Moose hunting in Alaska is a very important time for us. Harvesting a moose gives us the opportunity to fill our freezers for the long cold winter to come with the freshest organic meat you can find!
On September 25th my dad and I were headed out one more time for the last day of hunting season. This day was like any other hunting day, wake up early and grab your gear that you packed up the night before and head out on the boat. It was about thirty degrees, everything was frozen and the boat didn’t want to start.
We backed the boat in the water, letting it idle for some time before disconnecting it from the trailer. After running for a few minutes it threw an error code and alarm. “GREAT!” I thought. “This trip is not gonna happen, its one thing after another.” We pulled the boat back out to look into the alarm and couldn’t find anything indicating what it was. So we backed the boat in again and let it run for a few minutes and the code finally cleared. We loaded all our gear up in the boat and took one last look to make sure we didn’t forget anything.
Headed down the river about 7:30am was really nice; semi clear, a little cold but it was ok cause we were tucked inside the cab with a heater! After about a half hour of running we turn onto a little slough and instantly run into a wall of fog. With visibility only fifty to a hundred feet we slowed almost to a creep. After another forty five minutes, not seeing a single animal, we turn onto another little creek. Fog still as thick as a blanket over us we pull up to a sharp corner and anchor up to the bank.
“Here we go, there’s a tree stand about a hundred yards up that overlooks some clearings and a creek,” my dad said. We gather up our stuff to take with for a while which was only our gun, bow, bino’s, and calls. The woods were thick and full of swamp pockets. After finding the clearing and the rickety ole tree stand which was a couple two by fours for a ladder with a small piece of plywood screwed and ratchet strapped on the top. I climbed up while my dad sat down next to the creek. I didn’t really have any idea what I was looking at because the fog was so thick still. We called for the better part of an hour with no response. My dad took off walking while I stayed up in the stand for another two hours calling. Sitting for close to three hours I was starting to get cold from not moving. I looked around with my bino’s to locate my dad but he was nowhere to be seen. I take a glance at my phone to get the time, 2 missed calls and 1 text from dad!
I call him back thinking that he went back to the boat cause he was cold too. “Hey, you seeing anything over there?” he said. “No, nothing at all, you?” I said. “I’m watching six cows and a bull over here.” he replies. What?! My heart starts racing and I ask where he went, “See the biggest spruce tree way down the creek, I’m in the top of it.” So I start down the creek side which consists of tall grass and mud for about ten minutes looking for a big spruce tree. By this time the fog has lifted significantly and visibility was good. I stop and look around and still not a single spruce tree. I try to call him to ask where and I get no answer. Finally as far out as I could see was a tall spruce tree that had about a ten foot clearing in it near the top. I thought, “There’s no way he went that far out!” Then I hear him let out some bull calls. It took a total of about thirty minutes to walk over to him.
Dad got down from the tree and told me which direction they were all headed so we decided to try and cut them off. As we approached a small clearing we stopped and glassed around and didn’t see a thing. Fearing that we might be behind them and they already passed through this clearing my dad wanted to continue in the direction they were headed. I decided to climb up a small spruce tree to get a good look from higher up before we continued on. As I climbed up the small but very thick spruce tree, I’m pretty sure I broke off every other limb on the way up, I got about ten feet up and turned to the field. Four cows staring right at me from no further than eighty yards away! I though we were busted. I threw out a few bull grunts and had dad rake the trees a few times. The cows acted as if nothing happened and continued eating. I continued up the tree and with each step I took another cow became exposed. By the time I hit about fifteen feet up there were seven cows eating in the field. I hollered at dad to tell him they’re right there and he asked if the bull was there. “No,” I replied. Just then I peeked around a small spruce tree directly in front of me and there he was, the biggest bull we had ever seen out hunting together! I nearly fell out of the tree I was so excited, climbing down probably only took about four steps, I was ready to go after it!
