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ASJ Cover Boy Defends Iditarod Title

alaska_cover

Cover image courtesy of Albert Lewis, seespotrun.com

This is shaping up to be a great week for Dallas Seavey. The cover subject of our March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal  just defended his 2014 Iditarod title with his third overall championship.

Here’s some of the Associated Press report via ESPN:

The Alaska musher crossed the finish line in the Bering Sea coastal town of Nome at 4:13 a.m., completing the route in eight days, 8 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds. That’s about five hours longer than the record he set in winning the 2014 race.

“Obviously going into this race, the big hubbub was all about the new trail, right?” Seavey told a packed convention hall. Concerns were about the “warm, warm, warm winter” and conditions on the Yukon River.

In fact, a snowmobile sank on thin ice on part of the route mushers were about to take. Some were considering buying rain gear.

But then winter came back to Alaska, and the trails became much more like one would expect for the Iditarod.

“We saw a lot of 40-, 50-below zero, snow,” said Seavey, of Willow. “This was a very tough race. It was not the easy run that a lot of people had anticipated for the Yukon River.”

Seavey’s father, Mitch, finished in second place Wednesday, followed by Aaron Burmeister. Behind them en route to Nome were Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle.

To win this demanding race three times in four years – his dad Mitch won the other – is a testament to not just Dallas Seavey but the dogs in his team (Alaska Dispatch has video of him crossing the finish line in Nome).

Seavey’s adventures in Alaska continue this Sunday night at 10 p.m. Pacific in the season finale of his National Geographic Channel series, Ultimate Survival Alaska.  Seavey’s Endurance team was in last place among the four teams, but anything can happen in the final challenge. But he’s already won the show’s season competition already, so his legacy is secure. And winning another Iditarod by the age of 28 puts him among the sport’s elite mushers, with seemingly plenty of races ahead of him.

Here’s Seavey to the Fairbanks News-Miner:

“The wins are a result of doing what we love. It takes a whole team to get us here.”

Finally, here’s our story on Dallas (Photos by Dallas Seavey and National Geographic Channel):

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By Chris Cocoles

Not including Dallas Seavey’s “home” squad – with wife, Jennifer and daughter, Annie – he is a vital leader of two teams that are a huge part of his life.

Seavey, who turns 28 this month, is a veteran of the National Geographic Channel series Ultimate Survival Alaska (the season finale will air on March 22 at 10 p.m., 9 Central, with new shows on Sunday nights). He’s appeared on all three seasons, leading Team Endurance to the title in season two last year and welcomed two new teammates for season three, which wraps up this month.

“It was intriguing because we were traveling across Alaska, living out of a backpack and seeing some of the most unique and strange terrain that this state has to offer,” Seavey says. “And that always takes a level of creativity and ingenuity to work your way through that environment. And it was particularly intriguing to us because that’s what my family has grown up doing.”

And for essentially the entire year, particularly the 10 or so days of the Iditarod that define the sport starting on March 9 when the race will start from Fairbanks due to low snowfall, Seavey is carrying on his family’s distinguished tradition among Alaska’s sled dog-racing community. He’s mushed his dog teams to win the sport’s premier event,  in both 2012 (when, at 25, he was the race’s youngest champion), and 2014 (when at 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds, he won the race in record time; quite a contrast from inaugural winner Dick Wilmarth needing over 20 days to complete the course in 1973).

It’s quite the busy life, but it’s exactly the way Seavey prefers his days to go: raising and racing dogs throughout his home state, conquering mental and physical challenges in the Alaskan bush, and introducing Annie to dog mushing, which three generations of Seaveys have thrived on since the 1960s. The family has dominated the last three Iditarods, Dallas’ two titles sandwiched around his father Mitch becoming the – wait for it – oldest winner of the 1,000-mile, “Last Great Race on Earth” at age 53 in 2013, his second title. Dallas’ grandfather and Mitch’s dad Dan Sr. was one of the founding fathers of the Iditarod’s inaugural race in the early 1970s. With Seaveys winning the last three races, it’s a golden era for the family

“There something to competing with your dad. And especially since my dad and I were very close,” Dallas Seavey says. “When I was with my dad in 2013 at (the White Mountain checkpoint), only 77 miles to go and him within striking distance of his second Iditarod win, it was a neat experience.”

It wasn’t the first time Seaveys had shared the stage.

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WHAT’S A PRODUCER’S dream? Cast two brothers in a live-action series where contestants are thrown into the middle of nowhere and given a challenge to get to a destination faster than their opponents. At 26, Dallas was already a household name in Alaska based on his 2012 Iditarod win and, when approached by National Geographic to do Ultimate Survival Alaska, convinced older brother Tyrell, then 28, to join him.

Surely, the siblings would provide compelling conversations and, maybe, if the show was lucky, some epic arguments as they decided on a plan of attack for whatever rivers needed to be crossed or mountains needed to be climbed. Except it wasn’t quite a family feud.

“We’ve always worked together,” says Dallas of his and Tyrell’s jobs at their dad’s kennel. “And that’s a different relationship when you work with somebody rather than having to co-habitate in the same building. And a lot of siblings are, I suppose. They don’t force you to interact beyond a certain degree. But we were always solving problems and being forced to work together. So I think we hatched out most of our differences by the time we were 12.”

