For those pressed for time, following is the shortest story version. I'll also post a few of the picture highlights.
“YEEHAW, YEEHAW, YEEHAW!!!”Two years ago, a friend of mine, Jason Hadley, was planning an Alaska moose hunt with some guys from work. I was invited to join the team. I convinced Jason on the merits of a remote float hunt. The amount of planning, preparation and cost of this type of Alaskan adventure quickly reduced the party to three. Along the way, we lost one of our hunting party, but we were quickly able to replace him with a long time friend and hunting buddy of mine, Troy Jackson.
[3 for 3 on remote AK float moose hunt]
A bush plane flight into a remote hunting destination is an amazing experience. All the planning and preparation is behind you and the game is on. Once that pilot drops you off, and get’s that plane back in the air, you are truly on your own.
The weather was beautiful and the scenery spectacular. We floated a couple miles from our put-in spot and set-up camp. In Alaska, you can’t hunt the same day you fly, so we had time for a little scouting, a good dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Jason and Troy spotted a bull on the flight in. We floated to that general area on hunt day one, set-up camp and headed out on the evening hunt. Jason and Troy climbed to a good vantage point. Jason quickly spotted a bull. Jason remained at the vantage point while Troy began a stalk. Troy wasn’t comfortable with his calling abilities so went with a pure stalking strategy. He busted a cow out of her bed and ran with the small group until they stopped, an approach he has used successfully when spooking elk in thick cover. Apparently this convinces the animals that what spooked them was one of their own, and they settle down. Troy was able to close the distance to the bull to 70 yards. At that range he was able to determine the bull had 4 brow points on the left side and was legal (in this unit a legal bull must be 50+ inches wide or have 4 brow points on one side). Three shots rang out. We had our first Alaskan bull moose on the ground… “YEEHAW”!
Troy’s bull was an old bull. He had grey hair in his hide. The antlers turned up at almost a 90 degree angle half way across each paddle. This resulted in a spread of less than 55 inches. If the paddles had more of a normal, flatter configuration, the bull would have been well over 60 inches.
An Alaskan bull moose is a huge animal. We completed work on the bull around 12:30am and got back to camp around 1:30am. We were blessed with our first experience of the Northern Lights on the hike back to camp, an amazing experience, particularly for anyone who hasn’t seen them before. We capped off the eventful day with a celebratory shot of Macallan whiskey. The whiskey shot was meaningful not just as a celebration of good friends, a wild remote wilderness adventure, and the success of taking a majestic bull moose, but also as a tribute to the memory of Troy’s wife’s son, Macallan, who died in a disastrous small plane crash.
The next day was all about packing Troy’s bull a third of a mile to the river through nasty Alaskan tundra and marsh. It took 8 trips (total) and all of the afternoon to complete the pack-out.
We were floating a bend in the river late afternoon on hunt day four, when Jason and Troy spotted ravens circling over the river bank. Suddenly a pack of wolves emerged from the willows. Two of the wolves unexpectedly started toward the raft. Troy shot twice from the raft. When I arrived on the gravel bar, Troy was taking care of two wolves.
There was a moose carcass 40 yards off the river. The carcass had been claimed by a grizzly bear, as most of the carcass and gut pile had been buried. The wolves had been feeding on what little remained.
While we explored the scene, the remaining wolf pack started howling no more than a quarter mile away. It was getting late in the afternoon. We had no desire to camp in the vicinity of a grizzly bear claimed moose carcass and a disturbed wolf pack, so we moved down river a couple miles before establishing camp.
Just before dark, a wolf pack began howling close to camp. A smaller wolf pack responded across the river. With the events of that day still fresh in my mind, the howling of the wolf packs in the remnants of the days light, stamped the essence of raw wild Alaska in my memory forever.
By hunt day six, we had floated down the tributary to the main stem of the river system. We set up camp a couple miles below the confluence. From a good vantage point, Jason spotted what he believed to be an antler paddle in the willow flats below. I joined him and confirmed it wasn’t a figment of his imagination. We were running out of daylight, so we quickly executed a stalk. I decided to back out of the area and pick up the stalk the next morning when a small bull materialized out of the willows 15 yards in front of me. He looked at me for a few heartbeats and went back to eating. Just then a larger bull moved in behind him grunting. This was a mature bull, but I couldn’t make out the width or number of brow points through the willow and approaching darkness. The wind swirled and the grunting stopped. Neither bull crashed out of the area but the game was up for the night. I backed out and returned to camp in the dark.
