The Flying Moose and the Blueberry Bear, Part II

The country we would be hunting was the delta formed between the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.  We were to fly about 50 miles to a spot they had previously scouted for camp.  The delta we flew across looked like a textbook river delta, fairly flat and swampy with thousands of lakes and ponds filling the landscape.  Some had smaller meandering threads of water connecting them, others were simply roundish standalone lakes.  The terrain was fully half and half land and water and was completely void of mountains, hills or even many bumps.  About 15 minutes into the flight I elbowed the pilot and said “I haven’t even seen a rock anywhere!”

He simply grinned and replied “Yep!”  I could tell what he was thinking…”FNG’s…[frustrated] new guys”  To a couple self-proclaimed mountain men it all felt as alien as a trip to Mars.

After 45 minutes of flying we came to our lake.  We took one air lap around to get a look at things then came in for a landing.  Shane taxied us over to the shore, shut down the plane, and we proceeded to unload all our gear.  After making sure we had all our accouterments, Shane pointed to a tree-lined knoll about 200 yards away and said “That’s where we’d recommend you camp.  Call us when you get one!”  With that, he hopped back in the plane, repeated the whole procedure in reverse, and was gone in a matter of minutes.

We hauled gear and made camp just inside that treeline he had recommended.  Walking across that tundra was indeed more work than we expected.  After the tent and our cook tarp were up, we sat down to finish our Subway sandwiches.  That was a weird feeling, being way, way back in the boondocks but still unwrapping and chowing down on a Sub Club on wheat…extra tomatoes.  I wish I would have gotten the two-cookie deal…also no refills out here.

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Our Alaska home for two weeks

We glassed around from the several great vantage points just steps from our tent.  This was indeed an ideal spot for just sitting tight, looking and listening.  Then, just as we were discussing how long the sunset takes at this far northern latitude, we saw our first live Alaskan moose!  About a half mile from camp a big cow was strolling between stands of evergreens.   Cool.

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Landing strip lake.  Smooth as glass.

The next morning proved to be foggier than a Vegas hangover.  The mist kept thickening and ebbing around us.  Sometimes we could see 50 yards, then a minute later we could only see five.  Per Steve’s instructions, we sat tight and cow-called anyway.  After a few sessions of that, I got a cow to answer me back!  I was having my first Dave-moose conversation!  It proved to be a short one though, I only got two calls out of her, then never did hear from her again that day.  So much for my morning of moose-wooing.

The sky cleared that afternoon and we kept up the calling and glassing.  From the other side of camp, we spotted a small herd in a clearing over a mile away.  We studied them for several minutes, counting five or six cows and calves when a new moose showed itself from the treeline.  This last one had giant boat paddles sticking out of each side of his head!  Our first bull sighting!  Had this been an elk, we’d have packed our bags, planned a way in on him, and beat feet as fast as we could quietly go.

But again…“You don’t want to pack no moose no two miles”…especially on day one of the hunt.  So we sat tight, watched them, and tried to figure out where to put ourselves to call him in to a more shoot-able spot.

We realized our novice status at this whole moose thing.  We exercised EXTREME discipline in just sitting tight, watching them, and trying to strategize a way to put a hunt on him.  There really wasn’t any way at him through cover without pushing him straight away from us.  Good advice also indicated that once a bull is “cow’d up” it is very hard to call them in.  Apparently it is easier to call in a solitary bull.

Moose calling is an art in itself.  We’d been practicing for a while, I even had a moose calls app on my iPod to confirm what they actually sounded like in case we didn’t hear from a live one.  To cow-call you basically cup your hands to make a small megaphone, hold a nostril shut, and shout a loud nasal “Eeeeeeeuuugh” in the direction you want to throw the sound.  If you want to sound like a bull, that is a more subtle “Ye-uh” and if you really want to go crazy, you can rake a wooden boat paddle against a tree or brush.  All this really does help break up the boredom of sitting and waiting.  But it would most certainly get a guy hauled off in a straight-jacket if you tried it in your local mall.

For hunt day two we branched out a little farther with our calling setups.  We saw moose even further off in the clearing where we spied the Day One Bull.  The rush from seeing them was starting to wear off enough to a point where we might be able to actually hold still enough to shoot one if the chance came.

Suddenly, I spied a lone moose about ¾ mile behind camp where we hadn’t been glassing much.  A closer look through the binos showed that it was indeed a bull!  And he seemed to be wandering in our general direction.  We ‘spoke’ to him a little more then sat tight to get a closer look.  Sure enough, he was picking his way over to us!

We decided he was too small to shoot this early, maybe 36 inches wide, but we could play with him anyway.  We kept up our calling and raking and broke out the video camera.  Stephen moved to a spot closer to camp and I stayed put and kept up the calling.