Dallas called it “silent communication,” when conversations about how to approach the tasks at hand would almost become telekinetic mojo between he and Tyrell. Dallas considered this as two battle-tested Alaskans who knew exactly what problems lay ahead in the area’s topography, potential weather issues that confront them or the odds of accomplishing the goals with the limited tools and supplies they were given.

So in sync with each other were the Seaveys, when they plotted their course, they were encouraged by the cameraman to interact a little more. But that “we may not be flashy, we are effective” technique fit well into the equation. Bring together a small group of alpha-type personalities who all feel like their way is the best way, and you’re sure to get disagreements.

“It’s the Seavey way to just get the job done; not a lot of flair, not a lot of extra conversations,” says Dallas, who came back the next season. As one of three members of Team Endurance, Dallas and his mates, Eddie Ahyakak and Sean Burch, beat out the other three-person teams to win the competition with complete strangers he’d never met before filming began. For season three, there’s another entirely new team in place – mountaineer Ben Jones and heli-ski guide Lel Tone. But for Seavey, the spirit of the show as far as he is concerned is intact.

While everyone has a background in some semblance of adventure sports to, in theory, handle the terrain – an earlier third-season episode saw the teams try to cross the swift currents of the Talkeetna River – it’s as much a mental as it is a physical grind. Seavey went so far as arguing the psychological effects can sink you more than having the fitness to traverse the Alaskan bush.

“Yes, you have to have the physical talent to do this stuff. And that’s not easy, but we almost take that for granted. The people who are out there are outdoor, active people,” he says. “But the real game comes down to the mental side. One of the major factors that gets often overlooked in these group situations: Here we are, warm and well fed and watered. But now let’s try it when we’re cold and miserable, and probably haven’t slept properly in several weeks, and are severely malnourished. Hunger is one of the biggest attitude changers out there.”

All the factors combined provide a thinking player’s game that has brought Seavey back for more of his second career on Ultimate Survival Alaska on top of success as a professional dog musher.

“Creativity and challenges are what I thrive on. That’s what I do when racing the Iditarod. We try to recognize a problem, break it down to its most basic elements and solve it,” he says. “Whether it’s building a new racing sled or coming up with new strategies in the Iditarod, it’s problem solving. There’s definitely a mad -scientist aspect for when you come to a crossroads of a problem that you don’t have an answer for.”

Dallas dogs side shot

DALLAS SEAVEY WAS at a crossroads once. Though his promising wrestling career was pinned by injuries, he knew the family business of rigging up dogs to a sled and traveling fast through the snow. Grandpa Dan did it; his father Mitch did it. It was what the names Andretti and Unser were to motorsports, Sutter to hockey, Williams to tennis and Manning to football. A Seavey is expected to successfully race dogs through the treacherous Alaskan wilderness.

“My granddad moved to Alaska in the 1960s to be an ‘Alaskan.’ When he helped start the Iditarod, it was as much fun to plan the race as it actually meant to go do it,” Dallas says of Iditarod Hall of Fame inductee Dan Sr., who as recently as 2012 competed in the race, at 74 years old. “They were trying to figure out if it was possible to run 1,000 miles across Alaska.”

The race has now gone international after its early years usually featured Alaskans only. Most of the members of the Seavey family, including Dallas’s wife Jennifer, have competed in at least one Iditarod. The Seavey kids were home-schooled, mostly so they could have access to the tasks of maintaining the Seward-based family business of raising and racing sled dogs (it’s now known as Seavey’s Ididaride Racing Team and Sled Dog Tours).  Mitch cared for more than 100 dogs at his kennel, and oldest brothers Danny, Tyrell and Dallas – they also have a fourth brother, aspiring singer Conway Seavey – were given various duties to make sure the dogs were fed and exercised.

Dallas made his Iditarod debut in 2005 at just 18 (the minimum age to compete) and was the youngest musher to finish the race, coming in 51st. But it wasn’t until 2009 that he was actually “competitively” racing in the event. He still seemed like a longshot to win the 2012 race, given that most previous winners were in their 30s, 40s or even 50s (Seavey said the average age of the previous 20 winners was 42). Conversely, his kennel, made up of dogs he purchased from his dad and other fellow mushers, was just 3 years old at that point. So it wasn’t as if he was known for grooming championship dogs.

“I was competing with these teams that had been going for 20 or 30 years. It’s a refining process, where you’re continually breeding from the best to the best of the best for the dogs. These dogs are just insane athletes. We were way behind the eight ball there,” Seavey says.

“It certainly seemed like from the outside, a 25-year-old racing in his fourth competitive Iditarod saying, ‘I’m going to win it and become the youngest winner ever,’ must have seemed either extremely arrogant or naïve; probably both. Maybe I was just naïve enough, just dumb enough, to believe that I could win the Iditarod. It doesn’t mean we have a lock on this race. But this was the first team I had that I knew had the potential to win – if we did everything right.”

