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My First Moose - Long Story

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  • My First Moose - Long Story

    After several tries in different areas of the state, I was finally able to bag a moose this year! Here’s the story and a few pics, for those who like to read and for those who are overseas protecting our freedom.

    After three unsuccessful trips (for moose – I did get a caribou each year) to southwest Alaska from 2002-2004, I opted to go north this year. I hunted out of Tok, using 40 Mile Air to get into and out of the field. Since I was hunting moose and grizzly bear and am a non-resident, I enlisted the help of a guide. By coincidence, my guide had played college baseball with my brother (we didn’t realize this until we were en route to the field), so we hit it off right away.

    We flew into the field late the afternoon of September 7 – the season was to start on September 8. We weren’t able to land at our hunting location due to high winds and a short airstrip, so we camped at a creek about 45 miles outside Tok that night, with plans to try again in the morning. This would mean that we’d miss hunting on Opening Day, but with a 10-day season that shouldn’t be a big deal.

    The next day, after dropping off some other hunters, the Super Cubs again tried to get us on our ridge – no luck, the winds were just too bad and the airstrip was short even by Cub standards. I was glad that we didn’t force it – both days we tried to land from both possible directions, and as we were drifting toward the ground my thought was There’s no way we’re going to be able to stop fast enough. Kudos to Leif and Randy of 40 Mile Air, for making safety the first priority! So we were dropped off on a ridge about 2 miles from our original destination, and set up camp and got organized that evening. Here’s a couple of pictures of our camp, with the sleeping tent on the left, and cooktent on the right.

    I had just enough time to glass that evening before dinner, and saw a black bear and a large grizzly – both a long way off, but a good sign and something to help with the anticipation when hitting the sack that night! After a meal of Mountain House and Kool-Aid, we were off to bed about 11:00 under thousands of stars and a full moon.

    We rose about 5:30 the next morning, and after breakfast got out the binoculars to give the country a good going over. Our camp was high on a ridge with a good view of the surrounding area, so there was lots to glass! I quickly located the black bear from last night, not far from where he had been; then saw a couple of young bulls (not legal for non-res) a couple of miles away across a valley. After glassing the rest of the area and not seeing other game, we hiked northwest on our ridge for about ¾ mile to get an idea of the surroundings.

    We found a large rock outcropping that afforded a good view of the surrounding area, so we climbed up to glass. A weasel evidently lived in the outcropping, and would run up and look us over occasionally, before jumping back down the rocks. After a while I spotted a large white wolf high on a ridge to the east, trotting along on a course that MIGHT take him back by camp; so since we hadn’t seen anything to the west or the north, we hotfooted it back to camp to watch the wolf.

    He stayed high on his ridge and never got closer, so since he was a couple of miles off we left him alone for the moment. Since we were back at the tents anyway, we had lunch and checked on the small bulls – couldn’t see them now. In the afternoon we walked south about ¼ mile and glassed that side of the valley; around 5:30, I glanced east while giving my eyes a break from glassing, and saw a wolf trotting our way about ¼ mile away. I went to point it out to the guide….and lost it! The wolf got into the spruce just below us, and we couldn’t see it for a couple of minutes. Then the guide said There he is, and pointed south – the wolf had just popped over the ridge, about 100 yards away.

    The guide turned on his camcorder, and the wolf heard the small CLINK that they make when you turn them on…from 100 yards away in the open! He stopped and looked our way, and I dropped him with 1 shot from my .338 Winchester Magnum. We waited a couple of minutes before approaching the wolf, to give things time to settle down from the echo of the shot.

    Before we had a chance to approach the wolf, I happened to glance down in the timber…and saw a single canoe paddle sticking up in the spruce, about 400 yards away! I told the guide There’s a bull down in the spruce – I can see one antler! I couldn’t tell if it was legal or not, but it was definitely big enough to get our interest. He must have been asleep down in the thick timber, and my wolf shot probably woke him up.

