As I mentioned on another thread here earlier, I drew the DM789 Creamers' Field Muzzleloader permit for Nov.21-27 2010. Nov.19 in the A.M. I left for fairbanks to register in person at ADFG as required then get settled in my accommodations.
Saturday, Nov.20 after a good breakfast I head out to Creamers', unload my snowmachine and head out for some scouting. I pay particular attention to the general areas the biologist mentioned and take notice of how thick the vegetation is, and rough the ground is; dense willows and tussocks making walking a little challenging. After getting a general lay of the land and series of trails and where the moose sign is most prevalent, I head back to my room for the evening.
After dinner and back in my room, I am eager for opening morning. I meticulously go over my gear to ensure I have everything I need in the right order.
Sunday, Nov.21. Breakfast in my belly, snowmachine on the ground at Creamers' and a loaded muzzleloader slung across my back, I head off to hunt for antlerless moose. As I travel across the closed area to reach the hunting grounds I am concerned about how many other hunters I may encounter who have permits for this area, I was warned that it may be crowded.
Taking a trail I found while scouting the previous day, a trail that made its way way across a chain of ponds, I notice a fesh set of tracks just after I cross into the "open for muzzleloader" hunting area. It was a single set of tracks that I commited to memory, where I was heading showed the most sign I had seen on saturday.
On the trail, or gulley really, which I was motoring along, I come upon the intersection I was intending to hunt. I make the 90deg. turn uphill and suddenly see two men standing there. Not knowing exactly what they were doing but, assuming they were up to the same hunt as me, I quickly tried to get my machine in reverse and get out of the proximity in hopes of making as small an impact as possible.
I get backed up and continue the direction I was heading (thinking the rail continued in that direction) I quicly come to the realization that I am now in the middle of a pond containing a tiny island surrounded by fresh moose tracks. I turn off my machine and take note of what I see, a fair number of tracks and back the way I had come, a man staring at me over the brush.
Now I suspect I may have arrived at a very inopportune moment for those two fellows. As a courtesy I walk over to them to confirm or elimnate my suspicions. After saying hello I ask the gentleman nearest me (for he was a gentleman and looked a bit familiar) if I spoiled anything ? He answered yes and that there was a moose on the edge of the pond. No sooner did those words leave his lips did his partner in support come uncorked on me, "COULD'NT YOU SEE WE HAD THE GUN OUT! YOU JUST RUINED EVERYTHING! COULD'NT YOU SEE THAT WE WERE HERE FIRST! HE WAS JUST GETTING READY TO SHOOT!". The man was an unreasonable jerk! I do not remember all I said to him because my blood began to boil but I mentioned that, "I came over as a courtesy to them and apologise if I had unwittingly spoiled anything", "the least you could do is be courteous in response". I said other things that made him shut his yap and turned my attention to the somewhat familiar gentleman next to me. His name was Al, we had met and shaked hands inside the ADFG office friday while regestering for the hunt. Al was understanding and realized that what had happened was unpreventable. We wished each other good luck and success, I went on my way. I did'nt see Al or his support partner (who will remain nameless) again. I did not see a moose that day either.
Monday, Nov.22. I wake to record rainfall for Fairbanks. I walk outside to take an upclose assesment of the weather. Leaving the building my assement nearly occured from my backside. Well this day is shot. There is no way I am going to attempt driving my truck and trailer on these nasty roads.
Tuesday, Nov.23. Still raining. There is no way I am going to loose another day of hunting. The night before I came up with a plan to investigate the area around a particular pond that I took favor to, even though there was no sign apparent. I arrive at the pond, park the sno-go,and walk the edge to a place I wish to enter the willows then forest, etc. Well, someone else had been this way this morning (I intentionaly waited until noon to begin hunting this day) but I continue on, almost immediatly I notice moose tracks on top of the human tracks ! After a short bit of tracking I am confident they are fresh and were made after the person had passed through here.
I begin tracking the animal through the vegetation. After what seemed like a mile and a half, I round a tree and see the cow moose as she sees/hears me, 30 yards away. I carefully try to get a shooting lane through the dense willow bushes, she begins to move. I make a few soft cow calls and she hesitates then stops, I try working into a shooting position again. The brush is just too dense and the snow too noisy to make this happen now, she is on the move.
I continue to track her and catch up once again. Rinse and repeat, this moose has an uncanny sense to move just when I begin to take aim. I make another few calls as she is out of sight. I begin the pursuit again, suddenly there she is ! She returned to the call only to catch me offguard, off she goes.
The third time I catch up to her is in a clearing occupied by tangle of brush and small trees, just large enough to conceal a moose. I wait her out until she makes a few steps forward but still behind some low bushes. I take quick aim and fire, as the smoke clears I see her standing there motionless and staring back at me. I detect no reaction from her that she had been hit as I reload. Reloaded I begin to take aim again, off she goes directly away from me and showing no indication of a hit. I put out a few more calls hoping to confuse and slow her.
