The following appears in the January issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
AS TOLD BY AIR FORCE TSGT DANIEL FYE
PHOTOS COURTESY OF DAN OLSON/SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL ALASKA
I wanted to serve my country after 9/11, so I joined the Air Force. There were a lot of hunters in my unit and I found myself developing an interest in hunting, but I did not come from a family of outdoorsmen and most of my friends did not hunt.
I spoke about it and my wife even bought me a Winchester Model 70. I had a rifle and I wanted to hunt, but I struggled with figuring how to get started, and that rifle sat unused for many years!
Then on May 27, 2011, during my fourth deployment, this time in Afghanistan, while conducting a joint dismounted operation with the Army, I stepped on an IED and was severely injured. I lost my left leg below the knee and my right leg had extensive damage.
I was medevaced to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where I spent two and a half months as an inpatient at Brooke Army Medical Center, and then a couple years of therapy and learning to walk again at the Center for the Intrepid.
The damage to my right leg required the use of a halo system, called the Taylor Spatial Frame. They used this device to straighten and stretch my leg to repair the damage and grow back most of the bone that was lost in the blast. I spent 13 extremely painful months with that device bolted to my leg, and within a week of its removal my leg broke again.
I had to wear a very painful hard plastic clamshell brace for over six months before my leg would heal and I could be fitted with a IDEO brace, which finally allowed me to walk without the assistance of crutches or canes. With the new brace and the use of a prosthetic leg I was finally able to get around a lot better.
SOON AFTER THIS, I started receiving invitations for some of the hunting opportunities offered to wounded servicemen and veterans, but I had just gone through a long, painful recovery process and was not ready for it.
Then one day a friend I had met at the gym asked me if I liked to hunt. I told him I had never been hunting. He told me that he owned 400 acres of land on which he took veterans hunting and he invited me to come along. I decided it was time to try and overcome my anxieties, get out of my comfort zone and go hunting!
His property was set up to take anyone hunting, no matter his or her abilities. I was able to harvest a nice nine-point buck, and that was my first animal I ever hunted. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to finally hunt and provide meat for my family. I was hooked!
Then in the fall of 2019, I was contacted by my good friend Jason Brown from Outdoors For Our Heroes (OFOH). Jason had heard of an amazing moose hunt in Alaska and asked if I would like for him to put my name in for it. Heck yeah, I would! Alaska has always been on the top of my list of places that I’ve dreamed of visiting, and so I jumped at the chance to hunt moose there.
Several months went by and I had pretty much forgotten about it until Jason called to tell me that I was being considered for the hunt; and it was not just any hunt.
It was a hunt based out of the oldest hunting lodge in Alaska, on horseback, and it was with the governor of Alaska. I thought there was no chance I would be the one selected for this amazing hunt. I felt that there were many veterans far more deserving of the opportunity.
Jason put me in contact with Cody Scriver of the Northwest Chapter of Safari Club International to help me with the next step, a video conference interview with representatives from SCI Alaska Chapter, and Steve Perrins of Rainy Pass Lodge (907-770-6304;theperrinsrainypasslodge .com), located 125 miles northwest of Anchorage. I did not know what to expect with the interview, but I was going to do my best to impress them in hopes of having a chance to go on this amazing hunt.
I was honored to be considered for this hunt, and after I had mentioned this during what I thought was the interview, SCI Alaska Chapter director John Sturgeon told me that there must be a misunderstanding: “This is not an interview; you have already been selected. This is just our way of introducing ourselves and getting to know you!”
Jason and Cody had known that I had been selected for some time, but they saved the honor of telling me for the hunt donor Steve Perrins and representatives from the hunt sponsor, SCI Alaska Chapter. I was beyond excited to be going on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I HAD TO PREPARE for this hunt. I had only ridden a horse once – a short trail ride during one of my daughter’s birthday parties – and I didn’t have the hunting gear necessary for this type of Alaskan hunt. SCI Northwest and OFOH both helped me select the gear I would need, and they set me up with riding lessons.
I learned quickly and found that I enjoy working with and riding horses. At first I struggled with mounting the horse, but I overcame this with a little practice, and after only a few lessons I was ready to experience Alaska, on horseback. I would come to learn that riding on a trail and riding across the Alaska wilderness is a whole different story!
Then the day finally came for me to begin my journey from Seattle, Washington, and embark on one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Just seeing the raw and rugged beauty of Alaska from the plane would have been enough for me, but Anchorage was just my first stop!
I was met by Joel Helgerson of SCI Alaska, and after a quick stop to check into my hotel we spent the evening touring Anchorage and visiting the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center for my first look at a bull moose and other local wildlife.
The next morning, I met Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy at the float plane dock where we would be departing for our flight to the Perrins’ Rainy Pass Lodge. Meeting the governor was a huge honor. He towered over my 6-foot-1 frame, but he was incredibly nice and I liked him right away.
We had a short weather delay and I had to remove my prosthetic leg to cram into the front seat, but before too long we were loaded into a 1950s DHC-2 Beaver for an amazingly scenic flight into Rainy Pass Lodge. We landed on the lake in front of the lodge, where we received a warm welcome from Perrins, his family and all those who worked at the lodge. It was nice to finally meet the family who had made my dream of coming to Alaska a reality.
We offloaded gear and got settled into our cabin where I was able to really get to know the governor, who is very personable. It quickly went from hunting with the governor, to just me and a friend on a hunting trip. I had the same experience with the Perrins family and the entire Rainy Pass Lodge team. All of them are the most gracious and friendly people you will ever meet. I was already having an amazing experience and we had not even left the lodge yet!
