Merry Christmas! Here’s our Paul Atkins with a special moose hunting memory. The story appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY PAUL D. ATKINS
He was big and brown, and all I could really remember was the swaying of those big antlers. It
happened in a moment and to say it was surreal is an understatement. What to do next?
MOST OF THE MOOSE kills I’ve been associated with have been a surprise, with most harvests completed while hunting something else. Very few times have I actually killed a moose while looking for a moose; most of those times
it’s been under bizarre circumstances – if not pure luck.
A few years ago, I had a good friend up from the Lower 48 wanting to experience the wilds of Alaska. We flew to a great spot, watched caribou all the
way and even saw a grizzly or two as the Cessna cruised above the river valley. The fishing was excellent, the weather was perfect and we each had a pocket full of tags.
BACK IN THOSE DAYS, acquiring a moose tag was pretty easy. There were more moose then and most nonresidents drew on their first time applying. Garrett did, so we planned our trip for the Wulik River region, a “small” area about the size of Rhode Island and which is way north of Kotzebue and close to Red Dog Mine. This was a big game mecca back then, one of the few places where you could actually – with the proper tags, of course – take five of Alaska’s big game animals. On any day you would not only see moose, but caribou, grizzly, sheep and even a muskox or two. I know we did on that trip.
Joining Garrett and I was another good friend, Justin, who was just along for the ride. Looking back, I’m so glad Justin was with us. Without his help at camp and with the events that transpired, things would have been much tougher for the two of us.
We had a great tent this trip, plus plenty of firewood and a new blue raft that we planned to use. And except for the pouring rain we got the first day and snow on the second, we were having a great time.
Moose were there, but none were shooters. Early-morning jaunts to the hill behind camp proved that we were in the right place, and even though all we saw were small bulls and cows maneuvering through the willows down below, it was a special sight to see.
During the day we brought out the rods and reels and fished the narrow river that was so clear and clean you could probably drink out of it if you wanted to. We caught grayling and Arctic char, which we enjoyed each night around the fire with a snifter of bourbon each afterwards. We were content; even though we hadn’t found a 60-plus-inch giant, it felt like we were on the greatest adventure of our lives.
THE FIRST COUPLE OF days were pretty much actionless, but after a late lunch on the third day we headed to a small hill on the tundra to glass the valley below us. I was glassing the far side of the river when I noticed a small group of caribou feeding along a willow patch. It was over a mile away, but I could see a couple of large mature bulls mingling with about 10 cows. Without a moose in sight, I talked my friends into trekking over to just see how big the caribou were.
Our primary goal had always been moose, but we also had several caribou tags between us. Scoring a couple of nice bulls would make the hunt more enjoyable and successful, not to mention help fill the freezer back home.
Cinching up our hip waders, we took off, crossing several rivers and deep streams to get there. Finally, we made it to the area where we had last seen the small band.
Crawling through the last batch of dense willows, the bulls minus the cows came into view, leaving us all feeling pretty lucky. At the time we only had one rifle, which was primarily for bear protection, though we hadn’t seen any bruins up to that point. Garrett had his bow, but we both knew getting close enough for a shot with an arrow was out of the question.
We picked out two bulls close together, which gave us the best chance at taking both. I put up the tripod, eased the gun up and settled in. The shot found its mark and a bull dropped in his tracks.
Quickly I handed the rifle to Garrett and the second bull fell not 10 yards from mine. It was a great moment as, surrounded by an incredible view of the river and mountains, the two big bulls we had down would fulfill most hunters’ Alaskan dreams. But it wasn’t until minutes later that we realized the real action was about to begin.
WE’D TAKEN PHOTOS AND and begun field dressing the two caribou bulls when I happened to look up and see an expanse of brown hide and palmated antler moving through the willows.
The bull was humongous, but this beast of a moose didn’t seem frightened by us at all. Adding surrealism to the moment, the big bull kept swinging his massive head from side to side as slobber flew from his mouth!
Looking back, I don’t know if he was looking for a fight, thinking we were another moose or what; all I know was that he continued his march, which ended up being his final mistake.
With plenty of shooting light left, I grabbed Garrett and we headed towards him, using willows for cover. When we got to within 100 yards, I handed Garrett my rifle and boom! – big bull down. He was a true trophy at 65 inches wide and close to 2,000 pounds of pure Alaskan muscle!
Getting the moose and the two caribou packed out was an event in itself. The process took about three days to complete, but it was well worth it!
IF YOU’VE EVER HUNTED Alaska – or anywhere, for that matter – you know things can change in a matter of minutes. Our luck took place after we took the two caribou, but when Garrett was able to shoot the moose of his dreams, it made it even more so.
What I remember most about that trip was that pack back to camp in the dark. Covered in blood, we bushwhacked our way through bear country, all while being scared to death and getting soaked by the rain. It was pretty intense, to say the least. ASJ
Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author formerly of Kotzebue, Alaska. He’s had hundreds of articles published on big game hunting in Alaska and throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. His new book Atkins’ Alaska is available on Amazon and everywhere good books are sold. It can also be ordered through his website paulatkinsoutdoors.com and if you want an autographed copy, contact Paul at email@example.com.