Moose - Modern Firearm Record

1. Fred Hilliard 231-3/8 2008

Story by Sean Miller

Thunder Bay moose hunter Fred Hilliard began hunting more than thirty five years ago. By his own admission, he was not very successful in those early years. With help and guidance from some of the older and wiser veteran moose hunters of his time, he slowly gained the skills that elevated him to the status of “successful” hunter.

Fast forward to 1990 and you’d find Fred embracing a new adventure; he was bringing up a new generation of big game hunters. He spent that summer showing a group of young kids from his neighborhood how to fish. As fall approached he thought it would be educational for the group of youngsters, whose hunting experience was limited to grouse, to be exposed to the challenges of moose hunting. The four boys that joined him that fall were as green as green gets. Having all come from families that had only hunted small game, it was up to Fred to educate and mentor these youth. The fall started with week after week of scouting trips and endless stories of how the animals would react in all the different hunting situations. A true advocate of stalking, Fred taught the group to walk quietly and when they thought they were going slow enough they were instructed to slow down even more. Fred explained that the secret was to hunt where the moose live and try to see and hear them before they detected you.

Opening day finally arrived. The hunting area, west of Thunder Bay, was scouted well. The stand sites were chosen and Fred sent everyone out with explicit instructions on what they had to do when they got to their station. That first morning came with success. A large bull with antlers of 54” was taken by the young group of hunters. Every piece of advice Fred had given had fallen into place that day. Fred’s hunting party was born.

Each and every year the same group would get together. They would scout the locations, set up camp, share endless stories and hunt moose. From the day of the first hunt the group never looked back, together they had many unproductive days but sooner or later they would always be rewarded with a successful hunt. As the years passed with the changing seasons, new rookie members were invited to join the party; a neighbor’s son, a brother-in-law and a neighbor from the summer cottage lake. Each was introduced to the moose hunting crew.

Fred took them all under his wing and walked with them, showing them all the tell-tale signs the wilderness had to offer. He would carry his gun every morning knowing full well that it would never come off his shoulder. He hunted with each newcomer, guiding and mentoring, until they all had a successful hunt behind them. Only after he felt comfortable in their ability, would he move on to help the next member of the group. Fred’s proudest moment came when his oldest daughter joined the hunting ranks. There, in a group of all male hunters, was Fred’s fondest protégé. Each morning he would walk with his daughter into the cut-over area, looking, waiting and watching. Success didn’t come easy but when it did, Fred was the happiest father in the world. With his guidance, his daughter downed a small spike bull; the first of many that he will never forget.

The 2008 hunting year started off no different than any other; the usual group got together for the opening weekend of rifle season in the Ontario moose hunt. Fred spent all his time tutoring one or another of the newer members of the party. Success came to the group of moose hunters but when it did, Fred was off in the distance and could only listen in on the action. As November rolled around with an unfilled bull tag in hand, it was decided that another group hunt was in order. The Northwestern Ontario weather had gotten colder, the lakes had a heavy skim of ice and there was a smattering of snow on the ground. Many things had changed from opening weekend. One of the most unusual aspects was that Fred was alone for this November 15th morning hunt, while the rest of his party went in different directions that day. It was a rare occasion for Fred to not have a “moose hunting apprentice” in tow, but he would make the most of it.

He left camp with a mission. He headed straight to a spot where he had seen plenty of action in the past. A grown-over logging road cut down into a small gorge between two islands of mature trees. An opening at the bottom of the gorge angled into spruce swamps that lead right up to a cut-over hill covered in tag alders. The morning was cold, quiet and slightly overcast. As Fred rounded the first corner he heard a large crack coming from the valley down on his left. He knew he couldn’t see over the rise from where he stood nor would the slight breeze allow him to move in that direction. He had a choice to make; he could hold tight and wait or continue straight down the road for another three hundred yards to where the road veered left and headed down into the gorge. He opted to move, silently making his way down the road and around the corner where he could look back up into the valley beside the area from which he had come. Pausing and scanning the tag alders he picked up movement. Standing nearly 250 yards away was what he was after. The tag alders were close to six feet off the ground yet he could see the neck and shoulder of the bull moose as it stood quartering toward him. In hind sight, it was only the large palmated brow tines of the antlers that were clearly visible thus causing Fred to believe the bull to be no more than a 2 ½ year old; little did he know what was to come. Fred put his gun up to his shoulder, took aim, and squeezed off a shot from his Remington.

The bull disappeared out of sight. Fred waited patiently, knowing all too well how far a wounded moose will run if pushed. After calling the rest of the group and waiting twenty minutes he headed into the over- grown cut. As he approached the area the moose had been standing, the bull jumped to his feet. Two more quick shots put the bull down for good. At that time the rest of the group arrived to find an astonished Fred. The animal was massive and on top of those palmated brow tines was an enormous set of antlers spreading out to an unbelievable 64-1/2 inches of width. This was like no moose that the group had seen before. Quickly the mood went from shock to elation; this was not just another moose. This one was special. This was Fred’s moose.

The bull had big curved brow tines, wide paddles and a spread that would rival an Alaskan bull. Upon returning back to town; friends and family came to see this monster. It was not until the Executive Director of the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen’s Alliance (NOSA) John Kaplanis, came to see the marvel did anyone realize what this could possibly mean. John remarked that his first suspicion was that the bull might be an Ontario record contender. He immediately took some photos, did some quick measurements and started making phone calls. Fred’s hunting party had no idea what was in store for them. An evening visit from an MNR biologist, then an impromptu inspection from FROW measurer Joe Dampier and it didn’t take long for internet photos to circulate along with chatter of a possible record. Fred’s moose was starting to stir some excitement.

Word of Fred’s moose spread like wildfire and the speculation mounted. The antler’s had been roughly green scored much higher than the current Ontario record. Could this be true? An easy slip of the tape, and off-line measurement or miscalculation was all too easy to make. After all, the scoring was “rough” and done quickly while the rack was still attached to the head and body hanging in a cold garage. Fred would have to wait the sixty day drying period until the NOSA sponsored Big Game Event, where a panel of measurers would decide the final score.

After the long wait, the prized antlers were finally brought to the second annual NOSA Big Game Event where FROW judges could finally make the call. For Fred, the day seemed to last forever. The antlers sat majestically on the front stage while row after row of beautiful deer antlers were scored and recorded. It wasn’t until halfway through the day that the attention finally shifted to moose. First a few smaller racks were judged and then finally the time had come. A large crowd had gathered around as the panel of judges looked it over. Fred could not get through the crowd to see for himself, all he could do was stand back and wait. After what seemed like an eternity, John Kaplanis finally walked up to the podium, grabbed the microphone and made the official announcement. Fred’s moose scored 231 3/8 inches, thus shattering the existing record of 220 7/8 inches.

Fred can take pride in many successful hunts of his youthful moose hunting party. He should be admired for all the new big game hunters that he taught and mentored over the years. Perhaps fate honors those who deserve it most and for his work in introducing and teaching the art of moose hunting to so many, Fred can now hold the honor of having taken the largest recorded bull moose in Ontario’s history.

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