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2006 Moose Hunt, Part 1: "Moose Lake"

Finally hunting season arrived again this year. It seems like it takes way to long to get here each year. Aaron and I planned and plotted for months and hoped this year would be a success. In 2005 we'd gone into our secret moose hunting spot, moose lake as we call it, and saw a number of large bulls, but couldn't figure how to get close to them since they were another 3+ miles and we were already in 5 miles.  We'd planned accordingly spending $550 on a plane ticket for Aaron's brother, Adam, to join us as a packer...and a guide...and camp cook. :)  We had two areas we'd debated on hunting, and finally narrowed it down to the old standby, moose lake.  The hike would be further, but the opportunity greater with more moose to see and have a chance at, we figured.  Of course, when you don't have a plane you don't really know what is in store for you, but we had a pretty good idea.

We picked Adam up from Anchorage on September 5th at 7:30pm.  We'd driven down from the cabin that morning (five hour drive), ran errands around town, picked him up, ran some more errands, then started on the drive to the cabin again.  We made sure we had in-drive entertainment though with our laptop DVD player and some good moose hunting videos for Adam to get up to speed on.  We got to the cabin very late, around 2am with the Northern Lights guiding us most of the way.

The next morning we woke around 8:30am and started getting ready. I made fresh blueberry pancakes for a pre-hunt meal while the boys packed and organized.  After a good drive we were on the trail at 3pm. We'd warned Adam that the hike was a killer with a 3000+ elevation gain in under two miles, but he didn't seem too concerned.  Our packs were relatively heavy with ten days of supplies, but not bad compared to some of our first hunts in Alaska.  The hike started really hard for me though. I had some pinched nerve or cramped muscle in my right lower back.  We hiked about 1/2 mile then took a break before the big climb. Somehow I got rid of the cramp and the rest of the climb was exhausting but not painful.  Frequent breaks with blueberries as snacks were the key to making it to the top alive

 

We reached the top later than we expected, but kept on hiking. We planned on camping about 4.5 miles in.  We saw a couple caribou when we crested the first ridge, just cows though.  We set up camp under a clear sky with a steady cool breeze keeping us well aware of the cold night ahead. Adam put pretty much all his layers on and said "wow, I'm gonna be cold the next ten days."  Meanwhile Aaron and I were pretty toasty. We've found that down is the key to being warm when it isn't wet outside. Aaron finally got a down coat before this trip, and he was toasty. We glassed down the bowl we were camped over before the sun set and saw a single bull about a mile away. The surrounding country was very "moosey" and we were very excited for morning. After a hot gourmet meal of Mountain House we were all very happy to lay on the squishy tundra and sleep. 

(The above pictures are from our first camp.  Adam sits with his headlamp on that I think weighted 3lbs....he insisted on bringing it though. It was a gift from his Norwegian father-in-law and it is no joke of a headlamp, it is more like a headlight.)

 

The next morning was clear and cold. We got up at 6:00 and glassed from a lookout not too far from our camp. The view was limited since it was a smaller valley that opened into a larger area.  We saw a nice bull and some cows.  After glassing for awhile I saw movement on a little knoll about two miles away and realized it was a person...not something we wanted to see after hiking in 4.5 miles already.  We figured though, there is lots of land and it shouldn't be an issue. 

After some high calorie granola bars and coffee, we decided our day would be a scouting day with higher miles to find out what was in our surroundings.  We packed lunch, dinner, the cook stove, water purifier, rifles, and other such hunting items on our pack frames and headed out. We saw a few cow caribou here an there as we walked. We walked about 3+ miles from camp and thought this should be all the further we go. No shooting a moose further or the hike out would surely kill us, not like 8 miles would be a piece of cake, but we had to set some limit.

(This little porcupine was so stoic. He held his ground. Adam was at about six feet from him in this picture, and got up to three feet. The little guy just watched us, and spun around a few times to show us his quills.  Glad my malamutes weren't along with or we would have had quills in mouth and nose)

 

The top of the valley we've been glassing into. The creek just started from nowhere with a small trickle, but further down produces some fast flowing water that we took advantage of with our Nalgenes.  Didn't even bother purifying it, and boy was it cold.

Fall colors lit up the hillsides. My favorite time in Alaska as far as scenery is the fall. The colors are wild and bright, nothing compares to them.

