It had been many years since I had hunted moose in Alaska and I felt like this was the year to go back, so I booked a hunt during the SCI convention. While I had taken several nice moose over the years, I’d never got the big one I wanted. I shot a beautiful 50" B&C moose in Utah 20 years ago and another mid 50s Canadian moose in British Columbia, but I always wanted to hunt a big Alaska-Yukon moose someday. You know, mid 60s with big paddles and brow tines.
Twenty years ago, I took my dad to Alaska hunting and fishing. He was 71 and feeling like this could be a great trip together and repayment for all the hunts he took me on growing up. We stayed in a remote lodge that had great fishing on the river right in front. We caught beautiful, big silver salmon the first day we arrived. The next day, we flew out to the bush in a Super Cub. Within a couple of days, we had two caribou and a black bear and were headed back to the lodge for more salmon fishing. It was a wonderful trip. I rebooked the next year to hunt moose and grizzly.
Just a few weeks before I was to leave on the hunt, my dad passed away, so it was with mixed emotions that I decided to still go on the trip. Being up there brought back a flood of emotions since I was just there the year before with my dad.
For the hunt, they took us back in a Super Cub and landed on a small strip on the river. The plan was to drift the river and call for moose. They hadn’t been able to hunt this area for many years, but due to low river level, they were able to access it. They felt sure there would be a good moose in the area. After hunting for several days with the owner, the main guide was brought in to switch out. I mentioned that my heart just wasn’t in this hunt, and he said if I wanted, they’d bring in another hunter and I could come back next year. After a couple days, that hunter took a 72" moose! Over the years, I regret not staying and having a great trophy to remember my dad. I felt like that big moose was missing and 2023 was the year to get it.
I arrived on September 10th for a 10-day hunt. There were two other groups in camp that were both on mixed bag 20-day hunts. They said they had only hunted about half the days due to weather. The Fithians have a great camp setup with a main lodge for eating and then individual cabins with wood stoves. They use four-wheelers to get around on trails established over the years. The main way to hunt seems to be getting up high and glassing and seeing what’s out there.
The weather, trees, and animals all seemed to be a couple of weeks behind to me. The leaves hadn’t changed like I would have expected, and many of the moose we saw still had some velvet on their horns and looked bright white, having not polished them up yet. There wasn’t any rut activity and very little movement, making it extra difficult to find moose. Nonetheless, our patience paid off as we eventually found a big “shooter” moose the first day on the other side of the river drainage.
The next day, we got up high but never located him. However, we did find another shooter just under the ridge where we were the day before. The third day, we went looking for him, but again, we were unable to locate him, so we got back up on our glassing position. Eventually, we spotted another great moose. I decided to take my own spotting scope and was able to get some good pictures on my phone to really assess how big these moose were. This one seemed huge, but it was in a terrible position for retrieval. It was big enough that we considered going after it right then and spending the night in the bush, but we decided to take our chances in the morning.
The next morning, we left extra early and got up high again to locate him. To our fortune, he had moved across a river and a mile closer to us. We stalked down a steep ridge and got in close above him. He was with another smaller bull and 570 yards from the ridge. I could make that shot, but if I could get closer, why not? We worked around the backside of the ridge and popped out in a saddle. It was 450 yards downhill to the moose, and he had just bedded. Since we knew it would be a long day once he was down, we decided it would be best to take the shot even though it was not ideal. I got my bipod set up, dialed in my scope, steadied for the shot, and squeezed. I heard a click! That had never happened to me. Now I was wondering if something was wrong with the firing pin. I jacked in another bullet, calmed myself, and pulled the trigger. Boom! It was a hit, but he was up. I fired several more times until he was down and not moving. We did it!
Working our way down to the bull took some time with all the alders, bogs, and tundra. When we arrived, I was in shock and awe of his size. He looked huge! Cody was interested in knowing the width and pulled out his tape. It was only a six-foot tape, and it ran out! This bull was massive at just under 74". His body looked massive, too. He was truly a majestic giant of a bull. Cody was amazing and got him quartered and bagged within a few hours.
The next day, Cody was able to land a plane about 800 yards away. He chopped a trail through the bush of alders and willows, and we hauled out the meat about halfway to the open tundra. The next day, Cody and another guide took it all up to the landing area, and the following day, they flew it back in several trips to camp.
This was truly an amazing experience, and I felt so fortunate to be able to hunt a true monarch like this. Twenty years later, I could finally say, “This one’s for you, Pops!”