Check. Seavey’s win was remarkable given the historical odds were so against him. This had been a sport where Father Time – like his dad – was an advantage over youthful enthusiasm. But here was the 25-year-old, a year before his father was dismissing the trend of mushers his age, winning the Last Great Race on Earth. He sat below Nome’s famed Burled Arch, sharing the stage with two of Seavey’s five lead dogs from the race, Diesel and Guinness. They were covered in yellow roses and showered with cheers from the crowd on Nome’s Front Street. Man and dogs were exhausted after such a grueling race (talk about ultimate Alaskan survival). He hugged both dogs, feeling as though winning the race was simply a bonus for appreciating what they accomplished.

It’s what this race is all about and carrying on the family’s legacy as some of Alaska’s storied sports’ personalities.

“It’s an incredible feeling. For 355 days a year I’m a dog musher, and to develop these dogs to their highest potential and to make each dog the best athlete that their genetic potential has allowed them and help them maximize that potential. That’s what a dog musher is, in my mind,” Seavey says. “For the other 10 days a year, give or take, we are focused on not necessarily winning the Iditarod, but running the best possible race. And if I run the team to the best of their ability, that is a goal met.”

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UAF Rifle Team Places Second in NCAA’s

Photo courtesy of Alaska Fairbanks athletic department

Photo courtesy of Alaska Fairbanks athletic department

 

In this month’s issue of Alaska Sporting Journal we have a package on the University of Alaska Fairbanks rifle team, which has quietly been a dynasty with 10 national championships. The Nanooks were ranked second in the nation when they hosted the NCAA Championships last weekend in Fairbanks.

UAF finished second to No. 1 West Virginia:

Many members of the team are also hunters. (UAF )

Many members of the team are also hunters. (UAF )

 

Alaska won the smallbore championship last night, holding off West Virginia by an impressive twelve shots, but it was unable to overcome the top air rifle team in the nation, as the Mountaineers rallied to defeat the Nanooks by two overall shots, 4,702 to 4,700.

“Coming in we knew that we were probably the top smallbore team in the country,” said head coach Dan Jordan. “We shot really well yesterday, but we came up just short today. West Virginia shot a phenomenal air gun today. We can’t do anything more than what we did. Both teams shot really well this weekend.”

In third place overall was Texas Christian University, who matched Nebraska’s 4,667 points, but hit 13 more 10x-shots to clinch the tiebreaker. The Cornhuskers did place in the smallbore competition, as they were in third place after last night’s action. Jacksonville State was the Championships’ fifth-place team and also went home with a trophy, as it finished in third place in the air rifle portion. Kentucky’s tally of 4,657 was good for sixth-place, while the United States Air Force Academy and Murray State placed seventh and eighth, respectively.

Alaska’s Tim Sherry placed eighth overall after finals, to lead the Nanooks, following up on his fifth-place individual finals in smallbore, last night.

Maren Prediger of West Virginia was the top individual following finals, as she topped a full contingent of Mountaineer medalists. West Virginia’s Michael Bamsey placed second overall and Garrett Spurgeon was the third best shooter. Spurgeon was also named the NCAA Championship’s Top Overall Performer.

Sherry’s 596 was the highest shot total of any Nanook, qualifying him for finals. Mats Eriksson and Ryan Anderson were Alaska’s next best shooters, as they each scored 592 points. Lorelie Stanfield and Sagen Maddalena rounded out the Nanooks, with respective shot totals of 589 and 588.

Here’s our story on the team’s coach, Jordan, who was paralyzed in a climbing accident but does not let his physical limitations slow him down from coaching or enjoying the outdoors:

Photo by Dan Jordan

Photo by Dan Jordan

 

By Chris Cocoles
University of Alaska rifle team coach Dan Jordan says he really hadn’t been challenged much by the time he’d reached the summer after his sophomore year at the same school.
In May 1999, Jordan had just completed his sophomore year on the Nanooks rifle team when he and a close friend and teammate, Amber Darland, went rock climbing north of Fairbanks.
“I was climbing and my safety pieces broke out, so I fell about 60 feet,” says Jordan who was asked by rescuers, was he allergic to anything. In a Denver Post story from a few years back, he recalled deadpanning an answer that would reflect on his ability to handle such a life-altering tragedy: “Rocks.”
He was paralyzed throughout his lower body.

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JORDAN GREW UP in rural Franktown, Colo., not far from Colorado Springs. His family wasn’t into hunting or guns, but young Dan “was infatuated with hunting and shooting from the time I was a little kid.”
His parents put Jordan into the local 4-H club so he could learn gun safety from those who did know something about firearms
He would spend endless hours shooting targets attached to hay bales in nearby cow pastures. He’d hunt with a fellow football player and his father, who was their high school coach. Jordan referred to his coach as a “mountain man” who took the boys on an epic elk and deer hunt and slept in teepees; they wore buckskins and lived out a Grizzly Adams/Jeremiah Johnson experience.
“In the winter we shot in cow and chicken barns at the fairgrounds,” Jordan says. “When I went to the state fair and saw Olympic-style shooting, I was enthralled by it.”
Jordan went to Alaska for college and was an All-American in both smallbore and air rifle in 1998 and 1999. He didn’t have a care in the world – until May 23, 1999, the date of the accident.
“I’ve always looked at it as my life was very easy before that,” he says. “I was pretty athletic and school was always easy for me. I never had to work hard at anything. So I looked at it as I finally had a challenge in my life; it’s something I’m going to have to work at.”