 

 

The problem with the country we were hunting in, was that we were so high that to cover ground we had to drop into these huge river valleys and then hike back up the other side.  We looked and looked for old or fresh shed antlers and found nothing.  Makes a hunt even better though when you can shed hunt too.  The day turned out to be a scorcher. We didn't know the exact temp, but it had to be 60+. We ended up shedding pant layers and Aaron sported a very fancy outfit with his heavyweight long-johns and 10'Danner boots.  I reminded Adam that for the first time on one of his hunts in Alaska he couldn't say he was cold.

Finally at our spotting knob. We had great views in all directions. We fixed some lunch and waited for cooler evening temps to bring the moose out. We figured we'd have to be hiking by 6pm to make it back to camp before dark.  Adam and I made it for awhile after a hearty lunch of Mountain House, but soon the heat and food caught up with us.

 

Lucky we had Aaron around to take pictures of his great hunting partners.  All eyes on the moose.... I'm not one to take naps very often, so I blame this on the heat waves that make glassing a pain and the early morning.  Adam sleeps all the time so he doesn't get an excuse :)

My nap was interrupted when Aaron said he saw people below us a good bit down the hill we were setup on. People, I thought, who else is crazy enough to hike in 8 miles for a moose. Only Aaron and I, and Adam didn't know any better.  We watched them for a bit. They appeared to set up to glass on a knob as well, but were about a half mile down. We all started glassing then.  Aaron got up and glassed a little further over to our right when he dropped down and motioned he'd seen a bull. We scooted to him and got a good look at the bull that was about a half mile away from us parallel on the hill. He looked gigantic that far away and we jumped into the stalk. It was hard to move with the open country but we managed to get to 500 yards before we lost cover. Then we waited for him to turn before we all moved single file toward him.  At one point we got behind a stand of alders and moved quickly and quietly out of sight of the bull. I was ready with my scope on the lowest power for a close shot. We peaked through the stand of alders and saw antlers moving in the next stand of alders not far from us.  We all sat dead still and watched as the antlers moved in the alders and slowly moved their way out into the open with a large moose attached to them. We ranged him then at 140 yards.  Now it was up to me.   I hadn't imagined I'd be in this situation; the first day of a hunt,  8 miles in, with a nice bull no doubt this close to me.  We hadn't even had a chance to see what else was in the valley, but granted there were people around too. What were people doing way out here? If I don't shoot him surely they will, and I may not see another bull like this, or I may see a bigger one. I'm not supposed to shoot the first bull we see.  Okay let me think about all the moose I've looked at in the last couple months in magazines, videos, and online...is he really nice?   These were thoughts that were pouring through my mind.  He was enormous and so curious or dumb just standing there with us in sight. He watched us and then dropped to his knees to start feeding.  At one point I was ready to shoot, and then with a few thoughts from Aaron, I changed my mind again.  It was the first day, and we probably could find him again since he obviously wasn't spooked.  So I said, "I'll wait, not on the first day".  We watched him a little longer. We counted 13 points on each side with 4 scoreable brows on each side with two more possible on the right. No doubt he had the brows that giant bulls are made of.

 

(Adam took these pictures through his binoculars when the bull was 140 yards away.)

So we snuck back through the alders away from him, and at the same time he turned and walked back into the alders he'd been in before but kept moving away and down the drainage behind him. I couldn't believe the rush I felt after being that close to a beautiful legal bull, and I couldn't believe I hadn't shot him, I was hunting moose after all.  We started back toward where we left our stuff talking about the excitement of being that close to a nice bull. We crested a little ridge and up ahead of us was a guy sneaking toward us with a rifle. As we got closer and were talking he put his figure up to his mouth to signal us to be quiet.  We got up to him, and he said, "Sshh, I'm making a stalk on a bull."  I almost giggled.  We told him that we were just 140 yards from a pretty darn nice bull. He said he hadn't seen it, but the guys he was with had spotted a bull in the area we'd been.  I'm not sure he was expecting to see three people walk up over the hill he was sneaking over, especially that far in the hills. We at least had already seen them, so we were a bit less surprised, but still in the back of my mind I was thinking, "run moose run. Man, how often this far in is a moose that close to being shot, then passed up, then has some other person make a sneak on them and shoot."  For all the work that Aaron and I do to try and be in remote areas away from other people, this was crazy. We came to find out that the guy was in on horses with some buddies and had already shot two smaller bulls and a grizzly, and was hunting for their third moose. 

