Man, what an excellent weekend I had! My wife and boys are out of state visiting the in-laws, and with Monday off of work it was a perfect situation for getting out of town for a few days. I booked a couple of nights with Jennifer and Claude out at Alpine Creek Lodge back in late fall and had been dreaming about quiet woods and the off-chance of calling something in ever since.
I got a slow start Saturday morning, choosing to drive in the daylight instead of chancing it with the numerous moose on our roadways. I got to Cantwell around 12:45, and it was just a bit after 1:00pm when I finally headed down the trail alone. On the way to the lodge (67 miles down the Denali Highway), I noticed a snowed-over snowmachine trail that headed off to the north. I pulled off to the side just to take a look around, and quickly I noticed some lynx sign. I decided to walk around for a while, and within 100 yards I had crossed numerous sets of lynx tracks. They didn't appear to be fresh since the last dusting of snow, but those tracks coupled with all of the hare sign convinced me that it would be worth spending some time here calling. I walked about 1/3 of a mile further north and found an area that afforded me a good view coupled with decent cover both for me and for any approaching animals. At about seven minutes into my calling sequence I noticed a flash of movement about 100 yards away down in the creek bottom. I stared at what appeared to be a discolored spot for at least a minute, trying to make it into a lynx but not entirely positive that I wasn't staring at a tree through the mess of spruce boughs and willows that stood between me and that spot. Finally, though, I saw the unmistakable flick of an ear and the lynx's shape came into sharper focus. She took a step or two into a clear shooting lane and... Well, it took two shots, but the result was my first lynx.
Although predator hunting was my main goal over the weekend, I didn't really expect to call anything in. If anything, I thought I might get lucky with a fox...but a lynx? I was honestly shocked! I spent a while enjoying the moment and then decided to head the rest of the way down the trail to the lodge. After finding success on my first stand of the weekend, I found myself enjoying a bit more relaxed pace. Besides, the weather was sunny and in the teens to mid-20s all weekend. In February in the interior, it's hard not to just sit back and enjoy that kind of spectacular weather.
Sunday was spent mostly exploring. I did three calling stands, but never found an area with really good sign coupled with a good setup, so mostly I kept moving along hoping to find a better situation. Nothing was spotted on day #2, but it was most certainly a great time of snowshoeing and solitude.
Monday morning started with a fox running by the front door of the lodge, apparently trying to sneak in to grab one of the many ptarmigan carcasses from the other hunters staying at the lodge. He didn't offer a shot, but it was still pretty exciting to see the first fox of the trip. I finally motivated myself to head down the road, still hoping that I might find another critter or a good spot to call on the way home. As luck would have it, some miles later (and after an unsuccessful calling stand), I caught movement off in the sparse timber to the north of the trail. I quickly jumped off my machine, pulled my rifle out, and moved a ways off the trail. To my surprise, the fox didn't bolt and gave me a good shot opportunity at about 125 yards. It's not my first fox, but it's my first cross and yet again was a completely unexpected surprise.
At this point I was tempted to just head home as quickly as possible, but again, the weather was just too nice and the solitude too sweet to not draw it out a little bit longer. I decided that I would check out the area I had called in the lynx to see if there was another good area to call. I parked in the same spot, but this time I walked north at least a mile. I kept crossing lynx sign, but there were no new tracks in the past couple of days and no spots that seemed ideal to set up at. I eventually turned back around and went back towards the spot I had originally called. I didn't know the wisdom of calling the same location twice in 48 hours, but I wanted to spend another half hour lazing about in the woods, so I set up in the exact same location and waited. I wasn't expecting much, but amazingly at about 17 minutes I saw the figure of a lynx appear in the distance. This one was very cool, as I got to watch his approach for about 30 yards as he hopped across the creek, slinked through the brush, and held up at the base of a spruce tree to survey the source of the sound. I'm not sure if it was the ptarmigan wing that I had hung from a branch that held his attention or if this is how lynx generally behave, but he sat down and stared for a good 30 seconds before moving on. Once he gave me a clear view, I took the shot and once again found way more success than I thought possible for an inexperienced predator hunter on a tight schedule.
Man, what an awesome weekend! Thanks are due to snowcamoman and trailblazersteve for their advice and help over the last year or two regarding predator calling and lynx behavior. Thanks also to Jennifer and Claude for providing such an awesome place to stay (and to my brother for lending me his machine). It was great coming back to the lodge at night to share dinner and drinks with some fellow forum members and other travelers. Even better, little Bob was there to critique my every move while skinning my first lynx. Good people, great place, and a wonderful weekend.