Dan Joordan and his wife, Amber

Dan Joordan and his wife, Amber

THREE DAYS AFTER his fall, Jordan was flown closer to home in Colorado, but after surgery and spending almost two months rehabbing in a Denver hospital – “I got tired of being there,” he said – he told his parents he wanted to return to school in Fairbanks that August. Mom and Dad understandably wanted him to delay going back so soon and adjust to life in his wheelchair and skip a semester.
“My kind of mentality was, I would rather come up in August or September and learn how to negotiate my way around, rather than come back up in January where everything was snowy and cold,” Jordan says.
“I came back somewhere around Aug. 26, got all settled in and told my parents I was leaving to go moose hunting. So one of my teammates took me and we went moose hunting and slept in the back of his Suburban. So I guess you can say I got right back into it.”
That included training for and competing in the Paralympic Games. At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, Jordan left Greece with a silver medal in the smallbore three-position shoot.
The drive to regain the post-fall form and be accurate enough to compete in the Paralympics, let alone make it to a medal ceremony, became an obsession, much like every other obstacle he suddenly had to dodge.
“I never did it for anyone else,” he says. “I love shooting.”
And now he regularly hunts and fishes around Alaska from his wheelchair.
“One of the biggest things in life that makes me happy is just being outside,” he says. “Even when I was in the hospital days after surgery, my parents would get me in a wheelchair and just take me outside just to sit and see some sunshine.”
Steve Jordan would take his son fishing in the months after the fall, so you can imagine how emotional even a stoic Dan became on that first Alaskan moose hunt.
“Being able to come back and get back into hunting again, that’s what recharges my batteries.”

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GET TO KNOW Dan Jordan and you hope you can come away thinking similarly to his attitude. To hell with the challenges his condition might have prevented. To hell with the “why me” reaction so many of us might have screamed out if something of this magnitude was inflicted upon us.
“I never had a depression phase; I never went through any kind of anything,” Jordan says. “After surgery when I woke up, nobody had to me that I was paralyzed. You knew it. It was just, ‘OK, now what?’”
It started with the friend who watched his fall in horror. Amber Darland and Dan Jordan were already close friends, and it was Dan who had been futilely “kind of chasing her at the time” before the accident.
“Then when I got hurt, she kind of started chasing me and I didn’t want anything to do with her,” says Jordan, who was a year ahead of her in school and moved back to Colorado after graduation. They were separated again for a time being, but eventually their paths crossed back in Fairbanks for good.
“It took about 10 years of chasing each other,” he says.
Now they’re married, and Jordan has happily accepted that his accident wouldn’t define who he is.
“Things may take a little bit longer and I may have to get creative with how I do some things,” he says. “And there are some things I just flat out can’t do. But that’s part of it. So be it.”

 

Alaskan Huntress Hillarie Putnam (Part II)