Horses...how could we compete with horses. We told him the bull wasn't spooked and watched him go on his way.  Then we ran into his hunting buddies that were just as surprised to see us.  We watched as they all moved in the direction up hill from where we'd last seen the bull. It was sickening to think my chance may have been over with that bull. I kind of wished I could have backtracked time a bit at that moment. 

We got our belongings and headed back for camp.  About a mile and a half into our walk I heard a gunshot and my heart sank.  Well, I figured, at least they had their three moose and were done hunting now and would hopefully leave.  It was a long walk back to camp and we barely made it before dark.  Dinner was tasty and our hot cocoa was even tastier. With a fading light I hurried to glass the valley below for any bulls to lift my spirits.  Sure enough about 1.5 miles away out in the valley I spotted a nice bull walking along a little ridge.  Seeing him gave me a sense of hope that I had made the right decision.
We finished up the night sitting in "the lodge" as we call it which is our tent. Aaron and I in the inner tent, and Adam in the vestibule with lots of room to spare.  Adam kept pulling out his digital camera and laughing as he looked at the images of the moose he'd taken pictures of...the moose I decided not to shoot. We all took turns looking at the pics, and for some reason they made him look gigantic to me, and I couldn't believe what I'd done.

 

The next day we decided to move camp another 1.75 miles in. We camped along a ridgeline with an outstanding view of the valley below us in all directions.  We hiked about 1/3 mile down the ridge for an evening glass. The wind picked up as we were leaving camp and continued at a steady clip until late into the night.  We ended up building ourselves a makeshift rock wall to block the gusts from us. Makes glassing with a spotting scope really hard when the scope is blowing around in the wind.  We saw a single bull that was close to the area I'd seen the bull the night before.  It was hard to get a good look at him as he stayed hidden in the timber most of the time.  We saw a couple caribou a few ridges over, and glassed a fine black bear across the valley on bright red hillside.

 

Back at camp we saw a beautiful bull caribou down in the valley below us. We watched him for a good while raking the brush with his antlers. 

 

We enjoyed more hot beverages in the lodge, and again Adam pulled out his camera to show me all the pictures of the bull I'd passed up the day before.  It was pretty warm inside the tent with all of us and the lantern running. The outside temps were in the thirties, but inside it was toasty.

We decided while hanging out in the lodge the night before, that we would hike over first thing in the morning to where we'd seen the bull I'd passed up the day before.  We all woke at 5:30 am and started our pre-dawn hike. It is strange how muscles and lungs are slow to work in the morning.  We made it to our glassing knob an hour later and Adam immediately spotted a couple cow moose down in the alder thicket.  With the sun hidden behind a thin cloud layer the morning stayed chilly.  Around 10:00 am we saw antlers moving through some alders near where we'd seen the bull two days before.  Two cows led the way, and then a fine bull walked into the open. At first we all thought it was the same bull we'd passed up; but after close scrutiny we realized it was a smaller more immature bull with only two brows on each side.  We watched as he followed the cows up the sloping hillside and disappeared behind a small draw.  We saw another cow down the hill further, but no signs of a bull with her.  We fixed some coffee and had granola bars and discussed our plan for the day. We decided we'd hike up over and glass into the bowl they'd gone into. Right when we stood to put our pack frames on, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and quickly sat back down as the three moose reappeared. They were all running fast down the hill, the way they had just walked up. The cows weren't messing around at all running at high speed, well in front of the bull, but he didn't waste too much time in catching up.  I thought it was pretty strange, and none of us had an answer for their behavior.  We watched them until they disappeared from sight in the alders. 

We decided to stay put for awhile to glass the area after all the action.  It was then that I spotted a dandy bull a ridge and valley away standing in the open just above timberline.  He just stood there and you could see that he was massive. His spread was 60+ with long paddles that carried their width all the way up.  We watched him for a bit, and then I saw another flash of white in the trees just in front of him.  The big bull started slowly walking to the edge of the clearing, and then another bull appeared that looked just as impressive. They kept their distance, but didn't seem to mind each other. I suppose they were still hanging out in groups since the rut was just starting.  Eventually the first big bull left the clearing and started heading along the base of a hill at treeline.  Up ahead of him we spotted another dandy bull with a huge spread. They seemed to all be heading to the same cool bedding down spot for the afternoon.  Back in the clearing the bull in the trees we'd seen earlier finally made his way into the open sporting a fine rack himself, and a smaller bull joined him.  They all walked in the same general direction and disappeared from sight. 

