2014 Alaska Moose

thecrittergitter

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Ok, I've literally been harassed to the breaking point by a few of why I haven't posted the moose trip yet. So, this is gonna take a while, but I will get started:)

For most of my life, Alaska Moose has been at the top of my list for hunting adventures. My good friend Harold had guided for an outfitter a few years ago and knew his area held great moose populations and that some great bulls had been taken there over the years. The trip was planned and September 9th found me heading north bouncing from plane to plane heading to the Alaska Range. 14 hours and 4 planes later I was finally in base camp.
 

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thecrittergitter

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Now there are unfortunately a vast number of things that went south on this trip, all stemmed from the shady outfitter we used for our hunt. It took me a while to decide whether to include the negative aspects of this hunt but I chose to include them because they are part of the hunt. So, to begin this adventure, I will explain what was supposed to happen. Harold had guided for this outfitter Tom Shankster with Ak Trophy Hunts in prior years and because he never paid Harold for his guiding, Tom agreed to trade Harold a fully guided dall sheep hunt. Well, every time Harold tried to cash in on his sheep hunt, Tom never had an available guide for him. So, Harold told Tom he would do a moose hunt instead which does not require a guide. Tom agreed and Harold suggested to Tom that if he would give me a good discount on a moose hunt, I would likely go along to hunt with Harold. Tom also agreed that he would provide us essentially a fully outfitted moose hunt, just no guide. We would hunt on our own, pack on our own, ect….my cost for the hunt would be $5,500. With Harold already guiding sheep hunters in Alaska the month of August, the plan was for Harold to get picked up in Wasilla, AK by Tom on the 5th or 6th of September and flown out to camp prior to me arriving and I would just meet him in camp. This is where things already start going south. Tom decides to ignore Harold sitting in Wasilla and doesn’t go pick him up as he said he would do. Now it is September 8th and Harold and I are discussing whether or not we should bail as things are looking grim. Last minute, we decide to go as our tickets are nonrefundable anyway so might as well go and see what happens. Last I heard from Harold before I left service was that he found a way out to camp.
I was quite surprised to see there were 23 people in base camp when I arrived and even more surprised that my buddy Harold wasn’t there. Tom said that he wasn’t going to make it and was looking for another plane ride out the next day. I recall asking Tom how many other moose hunters there would be when I would be hunting and said 5. After meeting all the guys in camp, it quickly became apparent that at least 11 guys had moose tags and I’m starting to worry about when I’m on the list to go. It was also interesting that he had so many people in camp, he didn’t even have one open spot for me to sleep in any of the 7 tents he had set up. I ended up having to move camera gear out of one of the tents just to have a place to sleep. This place was an absolute crap show! I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting to know the guys at camp. I quickly learned that trouble was brewing when I learned there were guys that had been sitting for a large number of days waiting to be flown out to a camp to hunt. In fact, one thing was unanimous amongst all the hunters, there was far more time spent sitting around base camp than actual hunt days. One guy, Nyle, had been in camp 16 days and had shot a sheep a few days prior to my arrival. The interesting thing was that he never got flown to a spike camp so he took off on his own looking for his own ram. When he found one, he had to come back to base camp for a guide so he could legally kill one of them. He also paid for a fully guided moose hunt. He had not been flown to a spike camp to hunt moose so in the morning he said he was headed to a spot where he had seen 3 legal bulls a few days prior. Since Harold wasn’t there and was going to wait for him before flying out, I asked Nyle if he minded if I came along to help glass moose for him and possibly shoot one once he had his down. He kindly let me tag along. I didn’t come to Alaska and pay a bunch of money for a dang camping trip, I came to hunt moose. He nodded in agreement, and said, I know all too well what you mean. The next morning, I packed my gear for the day and Bob (one of Toms guides) gave Nyle and I a ride down the river to a good crossing place. He dropped us off a mile or so down river and we threw our waders on to cross. Our target area we were heading was roughly 5 miles away through timber so we knew we had our work cut out for us. About 3 hours later we were getting close to the ridge we wanted to glass from. Nyle told me to go ahead as he would be slower going up the last hill. I went up at pretty high pace because I was excited to get to the top to see if I could glass up these three big bulls he found earlier in the week. Well, somehow, when I got about halfway, I got distracted long enough with a cow moose I was glassing that I missed Nyle walking by me. After I sat for roughly 45 minutes waiting on him, I started wondering what the heck he was doing. Then I realized after glassing out destination, that he was already cresting that ridge about ½ mile away. I took off as fast as I could to catch him. This is where I started my lesson in learning navigable terrain in Alaska by the color of the brush. If you glass a direction to hike, red bushes are a pain to walk through and your best option. Yellow bushes were a nightmare to walk through but at least possible…….and green bushes pretty much meant you need to turn around and chose a better route. I found a route with lots of red and few yellow bushes which got me to the last place I saw Nyle. Then I wasn’t sure where he went because there were a pile of green bushes that he just vanished around. I sat down and had a granola bar and started thinking……what would I do if I shot a moose back here anyway? I’m now 4.9 miles from base camp in terrain that would be physically impossible to make the 10 backpack loads of moose back to camp. I recall Tom saying that if we pay his packers, he would break them free to pack my moose if I shot one. Course he also was supposed to pick up Harold 5 days ago and didn’t do that either. After the granola bar got washed down with a little water, I thought I would spend about 5 minutes looking for Nyle and if I didn’t find him, I would start heading back to base camp. I walked about 100 yards over this ridge so I could see the bottom of the draw and stopped in my tracks when I was looking at two big bull moose staring at me! I quickly threw up the binos and it took less than a second to determine they were both shooters and one was definitely better than the other. Now, here is where it’s probably good that my common sense kicked in a little. I’m 5 miles from camp, physically impossible to pack a moose that far. But more importantly, I knew Nyle was right near me somewhere and he is probably about ready to shoot one of these bulls since they are standing in the wide open!! I elect to pass on the two bulls for fear that I would mess up Nyle on his quest for his bull. After all, the only reason I’m on this ridge is because of him.
 

