“Babe, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” As hunters, how often do we use this phrase with our better halves?
This journey began with a phone call from my hunting buddy, Joe Huskinson. He said he had contacted an outfitter who was willing to do a non-guided drop camp hunt in Alaska for a reasonable price. He went on to tell me a little about success rates and details of the hunt. I immediately compared the information he gave me with my current issue of Huntin’ Fool. The area was a draw for non-residents, and the data checked out true. I then approached my wife with the great news, thinking I would get the usual eye roll. I was sure she would say, “I’ve heard that one before.” However, to my surprise and great relief, she replied with, “I think you should do it!”
Like most of you, I married way above my paygrade. I don’t think she really understood what she was getting into when she said, “I do.” She’s a very patient and loving woman and knew that an Alaska-Yukon moose had been number one on my bucket list for many years. We applied for the permits and drew. Game on!
Fast forward almost seven months and we found ourselves flying into the beautiful town of Holy Cross, Alaska where we met our outfitter. He took us to an area we chose where we quickly set up camp and jumped into the provided zodiac. Our adventure had officially begun.
Through pre-scouting with the help of onXmaps, we strategically positioned ourselves in an area with great access to a lot of country using the many sloughs that wove in and out of the area. One area stood out to us, so we immediately went there. Sign littered the riverbanks, and our anticipation for what was ahead of us over the next nine days ran high.
Our first set was in a large meadow that ran adjacent to a large slough. Once positioned in this meadow with the wind in our favor, we began to call. I wasn’t completely confident in my moose calling skills, but I began my best rendition of a lovesick cow longing for a partner. After about 15 minutes of periodic calling, Joe whispered, “Holy crap, look at that bull!” Words cannot describe our first encounter with a mature Alaska- Yukon bull moose. We quickly noticed that he was pushing a cow. My thoughts went from tempting him with a cow call to challenging him. We did our best impression of Jim Shockey by raising our canoe paddle over our heads and single file walking towards him, swaying back and forth and periodically grunting. That was it, he couldn’t take it anymore. He began swaying his head and walking towards us. We were freaking out. This was working! As he came closer, we attempted to judge this bull. As non-residents, we were required to make sure the bulls we harvested had either four or more brow tines on one side or were 50" wide, and we did not want to error. We knew for sure that the bull only had three brow tines per side, so he was not legal in that realm. As the bull approached to less than 100 yards, we were torn. He appeared to be over 50" but not by much. Did we really want to fill one of our tags on the first set? Were we 100% positive that this bull was over 50"? If we were able to call a bull of this caliber on our very first attempt, what was the rest of the week going to be like? We decided to pass on this bull and backed out. What a start!
Days two and three resulted in multiple moose sightings per day but no big bulls.
Day four was my day to shoot, and we awoke to frost on the ground. As we motored around in the zodiac, we were seeing a lot more moose activity. We noticed a group of about four cows and calves and beached the boat. As we walked the bank and glassed, we suddenly saw an enormous set of palms raking a group of willows. I immediately set up on my shooting sticks and began to evaluate the bull. I was first checking brow tines. 1, 2, 3, and 4. He was a legal bull! Now I was checking to make sure it was a bull I would be happy with. He looked big, really big. At that moment, Joe whispered that he would take him if I didn’t. Too late! I flipped the safety on my Hunter Precision rifle chambered in .338 Norma. I settled the crosshairs and focused on breathing and trigger control. Boom! “You nailed him!” exclaimed Joe. I quickly put one more in him to make sure he was done.
I couldn’t believe it! Did that really happen? Did I just fulfill a lifelong dream? Pats on the back and high fives from my buddy, Joe, confirmed that I had.
I couldn’t believe the size of the animal as I approached him. After checking him for signs of life, I set my gun down and placed my hands on his enormous body for the first time. I grabbed one of his massive tines, and with a little struggle, I pulled his entire rack into view. I was speechless.
After some congratulatory hugs, I solemnly bowed my head and thanked my Creator for this wonderful opportunity and for this animal’s life. We then took a bunch of photos and began the incredible task of breaking down and hauling an animal of this size and magnitude. We shot the bull at 9:30 in the morning and it took us until about 7:00 p.m. to get him back to camp. We went to bed with even bigger smiles that night.
Days five and six found us covering a lot of territory and seeing a lot of moose, yet our search for a monster bull for Joe continued.
The morning of day seven found us in an area where we had seen a lot of cows. We got out of the zodiac and began a sequence of raking and grunt calls. We immediately got a response from a bull on the opposite side of the river. We quickly boarded the boat and made our way across. Once on the other side, it was on. The bull was very active and responded to our calls. We eventually heard multiple cow calls, so we knew he wasn’t alone. We knew we needed to be more aggressive and trudged deeper into the tussock-laden terrain. We approached an opening in the terrain, and there he was, a giant bull tending to one of his girlfriends. Joe readied his .300 Win Mag and waited for a shot opportunity. We had no doubt the bull was well over 50", and as soon as he turned, Joe put an incredible shot right through his heart. He went 20 yards and expired. The celebration was on! Joe’s bull was beautiful with incredible brows that had over eight scorable points per side.
Reality sunk in. We went two for two! We both shot bulls over 60" wide and did it self- guided in Alaska. After hugs and photos, the process of hauling meat began. The experiences we had were indescribable. The adventure of Alaska was real! A few days later, we found ourselves back in Holy Cross, and soon thereafter, we were home to our loved ones.
I would like to thank Joe Huskinson for yet another incredible adventure. I hope and pray we have many more just like it. I would like to thank my friend, Nate Hunter of Hunter Precision, for building incredibly accurate rifles. And most of all, I would like to thank my wonderful kids and my beautiful wife for always letting me chase the next once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.