 

The heat of the day was overwhelming with hardly a breeze. We made some lunch and then it was nap time.  We all fell asleep for a good bit under a beating sun, and woke to our feet on fire.  Nothing like expedition weight socks in insulated Danners with the sun beating on them.  We moved down to a different glassing knob getting ready for some good evening action.  It was about 4pm when we spotted a nice black bear on the far hill.  No moose movement though.  Then Aaron said he saw horses.  Sure enough over a half mile from us on the same ridge was a horse with a rider and two other horses tied behind, and then three other riders crested the hill pulling horses as well.  We figured they must be coming to get their moose they'd shot a couple days before.  They continued on up in the direction the two cows and bull had gone earlier that morning.  It all made sense now, the cows and bull had found or smelt the dead moose and got out of there in a hurry.  I watched as they disappeared from sight into the bowl, and the evening glassing was pretty much over.  It was disheartening to think they'd just come through the area we'd have liked to have seen moose.  We fixed ourselves dinner before heading back to camp.  We arrived back at camp with only a few caribou sightings.  No sign of moose anywhere.

 
The next morning was beautiful, signs of another great day.  My spirits were not as high as they should have been in such glorious country.  I knew there was no point in hunting from the knob we were at the day before with the moose being spooky from the kill, and yet everything in front of us was country surrounding their camp.  We watched from our glassing knob that morning as they packed up camp. They had seven horses in there and a wall tent.  They definitely were packing up which gave me hope.  They took off on their horses toward the valley we were camped above, and then reappeared awhile later, horses loaded with meat.  We assumed they must have shot a moose in the valley we'd been glassing, and had hung the quarters for a couple days.   

It wasn't an easy decision, but we all agreed we'd be better to leave the area and hunt the other spot we'd scouted.  The valley we were in had had a lot of activity and there were a lot of dead moose around which surely made the other moose spooky.  I had tears in my eyes as I loaded my pack, hoping we were making the right choice.  Aaron and I said in the beginning that we wouldn't leave until the very end, we just hadn't planned on seeing people and horses. 

We headed out at 1pm in the heat of the day with hardly a breeze.  It was miserable, and with each step I was very glad we hadn't shot a moose three days before; the meat would surely have spoiled in the heat with no shade or trees to hang it in.  The walk was quiet and difficult over the tundra. Nothing drains the legs like boggy ground with tussocks to roll your ankles.  We were pretty hot and tired by the time we reached the top of the hill that we'd hiked in on. Nothing like a 3000+ drop in elevation on a path that pretty much goes straight down, with a decent pack on your back.  My knees were on fire by the time we reached the bottom, and I think my feet were raw from sliding forward in my boots.  We were very glad to see the truck as we left it, and even more glad to crack a cold beer and soak our feet in the creek we crossed.  Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that we'd made it out of there without a moose....

When we were driving out, we saw a horse trailer with three moose racks resting against it. We figured it must be the guys we'd seen in there. I was excited to see the moose that I'd passed up, but when we walked up to the racks we realized that the big rack wasn't the same bull that we'd been close to a couple days before; it was an older bull without very impressive brows. It made me feel a little better that that old boy was probably still walking around in there, and would live another year.


2006 Moose Hunt, Part 2: A Little Luck
 

Not sure what our plan of action would be, we took our time getting up the next morning.  We planned on going on a drive to do some exploring and maybe a little hiking in moose country for the afternoon and evening.  We would start the next chapter of serious hunting in the morning with a 3+ mile hike into our other moose spot. 

