Name: Jared S
Date of Hunt: 9/6/2013 to 9/7/2013
Location of Hunt: South-Central Alaska
Animal Hunted: Moose
Were you successful?: No….next time.
Weather, Wind, and Conditions: Overcast and then rain, rain and more rain.
Interesting Details of the Hunt: It was my first time on a moose hunt. The end of the Alaskan summer was quickly approaching and there was a bite of cold in the air. I went with two friends to “the best spot to find the big bulls” or so they said.
Excited, I sat in the passenger seat of our old Toyota 4Runner as we made our way through a morass of mud down a narrow trail. Suddenly, the trail opened up and we found ourselves facing a picturesque valley filled with verdant hues of greens and blues. Fog was rolling down the valley toward us, an ominous sign not lost to me as I stepped down out of the vehicle.
Mud was everywhere. I sunk in to mid calf as each stepped made a wet sucking sound. It felt like I was wearing 20 pound sand bags on each foot as I trudged to the edge of a steep drop.
Right away, across the valley I spotted a brown smudge ambling out of the alders along the edge of a clearing. Swinging my rifle off my shoulder, I brought up my scope and quickly found a bull moose far in the distance. The shot was too far. Easily over 1,000 yards, still the adrenaline rush of having my quarry in the cross hairs sent my heart racing.
We quickly grabbed our packs and made our way down into the valley slipping on silty slopes carved out by a long retreated glacier. What great luck! It looked like the bull had not moved from the clearing as we started our descent. Perhaps he was bedding down for the quickly approaching darkness. Surely we could make our way across the valley and make a shot before darkness settled like an oppressive cloak on our dreams of bagging our bull within our first hour!
Little did we know, the valley floor was home to swampy ground freezing to permafrost on the winter but thawed after the unusually warm Alaskan summer. Each step filled our boots with ice cold water cooled from the frost still below the surface.
One lost boot later the rain began dropped in sheets and gust of wind threw walls of water like tidal waves crashing against the coast. With the rain came darkness. Not the simple darkness of night but the deep darkness of a starless sky and roiling charcoal clouds. A storm had blown in off the coast and the light rain gave way to natures fury. The more the rain came the more in danger of flash flooding we became. Night had descended and with our headlamps we could barely see 5 feet ahead seeming to light only the curtains of rain in front of our faces.
Finally, halfway through the night we reached a slope and made our way upwards towards safety. Rivers formed in the valley where none had been before, carving their own path among the stately birches. To say it was an uphill battle would be apt. Miniature mud slides stymied our progress and the alders entangled us as we pressed on in the darkness.
Finally, we came to a clearing high enough to rest in safety from the flooding. Setting up a tarp we huddled under it with no hopes of building a fire in the torrential downpour. After a miserable and sleepless night the muted light of the sun cast a pallor through the still dark storm clouds. There was just enough light to make our vague shapes surrounding our campsite.
I turned to my right and sleep had to have been clouding my mind. It looked like there was a moose not 15 yards away resting in the cover of the trees just below me at the edge of the clearing. I slowly reached up to rub my eyes and looked again. It WAS a moose! I looked at my rifle sitting 4 feet away wrapped in my poncho to stay dry, I looked to the moose who still seemed to be oblivious to my presence. Slowly I started reaching toward my rifle, barely daring to breath. It was light enough to get him but boy what a wake up that would be to my sleeping companions!
My arm wrapped around the butt of my rifle and as slowly as I could I started pulling it toward me. It was auspicious, even the rain was lessening as my rifle inched closer and close. I would be able to make the shot. It was simple, a broadside shot. Just as I started to lift my rifle, the barrel clinked against an alder branch and the moose stood in a heartbeat. If I didn’t know better I would have thought the moose leapt into the air. Stealth was out the window now and I brought my rifle to bear. My thumb couldn’t find purchase on the safety as I tried to take it off. Water beads obscured my scope mounted too low to use my iron sights.
I smeared the water to get a better view and glanced in the direction of the moose. It was cantering off amongst the thick alders and I no longer had a shot. I got to my feet as if to chase it down with one boot on the other lost somewhere in the valley below. At that moment the skies let loose once more and in that moment I knew I would never find that bull.
The rest of the day passed in cold and shivering as even our rain gear was soaked through. With next to no visibility we gave up our hunt and fjorded our way back through the valley below and make it back to our vehicle after darkness descended the following evening.
While the hunt was not successful, the memories and experiences looking back were worth the adventure. If there is one thing I learned, it is this – Mud is NOT your friend.