Our new friend kept working his way over to us.  At one point, he walked up the hill to our camp and gave our cook tent a sniff!  We kept calling and he kept walking to us.  I watched him stop and sniff a spot about five yards from Stephen.  I figured he’d wind us pretty soon and bolt out of there.  But he just kept hanging around.

About 15 minutes of hanging around our hill was apparently enough for that day’s Bullwinkle.  He eventually turned around and kept walking north, passing me at about 10 yards’ distance, to go investigate smells and sights more interesting than us two hunters.  That little escapade was the most Alaska fun I’d had yet!  And it helped to re-affirm that our calling must at least somewhat resemble the sounds of a real moose!

We passed the next few days with the same routine, glassing, calling, seeing some small moose up close and a few big moose way far away.  The weather started being uncooperative.  It wasn’t nasty, but not good for hunting either.  Days were hot and clear, but windy.  Wind is not a hunter’s friend as it keeps most any animal bedded down not moving much.  A few clouds moved through occasionally, but for the most part it was beach weather.

The afternoon of day four found us getting a little frustrated.  We found a lone tree that offered good visibility south of camp so we hunkered down for a calling and napping session.  After about two hours our napping was starting to beat out our calling.  I woke up to sweat and bugs and shifted to get back inside the shadow.  A bank of clouds about a half hour away was oozing its way toward the sun.  Stephen was still snoozing as I thought through the next hour or so.  I would wait patiently until the clouds reached the sun to provide us some much-needed relief.  Then I’d start up some more calls spaced about 15 minutes apart.

My half-hour ETA for the clouds proved to be more like an hour, but they finally did arrive.  After a few minutes of relishing the shade, I figured it was time to start making noise.  I cupped my mouth, clamped a nostril, breathed deep, and let loose the loudest, juiciest “Eeeeeuugh” I could muster.  I kept looking out the corner of my eye for Stephen to jump since he was really out.

A Stephen-napjerk-induced snicker was just leaving my mouth when I heard over my left shoulder, a low  “Ye-uh” from about a quarter mile away.  Paydirt! A bull!  It didn’t take much to whisper Stephen up.  I gave the bull a couple minutes and “Eeeeugh”ed again.  The bull came back with another “Ye-uh” from even closer and my heart was racing.  We’d seen a couple smallish bulls up close so I kept having to push away thoughts of the little ones and hoping for a monster.

The tension built as the bull and I kept up our conversation.  We each scooted around for a bit better cover and Stephen readied for a shot.  We had agreed ahead of time Stephen would get first right of refusal.  We had hunted together in a trophy elk unit in 2006 when I scored a nice bull but he came home empty-handed.  Besides, he’s older!  I never let him forget that, even though he has always been able to hike me into the ground, and likely will up until we’re both telling hunting stories from our Hoverounds.

I caught movement from the draw to our left, about 80 yards out.  Plenty of antler flashed between a couple trees.  Stephen saw him too.  Its antlers looked much bigger than the few little ones we’d seen, but not the pig we saw way out north.  I guessed maybe 50 inches wide or better.  I asked “Gonna take him?”

“Yep.”

The bull was moving in an arc around to our front, disappearing and reappearing through trees and low terrain.  It felt like hours, but probably less than 10 seconds had passed since we first saw him.  The bull stepped out into the open, broadside, then turned his head our way.  Those big paddled antlers did look impressive this close and I was playing out in my mind how fast I could shoot if Stephen had said he’d pass.

He turned his head back broadside, my fingers were in my ears…BOOM!  Stephen’s single shot .300 Win Mag roared.  The bull hunched up from a good lung hit.  It took a couple more steps then stopped.  Stephen had already reloaded and cocked the hammer.  The bull began walking again.  I said “Kill him Stephen, hit him again.”

BOOM!  That second shot probably wasn’t completely necessary, but they can never be too dead.  Besides, each step was a step directly away from the direction we’d be packing the meat.   This one knocked that bull over.

Everything was instantly back to the eerie dreamlike quiet that consumed this wilderness.  We looked at each other in disbelief.   I think it took until then for both of us to resume breathing.  “You did it!  We got one!  We came up here and got one!  Thank you God!”  It took a couple minutes to collect our wits and get rid of the shakes.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

We walked down to the bull and marveled at how enormous it was.  My buddy from Wyoming wasn’t kidding when he said it was like shooting a Clydesdale horse.  We’d seen big elk killed but this thing was an absolute monster.  We got more pictures and strategized our plans for butchering.  One tarp on which to lay the meat out.  Another tarp to cover the meat.  Knives, sharpeners, Wyoming saw, meat packs…check, check and check.

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The bull’s antlers measured 51 inches wide
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