As luck would have it we hiked to a nice glassing knob that evening.  Before we'd even started looking for animals we saw a young bull with a cow about 400 yards from us.  Then Aaron and Adam both spotted a bull out ahead of us with their binoculars.  I had the hardest time finding it in my spotting scope since I was shaking, but when I did he looked huge. We guessed he had to be 60".  He was standing with two cows and they seemed to be slowly feeding along.  The sun was barely above the horizon so we knew we had to make our move now, or wait until morning. We decided to go for it.  We dropped down out of site of the bull and ran, trying to cover as much ground between us as possible in a hurry.  We covered lots of ground and finally got to a spot we could locate him again. He had moved further from where we first saw him, but we'd closed the distance.  We were running out of cover, so we started moving single file when he was looking away from us. We were about 400 yards from him when we tried to do some calling to get him to come to us or at least stop moving away.  Brush thrashing did nothing, but a few bull grunts stopped him and he turned toward us. We were hunkered down and sat very still.  He stood for a moment looking in our direction, then turned and continued sauntering away.  We all looked at each other and continued our stalk.  Aaron led, I was in the middle, and Adam brought up the tail.  In the dusky light we moved over the uneven ground quickly, staying low, and always watching his antlers. As soon as we started to see white, we all dropped and stayed motionless until he turned again.  At one point Aaron belly-flopped out in front of me, tripping on something, but jumped up and the stalk continued. We stopped and ranged him at 260 yards, and continued on.  Once we were under 200 yards we stopped and I set up on my pack frame for a rest.  The boys started grunting and the bull stopped and turned slightly.  He stood there, and I had him in my crosshairs, but with all the running we'd just done, I could hardly keep him there.  I waited for a what seemed like forever for my nerves to calm, deep breaths, and some self talk before I pulled the trigger.   The shot was good with him hunching up and dropping to the ground. He stayed down for about thirty seconds, and then was up again, moving away from us.  He finally stopped as we got another good solid shot off.  We waited for a bit before we went to where he lay.  When we got close we could see him still moving from nerves I guess.  We stayed clear until all movement was gone.  He was a beautiful bull, way more than I ever could have imagined.  He had long antlers with lots of nice long points, and three and four brows.  He wasn't an old bull, but mature no doubt.  It was on the dark side of dusk by the time we left, and the walk back to the truck was no fun since we had no GPS and didn't know the country really well.  We heard coyotes howling as we made our way back. The walk was a little over a mile. 

Aaron was so excited for Adam to see a moose down and then to give him a knife and say "start cutting". Aaron and I both knew that feeling when we shot our first moose. A bit overwhelming of a task.  Moose are enormous, and you can't really appreciate that until you walk up on one that you've shot.  Adam was amazed at how heavy the head was and how difficult it was to even move the antlers. 

 


2006 Moose Hunt, Part 3: "Moose Hill"

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful.  It was nice to know I was done hunting; but the hunting surely wasn't over.  We had three days and thought maybe we could get another moose in that other secret spot of ours.  It was very hard to be ambitious, but once we got going we all started getting excited.  Blueberry pancakes with homemade blueberry syrup and whip cream got the morning started out right.  We planned on camping only two nights since we only had four days until we had to be in Anchorage to drop Adam off. We were hiking by 2pm, and hoped to be glassing by 6pm.  The majority of this hike is flat with the exception of a mile uphill, and the inconvenience of a river to deal with.  We'd crossed this river once before on foot, but I'd nearly gone down the river when the water reached my upper thighs; so this time we were better prepared with a small dingy raft. 

We crossed some small braids before we got the main river channel. We all started crossing; but got to the point where the water was about 5 inches above my knees and moving fast, so we turned back. We sat on the edge of the river and all three took turns blowing up the little raft we had.  Then we all three proceeded to get into this little raft on our knees, with our packs on our backs.  If only we could have gotten a picture then.  Aaron was in front on his knees facing left and forward, I was in the middle facing right, and Adam was behind me facing right and forward.  We pushed off into the current and our balance was little off with our packs on our backs. I sat as still as possible while Aaron's Danners hit me in the face swinging off his pack. He wasn't far enough forward we realized as I got a good bit of water over the side of the boat onto my lower back. Somehow we made it across and didn't get any more water in; lucky we all brought a change of clothes and had our dry boots on our backs. 

We deflated the raft, changed, and stored our stuff in the trees and continued on our hike.  It was an hour later that we started seeing moose sign, and lots of it.  Aaron was very excited, picking up the fresh moose poop whenever he crossed it.  We made it into open country and started moving slower. We weren't sure where we would camp, but wanted somewhere that was close to good glassing on all sides.   We found a great spot, set our packs down and took a quick look at the surrounding area.  The wind was definitely not in our favor to the south of us, and we soon realized it was blowing right into a cow that was feeding along.  She didn't seem too spooked, but did act like she knew something wasn't right.  Aaron and I stopped watching her after she was hidden behind some alders and started looking for a tent spot.  I looked up to see what the cow was doing when I saw two other cows and a nice bull trotting away from us. The cow we had been watching continued to feed, but the others were gone. We ranged her at 450 yards.  After some discussion with Adam we decided that it would likely be worthless to try and find that bull since the wind was blowing right to them and we had no idea where they'd gone. 