thecrittergitter

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. So instead of squeezing the trigger, I jacked the shell back out of the chamber and threw up the camera. Hard to watch bulls like this walk away:)
 

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After about 8 pictures, I grabbed my backpack and hear a gunshot ring out! I look down, both moose still standing. Another shot, both moose still standing. Another shot, moose are walking into the timber. Now I don’t know Nyle well but he has killed all 29 north American big game animals and was working on his 3rd grand slam for sheep so I was having a hard time believing that he missed a target the size of a volkswagon car. I assumed he had actually hit the bull and it just fell in the brushy timber so I packed up and went to camp to tell Tom so he could start getting his packers on the nightmare job that lay ahead. I knew Nyle had a sleeping bag and tent so he would be fine staying out overnight. I headed back to camp and explained to Tom where Nyle was with his moose that I think he shot. We jumped in the plane and flew up to find Nyle and we flew over him a couple times and he was pointing down the draw which we thought meant he had a moose down in the tall brush. We went back to camp and I visited with a few more guys that evening and told them about the moose I saw. It was then I learned about Rob, another hunter in camp that had been in camp since August 27th and had still not hunted a single day! Over 10 days into moose season and he has been sitting in base camp……unreal. I asked Tom if he had heard from Harold. He said that Harold was not coming out that night and would try for the next day if the pilot could squeeze him in. The next day I asked Tom if he would just fly me into an area and then when Harold got there, he could fly Harold in after. He claimed it was too windy to fly that day. So again I grabbed my rifle and pack and took off down the river. This time I went to a different area to look around. I hiked upon one of the mountains along the river to try and get a vantage point to glass. No sooner did I get there than I see Tom flying the two new hunters out to spike camp. So apparently it was only too windy to fly me. I spent the rest of the day glassing from here and did see another great big bull but it was too far to get to that day so I couldn’t make the chase. But I did see some awesome country for sure.
 