The next morning found me across the river from the previous night’s encounter hoping to call the mature bull out of the willows onto the gravel bar. The bull was still in the area chasing a cow. The bull presented two shot opportunities, but I couldn’t confirm he was legal. I had to let him walk for a second time.
Jason and I were starting back to the same area for our evening hunt when Jason said, “there he is”. Sure enough, I could see paddles across the river. Jason crept to a spot across the river from the bull. He used a log and his pack to steady his rifle. The solid rest allowed him to determine conclusively that the bull had “a bunch of brow points” and was legal. We had our second big bull moose down… “YEEHAW, YEEHAW”!!
Similar to Troy’s bull, Jason’s bull wasn’t particularly wide, due to the antlers turning up half way across the paddles. Apparently this is a genetic in the area. The big brow palms made up for any missing width. The left brow palm had six points and the right brow palm had five points.
We got back to camp around 12:30am and again enjoyed the Northern Lights while celebrating with another shot of Macallan.
We were told before the hunt that if we took one bull we would have had a successful hunt. If we took two bulls, we would have had a very successful hunt. By that standard, and the bonus of taking two wolves, we had already experienced a very successful hunt. We had two hunt days left and were hoping to make it an incredibly successful hunt by taking a third bull.
We got on the river early the morning of hunt day ten. We were in good country and every river bend held the promise of a third bull. We settled on a bivy style camp that afternoon since the weather was fair. After securing my raft, ‘making water’ and dropping my gear on our gravel bar camp spot, I headed out on my evening hunt. There was abundant sign in the area. I primed the surrounding country with cow calls and bull grunts before returning to camp just before dark. Shortly after returning to camp, I thought I heard a grunt in the distance. I heard it again. I waited for a third grunt before looking over at Jason who was working on his moose cape. He confirmed with a nod that I wasn’t hearing things. The bull was hot and on a beeline toward us. It didn’t take much coaxing before the bull was 40 yards away from us and camp. Jason grunted. The bull stepped into a shooting lane. I took the shot. A second shot put the bull down within 40 yards of camp and the river.
We were overwhelmed with excitement until Troy yelled out from the willows that the bull only had three brow points per side and his rough calculation was that the bull was not 50 inches wide (an illegal bull). That shut the celebration down in a hurry. After rough measuring the bull, I accepted I had apparently taken an illegal bull and would report the violation to the Alaska G&F when we got back to Fairbanks. There was nothing to do other than accept my fate and honor the bull, the trip and my hunting buddies by taking care of the bull and caring for the meat. I stayed up late that morning reflecting on the trip and events of the evening. I turned in about 4:30am.
I returned to the bull early that afternoon to remove the antlers and bring them to camp. Once removed from the carcass, we could more accurately measure the antler width. We used the gravel bar sand and a straight stick to mark the widest point perpendicular to the skull. When we laid a tape measure to the marks in the sand, the width measurement was 50 and a quarter inches… a legal bull. Now we could truly celebrate. “YEEHAW, YEEHAW, YEEHAW”!!!
The only reason I can come up with for actually pulling the trigger before ensuring the bull was legal was the excitement associated with calling the bull into camp, my bull-fevered mind, and the sight of an Alaskan bull moose at 40 yards through a Zeiss rifle scope (huge) got the best of me. Hind sight being 20/20, I should not have shot that bull. I had let three bulls walk earlier in the hunt because I couldn’t confirm they were legal. Regardless, taking a legal Alaskan bull moose is one of the highlights of my hunting experience. I wouldn’t trade that bull, or the adventure we enjoyed, for anything.
On the morning of our take-out, the mood was bitter sweet. We floated 55 miles in 13 days, set-up and hunted from 7 camps, took 3 Alaskan/Yukon bull moose and 2 wolves. We knew we would soon be leaving an amazing place and a true once in a lifetime experience was coming to an end, but we were ready for some pizza, beer, a shower and a real bed.
We arrived at the pick-up spot on time, but no pilot. After a couple hours of waiting, we finally heard the whine of a bush plane engine. Time to head home… “YEEHAW, YEEHAW, YEEHAW”!!! (One “YEEHAW” for each bull!)