This hunt starts seven months ago when the AF&GD informed me that I drew no tags and that they had cancelled half of what I put in for (Unit 14 moose). I decided then that I wouldnít have my fall be the normal, when I can, where I can hunting season. So, I decided to try to put together a hunt that a buddy had told me about. He had done the trip a couple times with great success and explained that it was a great ďadventureĒ, which included a scenic drive (800+ miles one way), a fly in to a remote location, and a float trip all in one hunt. Sounded like a great trip to invite my dad on. Heís who introduced me to the outdoors and had always been my hunting partner chasing Elk, Mule Deer, Couse Whitetail Deer, Black Bear, Turkey, Javelina, Quail and many others growing up. He had always taught me that the time spent was more important than a kill. I figured this would be a good hunt for the roles to be reversed and for me to take my dad into the field.
After getting the ok from the boss, and him checking with his...the planning started. I had to setup the air transport first as I was already behind the curve for getting it scheduled enough in advance. My buddy has used 70ļ North many times and had nothing but wonderful things to say about Mike and the rest of the outfit, so I gave Mike a call and set things up. I decided on the 26th of August as this was late enough to hopefully have cooler temps for meat care, and to also hopefully combat the bugs. He said he had sheep hunters booked throughout the day, but if I was flexible that he would be able to get us flown out. So I paid the deposit and moved on to the next thing that needed to be reserved, the raft. Alaska Raft and Kayak in Anchorage ended up being who I went with. They were beyond helpful and very professional. They also offer a discount when you rent for an extended period. I decided to go with a SOAR Pro Pioneer after talking to different people, and especially Larry Bartlett. He agreed that since the river I would be floating would be shallow, thin at times, and braided, that it would be a good fit. This all ended up being true. Even with good water levels, a full size raft would have been a lot to deal with. I will definately use this raft again for this hunt in the future. It performed great. Now that the modes of transportation were setup, it was time to figure out all the details to include equipment and food. After much research I ended up going with the Nemo Alti-Storm 3P tent. It is a 4 season tent and performed great. Sleeping bags used were the Wiggyís Ultima Thule -20ļ, and the Ultra Light +20ļ with the over bag that makes it a -20ļ bag also. They both kept us very warm in cold temps.
With a 600 lb. useable load limit, we had to think light for the flight in. We ended up being a couple pounds shy of 600 including my dad and I with ALL our gear. Mountain Houses and other freeze dried food were the main part of our food along with some other simple additions. We used a Base Camp filter from Katadyn that worked awesome! I loved not having to sit and pump water, thus keeping me from doing anything else productive during that time.
I decided to take my Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker chambered in .300 WSM for this hunt. It has performed well in the past and is a flat shooting rifle that I can confidently shoot out to 400 yds with no worries. Iíve taken a caribou and a black bear with it in the past, both being one shot kills with the bear folding in half and not moving, and the caribou taking all of three steps before expiring. I have a Zeiss Conquest 3-9x40 scope on it that I love. Great edge to edge clarity and ridiculous low light brightness. Definately has been a great rifle/scope combo for me. My dad decided to bring his TC Encore Pro Hunter with his .270 Win barrel, scoped with a Burris Banner 3-9x40 on it. It hasnít been until recent that he has realized there is a difference between good glass and great glass. My Swarovski SLC binos showed him the way. He didnít want to spend that kind of money so he picked up a set of Leupold BX3 10x42 binos. Not bad for the money and a definite upgrade from what he has been using for the last decade.
After scrubbing our hunting list multiple times, we finally felt we had everything in order, and with good timing as it was time for my dad to fly north. He arrived on a red eye early on a Friday morning. We spent the day verifying and packing everything and picking up the raft and satellite phone. We decided to break the drive up from Wasilla to Happy Valley by stopping in Fairbanks for the night. This left about two thirds of the drive left for Saturday. We stayed with my buddy Steve (Stid2677), who had turned me on to this hunt, and who has helped me, and taken me along on other hunts in the past. Canít say enough as to what a stand up guy he is, and how much I appreciate him. After a great breakfast Steve whipped up of biscuits and gravy with eggs, sausage, and bacon, we head north. We made it to Happy Valley that night at about 8 pm. It was a total of 15 hour drive time from Wasilla. Not bad with construction and 800+ miles. We just hit everything just right, and the Haul Road wasnít bad on the way up. We got checked in with 70ļ North and was given a hot meal and a bunk house to sleep in since we werenít slated to fly out until the next day. We were excited to say the least.
Our day to fly out came and we patiently waited our turn. We ended up being the last of the day which was fine as they were a little behind from weather and their other aircraft being down. I wasnít even expecting to get out that day so I was pleased. We had a great flight in with seeing caribou and two grizzly bears, one right above where we were going to make camp. It is such a beautiful place, from the tundra, to the mountains, and seeing it all from the air was pretty special. We landed uneventfully on a gravel bar with our Helio pilot Bob and unloaded our gear. With a quick pic from our pilot/photographer Bob...we started looking for a place to spend a couple days.
We packed our gear up the bank and spotted the bear we had seen when we flew in. He was just meandering along going straight away to the base of the mountain about 3/4 mile away. Was pretty neat. After the tent and bear fence were setup, we crawled in our bags excited for the days to come. During the night, I noticed the wind had picked up and that it was raining. Inside the tent it didnít seem like more than a breeze and a light rain.