Hillarie Putnam 1
Here’s part II of our chat with Alaskan hunter and actress  Hillarie Putnam, currently available in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal: 
By Chris Cocoles
Hillarie Putnam knows she can hang with the guys and be just fine, thank you.
The 26-year-old big-game hunter, actress and docu-series television star still doesn’t understand why women who hunt like herself are sometimes questioned for their motives.
“Where did this idea come from that says every woman has to look (a certain way)?” asks Putnam, who recently wrapped up a stint on The History Channel bear hunter show, The Hunt. “If you play sports, you have to look like a man; if you’re in business, you have to look like a man. It’s this crazy thing. That’s probably why we’re so confusing to so many men. We have all these different elements to us.”
Don’t put any label on Putnam, who’s tough enough to take down a Kodiak brown bear – which she did on The Hunt – but also pulled off the role of Tracy Lord – the one made famous on the big screen by legendary Katharine Hepburn – when she was one of the stars of the stage version of The Philadelphia Story in Portland, Ore.
“Being able to play that role was phenomenal. The (character) has an affair on her fiancé the night before she gets married while she’s still in love with her ex-husband,” Putnam says. “You look at what she’s doing, and you realize the time period it came from is pretty long ago. We look at women who make those choices today, but we’ve been making these same bad and good decisions for years.”
Putnam has plenty to keep her busy in a hectic schedule. She co-owns a talent agency in Portland, Red Thread Entertainment, and is working with TV executives in Los Angeles to develop her own outdoors show from a woman’s perspective.
In part II of our chat with Putnam, the Wasilla resident, who splits time among Alaska, Seattle and Portland, talks about her earliest hunting memory, a once promising career in sports, acting and her ultimate dream job.
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Chris Cocoles Can you share one of your most memorable hunting or fishing trips?
Hillarie Putnam I remember my dad and I went to Pioneer Peak (Chugach Mountains, near Palmer) when you could still just get a tag and go sheep hunting there. Now you need a permit. It was just he and I and I had super short hair; we climbed up, and even now he still gives me a run for my money when we’re climbing up a mountain. But I could not keep up then; I think I was 8 or maybe 10. I remember finally getting up to the top and pitching a tent. Every time we stopped we kept eating blueberries and he kept telling me how great it would be once we got to the top. This sheep and goat hunting is my favorite type of hunting to do. You get up there and it’s such a wonderful feeling. You put forth the effort to get there. And then you have all this stuff you can look down on. On that hunt we didn’t get anything or even really see anything. It was just the element of being above the rest of the world for three days where no one can reach you. I’d wake up every morning and my dad was cooking breakfast outside. You throw your stuff in a light pack, hike around the mountain range and come back. It’s such a special moment. You’re the only ones who remember it. We didn’t bring any smartphones or cameras of any kind. The only two people who remember that climb are my dad and I.
CC And you enjoy the roughing it too?
HP There were no sat phones back then and I didn’t grow up climbing with a GPS. We would go out and my mom might not hear from us for three days, and if we were weathered in she might not hear from us for five days or a week. You really missed the people you were away from back then. I don’t know if you miss people the same way. I went to (an outdoors store) and I thought, “This is wrong. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. There are packets of soda!” You are supposed to go out there and suffer. I miss what it’s like to daydream about a pizza. Then when you get back, you can have it.
CC How patient do you think you have to be as a hunter?
HP In Alaska that’s a big thing. A lot of (hunters) come from Montana or Michigan and they’re used to deer hunting from a (deer stand) or in a blind. There’s something drawing the animal to you. So you wait, but it’s not the same as it is in Alaska. If you hunt on ranches or have guides, there is a lot of wandering around and trying to find the creatures. But in Alaska, there are so many creatures, a lot of times it is just about finding a good spot and seeing what happens and waiting. It’s like moose hunting, which is calling them in and seeing what can come to you. And most of the time in Alaska when hunters aren’t successful they just don’t have patience.
CC You were quite the athlete back in high school in track and basketball, correct?
HP  I won the state title in three events and I did the high jump, long jump, triple jump and hurdles. I had colleges that had scholarships for me. I was looking at UNLV and Michigan State for track and field.
CC Were you a forward in basketball?
HP I played all five positions. I’m 5-9 so a little short inside, but I was an aggressive defensive player. What I lacked in size I made up for in aggression. I played some point guard too and I was a coach on the floor, for better or for worse [smiling]. I didn’t realize it when I was in school, but now that I’m older, I realize that I wasn’t a big communicator. I liked to wake up at 5 a.m. and go run or shoot hoops, and I kind of expected everyone else to do that. Now I realize that who wants to do that at that age?