The next morning, guide Stevie Perrins took us out to sight in our rifles and familiarize me with my horse, Strudel, a beautiful Alaska mountain horse of the shorter, sturdier Norwegian fjord breed that I had no problems mounting or riding. From there, we packed our lunches, loaded gear and made our way up to a lookout point with a view of the whole valley. We spent the day glassing, spotting a few smaller moose and a black bear sow with cubs.
And later that afternoon I found a bull with several cows across the valley – about 5 miles away. It was getting late but we had a chance, so we mounted up and attempted to close in on him over rough terrain filled with thick brush, swamps and a river crossing. We gave it our best effort, but there was just not enough time to reach him before dark. He would have to wait!
IN THE MORNING, WE headed back up to the lookout spot. Our guide quickly located the bull through his spotting scope and the stalk was on – back over the swamps through the brush and making our way down to and crossing the river.
The water was up to our saddlebags and I could not help but smile at this amazing experience – riding horses through the wilderness of Alaska, crossing rivers and rough terrain while going after a monster bull moose.
I do not think I could have foreseen this ever happening nine years ago when I was laid up in a hospital bed, trying to survive my injuries, but that too has passed and here I was in Alaska!
We got within 500 yards of where we had last seen the moose, dismounted and grabbed our rifles, making our final approach on foot. I was so excited that in the thick brush my feet sank a foot deep in the swamp, but the difficulty of the trek was barely noticeable.
As we closed in on my bull, Gov. Dunleavy pointed to one of the cows. She was standing on full alert and had us busted dead to rights. Once alerted, the bull we were looking for stood up. He was 293 yards on the rangefinder, but the bull had us locked down tight and we could not get any closer.
It was shoot from here or pass him up, so we set up a tripod, hoping to get the solid rest we would need for a steady shot. My nerves were really starting to set in, and I’d never shot at that distance before, let alone on uneven ground and through thick brush.
We counted at least five cows with the bull and I had to make sure I had a clear line of fire before I shot. I took aim and I pulled my first shot. The adrenaline had gotten to me and I heard the governor say he thought I had shot high. I saw that the bull was still standing there, and with my next and final shot, I finally took down my first bull moose!
We gathered our horses and made our way down to my moose. This was my first time to ever walk up to a bull moose, and it was a huge mature bull, with antlers measuring 60 inches wide. I will never forget the feeling when I walked up to this monster bull. I stood in awe of the sheer size of him and in the realization that I had taken this amazing trophy.
Once we had returned to the lodge to gather more pack horses for the pack out the next morning, we spent the rest of the day skinning and quartering the bull and prepping the meat to pack out. This completed the moose hunt and marked the time that Gov. Dunleavy had to head back to town.
NOW IT WAS JUST me and my guide Stevie, who is my own age and a great person to hunt with. We really hit it off, and at this point, hunting with Stevie was more like hunting with a friend than hunting with a guide. The two of us headed up to the lookout spot hoping to find a grizzly.
Later that afternoon Stevie spotted one close to where I had taken the moose, but it would be dark before we could make it to him. We called it a day and hoped that we could find him early the next morning.
We loaded our horses early and headed toward the spot where we had last seen the bear. I was getting much more comfortable on the horse and more confident in the saddle. I wasn’t as nervous crossing over the same terrain where I had taken my moose or managing the steep descents into the valley. I was even starting to feel like I was meant to be on a horse.
The river crossing was still the best part and we were going to have to do that at least two more times to make our way to within 350 yards of the bear. He had found the moose carcass and was dragging it into the brush.
We dismounted, hitched our horses and made our way on foot to the edge of a small swampy clearing that was 78 yards wide. We set up to wait for the bear on the opposite edge of where I had taken my moose and where the bear had entered the brush. About 15 minutes later I saw him come through the brush towards the remaining moose carcass. This was my first chance to really get a good look at him. He was beautiful, and he looked huge. I waited until he turned broadside and shot, hitting him just behind the left shoulder. He reared up, turned to run into the brush and Stevie placed a backup shot into his right side. I went to take a second shot, but he was already gone.
Stevie tracked the bear, which had only gone about 15 yards, and found him piled up in the brush just a few minutes later. I could not believe I had taken not only a monster bull moose but also this incredibly beautiful brown bear. We skinned my bear, then headed back to the lodge. I had tagged out and this completed my amazing Alaskan hunting adventure.
WORDS TRULY CANNOT EXPRESS how amazing this experience had been for me. To be able to say that I hunted the pristine wilderness of Alaska on horseback, slept in the historic Rainy Pass Lodge, plus enjoyed an adventure with the governor of Alaska, is something I will cherish, remember, and talk about for the rest of my life!
I got to meet the most amazing people, I made new friends, and, again, words cannot express my gratitude to all of those who created this experience on my behalf. Steve Perrins and his family are amazing and they run a first-class hunting operation. I deeply appreciate and I am forever grateful for their kindness and generosity in providing me this hunt. I would also like to thank my guide Stevie Perrins for taking me on a once-in-a-lifetime hunting experience. He is an incredible guide, and I am happy to have him as a friend.
Another thank you goes to Gov. Dunleavy for carving some time out of his busy schedule to join me on this amazing Alaskan adventure. Alaska is a beautiful state, and I hope to return to visit with my family someday.
I would also like to thank SCI Alaska Chapter for sponsoring this amazing adventure, for taking care of me in Anchorage, and for making sure that my meat and trophies made it home with me. It was great to meet and get to know directors Joel Helgerson and Chad Riedel, and president Jeff Garness. You have helped change my life and given me an experience I will never forget! ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information on Safari Club Alaska’s outdoor adventures with veterans, check out aksafariclub.org/ sci-alaska-chapter-warriors.