Day 1, and our first huntable day, started with me I going out to make oatmeal for breakfast, and realizing then that it was very windy and sleeting/snowing. We spent most of day 1 in the tent, with glassing attempts when the weather would break. Fog and low clouds didnít help. We did end up seeing a group of six caribou just above camp but were unable to close the distance on them. Still was good to see there were caribou around.
Day 2 we had way less wind, and it had warmed up so that just rain fell from the sky. After breakfast, we were just finishing setting things up around camp when I noticed movement out from camp about a 1/2 mile. It was the Grizz! He was coming toward us slowly from right to left. I grabbed my rifle and slipped into the brush heading in a direction that would set me up to intercept him if he continued the path he was on. I could see the upper half of him during the stalk, and tried to position myself so that he would be in a spot that would expose all of him for a clean shot. That spot put me at 140 yards and in the readied in the prone position. I had one little window to shoot through, so I put my scope on it and waited for him to step into my field of view. Many tense seconds later, his head and dark chocolate legs filled my view. I placed the cross hair on his shoulder and put pressure on the trigger. My rifle barked and when it settled I watched as the bear tumbled down into a small cut. I jacked another shell and scanned looking for movement. After about five minutes of not even a sound, I back tracked to my dad to get some back up. He had been watching the whole time through his binos. He couldnít see me, but saw everything go down. He said I made a good shot as he saw the water on his coat spray off from the initial impact, and the spray of water and blood from the exit. He never saw the bear after tumbling down the bank either so we decided to take rifles and Mr. .44 Mag and see if we could find him. It was open where I had shot him so we could see well from a distance. We went wide and creeped up to the spot we saw him go into. He was laying in the bottom not moving. We were pumped! Then all of a sudden he took what I guess can be classified as a breath. Scared the bajesus out of us! He did it one more time and that was it. I never heard a moan, jaw popping, and looking at the way he was laying with his head kind of twisted under himself, you could tell he rolled down the bank and didnít move after that. We cautiously walked up to him and made sure he was done. We high fived and realized this was the first animal that we were both together for. We would always hunt together, but he would shoot his while I was hunting another area, and vise versa. Pretty special animal to do it on. We got him rolled onto his belly and started looking him over. We quickly realized he was a VERY old boar. His back and especially neck and head were starting to go past silver and started going white. All of his canines had been broken off and were also very worn. All the rest of his teeth were extremely worn. I donít know how well he could have ripped/chewed meat. Probably was mostly a vegetarian and for a while by the looks of it. His claws were good though. Well over four inches long and very white on top through the whole length. We took some pics and skinned him out. I packed the hide with skull back the approximately 1000 yds to camp. That pack had to have been 100+ lbs.
Back at camp, we removed the skull and paw bones from the hide and took as much flesh and fat off as we could. We laid the hide out on some bushes to get it cooling. The day temps were peaking in the low to mid 40ís, and the nights were dipping into the mid to low 30ís. Perfect for cooling and keeping meat and hides. That all basically ate up the better part of that day and we hit the sack ready for more.
Day 3 brought a little better weather with less wind and light rain that was off and on. We packed our day packs and grabbed our rifles ready for some exploring and hopefully, some caribou. Not ten steps from camp we look up the valley and see two young bulls working left to right at about a half mile away. We drop our packs and decide to try and put the sneak on them by going up a dry river bed, our only cover in the open between us and them. After a long stalk, they slip by just out of rifle range and now, aware that we are pursuing them. We end up stalking them all over the valley with them keeping just out of harms way. During our travels they group up with three cows. After one last slip, we give up on the bulls and my dad decides he wants to try and take one of the cows. Iím sure this is crazy to most of you, but it wasnít surprising to me at all. My dad has never been a trophy hunter. Does he have mounts of nice animals heís taken through the years on the walls, sure. But they just happened to be what was harvested for the hunt, and thatís it. He puts the experience first, harvesting meat for consumption, and then any kind of trophy quality. So, we head back to where the bulls had left the cows and found them again in the same spot they were. After a fairly uneventful stalk, my dad takes the older cow. She was lamed up a bit on her left rear foot, and probably wouldnít have made it through the winter. We are just over two miles from camp as the crow flies, and without packs. So we skin and quarter her up so that the meat can start cooling. We hike back and grab the packs and have a quick lunch and rehydrate from our parade around the valley. We head back and pack her out in one trip no problem as cows are significantly smaller than bulls are. We got all the meat cleaned and hung in TAG Bags. Iím sold on these bags. They are very strong and dry quickly. After the hunt I did a quick rinse and a run through the washer machine, and they look brand new. After the meat is hung, we eat dinner and go to bed. We arenít seeing the numbers of caribou I had hoped, but were happy with what we had so far and decided to try our luck on the float out.
Day 4 we pack camp up and ready the raft. After a couple pre departure pics, we get on our way.
We float through some narrow braids and shallow water with not too much problem. Neither of us are pros so it took a minute to get things figured out. We stopped a couple times to try some fishing as I had heard it was killer this time of year. In the first hole I pulled six different Arctic Char and one nice Grayling. It was a lot of fun.
On the river we stopped and talked to a group of gentlemen that said they were seeing similar numbers of caribou and had only seen one Grizz with cubs. We floated until we had a couple hours of light and made camp. We didnít see anything on the way, but still had high hopes for the day to come.