thecrittergitter

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Some incredible scenery, not many places like it!
I decided that I didn’t want to walk through the jungle of alders in the dark just in case a grizzly bear was on the same path so I decided to head back while I could see.
When I got back to camp, I was a little concerned that Nyle was not back from the previous day. When I asked Tom if he was going to fly over and check on him, his response was…..”No, he is probably just working on deboning his moose, it is a lot of work”. I was beginning to think that Nyle has no radio or sat phone or anything that could send someone a message that he was hurt or something. I told Tom I saw a big bull moose over that way when he flew the two new hunters in today so I’m going to head that way tomorrow and go check on Nyle. He suggested that as a good idea. Even though I felt it was his job as his outfitter to make sure he was ok, I could tell it wasn’t going to get done.
The next morning, the wind was blowing about 40 mph which told me there was no way Tom was going to fly and Harold would likely not make it to camp. I should have packed my bag and a tent but I told the guys in camp I was heading out to find and help Nyle with his moose if Tom wasn’t going to give a crap about it. I took off hiking the 5 miles back in there and got to the spot that I thought I should see Nyle. I glassed the bottom and saw a big moose antler sticking out of the brush. Must have been Nyles bull I thought but Nyle was gone. I walked down to the moose and snapped a quick picture and then sent Tom a message from my In Reach devise which gave him the exact coordinates of the moose. I hunted the rest of the day and covered a lot of ground. Nyle actually left a thin space blanket on the moose so it could be easily seen from the plane. I took it in case I didn’t make it back to camp that night, I would have it to help block some wind.
 

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thecrittergitter

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Just before dark I spotted a huge bull moose about 2 miles away. I really wanted a closer look at this bull so I made the decision to stick out the night in 40 mph winds with no tent or sleeping bag. I spent most of the night cussing myself for the poor decision I had made, but was committed at that point. I sent Tom a message to let him know I would be staying out tonight and possibly back to camp tomorrow.


Couple pictures of camp that night, good thing I had good clothes. And a little lunch on a nearly vertical mountainside.
 

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I was out of water too, so I knew first thing in the morning, I would have to head straight away from camp about 1 mile to get to water. Soon as it was light enough to see, I packed up my gear and started hiking toward the creek I had crossed the day before. Before I got to the water, I found a good glassing spot and thought I would look for the bull from the night before. Well, it didn’t take me long to find him…..and he was a giant. However, I could also see the camp that Tom had set up in that basin and I knew he had a father/son team hunting in the area. And now I realize that I could have a reasonable attempt at getting a moose out of here knowing that he has a landing strip just over the next ridge a mile away. Again, I decided to walk away from the situation knowing that I could blow someone else’s hunt by making a move on the bull. A few more minutes of glassing actually turned up 4 more bulls that were all legal bulls. I turned and glassed the basin I was in and when I found no moose, decided to hunt my way back to base camp and congratulate Nyle on a great moose. About 2 minutes into heading to camp, I heard two shots from back in the direction of the big moose. Later I found out the bull they shot was 70”!! The pics I took of him in the binos didn’t turn out too good and since Harold had our 1 spotter, I was strictly stuck to binos.
After a water stop and a long hike, I was finally back at base camp hoping to see Harold. Unfortunately, the news I got from Tom says Harold isn’t coming because he can’t find a ride out. He kept blaming Harold for not trying hard enough and I then jumped on him and said that he should go get him since that was what he committed to in the first place. He said he has too many people in camp to leave for a 5 hour round trip. As infuriating as this was, there wasn’t much I could do but sit and wait for Harold and/or have Tom fly me out to a place to hunt. Unfortunately we are talking days, not hours. I listened as other hunters expressed their frustration for being stuck in one of the most disorganized hunting camps they had ever been a part of.
 