We couldn’t make it across the small creek that stood in between us and the moose. We watched for three total hours, he bedded down and slept the entire time along with all the other cows. Finally after convincing my dad I would build a bridge so we could get across, he agreed and we started throwing every loose tree and stick onto the water to make a small damn. We got across the creek and it was getting pretty late in the day so it was now or never. We started the sneak on him while he was still laying down. We got within a hundred yards and a cow pops up and busts us. My dad says, “Get ready, he’s going to get up now that that cow is up.” As if right on cue he stands up perfect broadside! I shoot once, he flinches, reload…..lower….I aim a little lower and shoot again, he flinches again. Now he starts to trot away. I shoot one last time and…….thud… you could hear it hit like a ton of bricks. He sped up to a run now and went behind some thicker brush and disappeared. We keep walking in his direction and all I could think of was what if I missed. As we got a little bit closer we see his horns. A perfectly placed lung shot provided a quick, clean kill. When I saw the moose lying there I almost knocked dad on the ground tackling him so hard! I couldn’t hold back the excitement. As we approached the moose we then realize actually how big he is. Antlers measured fifty three inches but the body was as big as a small car! Now the work really begins!
“Shoot!” is all my dad could say. We took our pictures and had a few minutes of celebration before the field dressing began. We cleaned the inside out and propped him open. After judging our walk back, about a mile and a half off of the river, we decided that it would be an all night affair to pack the moose out on foot. So we decided to throw the tag on the moose and head back to Fairbanks to get the airboat. After about an hour ride back to Fairbanks we had the airboat and my dads buddy waiting at the launch. We were running out of daylight fast. We got back to the moose at about seven pm. We dropped the jet boat off in the slough and all got in the airboat to go up the creek that was about three feet wide at most. It was like a maze running up the creek between beaver dams, grass fields, and trees. We finally reached the small bridge we built and that was our mark to get out of the water and head across the field to the moose. We crashed through multiple small trees and finally arrived right next to the moose. This was a much better plan than walking it all back to the river. We got to cutting the hide back away from the lines where we were gonna cut with the chainsaw. We cut the moose into five pieces but could only haul out half at a time. We all got in the boat with half the moose and tried to go but couldn’t. I explained to my dads buddy that we’re gonna pull from the sides of the boat and when it gets going just jump in the bottom. After we get going I look up and see him laying on the grass rake on the front. I signaled for him to get down in the hull but he didn’t understand. He quickly realized what I was saying after we went right through a patch of small birch and he took some to the face! We went out to the slough and dropped the first half of the moose off into the jetboat and turned around quickly as it was getting dark very fast. We made it back out to the moose and realized we left the heavy quarters with ribs on them to be the last out along with the head. We had to pull the boat again to get it going, only this time we just let him ride out to the water and we walked. After putting the other half of the moose into the jet boat it was too dark to see. We refueled the boats and headed back.
Driving by moonlight was fair at best. The small LED flood lights we had were good for about fifty feet of light so we had to use them by shining the trees and going back and forth from bank to bank. When we got to the Tanana River, the going got tough. We could no longer use the banks or trees to navigate off of so we got right on the tail of my dad in the airboat ahead of us. This was terrible, about thirty degrees out, a fifty mph fan blowing mist in our faces and freezing instantly. We had to go fast enough to stay on step and he had to go fast enough to stay ahead of us and find which path to take. We made it all the way up to the last braided section before the boat launch and took a wrong turn. Looking ahead dodging silhouettes of stumps and sandbars, finally running out of water and coming to a dead stop in the middle of the river. Great we thought, it’s pitch black, eleven o’clock at night, were soaking wet, faces frozen, and beached. Dad came back with the airboat to circle around and find us a clear water way out and into the main channel. During this time we pushed, pulled, and spun the boat back into free water. We only had one chance to clean the stomp grate and get back on step, if not we were gonna be beached again. Everything worked out and were able to get back to the landing right at midnight. The hard part was done. All of us were wore out and tired, but the long work of putting meat into the freezer hasn’t even started yet.
Hunting trips are an amazing time to spend with friends/family. Especially when things don’t go as planned. I think it would be pretty boring if everything went as scripted. I hope you enjoyed another story about adventuring out into Alaska’s wilderness. I hope it inspires you to get out and create your own adventures and memories!