As some of you know, I have been posting stories of hunts with my son since he shot his first Caribou at age 10. He is 13 now, and quickly becoming the hunting partner that I always hoped and dreamed he would be.
I have said before that I have hunted with grown men who I would not put as much trust in as I do this kid. Each year he gets stronger and becomes more and more of a capable partner. He handles his rifle well, shoots straight and each year I have to worry less and less about setting him up for the “perfect” shot.
He still has much to learn and I enjoy every moment of teaching him. He asks the right questions and is a proving to be a very quick study. Since 10 he has been successful in taking 2 Caribou, 2 Sitka Black tail Deer, and this year took his 3rd Bull Moose in a row.
He has been hunting with me in some fashion since he was 3 years old and I have been working him up to bigger and bigger hunts each year. At age 3, I started him out walking in the woods behind the house. We weren’t really hunting; instead we practiced walking and talking quietly, how to move through the woods and how to behave around guns or people with guns. On these walks I can still remember the way he carried his little toy rifle with pride. These trips graduated up to day hunts, over nighters, and now he goes where I go whenever possible.
At first I struggled with writing another installment of our adventures on this forum for several reasons. For starters, I was being lazy and didn’t want to take the time to write it all out, I wasn’t sure if anyone really appreciated reading my drawn out accounts of our hunts, and fortunately for us, my stories over the last few years may sound a little redundant.
After some thought, I realized how much I go back to read my own write ups and how each time I read them it brings back the memories like it was yesterday. I thought if I kept a running journal of sorts, someday he will be able to reread these stories and it will take him back to those days. Maybe he will see how much our time together in the field meant to me.
I think back to the days where I was in the field with my father, the time we spent together and still do, the way he raised me, the tools he gave me to continue and build on with my own children. The benefits of this lifestyle go beyond words for me and whenever possible I like to encourage others with young kids to get them out in the woods. Success is simply a byproduct.
Sorry if everything above sounds mushy, but this is my story and I am simply sharing it with you.
Now to the good stuff!
July-August and our hunt plans were still not yet firm. I had several options and I was in constant negotiations with his mother. New school, sports tryouts and drawing permits among other things made things even more difficult than past years.
With the increased amount of pressure on the Denali Highway, I wanted to stay away from there at all cost. I could have taken him to one of my “easier” hunting locations and only miss a few days of school, but this year I had my mind made up on a “real big hunt”.
I wanted to take him to area that I was very familiar with and had hunted several times, we are not trophy hunters, but I knew the area had potential for some big bulls! One problem with this particular hunt is that it requires a 2 day journey to get to the hunting grounds and the hunting party stays in the field up to 20 days.
This is not the type of trip that you can hunt for a few days and get right back to school. There were serious logistics involved! I contacted some of the other members of this hunt party and began negotiating the options for us to come in for either the first or last 10 days of season, which would only put us there for half of the hunt. To their credit, they were willing to work with my sons schedule and said we could figure something out to get him back to school. I wanted to go in the last 10 days for the pre rut calling but the schedules just would not line up. My wife and I settled on the first 10 days or nothing. Final offer!
We had a very long but relatively smooth trip from home to the hunting grounds. We used the time to go over some of the things he was likely to encounter and how I expected him to react. We reviewed things that we have been over dozens of times before, just to keep them fresh in his mind. I explained that this hunt would be different than any of the other family trips that he was accustomed to and that if he did not pull his weight, he would never be asked to come back. None of these things have been an issue in the past for him, but I wanted to be sure.
On the first morning of the hunt we made our way to a great spot that I have hunted in the past. “The Ridge”, as I call it, is a long prominent ridge overlooking a very large swamp. The place is perfect for calling as the bottom end of the swamp is on a plateau just up from the river flats and there is a valley on each side funneling moose headed down to the river out into the swamp. The swamp itself has 3 small ponds and little islands of browse throughout. It even has good cover out in the middle for those mid day moosey naps.
If I were to design the perfect spot to hunt moose, I do not think I could do much better as this place has some of everything. My plan was to put most of our time in at this spot because I knew it held moose. We just had to call them to us or be there when they came through. I have done very well calling at this location.
On previous hunts at “The Ridge” I have called a bull in on the very first morning for each of the 3 years that I have hunted there. I was a little concerned this year though because it was early in Sept and I was not sure if the moose were talking yet. I was unsure if I could continue the streak to 4 years.
As we sat on the ridge and glassed I began my calling routine. I started with scraping only because I thought any rut activity would be minimal. Bulls scraping the last of their velvet and polishing the tips would be about all that’s happening this early.
I scraped for several hours without seeing or hearing anything. I was just about to give up for the morning when I tried a long cow call. The valley to our left came alive! I looked over at my son and he looked back wide eyed and in shock of what he was hearing. It was a big bull and he was letting us know he was there! The bull and I talked for about 45 minutes each of us trying to convince the other to “come on over and visit”. It was then that he broke me. I looked at my son and said “He’s not ready to come to us so let’s go see if we can have a look at him”.