    We started to call and rake trees – the bull wasn’t sure what to do, then slowly started up our way – those darn things can take forever to move when they want to! Every time we couldn’t see him, or heard him raking trees with his antlers, we snuck down the hill a ways. We got set up about 250 yards away, and kept calling and raking – finally he poked his head out about 200 yards away, looking uphill in our direction – after looking at him carefully, we determined he was a legal bull – but looking right at us, wasn’t a good angle for a shot! I told the guide The first good shot I get, I’ll take him.

    After a couple more minutes he started to meander to my left – and gave me a broadside shot at 200 yards. I hit him behind the shoulder with the .338 – he didn’t even flinch! But he didn’t move for a second either, and I was sure I had hit him hard. He got behind a tree as I was chambering another round, so I waited until I could see him again, and shot him again behind the shoulder. He started to teeter, but I couldn’t tell if he fell right there, or if he walked off a bit – it was pretty thick where he was. So we waited a couple of minutes, then eased down into the timber to look for him. We heard his antlers scraping a tree as he tried to keep his head up – he was on the ground. We shot him again to finish him off – and he stood up, after the THIRD hit with a .338! But the next one finished him off for good….and I finally had my first moose! A young bull, with a 56 inch antler spread.

    After walking back up to our packs, we emptied them of extraneous items (raingear, water bottles, jackets, etc), grabbed our cameras and knives, and walked over to where the wolf lay. Here’s a picture of the wolf, a nice female about 80-90 pounds. The moose is down to the right (out of the picture) about 400 yards away.

    After we finished taking pictures of the wolf, we walked down into the timber and started taking pictures with the moose. Here’s a picture of the moose – my first one, and quite a trophy to me!

    After we finished taking pictures, it was probably about 7:00 – and time for the REAL work to begin. We began to skin and quarter the bull; it was light until about 9:00, and we continued until 11:00 by moonlight and by my guide’s headlamp – like a goofball, I had left mine up on the hillside when emptying my pack to make room for meat. But the moon was REALLY bright, so it wasn’t a problem; and since we didn’t start until about 7:00 and it was starting to get cool, mosquitoes and blowflies were never a problem either!

    By 11:00 we had skinned and quartered the bull. We placed the quarters on dead limbs and placed branches over them to keep the birds away, and we took the tenderloin, backstraps, and a few other small cuts with us in our backpacks back to camp. That first load of meat was tough for me – I forgot to use the little platform on the back of my Camp Trails Moose Pack, and the meat was sitting lower than it should have, and it was moving a little as well. Also, the load we took up first was probably the heaviest, maybe about 75-90 pounds; not a huge load for many, but plenty for a guy who works in an office and has never packed a moose!

    Got up to camp about 11:30 – camp was about ½ mile uphill from the moose kill, so we were lucky in terms of how far we had to pack. Cleaned ourselves off a little, had a celebratory dinner of bacon and eggs, and then hit the sack – a great day! Tomorrow would be a full day, for sure.


  • #2
    My First Moose - Continued

    Got up about 7:00 the next morning, had a leisurely breakfast, and then went down to the wolf about 8:30. My guide took his time skinning the wolf, as we had the moose meat covered and laying in shaded spots down in the trees, and we were planning to start packing it up in the afternoon, after the midday heat started to ease up. While he started to skin the wolf, I packed all of the gear we had left on the ridge last night back to camp – jackets, extra clothes, water bottles, spotting scope, etc. After that was done, I joined him at the wolf kill and worked on getting as much meat off the skull as I could, while he worked on the hide.

    Once we had the wolf skinned and the skull cleaned as best we could, we went back to camp for lunch and a brief glassing break. We headed down to the moose about 2:00 – it was pretty tense approaching the carcass in the thick timber, as we couldn’t see the kill until we were within 25 yards of it – but we took our time, stopped several times to look and listen, and made it to the carcass – no bears on it yet, and the meat all cooling nicely minus birds and flies! We flagged the area on either side, so we could see it better as we approached (should have done that last night, but ran short on time), and then loaded up the first two packs of meat.

