A Short Quick Moose Hunt- But a Long Read
Or How to make a day last as long as possible...
Or When I was a Boy We Hunted Moose Five Miles In and it Was Upriver Both Ways!
Sunday was my son's last good day to go moose hunting with me in a unit very close to town. I had drawn a very good tag against ridiculously long odds. It was for the head of Turnagain Arm for those that might know the place a bit. Two rivers are the main access point and the valleys they drain are very large and the moose population is not great right now... But not many folks have tags...
Saturday I had a friend fly me over the valleys to see if the moose were there. In one, 20-Mile River we saw absolutely no moose and two camps set up by obvious moose hunters. In Placer we flew for almost an hour before spotting a small bull racking the willows to get rid of his velvet and/or show the Moose World he was a viable candidate for matrimony... or at least a two-week polygamy fling.
While circling to take a closer look a whole herd with 10 cows a good big bull all stood up about a quarter-mile from the smaller bull beating the brush. A couple more passes just to see how to get a boat to the moose were met with less than good routes in the heavily braided river.
At the boat launch, unimproved, extremely steep, shallow at the bottom, and covered with nasty thixotropic glacial silt, we met a father-son team and they had a cow tag. In an effort to make sure we stayed out of each others way it became obvious we were both headed to the same huge meadow and had some knowledge of the area... Oh well... It seemed it might be tough. We brought along a tremendous young man to help. Among other things he grew up in Kodiak and loves miserable weather. He is also an incredible mechanic and extremely tough and strong.
A mile or two up the river we started having trouble finding enough water. The 75 horse outboard jet had slid down in its mounting about an inch so the toe was below the hull instead of directly behind it. We kept stubbing our toe and tossing gravel all over the place. Gravel with glacial silt is mighty tough on impellers and such...
When the small braid we were in split once again we really started having issues with no water. The other boat had picked a different braid that we knew was going to spit them out at the same place as our braid. Then seemingly out of nowhere a small bore tide hit us... a gentle wave a couple inches high of gray, silty water and we were immediately being pushed upriver with no effort on our parts aside from pushing off the banks.
Several miles later we came in view of the trees I had marked the edge of the moose meadow with. We had passed the other boat quite a distance back we believed and so I sent my son and Eben ahead to find the moose while I worked at getting the boat up to the meadow. They were just out of sight at the treeline when the tide turned and I suddenly found 1,500 pounds of boat 75 yards from the nearest flowing water. At which time the other boat came around the corner in that same stretch of still flowing water and got stuck. Before they could get unstuck they lost their water, too.
I forgot to mention the fact we had a steady rain mixed with snow and sleet. Working hard and sweating in the rain with too many clothes on pretty soon led to wet clothing and discomfort...
The full moon had just passed and the tides were therefore getting smaller and we had just ridden one to its top... the next might not be as large and the next one that large would not be for another month. The prospect of leaving the boat for a month was not a good one. So I started digging a trench to move the boat to the deepest water available, dammed small rivulets to shunt water under the boat and started working at everything I could do to get the boat back toward water. After several hours I had gained almost an inch. My idea was to cut some drift wood into rollers and lever the boat up on them and roll the boat down the beach to water.
Eben and Riley were wondering where I was after they had walked all around the meadow, climbed trees to look from and found the trail the moose had left the meadow on. It led straight back toward the boat. They were in sight of me so cut over to me instead so we could go at them from the boat side.
Suddenly the guys from the other boat are signaling big bull moose and pointing like he was right there. The son had climbed a tree and started calling and raking the tree with an old moose scapula. The bull was just behind a small screen of trees. They told us to shoot the bull first and they would shoot a cow afterward as they would stay around for quite a while. So we did, and they did, and our problems really started in earnest.
On the first load of meat Riley was carrying an entire front leg of the big bull and it weighed over 100 pounds. Riley weighs about 165. Eben is well over 200, but tall and solid, even while carrying a hind quarter which probably went 120 or so. They carried the first load back to the boat together (something you ALWAYS do when packing big loads) and Riley managed to do a face plate in knee deep water in a nasty puddle. He had to drop his pack there and they came back for it after they got the hind quarter to the beach.
I failed to mention the entire trail was through a muskeg moose swamp with standing water everywhere and a lot of brush. It was tough trail to walk without a pack.
They took a lot of time attending to themselves and adding a bit to my channeling on the boat situation. Riley ate a whole can of Stagg chili, cold, to try and kickstart his internal hummingbird heater. He was to remain very cold and uncomfortable for the rest of the trip... Though he never once complained.
I was trying to wrestle solo with a very large carcass and not making much progress, at least by the standards of my prime... LOL... And wondering why they were taking so long. The pack was only a bit more than a quarter-mile.
The cow the young fellow got was a shorter pack and the lad carried everything while his father cut.
Eventually the entire moose was reduced to packable chunks and moved to the beach, the last two loads in the dark.
Did I mention the brown bear I had seen the evening before while flying? It was straight across the valley from the meat pile. Of course the meat pile was stacked right on top of a set of very large brown bear tracks.
Eben showed us a Kodiak trick worth filing away... All available firewood was heaped and he filled a chili can with gas and topped it with wet leaves and moss from the beach. When lit the gas burned slowly and gradually started drying the wet wood... The rain had only slowed, never stopped. Gradually the wet wood started burning and before long we had a cheerful little fire, despite all our misgivings about how long we were going to be there.
Then the mind got to working... The evening before we had the bore tide running up the Arm at 5:30PM. It was significantly later and the tide was not there yet... It runs an hour later each day, but by 9:30 I was pretty well convinced it had come and gone, well short of us.
By 10:00 we were talking about shelter options. By 10:30 it was getting pretty serious. Riley was still soaked to the skin and shivering. We were looking at getting him dry and in a change of clothes when someone said they heard water running. A sweep with the flashlights showed nothing but a few minutes later the bore tide hit us and within minutes the boats were floating.
We loaded the boats quickly and headed across the river, what had been a river bed minutes before, and nosed the boat against the bank. Earlier it had been a four foot drop followed by a beach. Now it was a short step off the bow to the bank. Riley held the line and a flashlight while Eben tossed the meat on the bow of the boat. I picked up the chunks and literally threw them in the back of the boat.
We headed down the river and bumped a couple shallow spots in the beginning... But soon the shallow spots were well under water and we motored out slowly in the dark down the very windy little river. At 11:11 we reached the boat launch, tired, sore, cold, wet, and indescribably happy.
Now, to all those I promised some moose mane to... I did say IF it was possible to grab some... It was not... So I apologize to all those I failed.
The meat is hanging in the shed with a fan on it and the frost is still standing in shaded areas this morning. Last night's moose chili was my second experiment with chocolate in chili and while it was okay, I guess I will stick to more conventional chili without the chocolate.
Surprisingly the old warrior moose tastes very good despite his obvious rutting state. The antlers stink badly from their use as sex organs... I hear the magpies out front thanking me for setting out a huge chunk of suet for them.