By the Skin of My Teeth
An unguided drop hunt for moose has always been a dream of mine. The thought of being on your own to hunt moose in Alaska… does it get any better? So, when Russ called me last fall and asked if I wanted to go on a hunt to vet a new outfitter/transporter I jumped at the chance.
We vet all of our outfitters.
The reason we needed to go on this hunt is that we are out of unguided moose hunting inventory. We already work with an outfitter, a really good one, but we have him booked out years in advance, and there is still a huge demand. We needed more good hunts that we felt good about recommending.
Our vetting process looks like this: First, we do a background check. Then, we go on the trip either ourselves, or we send a trusted OI member to check it out (I’m telling you, it REALLY pays to be a member who builds a relationship with us). Brandon Couchman came along with me on this exploratory hunt. While we’re on the hunt, we critique as many different criteria as we can, ie trophy quality; opportunity; difficulty; lodging (if applicable); food (if applicable); service; communication; etc. If the outfitter checks out, we start to tentatively book for them. After our first clients come home from their hunts, we ask for hunt reports and then make the decision whether or not this is an outfitter we want to work with long term.
Before we knew it, it was moose hunting time.
Fast forward a few months and a LOT of planning and stressing over gear and how to get it there, and it was time to head to Alaska. This transporter doesn’t offer a rented camp like our other guy does, so we had to take everything with us. Tent, cots, stove, dehydrated food… everything. The gear list for this hunt is extensive, and flying to Alaska with all of that gear makes it even more difficult. We explain it all in this podcast.
We made it from Boise to Anchorage without a hitch, rented an SUV and drove about an hour to Wasilla where we met Casey the outfitter at a lake in town, just across from Sarah Palin’s house. The weather was too hot. It was a balmy 75 degrees, not moose hunting weather at all. Luckily though, the weather was due to change in the next few days cooling down to the 50’s with scattered rain. Much better.
We loaded Casey’s floatplane, a Cessna 185 (I’m pretty sure) and headed into the backcountry. We were finally on our way! It was about a forty minute flight over a ton of remote, mostly flat country filled with glacier fed rivers, swamps, bogs, mixed alder, timber and birch, and lakes. Lots of lakes.
Casey had a few different lakes in mind for us, and let us choose which one we wanted. I was in the front seat, so I chose one that seemed to have funnels in the terrain coming into it from almost every direction, a large hill behind it and a big curve in the river pointing at it. I figured that any bull traveling through the area would have to swing by it. We took a few passes over it, deciding on a potential camp site and set the floatplane down, he kicked us out along with all of our gear, hiked around a bit with us to look for some camp spots, took some pictures, wished us luck, and was off to check on some other hunters he had on the other side of the Alaska Range. Quick and efficient. My kind of guy.
Camp wasn’t anything fancy, but it was adequate.
It took us awhile to find a suitable spot up on a “hill” that was the only place up out of the boggy, swampy tundra. Our hill was surrounded by alders, so we hacked a trail through so we could pack our pile of gear up to get started building camp. Not wearing long sleeved shirts, and having our headnets and DEET out was a huge mistake. We were swarmed by an almost biblical cloud of flies, mosquitoes and various other no-see’ums and were soon covered in bites.
Camp consisted of a Cabela’s six-man Alaska Guide Tent and a Klymit rain fly. It was very simple and we were set up well before dark. You can see our entire gear list here.
In my opinion, hunting moose is kind of like whitetail hunting.
I guess I was imagining something more along the lines of an archery elk hunt during the rut where you travel the country calling for bulls, but it wasn’t like that at all. Don’t get me wrong, you do call and they come in readily. In fact I think they are easier to call than elk, but you don’t travel around much. You really can’t because of both the terrain (tundra sucks to walk in) and the size of a bull moose. As we were soon to find out, packing out a moose on your back is no easy task and we were glad that we took everyone’s advice to stay near camp and call.
On the second night right before dark we heard a bull raking and calling across the lake from us. Dark was fast approaching, and by the time he showed himself at 400 yards we had just a few minutes of light left. To be a legal bull in the unit we were hunting, he had to be either 50 inches wide or have at least three brow tines on one side (more on that later), and he did have three brows and even looked wide enough to boot. Legal bull! However, being from Idaho we assumed that Alaska had the same shooting hours law that we do and that it was too late to legally shoot, so we just watched him come in and tried to quietly go to bed in the hopes that he would be there in the morning. Minutes later we heard him grunting just yards behind camp. Frustrating to say the least. The next morning he was nowhere to be found and we sent a text with the inReach to Casey asking about shooting hours…. Alaska doesn’t have shooting hours. We could have shot him and been on the board. Ugh.
