KENAI, Alaska - Hunched down among the dense stands of young, leafy cottonwood trees, Jeremy Malloy of Sterling was barely noticeable to spike-forked bull moose that dined on tender foliage just 50 yards away.
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Dressed in camouflage, the only movements that came from Malloy's direction were the beads of sweat that ran down his forehead and dropped off his nose.
The bull walked a few yards closer, its unblinking eyes scanned and its rotating ears listened for any sign of danger. Assuming none was present, the bull dropped its head down to take another bite - a mistake that would be its last.
Malloy took the opportunity to stand up slowly and even more silently. He drew back the string of his compound bow, locked in on the heart/lung area of his big, brown target, then let slip his three-bladed broad head.
The arrow met its mark and the moose fell. It was only 5:17 a.m. on the second day of the 2005 archery hunting season and Malloy had already bagged a bull - a feat that he has consistently done during the opening week of the last six hunting seasons.
"I definitely attribute my success to preseason scouting," Malloy said.
Unlike some hunters who are reluctant to enter the woods until hunting season opens or that think scouting means rolling down the window of their SUV while driving on back roads, Malloy makes frequent forays into the field before opening day to find potential food for his freezer.
This year alone he had already located four bull moose - three of which were legal - in the weeks and days leading up to this season's Aug 10 opening.
"I try to scout early and often," he said.
Malloy said he takes to the field as early as the first of July and initially covers a lot of ground.
"I try to get to high vantages, like hiking up hills or something, and then I'll just sit there and watch for them through binoculars," he said.
As Malloy locates animals by glassing the hillsides, he begins to narrow his search area with each trip he makes throughout the month.
An area that starts out as vast and with some hunting possibilities is narrowed down to a handful of small plots with good hunting probability.
"By the week before the opener I'll have it down to just two or three spots," he said.
Malloy said with or without the bow he treats ever outdoor excursion like the real deal, but that he displays even more caution while visiting these choice spots to ensure that animals aren't aware of his presence.
"It's a fine line. Moose aren't moving around at the end of July like they are in spring, so if you find them in an area the week before the opener, there's a good chance they'll be there after the opener.
"But, you've got to be careful because if moose are there before the opener and they see, hear or smell you, there's a good chance you could spook them away from the area," he said.
For this reason, Malloy said he always hopes for inclement weather during preseason scouting trips, since the pitter-patter of raindrops falling and leaves rustling in a strong wind can muffle the sound of his movements.
Malloy said he also tries to get into position in the field before moose are up and moving for the day.
He also may campout in the field for several days to minimize the number of trips he makes hiking to and from his hunting sites.
In addition to trips to the woods to locate a moose's favorite hangouts, Malloy said he also invests preseason time refining his techniques with his bow.
"Target practice is just as critical as preseason scouting and I try to shoot two to three times a week to improve my consistency," he said.
Malloy said this practice not only makes perfect in regard to aim, but also improves his knowledge of judging distance, which he said is paramount to bow hunting success.
"You've got to know how to judge distance, because if you're off by even five yards, you're probably going to shoot over or under that animal," he said.