Moose Hunting

Persistence has it's paycheck

by Tom Higgs

Among other things I've always wanted to get a big moose, not just a moose but a big moose. Over the years I've kept track of where the really big ones were coming from. One area that I had in mind was in a very remote part of Alaska's Yukon river valley. While on a Dall sheep hunt in 2001 in the Brooks Range with Ralph Miller of Deltana Outfitters I learned that he was moose hunting in that general area, and had been taking big bulls on a regular basis.  That got my attention.

The next year in January, at the FNAWS convention in Reno, I saw Ralph & Jim and asked how their moose hunting season had gone. Ralph said "pretty good' and showed me some pictures of the bulls they had taken from their Yukon river moose hunting camp. I could see they had taken some really big moose, but looking at a picture it is hard to tell just how big a really big bull is.

Ralph said that one of the bulls they had taken this year was mounted and hanging on the wall at the Animal Artistry Studio down town so I said lets go take a look. Walking into the studio we saw some terrific mounts, but what caught my eye was a 72 ½" shoulder mount on the wall.  Man that moose was huge -- what a heavy thick horned monster. During my tour of the studio I also saw several of the other moose they had taken in September -- all over 60 in and most in the 65 - 68 in range.

Now I knew what a great moose looked like and that got my blood pumping. Ralph only had one spot open for the fall of 2003 so I booked it on the spot.  Now I only had less than a year to wait. I chose a favorite rifle of mine a model 70 classic that I had rebored to 338-06, shooting a 210-grain Barnes XLC bullet at 2800 f.p.s. I organized my gear and looked forward to September. At last I arrived on a gravel bar on the 15th of September as planned. I was met by Jim Weidner of Deltana Outfitters and Billy Molls who had been my guide on previously successful Dall sheep and caribou hunts.

Good to see old friends that you know you can trust. Jim took care of the paper work right there on the gravel bar. With my hunting license and big game tags Billy and I headed up river in the canoe loaded with our moose hunting gear and camp. We traveled about 10 miles and set up camp. It was dark when we finished so we told a few stories and hit the sack. The next morning we left camp in the dark and headed up river to a spot Billy wanted to do some glassing from. As we reached the our vantage point, before we could even get the spotting scope set up, a 60 " bull walked out of a thicket about 500 yards away. This bull had large paddles with long points and 4 brow tines on each side, a really nice bull but only 60 in. This being the first hour of a ten-day hunt we just watched him and enjoyed the view. About 30 minutes latter we spotted another bull about 700 yards out, he was a better bull about 65 in with lots of points, clearly a keeper. While planning our stalk, Billy spots a real monster about ¾ of a mile away. This bull is in the low to mid 70's with lots of points, what a site, this bull is a real trophy.

We decide we will try for him and by the time we get positioned it is early afternoon. Knowing the bull is bedded down in a thicket we feel that we can call him out in the evening. About this time a breeze started to pick up out of the north and within and hour it is 20 mph, in two hours it is 30 mph and freezing. We worked this bull till dark but the weather change and the wind made it a futile effort. Back at camp the wind blew all night and was still at it in the morning. The temperature had really dropped and it was getting very cold. We hunted the area for five days and the wind just keep blowing. We saw a few bulls in the 58" range but the north wind had the big moose holding tight in the thickets.

We could hear a few bulls raking their antlers and a few grunts in answer to our calling but that cold north wind had driven them deep into the thickets and they would not come out. Time was running out, the river was freezing up due to the cold freak arctic wind, the bulls were not responding because of it. The realization was upon us that due to mother nature I very likely was going home, having an exciting hunt, but with out a trophy moose. Everyone knows that feeling in your gut, and when you are tired it can over power you into just giving up, if you let it. Billy said he was willing to stay and hunt hard until the very last minute even if the river froze solid and we had to hike out, I said AMEN Brother!!

We decided to pack up and move camp about 15 miles up another fork of the river. It would be an all day project, as we would have to drag the canoe through miles of shallows and some ice. However, something had to be done to change our luck, the wind just would not let up. After a long hard day we made camp and climbed a little knoll just as the sun was hitting the hills. Immediately we spotted a small bull crossing the river behind us. While watching this small bull we caught a glimpse of an antler in the spruce across the river. Running to the river we hopped in the canoe, crossed to his side, and started calling. He would rake and grunt but wouldn't come out of the thicket. The wind and light was such that we couldn't go in after him but at least we now had some bulls that were moving and responding.

The next day broke clear, cold and windy, just like the rest. We glassed and called all day with no luck. Then late in the afternoon we spotted a big bull traveling in a strip of thick spruce heading to a thicket of birch trees on the outside bend in the river where we had seen the smaller bull cross the day before. With sundown approaching we had to move fast. Since calling had not been working we decided to change the rules a bit. I ran down to the river where I could see in both directions and Billy worked around the bull in and attempt to push him in my direction so I could get a shot. In a few minutes a couple of cows that we had not seen came out, but no bull. I was thinking "great now we have spooked the best bull we have seen in 6 days". Then all of a sudden all hell broke loose, Billy had worked his way to within 15 yards of the bull before he exploded.

The bull broke 6" birch trees off as he charged through that stuff. He was breaking ICE, Logs, trees, brush; everything in his path was coming down. I could see the tops of trees going down as he came straight at me. For 100 yards he came and for the last 30 I could see his body, head down, hindquarters powering and propelling him forward, loosing footing with his front end but still pushing with his back. All the trees and brush he was pushing over were tripping him up but he kept coming as hard as he could. When he cleared the brush and hit the riverbank he turned and I shot him in the shoulder trying to keep him from going into the river. At the shot he turned to face me and I shot him in the heart, he then turned to go back the way he had come, I put one more shot into his shoulder and down he went. After seven long days it was over. A beautiful 64-in Trophy bull, 13 points on one side16 on the other with 4 heavily palmed brow tines per side. We caped and quartered him by headlamps and crawled into bed at 12:01 midnight. Like an old timer used to tell me Persistence has it's paycheck.

The next day we loaded camp and moose in the canoe and headed 20 plus miles down river to Deltana's base camp. The ice was really starting to build up and our trip was slow, we made it with little time to spare. The wind never did stop blowing. In this area Billy had never gone 4 days without getting a 60 " bull and that was only because hunters were passing on 60 "moose. I'm glad that it was me that broke his record on days hunted. Success under tough conditions is never forgotten.

As you might guess after 3 successful hunts, sheep, caribou and now moose hunting, I highly recommend Deltana Outfitters for hunting Alaska big game. If you are looking for a great hunt with great people give Ralph a call at 907-895-5006.  This is as good as it gets.

 

 

  


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