We focused on the area we could see, knowing the wind was very much in our favor.  It wasn't long before Adam spotted a bull. I couldn't see him as he was just hidden by the ridge of the hill; standing on tiptoe I could just make out the white paddles.  We made a quick sneak up to a higher vantage point and glassed down on him.  He was a fine bull with nice points, good paddles, and three brows on each side, he was just lacking in the spread of his antlers.  We guessed him to be 40+ wide. 

Aaron had a big decision to make. We knew we could make a quick sneak on him with the wind on our side. After a short discussion, it was on. We decided to go for it. All the more time we would have to pack out.  We found a good moose trail leading along a ridge just out of his sight and started toward him.  We didn't have to run which was a nice change.  We had plenty of daylight, and he was just meandering around.  We realized that he had a cow with him once we got a little closer, but figured she wouldn't be a problem.  We snuck to within 160 yards but figured we could still get closer. He was walking directly away from us. We watched him as he made a wallow and urinated in it, and continued to show other rutting behaviors.  We finally stopped at 120 yards and Aaron got set up for the shot with the pack frame as a rest.  We did a bull grunt and the bull turned perfectly broadside, looking at us.  Three consecutive shots in the vitals and the bull didn't move, just stood there for about thirty seconds before dropping.  That is the worst part about moose, they take too long to die. I can't watch a moose in his last minute of life, it sure jerks at my heart strings.  

A dandy bull for sure. Great points and great brows, and what a long dewlap.  He'd be fine meat for the freezer.  We hoofed it back to where we left our packs and set up camp a couple hundred yards from the kill site.   

 

 

 

 

The light was tricky to get pictures in since the sun was shining directly into the camera a few times.  When I was setting up camp, Adam and Aaron went down to take a few pictures with Adam's camera. The picture on the right was by far our favorite.  With the setting sun light, the bull looked grand.

 

I started gathering wood, while Aaron and Adam sharpened their knives.  A little later I had a good fire going, and a tasty meal of Mountain House was enjoyed by all.  Adam's headlight was a big help to him as the darkness came over us. Aaron had a little LED headlight and an ear light but still didn't have brightness Adam's light sported.  They skinned and boned out one whole side of the moose, then flipped it over and skinned the other side before we decided to call it a night.

We left all our bloody clothes at the kill site and walked to tent in what was left....Aaron won the prize for best dressed of course, just his silk weight shirt and his birthday suit.

We only brought our tent on this hunt to save weight. Adam fit just fine in the vestibule.  Sleep found us all quickly that night, but the wind started up early the next morning waking me with the pounding the tent was taking.  We were up at 7:00 and cutting moose again.  They finished the rest of the job quickly considering the windstorm we found ourselves in.  At 9:30 we all crawled back in the tent for a hearty breakfast of granola bars, and discussed what was in store for the rest of the day.  Camp went down in a hurry and packed up tight in my pack. I carried all the camp/clothes/etc.  The boys carried meat.  We didn't have a trail to follow so we just headed in the general direction our raft was. A fun hike through alders, over downed spruce, and boggy pits. I'm sure we all said a few swear words. It was nice though to be out of the wind. 

We reached the bottom in the worst sandstorm I'd ever seen.  I couldn't even see 100 yards around me; dust was in our eyes, mouth, and the wind was so strong I could hardly walk into it.  We unloaded our packs and settled in the timber for a much needed break from the gusts and dust.  Wind will definitely drive a person mad.  We fixed ourselves some lunch and savored a cup of coffee before hiking up for the next load.  All I could think about while sitting there was the stupid river.  I was very nervous about trying to cross it with all the gear and meat in the wind. 

 

The hike back up to the moose was nice with no weight, and we found a more reasonable route.  We loaded our packs super heavy with the boned out meat, and gave Adam the chore of packing the antlers. He's taller than us, and we thought he needed to experience hiking through alders and the timber with a moose rack on his back.  The antlers were like sails though, catching the gusts and throwing him off balance.

We took lots of breaks on the hike to rest our backs and knees; and took advantage of some small creeks to purify water.  The route back proved to be much easier than our first trip out, but there still was a lot of brush bashing involved. I know Adam said a few swear words, though I never heard a peep out of him. 