thecrittergitter

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Fast forward to Sept 14th…….Harold finally makes it to camp and as expected, there are some heated discussions. Tom claims he can’t fly us out to our spot because it’s too windy. Yep, he claims it’s too windy, even though Harold literally just flew in to camp in the same wind. It was absurd. So we were stuck in base camp yet another night. The next day, Tom again claims it’s too windy to fly, however, two planes landed and took hunters away in the wind he said he couldn’t fly in. After a long discussion, we could see our hunt was dwindling and it didn’t appear Tom was going to follow through with getting us to camp so we decided to throw in the towel and head home. While we were making arrangements to fly home, Tom flew out and got one of the sheep hunters that he had left in the field for 3 days with no food, tent, or heat. And to top it off, the client had shot a sheep that did not meet the criteria for a legal ram at the advice of his guide so he was extremely unhappy with his experience there. When Tom realized we were going to go home, he finally stepped up and said he would fly us out. Even though there were only 4 hunt days left for us in the season, we decided to cancel the trip home and go hunt moose.
Finally we were in moose camp on the evening of the 15th. Because we flew in that day, we couldn’t hunt due to the fly rule. However, with all the moose we saw flying into camp, we were pretty convinced that we would have no trouble finding a couple moose in the few days that remained.
So Day 1 of actual moose hunting was exciting as we heard a few bulls, both calling and antlers going through trees, but never actually put eyes on a moose.
 

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thecrittergitter

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Harold did get a little practice shooting his bow though while we wandered through the thick stuff. And sometimes thick didn’t even come close to describing it properly.
We camped at a small lake which was our only water source. So we had to filter all our water from the lake every day.
 

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thecrittergitter

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We actually thought I would get a crack at a moose right at the lake so I built myself a little set of shooting sticks in case the opportunity came along. In fact, we nearly did get a shot at one across the lake as we could hear the bull grunting and banging his antlers through the trees on the other side but just far enough in the trees to not be visible. So, we retired the first day back to the tent with no moose but high hopes for the morning.
 

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The next morning we had a little breakfast and decided that since there were only three hunt days left, we should split up and cover ground. Harold peeled back behind camp and I went across the lake. No sooner had I gotten across the lake and I look up to see a cow moose staring at me. I thought, well, there is no way there isn’t a bull near so I’m gonna sit tight and see what happens. Sure enough, after about 3 minutes, I could hear the antlers on the trees and a few grunts. 30 yards behind the cow I catch movement and turns out what I see are flashes of moose antler. As a non-resident, we are limited to only shooting bulls with 4 brow tines on one side or 50” wide as a minimum. It was too thick to see how wide he was and I was really trying hard to see his fronts. All of a sudden the bull turned right toward me, lowered his head and tipped his rack toward the sky. I could see that he had very impressive fronts and one side was at least 4 on the split so I knew he was legal. It looked over 50” wide but never got a clear enough view to make that call. The only gap the bull would hit was coming quick. I decided to take him knowing he was legal and really only a couple days left to hunt. As soon as the bulls shoulder hit the 3 foot gap in the trees, I was on it. At the report, the bull dropped. I was pretty dang excited knowing I just hammered a nice Alaska moose! Of course what happened 30 seconds later about brought me to my knees. As I was walking up to my dead moose, I hear another bull coming through the trees. When the second bull hits the open in front of me, I couldn’t believe it. This moose was far larger than the one I had shot! In fact, my dream moose! Wide paddles, lots of points, great fronts, and probably near 70” wide. All I could do was sit and shake my head as this giant of a bull walked right by me. I snapped a couple pictures although they don’t do him justice. Although Harold could have grabbed my rifle and tanked this giant bull, he just smiled and said "I don't think I can shoot my recurve that far".....as awesome as that bull was, and dead to rights, every animal he has in his trophy room was taken with a stick and string and he wasn't going to change that, even on a boone and crockett moose......hats off to him for that accomplishment.
 

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thecrittergitter

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Finally, I was walking up to the moose I had taken! And until you actually see an Alaskan Bull Moose on the ground in front of you, its hard to picture just how big these things really are! GIANTS! The moose actually ended up being a real nice one with a cool drop tine on his left side. I'm not going to complain, he is a dang nice bull but awesome character but dang that giant is burnt into my memory pretty hard.;)
 

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thecrittergitter

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Of course, now the real work begins……and by the way, one moose is roughly 10 full backpack loads to get out. We managed to do it in 8 loads but we loaded extra heavy since we only had a ½ mile to pack. After about 9 hours of cutting and packing, my moose was back at camp!
 

