Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The long awaited Yukon Moose Hunt
I was finally able to go on a fly out Alaskan hunting adventure. I have given it up the last couple of years to deal with some other more important/pressing issues. I went with Nyle Harrison (one of my good friends from Bethel....he loves chili dogs), and my mission buddy Dustin Henderson and his Dad, Bob. Dustin and I have hunted Elk, deer, bear and birds together over the years. Whenever I hunt deer I have been cursed to always shoot three point bucks. Dustin has a similar thing with curses over the years, but his curse seems to be shooting his game in the legs first. It is something that I give him a really hard time about, but this trip he was able to overcome that curse. We arrived in Bethel with a couple of days to prepare, or so we thought, before flying out. About the day before we were supposed to fly out, the outfitters called and told us if we wanted they would fly us out that night. "SURE!" We were chomping at the bit. We took all of our gear out to the National Guard hangar, where Nyle works (Search and Rescue Black hawk pilot). If you can really call it work. We weighed all of our gear on a scale that he had at the hangar. Nyle had purchased this killer tent off of Cabelas. It was going to be totally upscale for us out there. We even had our own stove. Well when push came to shove we had about 650 lbs of gear. Slight problem was we were only allowed to have 500. We had to make the painful decision to leave Nyles VIP hunting tent and take mine (not necessarily made for cold weather as Bob and Dustin would learn first hand, and one of Nyles smaller tents. We showed up with all of our gear. We knew we were going to be over on weight so we all had like three layers of gear on. Long underwear, 2 to 3 pairs of socks, waders, fleece layers, outer jackets, hats and everything you could shove in your pockets (ammo, knives, leathermans, lighters, etc). I felt and looked like the stay-puffed marshmallow man. I could hardly bend over. I don't think I was alone. We all looked like we were going to pop. They took us down to the river to load our gear and board the planes. Dustin, Bob and I flew together with Karl Powers as our pilot in a big bright yellow Beaver float plane. Nyle rode with Boris in a restored Army Beaver float plane. We took off and flew an exciting ~ hour flight north of Bethel to about 14 miles south of St. Mary's, AK. On the way in we had our eyes peeled. We were scouting the terrain, getting a feel for the lay of the land, and overall making mental notes of areas we would like to hunt. We saw a couple of cow moose and spirits started to soar. Then right as we were to get ready to land, Karl saw 4, yes let me repeat, 4 BULL moose about 300 yards from the lake we would be camping on. None of them were huge by any means but all were somewhere between 40 and 60 inches. All shooters as far as I was concerned. We landed and unloaded the planes. In Alaska it is law that you can't hunt the same day that you fly so we just had to hunker down and try and be quiet and not scare them off. We spent the rest of the day getting camp set up and consuming the ever present Mountain house meal. Over the next 10 days we were introduced to the world of moose and moose hunting. I gained a new appreciation for why people shoot bears at 10 feet in Alaska. Cause you can't see anything standing 11 feet away because of all the brush and vegetation. Bob and Dustin got really lucky and found 3 bulls fighting in a meadow the second day of the hunt. Bob dropped down and went cold on a 43 inch bull from about 150 yards away. It was a one in a million shot that I doubt he could ever repeat. The bullet went in right in the sweet spot, hit the lungs and then somehow took a 90 degree turn and ripped through the heart and up into the neck. Did some serious damage. Moose are notorious for taking several rounds before they take a dirt (or muskeg in our case) nap. Not Bob's. His moose took about 5-10 steps and dropped cold. Dustin shot at another bull and missed the legs completely. (Missed the rest of it too!) In his defense he was using his Dad's .338, so by the time he got the rifle in his hands the moose was trucking and much further away. Bob's moose died in stuff called muskeg. Imagine about 6-12 inches of sphagnum moss and other vegetation growing on top of 3-4 feet of water. That is where Bob's moose died. I have seen dead elk and deer before on many occasions. I have a new appreciation for moose. It looked like a freakin clydesdale work horse laying there dead. I could'nt get over how big that animal was. It wasn't even big by Alaskan moose standards. That is what made me shake my head. It took Bob and I about 3 1/2 hours to cut that moose up in the water. The longer we worked on it the deeper the carcass sank. By the time we were done we were up to our knees/hips in water. It took us about 2 days to get the animal in it's entirety back to camp. We were really excited thinking we had about 9 days left to shoot three more moose. We tried everything. We sat on meadows in the morning and evening hours, we traveled sloughs in our raft, we sat on game trails, we did it all. We covered lots of turf looking for signs of moose or moose for that matter. We carried boats hundreds of yards to get to other sloughs with better access. We didn't see another set of horns the remainder of the trip. We saw lots of sign and lots of cow moose and calves. Was I disappointed? Yes. I was disappointed in the fact that I had waited about 3 years for this hunt and failed to get a shot at a bull, but overall the trip was an incredible experience. We did a self guided moose hunt in the Yukon river drainage. Amidst wolf, wolverine, and bear country. We killed an Alaskan bull moose and packed it several miles back to camp. I strapped a moose quarter on my meat pack frame and hiked it a quarter of a mile. I had some huge laughs with the guys in my hunting party. I did trust my life in the hands of Nyle, Bob, and Dustin. It is amazing the feeling of being so isolated in the wild parts of this world. In the back of my mind, in some level of sub-consciousness, I think I became a little more careful. I think you become a little more thoughtful of your actions and take into account possible outcomes for your choices. The boyscout in me soared to new heights. My Dad taught me well, I was prepared for this hunt. I drank water out of brown filthy sloughs when there wasn't any other water around (Katadyn, PUR, and Micropur tablets were worth their weight in gold). We got rained on more than it wasn't raining during the ten days. Rivers West rain wear rules! I will never look at a mountain dew bottle the same again (inside jokes), morning prayers (Bob puts the "P" in penitent), cayenne pepper and cots, "crappy" tasting mountain house, 20 below rated sleeping bags (Dustin and Bob are still calling BS on that one Nyle), our alarm clock was Nyle saying, "Hey Baby" on the satellite phone to his wife, our homeless Vet hunting companion Bob and his superman cape, Margaritaville, a shower every couple of days (priceless), and many more fun memories. We saw some incredible scenery and shared lots of laughs. I had a great time and look forward to doing it again next year. I am thinking caribou/grizz hunt out of Fairbanks this time.