A little dismayed by the event, I take stock of were she was when I fired and find no evidence of a bullet strike, no, blood, no hair, no panicked tracks in the snow. I get after her again. As I give pursuit I replay the scenario and realize that my years of scoped rifle shooting practice had taken over, a quick shot was with the T/C Big Boar was not a good decision. With the sight plane low on the rifle I concluded I held the front sight high and sent the patched round ball over her back.
I find her again, calm and browsing some willow. I am no sure of a clean miss. I slowly work to the opposite edge of the semi-clearing up against a stand of trees iwanting to come in on a different angle, undetected. Now at the place I wanted to take a shot from I sneak a peek at were she was just browsing. She had moved off while I was not looking. Foiled again !
I look to pick up her tracks again only to find that this area looked to have been the sight of a moose dance with 6 or 8 participants. I sort out a set of fresh looking tracks and follow them noticing after several yards, that they are not tracks made by this moose. Thinking she may have given me the slip for good I return to the "dance" for one last try and locate a likely track to follow.
With some effort tracking through yet more meanderings I manage to hang on to the tracks and follow. After some distance I notice she is now in "covering ground mode" and has circled back to nearly the same spot I had originaly picked up her trail. I consider calling it a day as it is getting on in the afternoon and light will wane in the not too distant future. I reconsider since I have now come back to the area near my machine and finding my way back is simplified. Back to tracking.
The moose makes her way into heavy brush and dense black spruce, I begin to think she is heading for a bedding area and I may get another chance. The black spruce thins and I am now entering hardwood in pursuit. Around a couple of ancient willow deadfall tangles I stop and take account of my surroundings. There she is 50 yards away standing behind a tangle, her front shoulder framed, her head turned toward me, unmoving !
Having the first missed shot firmly in my mind, I take careful aim; front sight carefully nestled in the crotch of the rear sight, center of mass of the front shoulder downrange I squeezed the trigger !
As the smoke clears I am expecting to see a moose on the snow expiring from the impact of a .58 caliber lead ball. I can see nothing from where I stand and move forward to investigate. I see tracks and follow them quickly and notice immediately a large bright spray of blood on the snow, a few steps farther, another spray of bright oxygenated blood on the snow, but no moose. Sure that I had made a solid boiler room shot I gave hot pursuit following tracks and blood. Covering distance I find a spot were she had layed down and a stain of blood. Now begining to doubt my shot placement I grabbed a handful of bloodied snow looking for signs rumen, it is clean bright blood, it smells only like blood. A short distance ahead the same sign, tracks leading away, the stride is long.
I am now in a realm which I had always dreaded and hoped to never experience; tracking a wounded big game animal. I am sick to my stomach and worried that this animal will escape from the hunt zone and suffer terrible lingering death. I feel disgust, anxiety, and terrible loathing of myself that I caused this. But I am determined to see this through and carry on in pursuit and try to put an end to this as soon as I am able.
After tracking for a seemingly great distance I notice the light begin to fade into evening, my moral sinks even lower. As I move forward I encounter one of the trails which exists in Creamers' Field, I decide it is time to give up the chase and flag the point where the moose had crossed the trail so that I may pick it up again at first light.
Saddened and disgusted I make my way back to the machine for the return to my lodging. I spend the evening replaying what had transpired trying to figure out what could possibly have gone wrong.
Wednesday, Nov.24. My sense of urgency, remorse and determination stronger than ever, I make my way back to the tracks I had marked the previous night and renew my recovery effort.
As I move through the sparse black spruce and scrub brush I am hoping and praying I find the cow moose expired, and soon. Coming upon a relative clearing as I round a small tree I suddenly notice the backside of the head of a cow moose lying down. I stare at it trying to determine whether it be alive or dead, the moose I had shot, or a different moose. It is unmoving, I notice the tracks lead directly to it. I see it blink but make no other action. I am 20 yards away from the moose I had been after all this time, a moose that is gravely wounded and shows no will to attempt an escape.
Thankful, saddened and focused, I mercifully put another bullet between the ears.
After making apologies for her suffering and giving thanks for her sacrifice, I begin the harvesting of this moose.
This was my first muzzleloader hunt as well as first successful solo moose hunt, it was also the most personal and trying hunt of my experience. Field dressing a moose alone is rather challenging as well.
While skinning the first side, which would be the expected exist side, I discovered the first bullet that struck, against the hide in the paunch just afront of the hind quarter. My heart sunk as I was now convinced I had fired a "magic bullet" which had somehow found its' way through the tangle of trees and into the rear half of a moose that was not not visible to me. I took a deep breath and continued on with my obligation without gutting the animal first for fear of digestive fluids contaminating the meat.
The top side, with exception to the ribcage, loaded into the sled, I manage to roll the moose over and get to work. Carefully I remove the second side from rear to front looking for an entrance hole. I see nothing until I remove the front shoulder, low and behold there is the entrance hole between two ribs just behind the front shoulder. I was shocked and at the same time relieved ! I did not make a "bad" shot, the bullet traveled true to aim and found its' mark. Undetectable to me when I fired was the fact that the moose was actually quarteting toward me allowing the bullet to stop where it was found.