Fateful Moose

September 2012 was a record setting month for high wind speeds in Alaska’s interior from Big Delta east to Tok.  The south wind has been known to take out power, blow down trees into driveways and roads, and create a dust storm so thick the city street lights come in the middle of the day.  This year however, at 117 miles per hour it had golden valley working around the clock for weeks repairing downed lines and cutting trees that rested on them.  Over 200 trees blew down on a road in a ¼ mile section, the couple residents on that road chain sawed their way to the highway!  Between Delta and Tok acres upon acres of heavy timber was completely flattened and many others trees with their tops and branches blown off.  Several vehicles smashed by trees in the yards and a couple roofs blown off houses and overhead doors ripped off garages topped off the September storm.  Folks in and around town weren’t the only ones suffering.  September is of course moose hunting season in Alaska depending on your area the 1st through the 25th. These critters often stay bedded down in the timber to get out of the wind not offering many spot and stalk opportunities.

On September 18th Jared and I rode 4 wheelers on trails as far as we could without sinking in the bog then broke off and headed cross country towards the hills hoping for a ridge to hunt from.  About half way there after riding over 2 foot deep tussaks we came to a creek 6 feet wide and 6 or 7 feet deep, a little gorge.  Jared went to work with the chainsaw cutting 4” pecker poles for a bridge while I cleared out an approach on either side.  We wired 3 poles together for each tire to cross on then gave it heck, them little trees held just fine and we were back in business with 2 miles to go before we reached the hills.  Don’t let little things like that stop you, find a way over, under, or around.

Jared crossing a spruce pole bridge we built in under 10 minutes.

This whole time of course the wind is blowing a sustained 35 mph with gusts reaching 60 to 65.  It’s like your in the da gone Gobi desert, just parched, lips cracked and bleeding, eyes full of dust.  But hey, this is about harvesting moose, not looking good or feeling good.  At 5 pm we finally reached the large creek we had been looking for which was under a mile from the hills, we decided to make camp here in some heavy timber with a little shelter from the wind.  Another factor in choosing this site was the fact that there was a good foot crossing just down the bank so we wouldn’t have to hike up or down stream very far.  We set up camp quickly, each of us with our own tents, don’t need to be sniffin my brothers behind in a little tent after a week long hunt!  We also gathered up firewood in case we returned late that night from lookin for moose sign.  A ready made fire is always important, more so in the cooler temperatures but it’s good practice to do it all the time.
With a couple hours of light left we crossed the creek and picked our way through scrubby black spruce and willow patches then eventually broke out into a clearing leading us to the base of the hill.  To keep our cover we skirted the clearing until it paralleled the hill then headed across staying low walking from tree to tree.  Jared was ahead of me by a few yards when he motioned me to stop and quickly threw up his binos, he turned around with big eyes shaking his head “yes”! I scooted over to him and had a look myself.  I could see a bull at about 200 yards, just his head and rack was visible.  Couldn’t tell how big he was until he turned and faced us and man he was no less than 60 guessing 65 inches.  The wind was not in our favor at this point, blowing right at him.  He moved a bit and we couldn’t see him anymore so we headed towards him and slightly to our left hoping to get our scent off him.  We saw his horns a couple more times bobbing above then below the short black spruce, I gave a grunt or two but he wasn’t interested in a moose that smelled like a man, he was gone.  We got over to the hill and got some elevation which revealed a huge landscape of marsh, willow, and black spruce reaching further to the north.  That bull crossed 500-700 yards of open marsh in just a few minutes, we were quite disappointed having lost site of him, he was the only moose we would see in the open for the rest of the hunt.  We glassed the clearing until the sun set and the temp slowly cooled then hiked back to camp.  Along the way we found that big bulls wallow, it wreaked of urine, not a bad smell really.

All night long the wind blew hard from the south making the big spruce pop, crack, and squeak loudly.  Those sounds along with my brothers nostrils rattling back and forth slowly put me to sleep.  At 6:45 Jared was waking me up sayin, “lets get a move on, see if somethings out there.”  I was thinking I just wanted to sleep and besides the wind was still rippin and there wouldn’t be a thing out and about but I got up an fried some bacon anyway.  It was radical maple pepper bacon, yum!

At 7:30 we started slithering through the tussaks and tall grass back to our look out on the hill.  We glassed the expanse for an hour then wanted to get out of the wind ourselves so we decided to take a hike into the big timber and further up the ridge line.  At the edge of the timber the ground was covered with low bush cranberries so we stopped and ate a few handfuls, a sow and at lease one cub had been here recently eating the berries also.  The cub left tiny claw marks on a couple downed trees it had climbed over.  As we walked through the old forest the deep moss crunched like leaves it was so dry, we weren’t worried about making to much noise though, the wind was providing plenty of cover noise for us.  At any one time we could see at least 10 trees that had blown down most of which were 40+ years old. We were walking south, traversing the hillside at a slight incline, I was ahead of Jared by 10 steps or so and as I was walking I looked through the branches of a spruce and caught a black fading to brown coloration that meant one of two things, grizzly or moose and it was at a frightening 15 yards!  My heart skipped, I motioned Jared to stop, and instantly shouldered my Bushmaster .450 in the direction of that critter.  The 3 of us didn’t move and my eyes were rapidly scanning through the branches trying to find an ear, a face, a leg, something to tell me what it was. Keeping my AR shouldered I pulled up my binos to get a closer look than you would normally need.  I immediately could make out half a moose face looking right at us, I went from being possible prey to being all predator if only I could find some antlers on this moose!  At this point I lowered my AR and relieved Jared’s concerns by mouthing the word, moose.  Back through the binos I held on its face waiting for it to move and break that static image.  After 2 minutes it moved just enough I could see part of an antler, it’s go time baby!  I motioned to Jared it was a bull and reached down for the small shed I had been carrying for a moment just like this.  Jared was supposed to take first moose this hunt but he couldn’t see it from where he was and the quarters were to close to be moving around for a shot so it was up to me. I raised the shed up and displayed it saying, “Hey, I’m just a moose, sorry I spooked ya.”  The bull was instantly comfortable and bit off a small willow branch and took a couple steps to my left but I had no shot.  The bull looked us over some more and I moved the shed slightly and took one step, he took 4 more to my left and into the shooting window I was waiting for.  I let the shed hit the ground and I put a .450 round in em.  Man he jumped like a horse and took off, I hit em 2 more times on the run and he disappeared over the ridge. Jared was hot on his trail following large sprays of blood almost 100 yards to a small clearing just cresting over the ridge.  He was down for the count but I could tell by his breathing and awareness that he would need one more to end him timely and ethically, so, I fired one more directly behind the ear and it was over. A success, we can eat for another year!

Louis with his 24 inch bull shot at 15 yards.

Jared and I smiled and hugged of course then took time as we always do when we take an animals life to thank the Lord for one and the earth also for giving us the means to eat for another winter. Though we happen upon them from time to time we are not trophy hunters, we enjoy living and eating by our own means and we greatly respect the animals that give themselves to us.
We quickly butchered it and laid out the meat on burnt pecker poles to keep it out of the dirt then headed back to camp for packs, game bags, and wheelers.

Good lookin meat.

A ramp had to be built into the creek we were camped at to get the wheelers across, Jared headed that up while I whipped up some lunch.

Once back at the kill we packed it out in a few trips then rode back to camp and started breaking it down. My wife’s due date with our third child was yesterday so getting home early couldn’t hurt anything!  When the weather won’t cooperate don’t get down, go get some, take a hike, explore and who knows what you’ll bump into!

Louis hauling up the last of the meat.
Jared ready for the 2 mph ride out.

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