Alaska: A hungry country
Several years ago during a trip with my brother, Pat, we started talking about moose hunting. The two of us determined that one day we would make a trip together and share in the experience. This dream became a reality in 2013, when the plan to head to Alaska in search of the Alaska-Yukon moose was made. After talking with a few hunters who had hunted moose in the area before, we decided to go without a guide, and by way of float trip.
Knowing that we would be heading into remote areas, I ordered a satellite phone with an extra battery. Research led me to the Iridium phone equipped with texting and various battery-saving capabilities, while still allowing us to send and receive important updates to and from home.
We flew commercially into Fairbanks, Alaska on September 9. The following morning Pat collected our U-Haul van for our drive to an area north of Coldfoot, where we would meet our air charter.
Before leaving, we rented our rafting equipment.
We overnighted in Coldfoot, and went to the airstrip the following morning. During the flight, our pilot made a statement that Pat and I discussed over the following days — this was a hungry country.
The weather was very warm and we quickly unloaded the plane with all of our gear to prepare for the next 12 days and 90 miles of river. On the slopes of the mountain above us, we were also able see different bands of Dall sheep.
The raft was inflated and assembled with all gear strategically loaded. With a bow and a rifle between the two of us, and the endless breathtaking scenery, we were eager for the days ahead. There was no knowing how much this adventure would test a hunter’s resolve.
As we floated down the river, we stopped at several predetermined locations to gain elevation in an effort to glass.
At each stop, we pulled the raft onto shore and hiked in search of possible glassing spots and fresh moose sign.
Once an area was found that held some sign and had potential for glassing, we made camp. We also called and thrashed trees in attempts to locate a bull, but after our third day of no moose, we realized that the hunt was going to be much more difficult than anticipated.
Late afternoon on the fifth day, we finally glassed a moose — our first of the trip. I have never been excited before glassing up doe or a cow, but this moment was unique. This was our first sighting of any animal since the Dall sheep and this was exactly what we needed.
The nice weather lasted only three days before cold weather moved in. Water would freeze overnight, and staying warm behind the glass for hours on end became difficult. Again, day six provided no signs of life.
It became clear and cold, and our weather reports from home were saying that storms were headed our way. The country looked great and we found it difficult to leave a place that provided a lot of visible country to glass.
On day seven, we loaded up camp in search of moose. While drifting downstream, Pat noticed a shed moose antler on the bank. We decided to pull over and inspect. As we were holding the heavy shed antler, I caught movement across the river. A bull moose stepped out from the opposite bank.
With the bull across the river and in view, an archery shot was out of the question. We determined that the bull was legal and heading out of sight. I picked up the rifle, shot, and the bull rocked. Two more quick shots anchored the bull. Unbelievable! In a matter of seconds our difficult hunt had turned successful. A 54-inch wide bull with four brow points off of one brow palm, legal both ways!
Pat and I shared a few moments before taking care of the meat and cape.
Everyone says to never shoot a moose standing in water or over one mile from the river. We were so fortunate to have this big bull lying within ten yards of the river. Alaska law requires that you pack out all edible portions of the moose, including the entire ribcage! We worked on the bull for five hours getting him caped, quartered, and in game bags. I couldn’t imagine the work had he been a mile away across a bog. While loading the moose meat onto the raft, a cow moose was walking across the river downstream. Our third moose sighting in seven days.
In our gear we had rub and barbecue sauce for the moose ribs. Knowing how cumbersome it would be to haul the ribcages around, we were determined to eat the ribs to lighten our load. Although it was fairly chewy, the flavor was good. After seven straight days of freeze dried dinners and oatmeal for breakfast, the ribs were awesome!
We woke the next morning to snow and cold temperatures. Visibility was gone so we decided to hunt by camp and call frequently. Much to our dismay, we received no answers and detected no movement. Snow continually fell and temperatures seemed to drop.
Day eight of our 12-day hunt and we still had a lot of river to cover to reach our pick up spot. We contacted Coyote Air for a weather update, and our pilot reported one day of clear skies sandwiched between large storms.
The revised plan was to be picked up in just two days at the original location, which was 40 miles downstream. We broke camp early on the ninth day in attempt to log water miles, hoping that the weather would cooperate.
When snowfall began just before dark, we found a camp spot. While cooking that night, we heard the sound of rocks moving. Pat yelled “watch out” and within my head lamp's glow I could see a large grizzly on the move and woofing. We rose to our feet armed with a 41 magnum and bear spray. Luckily, he stayed about seven paces away and after some yelling, he faded into the dark.
We loaded up upon daybreak, and pushed off for the last 12 miles to meet our plane. Ten days in the Brooks Range and we saw one bull moose, two cows, a single wolf and a grizzly bear. This truly was a hungry country.