A typical day consisted of getting up and boiling water for coffee and breakfast, then quietly listening for a bull from camp. Every half hour we would take turns walking down to the beaver lodge and calling out over the lake or taking a short hike behind camp to call out to the meadow behind us. We also had some high spots we could glass from. We did this for four days before any more moose showed up. But boy did they ever show up!
My heart was beating out of my chest!
Brandon and I had a deal. Since I was bowhunting, I was up first but Brandon was going to back me up in case the bull took off, didn’t come in or I made a bad shot. On the fourth night I finally got my opportunity. We had four bulls come in that night, but one was right behind camp in a spot where I’d have a good set up.
There was a small clearing just 50 yards behind our tent with a thin strip of timber, alders and birch trees on the other side of it. On the other side of that brush there was a bull grunting and raking. The clearing was just 60 yards across, so it was a chip shot with my bow. Yes! I knelt down in front of a small tree and ranged the far side. 62 yards. Easy. Brandon set up about 15 yards to my right to back me up and to film.
I could tell that the bull could hear us walking in the tundra and setting up, and was getting good and worked up. Just one quiet cow call was all that was needed and he came crashing through the brush. It was like a dinosaur in Jurassic Park knocking down trees in its path. Crazy! He came out of the trees straight across from me and hung up looking for a moose in the meadow. He definitely looked over 50 inches and more importantly, I could clearly see three brow tines. Legal bull! There were a few branches in my way so I didn’t quite have a shot, but I knew it would come. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it ringing in my ears.
Finally, after 20 seconds or so I could tell he was going to move so I drew my bow as he took a step. I just needed one more step….. BOOOOOOOM! BOOOOOM! BOOOOM! Brandon shot him. He thought he was getting ready to take off and from his angle he thought I had been drawn the whole time and couldn’t get a shot. I was disappointed but excited for Brandon on a great bull. High fives and pictures ensued and then it was down to the business of quartering him. Not a small task.
Luckily for us our packout was only about 100 yards slightly downhill to the edge of the lake. Nonetheless, it was still a half a day affair the next morning.
Moose are huge! You don’t truly appreciate that until you’ve packed one. We got it done in six trips. My first trip was the toughest because I didn’t realize until after I dumped the quarter that I hadn’t strapped up my load haulers on my EXO pack. That was stupid. Have I mentioned that I love my EXO?
The last load has to be the antlers by law in Alaska.
My bull presented an opportunity too good to pass up.
We finished packing Brandons bull and ate breakfast/lunch and a small bull showed up on the other side of the lake. We glassed him with my Vortex spotting scope and determined that he was barely legal with a third brown tine that was about two inches long. I had no desire to shoot him, but we wanted to get some video of calling him in and passing.
I went down and set up with Brandon just behind me to call and the bull came in on a string, and at 15 yards I drew my bow as he walked behind a tree. That was a mistake because I lose all self restraint after I draw my bow. It has happened before. The bull walked by me at five yards which gave me a good up close look at that third brow tine. Definitely legal but just barely… which got me to thinking. We only have a day and a half left in the hunt. We’re only 50 yards from camp and not even a 25 yard pack to the edge of the lake. Plus, he’d be really good eating. By the time all of that had gone through my head and the internal conflict had been won by the hunter side of my logic the bull had walked passed me and was now at 12 yards. I felt my finger start to tighten on my release and didn’t stop it.
At the shot the bull jumped a bit, took two steps and expired within five seconds. It’s the fastest I’ve ever seen an arrow work. Walking up to the bull I had mixed emotions. Happy. Disappointed. Excited. Nervous about that short third tine. Pride in my ability to get it done with my bow. Angry at myself for not holding out, etc. We got to work, took some pictures and we were out of there by noon the next day. Chalk another great hunt up in the books.
by Cory Glauner
We were checked by a Fish and Game officer the next day and he measured my bull and I barely squeaked by as being legal by the skin of my teeth. The way I looked at the tine and judged it at two inches (which it was) isn’t the way that you legally measure them. Even though he is legal it was too close for comfort and shooting him was a bad decision, but what’s done is done and I’m happy to be back home safe with my family. Looking forward to the next adventure.