    I remembered to use the little platform on my pack this time, and it made a big difference in keeping the load higher up and better balanced. We also didn’t kill ourselves filling our packloads, opting to pack 50-60 pounds at a time and make more trips (we deboned the moose right at the kill site, so we were packing all meat and no bone back to camp). We each packed 4 loads of meat that day, and by 7:00 all of the meat was up in camp! We would get the antlers and the hide the next day.

    I got really lucky with the meat – although this bull was 56 inches, he was fairly young and had no trace of rut smell – even the day after I shot him, we’d put our nose right to the meat and couldn’t smell it! We had some fresh tenderloin for dinner that night, and man was it good…..I think this meat will turn out really well. We also got lucky with the timing and the weather – by the time we had him quartered and covered last night, it was really getting cool, and the overnight temps were probably in the 30s…also, he was down in the spruce, and you know how the cool air settles down in the lowland trees overnight – so the conditions were ideal for meat that stays in the field overnight. Here’s a couple pics of the meat and antlers, ready to go out of the field.

    We called 40 Mile Air on the satellite phone and had them fly in and haul the meat into town the next afternoon, to store in the freezer until my hunt was over. Then we spent a week looking for bear – although we spent several days glassing and a couple of days on long hikes up different drainages, we never saw another bear! So we called and got picked up ½ day early, as I needed to get back to Anchorage to spend time with my family. We got into Tok late on the night of the 17th, had dinner at Fast Eddie’s, and hit the sack.

    The next morning we had breakfast and then went over to 40 Mile Air to pick up the meat and the wolf hide. After giving the antlers and hide to my guide (I had told him at the start of the hunt I would not want them, but he said that he did), I threw all of the frozen meat into the back of my rental vehicle, on top of a couple of blue tarps…I also had some fish boxes in case the meat thawed faster than I thought, or in case I had shot a bull just before we left the field and came out with unfrozen meat. I left Tok about 11:00, got to Anchorage about 4:30 after stopping in Glenallen for lunch, and dropped the meat off at 10th & M Seafood – they said the boned weight was just under 500 pounds. Told them how much we wanted in steaks, hamburger, summer sausage, roasts, and stew meat, and then headed home to Mom’s place.

    Thoughts on What Worked Well:

    1) Paying for an extra gear load to be flown in - it allowed us to be really comfortable, with separate sleep and cook tents, extra food (things like eggs/bacon, chips and salsa, tomatoes, etc), and plenty of room in the sleep tent to lay out our clothes and gear;

    2) My .338 Winchester Magnum with 225 grain Swift A Frames (I had used my .30-06 on previous hunts) – I had a 200 yard shot at the bull in thick timber, and it was a shot I would have passed up with the 06 to wait for him to be in the open, where I could be assured of at least 2 good shots. With the .338, I took the shot, knowing that a good one wouldn’t let him go far. I did in fact shoot him again with my .338, but I doubt he would have gone far – when we opened him up, I had really nailed his heart/lung area, and the far shoulder blade was pretty much toast. I probably would have got him anyway with the .30-06 – if I had been able to get a clearer shot - but that extra oomph was nice insurance, and allowed me to take the first good shot that presented itself;

    3) The two folding camp chairs you saw in an earlier pic made a HUGE difference over stools in comfort when eating, relaxing after dinner, or glassing from camp!

    Thoughts on What Could Have Worked Better:

    1) This year, I tried using just a Thermarest pad on the ground, instead of a cot. I was never able to get the pad inflated to the right level to comfortably sleep on! When it had a lot of air in it I felt like I was always sliding off, and I tried to let out a little at a time, but was never able to find a level where my sleeping bag would stay on the pad. I finally let almost all of the air out, and dealt with a root in my back the last couple of nights, but at least I wasn’t sliding around all night. I will go back to the cots that have served well in the past;

    2) My Camp Trails “Moose Pack III” has a bag opening that isn’t big enough to easily accommodate bags of meat! I don’t know why they call a pack a Moose Pack, and then design the bag too small to easily accommodate bags of moose meat, let alone a full quarter;

    3) My clothes. I NEVER use my thickest long underwear, and didn’t wear long underwear under my pants for the last several days. I can leave the thickest ones at home from here on out, the midweight long johns are plenty for me, even in cold temps. I also didn’t use my thickest gloves or hat;

    4) My hunting boots. I have a pair of Rocky boots that weigh about 3.5 pounds apiece, and on the days we walked, we walked FAR – I need a good pair of lighter hiking boots, I can always throw on my Arctic Shield Boot blankets if it gets really cold.