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Now with a little pressure off of getting two moose, Harold and I took off the following morning to find him a bull. We hiked out about a ½ mile from camp and started some calling. Right away we got a response and as we made a move on the bull, it turned out he was making a move on us too. It didn’t take long and that bull was only 70 yards out and coming in quick. I ran back and set up to try and bring the bull within 20 yards of Harold and his recurve bow. The scenario worked out perfectly………..only it was a borderline legal bull so at only 6 yards, Harold decided to pass the shot and not take the risk of it not being quite legal. It was an exciting setup though.
Harold and I sat for a while and listened for other bulls. We heard a cow in the distance and a different bull that sounded like he was headed for that cow. We started in that direction but after a short walk, Harold said he was really starting to not feel well. We decided to head back to camp and rest for a few hours and plan an evening hunt. We took a much needed 3 hour nap and got up ready to look for a moose. We threw out a few cow calls just to see if we could get a response. Harold decided he would need a bathroom break before we took off. While I was gathering my gear for my pack, I heard a bull moose start grunting less than 200 yards from camp. By the time Harold returned from his business, that moose had cut the distance in half! We knew we had to get set up right now as this was gonna happen quick. Harold set up along the edge of the willows on the lake and I dropped back about 60 yards to start calling. We couldn’t have drawn up the play any better than we did. That bull came out in the wide open grunting and swaying his rack back and forth. I made a final call and he turned perfect coming right at me. Just when I knew he had to be close to Harold, I watched an arrow zip out of the alders and right through the chest of the bull! Perfect 15 yard shot by Harold and the moose only walked 30 yards and fell over dead. The only thing more awesome than killing a big bull moose, is having it fall over only 80 yards from your tent! This is exactly what you want your arrow to look like after you make a shot! You can’t place a shot any better than this one!
 

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thecrittergitter

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Although we both saw bigger moose in the area we were hunting, we were both dang happy with what we accomplished on this short hunt window we were given. I’m super happy to have shared this hunt with a great friend and without a doubt, one of the most accomplished hunters I know. And to think he almost passed on this bull because at first he thought it wasn’t quite big enough I may have wrapped that bow around his neck if had
And so begins the work of butchering again, 2000+ lbs of animal. One backstrap on a moose looks like it would provide enough steaks for a week! And you want to talk about big front shoulders…..

Even the birds were pissed that they didn't have much to eat:)
 

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Once we had the second moose on the ground, we sent Tom a message that we were ready to get out. Unfortunately, we were once again, not on Tom’s priority list. I could write 3 pages on the rest of this hunt but I’m going to wrap it up in as short of summary as possible. Basically, Tom kept ignoring us claiming bad weather although we saw many planes flying every day and just left us with our moose in the field for 4 days. Finally, we were able to radio a state trooper in to help us out. Once Tom was made aware of the trooper at our camp, he finally flew out to get us. I can’t believe this guy stays in business treating his clients like this. Tom assured us once he got us back to base camp that he would get our moose out and back to us. We signed over a transfer of possession form and although I didn’t feel I got even half what our deal was, I wrote him a check for the full amount we agreed to before the hunt.
Well, apparently Tom decided to not go back and get our moose in timely fashion and all 1500+ pounds of prime moose meat went to waste. Due to an ongoing investigation of the situation, I don't want to provide any other details of what went on, but at this point, he didn't get our meat or cape out of our camp area and is saying its OUR fault. Unreal. I now have no moose meat, no cape, and unfortunately until this all gets sorted out, no Moose horns either.
Anyway, to end on a good note here, even with all the negatives associated with the joker we hired for service, we managed to turn it into a successful hunt. I really look up to Harold when it comes to his hunting accomplishments so being able to spend this time with a great friend like him is worth as much as coming home with a trophy moose. (course It never really came home:)) I can’t thank him enough for inviting me along on this hunt.
And most importantly, there is only one reason that I get to go on hunts like this and that is my amazing wife. And although it often goes unsaid, there is nobody who appreciates her more than I do. I truly am blessed to have her and my four amazing kids to support (term used loosely there) me in these adventures. (Support = put up with) I look forward to sharing these types of adventures with my kids when they are older. Lori may actually look forward to that as well as her workload would be cut in half if I have half the kids:)

Final shot to end a great adventure! A cup of hot chocolate after all the work is done!

And for the record, I WILL be going back! According to my wife, that will be when at least one of my kids can drive.....:)



 

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