It was December of 2012 and I was discussing a few hunting options with my Father, a resident of Florida. He really wanted to shoot a moose and I felt fairly confident that the area I had been hunting for the last few years could provide him this opportunity. I told him what draw permit to put in for and the long wait began. February 15th rolled around and the emails were sent out from ADFG. Luck was on our side as he drew the permit I wanted him to and the planning began.
A year earlier in the spring of 2012 my parents had visited us to see our firstborn child. Of course they couldn’t come to Alaska in the spring and not go on a bear hunt! Sure enough, the first day of hunting my dad sealed the deal on a beautiful PWS black bear. This trip was by far one of the best hunting excursions I had done and set somewhat of a standard as to what to expect for future hunting trips. Well in my mind this was not necessarily a good thing. During every email or phone call preparing for this moose hunt I made sure to reiterate that just going on the trip will be worth every penny and notching the tag on a nice moose would be the icing on the cake. In my mind I knew we would all have a great trip and I knew my father believed this also. But, I was aware of the expenses he paid for him and my mother to fly up to Alaska and go on this moose hunt. To say I felt a little pressure to get him a moose is an understatement.
After a long hot summer, fall was finally here. My parents arrived in Alaska and the last minute preparations of packing, pre-cooking meals and triple checking the gear list was in full swing. The morning of departure came and we were all set to leave. One final stop to fuel up and we would be on our way to moose camp. While the truck was getting topped off I happened to step back and take a look at the truck and trailer, as usual giving everything a once over. For some reason the trailer angle just wasn’t right. I walked a little closer and saw the trailer tongue was almost completely detached from the trailer. Only a couple bolts were holding it in place. Just our luck! This is where good friends and family can never be thanked enough for coming to our rescue. After a couple of phone calls Kyle showed up with a replacement trailer and the gear swap began. Just to get back on the road headed north after a few hours at the gas station was a miracle in itself. Who knows what could have happened if we hadn’t stopped and seen the broken trailer.
Now from the very beginning the trail we take has some pretty good holes that even experienced riders need to walk first and cross with caution. I don’t know if I had ever seen my dad ride a 4 wheeler before so I knew he was in for a steep learning curve in how to ride an ATV in tough conditions. Plus the fact that he had my mom riding double with him didn’t make it any easier. A quick review of the ATV controls and we were off down the trail. I really took my time going out to camp being a little more cautious of where I went trying to alleviate any unnecessary delays in getting stuck. We had great weather on the ride out and I knew my parents were already enjoying every second of this trip….at least I was.
After crossing the main swamps, and only getting the wheelers stuck a few times, we had arrived at moose camp. With the sun setting and the temps dropping we wasted no time getting camp set up and a hot dinner ready. I would put my mom’s cooking up against anybody’s and to have those home cooked meals at moose camp was probably the best thing ever.
With a full stomach we all piled into the warm tent, thanks to the buddy heater, and slowly drifted off to sleep. Just before falling asleep I remember thinking to myself how funny life is. Here are 3 native Floridians who have lived most of their lives in Florida camped out moose hunting in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. Once again I was thankful to have my parents there and experience what I love to do and why I live in this great state.
The next morning came quick and we were up before the sunrise. It was crisp and cold… perfect for hunting. The 3 of us posted up glassing the area below. Sure enough the moose started popping out. Hours passed and no shooter bulls were seen so we retreated back to camp for another round of coffee and a hot breakfast.
We glassed and glassed seeing many cows and sub legal bulls but still no shooters. Finally, a couple hours before sunset I saw the white flash of a palm a couple miles off. I quickly got the spotting scope in position and was looking at our first legal moose…and he was a big boy. Letting both my mom and dad take a look at him I knew it was too late in the day to go after him. However he was on the move and headed in our direction. Being late September you could tell he was in full rut swaying his antlers back and forth, thrashing random bushes, and even tilting his head back and calling. All this commotion eventually drew in 2 lone cows that came running to him from quite some distance. We watched him slowly make his way in our direction until we ran out of light leaving him in a thick drainage on the nearby mountainside across the valley.
Leaving the spotting scope pointed at where I last saw him we called it a night, ate another delicious meal and went to sleep.
The next morning came and I quickly got dressed and went to the spotting scope. Slowly searching the area no moose were seen. I watched this area broadening my search for hours but couldn’t find our bull.
The morning drew on and it was another blue sky day but strong winds out of the west kept the temps low and cold. Again many cows and sub legal bulls were seen but our shooter bull never came out of the drainage we had last seen him in. Finally at last light another moose popped out pretty close to camp. Sure enough it was a small bull. Not quite the big bull we were looking for but a possible shooter. With the low light my dad and I quickly scrambled down a caribou trail through the brush trying to get a closer look at his antlers. With the light already too far gone I couldn’t say for sure whether or not he was legal. We slowly slipped back to camp thinking we would see him come morning.