We began slowly working our way up the ridge to get above the bull hoping to see him in the valley below. We got close to him but the brush down there is very thick so we never could see him. After several minutes I told my son “He lives here and he’s not going anywhere, let’s not spook him out. We should be able to catch him out in the swamp over the next few days”.
That night after lunch and some camp chores we headed back out for the evening hunt. My plan for tonight was a little different. We were going to hunt the same swamp, but this time we would come up from the bottom of the swamp opposite “The Ridge”. My plan was twofold. I was hoping we could see up into the valley and have a look at the bull and if not maybe we could call him down out of his little fortress to investigate. The plan did not work, yet, or so I thought.
The next morning we headed back to The Ridge. As soon as we got there, I began scanning the area with my binoculars as my son fiddled around trying to get something out of his pack. My binoculars swept the area and several times stopped on a piece of dead tree out in the swamp. It looked out of place and I did not remember seeing it before, but just could not turn it into an antler.
I stayed trained on it for several minutes when suddenly it moved! I turned to my son who was still messing with his pack and asked him if what he was looking for was more important than this bull in front of us. He decided it was not and came to sit beside me. We glassed for several minutes and while I knew it was a bull, I had no Idea just how big he was. I snuck down the ridge a few yards hoping to get a slightly different angle. The next time I saw the bull I wasn’t sure if he stood up or I just had a different view of him, nonetheless he was a very good bull and I knew it right away.
The bull was about 1000 yards away and I racked my brain to figure out what our next move would be. I decided to try and call him to us. With my first call the bull spun around and locked in on our location. We played this game for several minutes and he would not take more than two steps in our direction. During this time I was scanning the area for our best route to the bull should we decide to go after him. After quite some time, I told my son “He’s not going to come, we better go get him”.
We began working our way down to the swamp using cover to our advantage. Once we reached the swamp level we would still have roughly 500 yards to go where we would run out of cover for the last 300 yards or so I thought. In my head, I knew my plan was unraveling, but we pushed on.
Finally we reached the point of no more cover between us and the bull. I still did not know if we were in shooting range yet or if the bull was still there. I poked my head above the brush to see the bull staring straight at us. He was bigger than I thought. I now figured him at least 60”-62”, but still just out of shooting range at about 400 yards.
We waited a few moments hunched down. I wanted the bull to go back to feeding before my next move. Several minutes later, I looked up again and I could no longer see him. We quickly started to cross the opening thinking the next time we see him it will be time to shoot.
About half way across the opening, I notice the bull trotting to our left. He had gained some ground on us and was now trotting along parallel to us again out of range especially for a moving shot. Now the gig was up, we moved quickly to try and intercept the bull and set up for the shot. We found a good spot and got ready for a shot as he now worked his way across the hillside in front of us at a steady trot heading back into his valley.
Several tense moments went by as I called to the bull trying to get him to stop long enough for a good shot. Back and forth my son and I went “Now”!? “No”! “Now”!? “No”! “Now”!? “No”!
On our last look I ranged him at 368yds and put the bull in my own crosshair with pressure on the trigger. Nope, it’s not right I thought to myself as the bull disappeared into the tree line.
“It’s over, I’m sorry buddy” were my next words. We both sat there in disgust; myself more than him as I knew I had made some very bad decisions that just cost us a very nice bull.
Hindsight is always 20/20 in these situations, but I should have waited for that bull to bed down before attempting a stalk on him. He knew where we were from the moment I first called to him and the stalk was over before it really ever started. Live and learn but I have done this too many times to make a rookie move like that. That’s hunting I guess.
My son and I stood there replaying the events of the past few moments when I noticed movement all the way across the swamp. I threw my binoculars up just in time to catch a glimpse of a head and very large antler moving through the trees at the edge of the swamp. “Another big bull across the swamp lets go get him” I said to my son. He looked at me in disbelief and once again the hunt was on.
In no time we were set up 100 yards from where I last saw the bull. I wasn’t quite sure where he was now, but I knew we were close to where I last saw him. I began calling as we scanned the tree line for a glimpse of him. A few moments went by and I looked over to my two o’clock and there he was. He had stepped out and was standing behind a large spruce tree staring through the tree at us. His antlers hung out both sides of the tree and from where we were it looked like a tree with antlers growing out of it.
This was a very nice bull that I figured to be around 58” with lots of brow tines, before we could get in a better position for a shot; he turned and walked back into the trees disappearing as quickly as he appeared. We went in after him, but never saw him again.
That night was a long one for me. I tossed and turned all night knowing that we were on a shortened trip and we may not get many more chances after our two failed attempts that day. I did not really care if I got a moose, but really wanted to get him one.
To be continued...