CC You played lingerie basketball, like the Seattle Mist (of the lingerie football league)?
 HP Exactly. A friend of mine is the quarterback [laughs]. A lot of people said, “Well, that’s pornographic.” But it’s interesting. When I first went in there I thought to myself, “I have to be careful about what this is.” But these women were successful (NCAA) Division I ballplayers. These girls could play basketball and some of them are mothers and some are doctors. Every night after they get done with their regular lives, they come in and play this game but wear feminine clothing. And they look like beautiful women.
CC But acting seemed to overtake sports, and you went to college at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles. What was that like?
HP The school just focuses on having an entertainment career, and our final project for our career course was putting together an original (subject) that you think would do well in television. Everyone in the class and the faculty voted on the best, and I actually won. It was based on a female hunting travel show that went around the world highlighting different locations that had women who were standouts. And now, seven or eight years later, I’m hopefully able to write a show that will do that. The more you look back the more you realize everything you’ve done is preparing you for what’s about to come your way.
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CC One of your biggest movie roles to date was in The Frozen Ground, which had quite an impressive cast. How did that go with some Hollywood heavyweights?
HP The person who was the most fun to work with was 50 Cent (nee Curtis Jackson, who plays a pimp in the serial killer film that takes place in Alaska). He was remarkable. His persona is he’s this bad boy who sings dirty songs that people grind up to each other in the clubs. And then you meet him and he’s the most polite, well-mannered and sweetest guy; he’s kind of a little shy. But I was blown away by how professional and sweet he was. I was in a holding room with him and (co-star) Vanessa Hudgens. She was super bubbly with high energy, and it was interesting having that experience with them.
CYour big scene was with Nicolas Cage, but you had a memorable meeting with one of the other stars of the movie, John Cusack.
HP (Cage) just showed up and did it, and he had a big entourage, and a lot of them flew in and out to shoot their scenes. But Cusack, I had a very interesting interaction with him. There ended up being a scheduling conflict and the director told me to come down and hang around the set for a while. But there was a scene where I was just standing there watching the production. He gets up from the table and walks over to this pillar where I was and then he walks out the door. But he walks up to me as “the killer.” They yell, “Cut!” and he looks at me to try and figure out who I am. And he’s still in character and hasn’t flipped back to John Cusack yet. So I’m standing against the wall and I’m like, “John, this is really strange. I kind of feel like you want to rape me. So can you please turn on your other face to we can have a conversation.” But he was very sweet, and every little girl grows up with John Cusack in Say Anything.
CC Talk about the motivation to succeed that you seem to have and how it pertains to being Alaskan but with some Hollywood roots.
HP The kids I grew up with, they don’t seem to have average lives. Friends I went to school with, some are bush pilots and they have three different companies where they’re air-taxiing people around. They just have this intense drive and ambition. I think that’s why I liked L.A. There are big dreamers and they’re a little weird. I was just down there visiting friends, and they work five jobs and live in tiny apartments. And they truly believe, to their core, they are going to make something of themselves and there is something bigger than them. And that’s what I run into when I’m in Alaska.
Hillarie Putnam 5
CC Do you enjoy the camaraderie of being outdoors with friends and family?
HP It’s always learning more about each other. Some of my best relationships in the entertainment world have been at Crystal Creek Lodge (907-357-3153crystalcreeklodge.com), a fishing lodge in King Salmon, Alaska, in the middle of nowhere. When the guests come out you’re up in the early hours to go fishing. You have crappy weather, but there’s something about the idea of being remote and cut off from the rest of the world. You actually have to look somebody in the eye when you’re talking to them.
CDo you have any long-term goals?
HP There’s this dream of Alaska – what Alaska is and what you can do there. And when you want to give someone the Alaskan experience, you kind of rise to living how Alaska breeds its humans to be. So that’s the ultimate goal for me is to have a lodge of my own.
CC What it is about Alaska that everyone loves enough to do TV shows there?
HP I think the reason why Alaska has been so on fire lately, (the outdoors) is all you have up there. I think people long for that. It’s wonderful for entertainment where we’re at right now with media and have information at the snap of a finger. For years and years – and I hope it will continue to be that way – Alaska is such a turn-on to so many people. If you talk to tons of people, it’s always a bucket list. If not to get hunting or fishing or snowboarding, it’s at least to go on a cruise. It’s untamed, and it’s fascinating to me that it’s still out there. 

