for his writing and photography.

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