    That’s about all – sorry for the length of the story, but thanks for listening! I couldn’t be happier with my first moose.



    • #3
      first moose

      Thanks for the story. How cool is that. A guy comes all the way up here from Maryland on several moose hunts, takes a nice bull and hes a meat hunter and appreciates the resource besides? But it sounds like you may have actually been raised is Alaska as your Mom is here.. Anyway congradulations on a fine hunt and experience of a lifetime.
      “I come home with an honestly earned feeling that something good has taken place. It makes no difference whether I got anything, it has to do with how the day was spent. “ Fred Bear


      • #4
        **** nice moose...

        Great pics, great story, and great moose! Congrats!


        • #5
          thanks for the story

          great photos, especially the wolf. not everyday you get a chance at those.


          • #6
            Great Story Loved It!

            But I almost cried when you gave away the antlers! I know its not the most important part but I guess I'm number one a meat lover but also a bone collector, but you can't eat antlers! thanks for sharing!


            • #7
              The guide probably sold the antlers and cape, took the money, and bought food. Thus, he ATE the antlers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
              So whatya do with the wolf skin?
              I can't help being a lazy, dumb, weekend warrior.......I have a JOB!
              I have less friends now!!


              • #8
                Grandpa always said...

                If you boil the horns long enough, they make great soup!!

                Super story, glad you finally connected! Made it even better that YOU spotted the game you shot!


                • #9
                  Thanks Guys....

                  for the kind words!

                  I have a set of caribou antlers from a previous hunt sitting in my basement....cost me $150 for Knights Taxidermy to prep them for shipping, and then $230 freight cost when they arrived in Maryland. They sit in my basement still.....that fact, and the fact that I've never had a deer head mounted, convinced me that I'm not much of a stuffed head guy....the pictures I take, and the meat, are my trophies!

                  MT - took the wolf skin to Tall Tales Taxidermy in Anchorage, to be made into a rug for a woman I date.....oops. My Mom lives in Anchorage and is full Eskimo, and said she'd have liked to have made parka ruffs from the tail and hide....oh well. Gives me an excuse to come back and try to get one or two for her!



                  • #10
                    But you coulda done this............

                    Even tho it don't get that cold in Md. I bet your date would have really liked a fancy eskimo parka with a sunshine ruff that your mom made!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                    My woman and her mom, both eskimo's, would run me outta the house never to return if i tried to make a wolf hide into a rug.............haha.
                    Your woman could have worn something like this:
                    Attached Files
                    I can't help being a lazy, dumb, weekend warrior.......I have a JOB!
                    I have less friends now!!


                    • #11
                      Glad to see you had a good experience. The moose really seem to be doing well in the area 40 Mile serves.
                      Leif and Randy, Dick and his wife in the office and the entire crew at 40 Mile Air treated us very well for our hunt this year. I will definately be back and use them again when my son is old enough to hunt (carry enough on his back...LOL...)
                      Bunny Boots and Bearcats: Utility Sled Mayhem


                      • #12
                        40 Mile Air Anecdote....

                        Yea, I thought 40 Mile ran a first class operation. When I got back to Anchorage...I found out from my Mom (she's full blooded Eskimo) that when she was thirteen and lived in Unalakleet, her parents thought she was too young to go away to Mt. Edgecumbe (sp) for they worked out a babysitting job for her - she babysat Ron and Cindy Warbelow (two of original 40 Mile owners I believe) for 5 bucks a week. I gotta tell the 40 Mile folks about that....

                        BTW, my Mom just heard from 10th & M Seafood, our moosemeat is ready! Can't wait to see how my family likes it...



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