 

Casting And Blasting The Interior

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Note: The following story appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal
By Dennis Musgraves
Alaska announces a “last call” for migrating salmon every season near summer’s end. Inevitably, the fish stop entering fresh water. It’s annoying for many sport fishermen, including this self-diagnosed fishaholic.
I am among a group of relentless anglers who pursue salmon until the unwelcome finale, and September normally marks my last chance to break out my rod and reel. As nature’s clock ticks down to closing time I begin thinking about additional outdoor activities to help fill the impending void.
Developing a condition which I refer to as “bird brain” during this transitional period is not uncommon. The seasonal changes and dwindling opportunities chasing wild salmon invoke a desire in me to experience adventures found in Alaska with upland bird hunting.
The thrill of flushing grouse and the challenge of shooting them in flight are compulsive and consuming. Aside from plotting dates for a final bent rod with a salmon, I simply can’t keep my thoughts away from wingshooting in the fall.
Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Casting and blasting 
Fortunately, a window of opportunity exists between September and October, when Interior Alaska outdoorsmen can find good bird hunting and salmon fishing in the day. Unlike hunting for big game, I can accomplish a grouse hunt in a few hours, harvest a meal, and have the enjoyment of being in the outdoors with a shooting sport. Such a combo satisfies both outdoor afflictions in a simple day trip. A special “cast and blast” trip is achieved for me and a good friend, Jeff Beyer.
Small game hunting opportunities in Alaska are plentiful. Nearly every region has good populations of upland bird species, which include three species of ptarmigan and four types of grouse.
Sharp-tailed grouse are exclusively found in the central portion of the state, specifically in the interior valleys and foothills of Alaska’s Game Management Unit (GMU) 20. Sharp-tails thrive in the vicinity of Delta Junction because of an ideal supporting habitat.
Grouse options 
The grouse are medium- to large-size birds with an almost chicken-like appearance. Spotted colors of brown and white cover their feathers. Their distinct short-pointed tail feathers allow for an easy identification in the field. Male birds display bright yellow-colored, eyebrow-like bands (called combs) above each eye.
The pointy-tailed game birds can be found in low-lying areas of muskeg, brushlands and near shrub-spruce treelines located along the Richardson Highway and Alaska Highway. Sharpies will also favorite recently burned out areas and agricultural plots. The agricultural areas located east of Delta Junction host plentiful numbers of birds, but most of the area is private property.
My approach to hunting these tasty game birds is not complex. Public hunting areas in GMU 20D can be accessed by several unimproved roads and trails that lead off from the highways. I normally trailer my ATV so I can ride farther away from the road before stalking the dirt trails, low grass-brush line or wood line, trying to flush or spot birds perched directly atop spruce trees.
The fertile grouse hunting grounds are in close proximity to Delta Clearwater River. A short drive of less than 15 miles from either highway system allows easy access to the state recreational site and boat launch. The distance is perfect for a combo hunting and fishing trip during the short fall season.
Coho final run                
Delta Clearwater River happens to host the largest congregation of returning coho, or silver, salmon from the Yukon River drainage. Coho begin entering the DCW in September, which coincides with the sharp-tails presence in the area brushlands. The fish have traveled over 1,000 miles from the ocean up the mighty Yukon River and through the silt-laden Tanana River before reaching the final tributary. The salmon are no longer mint bright silver. Their sides are now colored a vibrant brick red and male fish display large pronounced black kypes.
Although these salmon do not have the typical appearance of saltwater-caught table fare, fish are often harvested by locals. Since the flesh is firm and acceptable for consumption, it’s not uncommon to see a limit on a stringer near the campground. Current fishing regulations allow anglers to retain three coho per day from Delta Clearwater.
Coho fishing on this river system is normally a catch-and-release event for me (although I have harvested fish in the past for a meal on the grill or so I can put a wood smoker to them). Some anglers may thumb their nose at the outward appearance; however, I am no salmon snob. I find the Clearwater coho taste just fine and actually hold a certain majestic look in their spawning phase coloration.
The blushed salmon can be caught using a 6-7 weight fly rod by drifting streamers and leech patterns in the current close to the bottom. The fishery provides an excellent amount of action for anglers at varying skill levels. Having a boat will enable anglers to find deep holes that hold large groups of salmon. But access by boat is not required in order to achieve success; casting from the riverbank or wading in the current near the state campground will also produce hookups with passing fish.
Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Combining two loves 
The idea of a “blast and cast” was co-conspired between Jeff and me a couple years ago. We found ourselves in a dilemma over planning a quick one-day outing, which had to be relatively close to our homes in the Tanana Valley. Deliberations seemed to be in a deadlock with Jeff wanting to get his jet boat wet for coho and my ideas leaning towards feeling the recoil of a shotgun on a sharp-tail shoot. Our discussion was inclusive, and did not take long for an obvious question to arise. “Why not do both?” we concluded. Merging both events would be doubling the fun. So it was decided to make a go for feathers and fish in one day.
We planned on dividing the day equally to allow appropriate time for each activity. Bird hunting would be first, in the early morning when sharp-tails seem to be most active. Setting a four-hour cutoff time for bird hunting ensured good time management and allowed sufficient amount of remaining sunlight in the day to make the switch for fly fishing coho during the late afternoon.
I prefer to carry a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, using 2¾-inch shells in a number 6 shot count. Choosing a firearm for grouse hunting varies between hunters and is a personal choice.
Most use lighter shotguns in 20 or 28 gauges. Some grouse hunters choose to target the grouse with a .22-caliber rifle since it helps prevent numerous pellets in the meat and allows for increased precision while making a distant shot.
Locating game birds is not difficult if they are present. Most of the time you can find them perched like a Christmas tree ornament on the top of spruce trees, or in a small covey just shy of a tall grass line along a dirt trail. Unlike their close relatives, docile spruce grouse, the birds spook quickly and flush easily when within range of a good shot.
Last year Jeff and I were able to kick up several large coveys of birds, harvesting a total of five between us in fewer than three hours of hunting.
Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Onto the salmon 
The intermission between acts is short. Moving down the road and dropping a boat into the Clearwater takes only minutes. The fishing is neither technical nor difficult. Catching coho has an almost consistent predictable conclusion in September. Locating groups of bold red-colored salmon swimming in the clear-running river can be done with little effort. It’s not the challenge of finding and catching the fish that draws me; it’s the ability to catch oodles of fish.
Fly fishermen will find fish very responsive, almost automatic with any type of bright-colored streamer. I prefer drifting a purple Egg-sucking Leech close to the river bottom. Fishermen casting hardware will find large spinners also work very well using a slow-and-low retrieve method. In addition, resident Arctic grayling are among the salmon and found in good numbers.
During peak timing of the salmon run, catching and releasing a dozen fish in one hour is representative for most anglers.
Fishing typically ends because of dropping daytime temperatures and  diminishing light. It’s cold enough on some days is to lock up fishing reels and smother line guides with ice. Moisture dripping off the fly line or fishing line from repeated casting accumulates quickly and hardens like concrete. The frustrating frozen water in the line guides prevents casting and requires constant cleaning to keep the spaces open to allow fishing line to pass through.
But at the end of the day, the pesky cold is easily overlooked in the entire scheme of a completed blast-and-cast outing. The productive salmon waters and generous numbers of grouse found in this game management unit keep me coming back for the combo event every season.
The experience leaves me satisfied yet exhausted at the end of a day, providing a short-term escape and temporary relief to my outdoor addiction urges. Even better is the opportunity for friends to share time in the field and on an open river once more before the harsh winter arrives.
I also really appreciate tasty bacon-wrapped sharp-tail grouse breast fresh off the grill.  ASJ
Editor’s note: Author Dennis Musgraves sportfishes all over Alaska 100-plus days of the year and is a member of the “Alaskan Salmon Slayers.” Read more about them at alaskansalmonslayers.com

 

Record Bear? Depends On Who You Talk To

Record? Or Not? Photo courtesy of Larry Fitzgerald

The debate about records amuses me. Baseball’s true home run king? Barry Bonds’ detractors say he wasn’t clean through rampant rumors of his alleged steroid abuse, and he didn’t endure the ignorant racist hate thrown at Henry Aaron – imagine if he Twitter was around in Hank’s era? (I’m anything but a Barry Bonds fan – in fact I detested his surly attitude –  and love Hank Aaron’s courage, but baseball allowed years of drug abuse by its players, so there’s no debating that Bonds hit more home runs than Aaron, so end of argument in that context).

In the outdoor sports world, George Perry’s largemouth bass record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces is still official over 80 years later, but several reports have surfaced, like here, and here, and here, that have created plenty of controversy over the most famous fishing record in these parts.

So it’s not surprising that another apparent record seems to be in dispute. On Wednesday, media outlets reported a giant grizzly bear harvested by hunter Larry Fitzgerald in 2013 was determined to be the largest bear ever taken by a hunter. 