The next morning was well below freezing as all of our water outside of the tent was frozen solid. We quietly eased down to the spotting hill and began the search again. The usual cows were milling around where we had been watching them the last couple days. We had been seeing quite a few cows and sub legals further back in the valley and came up with a plan for the day. We decided to make the journey back to another camp site we have used that overlooks the back portion of the valley taking supplies for an overnight trip. Upon reaching our destination we wasted no time getting the binos and spotting scope set up.
Immediately we started seeing moose and one cow in particular had my attention. Through the spotter you could tell she was watching something very intently. Not moving at all and ears up she stared for a long time. Finally from the direction she was looking a bull came running right at her. She bolted and both moose started running in our direction. Being about a mile away my father and I grabbed the rifles and the spotting scope and took off in their direction. Dropping down into a small valley then coming up the next side my dad motioned to my left where a decent bull was walking about 100 yards off. I slowly crept higher on the hill getting the spotter in position as my dad steadied the .300 wsm waiting for the go ahead. He had gone past us and was moving away. I made a quick cow call and he immediately swung his head looking in our direction. He looked to be mid 40’s and only 2×2 for brow tines. I gave my dad the no go signal as we watched the bull slowly move off. We slowly walked higher and reached another vantage point and began glassing more miles and miles of prime moose country. Caribou were as far as you can see.
My dad caught a glimpse of a bear and sure enough a sow and 2 cubs were running away from us in the valley below. After about an hour we made our way back to mom who was still sitting at our high vantage point. Upon reaching her we could tell she wasn’t ok. She quickly told us how right after we left she was watching us look at the bull moose through her binos when she saw something in her peripheral vision to her right. She slowly turned and 10 yards away right below her was a big grizzly bear staring her down. Not just one but 2 smaller ones came walking up also. She said they stared at each other for what felt like forever when finally the big bear bolted and ran away with the other bears in tow. She was very rattled after this encounter but now has a pretty cool story that most people can’t say they’ve experienced. We ate lunch and took a quick nap waiting for the temps to cool off and the moose to come back out. We decided to make camp for the night after seeing more moose and more bulls. With the small tent and sleeping bags set up we began glassing again.
Cows were moving and the small sub-legals were up also scattered throughout the valley. I spotted 2 cows back across the valley in the small drainage we had last seen the big bull moose. I knew he had to be close but couldn’t see any more moose standing in that area. Finally a white flash caught my eye and in between the 2 cows I saw the tips of his antlers where he was still bedded down in the low brush. Excitedly I said I had found him and it was time to go get him. My father and I quickly gathered our gear, got my mom situated, and took off. It wasn’t too long before we were down in the creek bottom slowly sneaking closer. 1000…800…500…finally 250 yards and we were up the creek from the bull. My dad chambered a round and got into position. The big bull slowly moved around pushing the cows and swaying his big rack back and forth. It took a long time for him to present a good broadside shot clear of brush but finally he did. My dad squeezed the trigger on the .300 and you could tell the bullet had found its mark. Another shot went off as the bull slowly went down. BBD…Big bull down!
With the creek being pretty high and fast I didn’t want to risk taking the wheelers across. With only one set of waders my dad made the trip across mostly dry…except for a slight stumble at the other side. I opted to cross without the waders (since they were on the other side) carrying my clothes in a dry bag… surprisingly the water wasn’t too cold. Our nice sunny weather had slowly dwindled and turned into a light snow. We quickly got the moose cut up, into bags, and hauled to the nearby shore. My dad went across the creek first again and took a rope that stretched from one side to the other. I tied off each bag in case I lost control while crossing and carried them individually across the creek.
Once across we carried the meat up the bank to the wheeler and made our way back to camp. Mom was more than excited upon seeing the large moose. We all slept good that night.
The trip out was slow in minimal visibility and sloppy wet conditions. We picked our way back through the swamp along the freshly hidden trail getting stuck more than on the way in, flipping trailers, and even having a tire come off the meat wagon right at the truck. Finally we made it back to the truck.
Kyle had told my dad right before we left that a lot of moose hunts if not all can be summed up as a series of obstacles you have to overcome. This held true for this trip. I left out a lot of details of stuck wheelers and trailers, lots of winching through mud holes, broken equipment, tired and exhausted muscles after long days, etc. We definitely had our fare share of obstacles that we overcame, but that’s what makes these trips an adventure and keeps me coming back every year. Again, a new bar was set for future hunting trips for my parents…this one representing difficulty! I am not surprised at all that my dad handled everything great on this trip but once again my mom surprised us both. She was a trooper getting out of her comfort zone and joining us on a not so easy trip way back into the middle of Alaska wilderness. It was great to have her along.
Another adventure goes in the books and the memories made on trips like this with family are priceless. Living the Alaska Life!