When we reached the bottom, it looked like maybe the wind had died down a bit; at least I was hopeful since I could now see the river through a lighter dust cloud.  We started moving loads of gear and meat to the edge of the first braid. Out on the river bottom, we realized the wind was still just as strong and made walking a challenge.  Once we had all the gear to the first braid we started the tedious process of blowing up our little raft again.  It didn't matter what direction we faced, sand was in our eyes and mouth.

I felt pretty sick about what we were about to do.  I consider myself to be a great swimmer, and I usually don't have a fear of water, but this was different.  The water is very cold, the wind was blowing fast in the same direction the current was flowing, the current was strong, and we had a lot of gear to deal with.  Adam and I were wearing hip boots to cross, and I knew if they filled it would be difficult for me to kick them off.  If anyone of us went in, I knew we'd get out okay, but with gear lost, and then the issue of hypothermia would have to be dealt with.  Of course Adam and Aaron weren't as concerned as I was. Adam has had lots of experience with rivers in Montana as a whitewater guide.

We filled the raft with what meat wasn't on the boys' backs and some other miscellaneous stuff; I had camp on my back. We all started in the first braid, Adam upstream from the raft, and Aaron and I downstream.  The water was much deeper than we'd remembered, filling both Adam's and my hip boots.  The raft helped balance us as we crossed though. On the other side, we emptied the freezing water from our boots and carried our packs to the next braid.  We left our packs near the water and went back to carry loads from in the raft to our packs.  The wind was relentless.  We crossed the next braid with no problem, the water just above our knees. 

We used the same system to move all our gear to the main channel of the river.  I was a bit chilly at this point, shivering from nerves and cold I'm sure.  I was a bit worried about Aaron since he was in his very high-tech river crossing gear: his long-johns and tennis shoes.  :) I knew he had to be cold and his legs numb.

Once at the main channel the plan was for Adam to ferry me across in the raft with camp on my back, then back to get the meat, then back to get Aaron and their packs.  Adam and I moved the raft upstream a good bit before putting in. I was at the front on my knees with the instructions to keep paddling on the right side, and Adam was in the back paddling on the left.  Once we met the current, it was like the wind didn't even touch us, we moved downstream with ease, and once we reached a shallow section close to shore, jumped out of the raft.  I left my pack there, and helped Adam carry the raft back upstream to float back to where Aaron was.  It was a real pain trying to carry that little dingy into the wind, but we made it.  I watched Adam put in, then hurried back down to my pack.  When I looked over again, Adam was across and standing on a gravel bar, holding onto the rope on the boat for dear life as it flipped way above his head and back down in the wind. Aaron started sprinting for him and dove on the flying raft. It was then that I realized we could have been in a real pickle had they lost the raft; we could have been separated on the river bottom, and I had two big channels of water surrounding me.  

Adam and Aaron loaded the raft with remaining loose meat bags, and Adam floated back down to where I was. I helped him pull the meat to the shore, and then carry the raft back up the river to his launch spot. I ran back to the packs and curled up with my back to my pack, trying for moment to stop the biting wind from chilling me.  Adam made it easily over to get Aaron, and I watched as the two of them put their packs on and get in the little raft.  They had very heavy packs on, and Adam was wearing the moose antlers as well.  The raft didn't move at all.  They appeared to be stuck on the gravel, so they paddled and pushed with their oars.  They were too heavy for that little raft.  Finally they made it into the main channel, and started flowing toward me. I could tell they weren't going to make it past the main current to the little channel I was on; and knew they'd be way downstream from me in moments. I hollered at them when they were about twenty yards, something about how they weren't going to make it.  Aaron decided differently though; as the raft passed by the spot I was standing, Aaron dove out of the boat for the shore. He was mostly in the water, including his rifle and pistol, but his right arm was on shore, and he held the raft with his left.   I grabbed his rifle and the top of his pack frame and pulled him up. Poor Adam, was trying to stay balanced in the boat with the moose antler sail on his back. We grabbed the boat, and helped Adam out. He'd expected they would float down to the next shallow spot, and was startled when Aaron jumped for it.  Aaron was soaked, and I knew he'd be freezing shortly with the wind chill. I made him change his upper layers as fast as he could.  All we'd lost in the confusion was Aaron's oar.  