Here’s a portion the Fox News report:

Although Fitzgerald shot the bear last September, Boone and Crockett, which certifies hunting records, has only now determined the grizzly, with a skull measuring 27 and 6/16ths inches, is the biggest ever taken down by a hunter, and the second largest grizzly ever documented. Only a grizzly skull found by an Alaska taxidermist in 1976 was bigger than that of the bear Fitzgerald bagged.

Bears are scored based on skull length and width measurements, and Missoula, Mont.-based Boone and Crockett trophy data is generally recognized as the standard. Conservationists use the data to monitor habitat, sustainable harvest objectives and adherence to fair-chase hunting rules.

But the Anchorage Daily News has a different take on the subject today, arguing that some of the news hasn’t been completely accurate, if technical:

Here’s the ADN’s Craig Medred on the confusion:

That a nine-foot grizzly is the largest bear killed by a hunter in Alaska is likely to come as a surprise to Alaskans, some number of whom — hunters or not — might have seen 10-foot grizzly bears. This small fact, however, seems not to have entered the consciousness of the mainstream media as of yet.

“Alaska bear largest to be killed by hunters,” headlined The Spokesman-Review in Washington state.

“An Alaska hunter bagged a massive grizzly bear that has been certified by the Boone and Crockett Club as the biggest bruin ever taken down by a hunter,” reported the New York Daily News.

Well, not exactly. There is no doubt that 35-year-old auto body repairman Larry Fitzgerald killed a nice trophy, but lost in all of the hullabaloo over his bear is the fine print that defines Alaska’s record bruins.

Fitzgerald’s kill is a record bear only because it was shot north of the Alaska Range. South of those mountains slicing through Denali National Park and Preserve, his bear would be just another big bear. That’s because the record-keeping Boone and Crockett Club arbitrarily splits Alaska brown/grizzly bears into two separate categories — grizzly bears and brown bears. The world-record Alaska brown bear, taken in Kodiak in 1952, is much larger.

The state of Alaska doesn’t recognize the distinction between a grizzly bear and an Alaska brown bear, nor do wildlife scientists. Both say the only real difference is diet.

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2014/05/07/3460036/giant-grizzly-is-one-for-some.html?sp=/99/474/#storylink=cpy

So there you have it. Another debate for two hunters to have while sharing a Happy Hour draft at pubs everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Deals On Two Most ‘Overlooked’ Weeks At Katmai Lodge

email_header_02
By Andy Walgamott, on April 30th, 2014

Fly fishing season is upon us. Presently we are very busy loading up supplies and making sure Katmai Lodge is ready to open in June. We are very excited to begin this season with you.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Katmai Lodge would like to offer you a ONE-TIME SPECIAL PRICE of $5,000 for a SEVEN-NIGHT STAY on two of the most overlooked weeks of the year.

JUNE 28-JULY 5
This week was last year’s BEST for king and sockeye fishing as well as great trout and grayling. With the mild winter and early spring, the Alagnak River should be in prime shape for another early arrival of kings en masse.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Coupled with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wanting to get sockeye escapement into the river, this is the most consistent week for non-stop numbers. It’s also a perfect time for trout and grayling on mice and other dry flies.

JULY 26-AUGUST 2
Always wanted to learn to fly fish? Catch that king salmon on the fly? This week of transition is the time 90 percent of our king run is already here and the chum salmon run is at its peak. With the onset of the pink salmon run and shots at silvers, the river will be boiling with fish (only sockeye are unavailable at this time) – and it is all here waiting for you, all at a time without pressure on the river though not for a lack of great fishing!

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Katmai Lodge offers personalized fishing adventures for groups of all sizes and experience levels. Accessed through its private airstrip with its own amphibious equipped de Havilland Turbine Otter, the main lodge rests atop a bluff overlooking the Alagnak River, offering hundreds of miles of fishing in Alaska’s only designated Trophy Fishing Area.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

Already one of the great fishing ecosystems in Alaska, fishing on the Alagnak continues to improve. The pristine river is uniquely home to all five Pacific salmon species along with native stream fish such as rainbow trout, Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden/char, with four or five salmon species spawning within 2 miles below and 45 miles above the lodge.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

The region is also home to a diverse array of wildlife, which provides amazing photo opportunities.

An experienced guide staff personalizes each guest experience, making use of the lodge’s 40 boats to explore the full range of the Alagnak. Our river-based lodge is only 10 minutes away from tidewater. Its diverse fleet of both jet and prop boats allows for both sea-fresh salmon and rainbow trout fishing, while the lodge’s floatplane enables easy access to Katmai National Park for viewing the renowned Brooks Falls brown bears and for fishing the area’s many blue-ribbon trout streams.

When off the water, anglers are encouraged to enjoy the unrivaled amenities of Katmai Lodge, which boasts more square footage per guest than any other lodge in Alaska. World-class chefs prepare hearty breakfasts and gourmet dinners in the central dining room.

(KATMAI LODGE)

(KATMAI LODGE)

The main lodge includes a fully stocked fly-tying area complete with expert instruction, central gathering place, a clothing and gift shop as well as Internet access. Adjacent guest cabins welcome anglers to rest and relax, offering the privacy of individual common areas.

The high season for Alaskan salmon fishing at Katmai Lodge runs from late June through September, with trout season opening June 8th. For reservations or to inquire about group packages, anglers should visit the newly launched website at www.katmai.com or call 1 (800) 330-0326 for more information.