We had one more significant channel to cross though. We left the meat and raft, and carried our packs to the braid. The first section was shallow, but the last not so.  Halfway across my boots were filling with water, and I could feel my legs fighting the current. Adam grabbed my right arm, and I grabbed Aaron with my left, steadying myself.  When we reached the shore I had tears in my eyes and laughed with relief that the worst was over. Adam and I drained our boots, and the boys unloaded their packs near me. 

They were going back for the remainder of the meat and the raft.  I stayed with the gear and meat. I don't think I've ever prayed so much in my life.  I talked to God for that whole hour and a half that they were gone.  They were going to try and find an easier crossing upstream.  I watched as Aaron unsuccessfully tried to cross two places, the water reaching up high on his thighs.  I knew physically they had to be near the end of their endurance and strength, and I knew Aaron had to be cold.  Finally they found a shallower crossing, and I watched as they made their way to the raft. It was eerie seeing them leaning into the wind while standing still at the raft, while a constant whip of sand and dust flew past them. 

It took me awhile to figure out what they were doing since they weren't moving much. They deflated the raft, and I watched as they loaded the remaining three loads of meat on the two of them, plus the deflated raft.  Their packs were huge, and their steps slow and labored walking into the wind.  When they reached the river, they sat and took a break on bank.  I prayed so hard for just a little more strength for them, and for sure footing, and warmth. I'd given up on praying for the wind to stop, since it definitely hadn't even let up even after praying all afternoon :)  They stood and started crossing the first of three braids.  It looked like they were well balanced and the water was just knee high.

When they finally reached the shore I was standing on, I ran as fast as I could into the wind to them so happy. I hugged and kissed Aaron, and gave Adam a big hug.  I was so thankful for our safety.  I helped Adam unload his huge pack, and then Aaron's. I was so elated, I was ready to carry everyone's weight the rest of the way.  Of course once I loaded my share of the weight, I decided that was quite enough.  We walked the remaining mile and half to the truck with the load, and went back for the next.  It was dark by the time we reached the truck with the last load; and it was heaven to sit in a closed area out of the wind. 

We got to the cabin pretty late that night, and found it was pretty windy there too.  There were a number of gusts that we could feel as they hit the cabin.  It had been a very long and hard day; sleep was all we could think about other than the two fine bulls we'd successfully harvested the last couple days.

Now as I sit here in my cabin, writing this story, I only wish I could have captured the misery we faced with some pictures. I'm usually pretty good about taking photos, but they were the last thing on my mind.  I hope my descriptions are a good enough snapshot though.

 

We hauled all the meat into the cabin and hung it with the rest of the meat. Quite an impressive amount of moose meat hanging around.  The temperatures weren't great by any means, during the day 58 and at night around 52.  We treated our game bags with citric acid and it seemed to help keep the flies off for the most part.

 

Adam and Aaron spend a couple hours cleaning my moose skull of as much meat as they could. There were already a few maggots setting up house though.

We drove to town and celebrated with a victory dinner that evening. Pretty cool having two moose racks on your truck, without 4-wheelers, Argos, or boats behind it.

 
We enjoyed the drive to Anchorage the next day as well. There is a great comradery in the hunting community here. Lots of thumbs up and waves on the drive. We arrived in town around 4pm and immediately started cutting and cooling meat at a friend's house. We had Adam until 11:30 that night, and we figured we make could use of him.  The meat had a nice crust all over it.  We figured out a good  system with Adam and I cutting and Aaron cleaning and wrapping. We worked steadily until we had to take him to the airport. We sent him home with 70lbs of backstrap and tenderloin.  The next morning Aaron and I were up at 8am, went and got some coffee, and started cutting meat. We cut all day. Friends, Rochelle and Luke, joined in around 4pm and we all cut together until 8pm.  With only two more game bags to go we called it good for the evening.  We enjoyed a fine meal of moose backstrap and very expensive wine Rochelle and Luke spoiled us with. 

The next morning we finished the meat cutting detail, and loaded our chest freezer full, and loaded one of their shelves full as well. We had lots of burger scrap meat and sausage meat too.  We distributed more moose meat to friends and then headed to Eagle River to pick the dogs up. I was so excited to see them, and was so excited to give them each a big moose leg for allowing us to kennel them for so long (not like they had a choice though).

 

Kodi and Tundra were thrilled with the treats. They turned into real canines though, showing their wild side.  Once they broke out in a fight when Kodi was trying to take both bones; we ran out and had to break them up.  I guess a little meat makes dogs mad.

 
 
 
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