By Mike Handley
With a score of 229 6⁄8 inches, Tim Butts' Alaska-Yukon bull is the No. 3 bowkill in the world. Pope and Young's 248-inch world record was taken back in 1973. The 240 4⁄8-inch runner-up was dropped in 1995. Photo courtesy of Tim Butts
For a guy who'd never considered hunting moose, Tim Butts sure changed his mind in a hurry.
It was his boss's fault the West Virginia contractor wound up spending his 43rd birthday in the Yukon, sitting under a tent flap with a stranger and watching the rain. That was the first morning of his 10-day bowhunt.
Tim's boss had seen a television advertisement for Jim Shockey's Rogue River Outfitters and booked a mid-September hunt. When he asked Tim if he would like to go, Tim had to think about it. He'd never been bitten by the moose bug; wasn't sure he wanted to share his love of hunting whitetails and elk with another big game animal.
But the following day, he told his boss: "I'm in."
The journey eventually took them to Whitehorse via Toronto and Vancouver. From there, they traveled four more hours to the town of Mayo, Shockey's base camp. That's where the two men parted company. From there, Tim boarded a float plane bound for his camp, a wall tent on the banks of the Stewart River. When the plane splashed down an hour later, he met his guide, Chris Locke.
Shockey was supposed to be his guide, but the outfitter was stuck farther north.
Not to worry. Tim had already fallen in love with the place from the air.
"The amount of undisturbed territory up there is unbelievable," he said. "Words can't describe it."
Tim and Chris, the same age, hit it off immediately, even though Chris had never guided a bowhunter. The rest of the afternoon was spent reviewing safety tips and learning lessons in survival: how to deal with rising water, bears, wolves and the wilderness.
Tim was glad he'd prepared for the trip. Aside from regularly shooting in archery competitions, he'd established a routine of walking almost daily with a 30-pound backpack.
The next day, a Monday, was Tim's birthday. Knowing that getting within bow range of an acceptable bull would be iffy, they'd pretty much agreed from the get-go to spend as much time as possible to make it happen, which meant hunting from dawn 'til dusk. And dusk up there is 10 p.m.
The dawn part didn't happen.
A little rain wouldn't have been enough to keep Tim and Chris in camp. But a thunderstorm was, so they weren't able to hit the river those first couple of hours. When the storm finally passed, they clambered into the aluminum boat.
The daily routine involved traveling the river and stopping occasionally to devote an hour or two to calling. It wasn't spot-and-stalk unless, of course, they spotted. If they got a response, they'd try even harder to lure the bull closer to shore - not for the sake of an arrow's range, but for the ease of packing it back to camp afterward.
It was warm going, at first, and almost always wet. Daytime highs were in the 60s; nighttime lows in the 40s. The rain caused the river to swell almost 4 feet by the second day, and uprooted and fallen trees were riding the current.
That's why Chris and Tim spent more time following the many sloughs rather than risk the perils of high water.
Colder weather and an early fog moved in on Wednesday, the third day. And the river had risen by 8 feet, forcing them to keep to the sloughs.
Thursday was an interesting day. The game plan - covering as much as 20 miles by water and calling to unseen moose - was the same. But this time, they encountered a couple of 40-inch-wide bulls, a few cows and calves, and a large grizzly.
They ventured 30 miles upstream on Friday, and then worked their way back to and past the campsite. Below camp, they saw a stretch of beach marred by hoof prints and deep gouges. It looked as if a couple of bulls had engaged in a serious shoving match there.
On Saturday, the guys returned to the same area they'd been working all week. It was about 30 degrees and foggy, sans wind. They saw three or four bulls, but nothing to interest Tim. That evening, they returned to the battle-scarred beach. While calling, they heard a bull grunting at least 250 to 300 yards distant. While Tim and Chris longed to see it, their attention was diverted when a second and very respectable bull actually came to the call. Its rack was somewhere in the 52- to 54-inch-wide range.
"Chris looked at me and said, 'You might want to shoot that. It's the next-to-last day, you know.'
"But it wasn't the bull for me, even if it meant going home empty-handed," Tim said. "And Chris understood when I thumbed toward the distant grunting. 'I want to see that one,' I told him.
"I sort of regarded the one in the bush as the dominant bull, probably the victor of the fight and probably with a cow," he added.
On Sunday, the final hunting day, the fog lingered until 11:00. They returned to the beach, ready to devote at least three solid hours to calling. After an hour of it, Tim and Chris looked across the slough and saw the giant paddles of a moose rack floating in the bush toward them. It was at 250 yards, but closing.
After realizing the bull was accompanied by a cow and calf, thus unlikely to swim or wade over to them, the guys decided to cross over to the bull's side.
They went about 300 yards downstream and tied off to the 8-foot-tall riverbank. Scaling it wasn't easy. About the time they hit the opposite shore, the bull reached the water's edge.
Tim and Chris wasted no time in navigating the thick brush, scurrying as quickly as possible to get closer to the moose. When they were within 45 yards, Chris began calling to it. The bull responded eagerly.
Tim had a 25-yard shot window, but he realized that if the bull appeared to the right of the pine between them, the shot angle would be bad. So he and Chris swung left, hoping to force the animal to veer that way as well.
Everything worked like a charm, at least until the arrow left Tim's string. It hit an unseen twig en route to the massive bull, deflected and broke the skin well behind the boiler room. The broadhead didn't even penetrate the diaphragm; it buried under the thick skin and hung vertically, slapping against the side of the bull as it fled 200 yards back the way it had come.
Tim took no time to curse his luck. He sprinted after the bull. As he and Chris closed the distance, he remembered a little trick that had worked for him while elk hunting. He asked Chris to call softly, almost too softly. The bull responded as if bewitched.
The second time the massive animal came within 40 yards, Tim nailed it - achieving the perfect pass-through. The bull ran off about 50 yards and collapsed. One of the enormous paddles was pointing skyward.
Afterward, Tim crept forward to retrieve his arrow. But Chris, much to Tim's horror, took off for the bull. As soon as he reached it, he yelled, "Here he is. He's down!"
"They just don't get many bowhunters up there for moose," Tim related. "We had talked about what to do after a shot: to wait. But I guess Chris was too excited."
The bull rose from the dead and charged into the thick bush.
Tim and Chris followed blood for 300 yards before losing the trail. At 2 p.m., about the time they decided to zigzag forward in hopes of finding the next trickle, they heard the bull grunt ... probably another 300 yards ahead. They proceeded cautiously for 200, and then saw it lying on the ground. They couldn't tell if it was still breathing.
When they eased to within 40 yards, however, they saw the massive chest rising and falling. It was still chugging.
And then it stood again.
Chris tried to convince Tim to finish it off with the backup gun, but he refused.
Instead, he drew his bow. A second later, he lowered it.
"He's done," Tim said. "It's over."
Now they were faced with a 2,400-pound bull at point A and their boat at point B, at least a mile away. First, they had to find and mark or cut the straightest and easiest trail back to the boat. After that, another three and a half hours was invested in boning out the bull. Tim did that while Chris caped the head.
Carrying the cape, hide, head and antlers all at once wasn't possible.
At 7 p.m., they made their first trek to the boat. The 17-minute walk - "empty," as Tim calls it - became a full-fledged, hour-and-a-half hike. They barely made camp by dark, and they had yet to get the meat.
They returned to the kill site the following day to retrieve the boned-out meat, which was akin to hoisting three 50-pound sacks of dog food onto your shoulders and carrying them around the store a dozen times, stepping over kids and spilled carts along the way.
The nearly nine-hour chore caused them to miss the float plane (Tim's ride home) that morning. But the pilot returned the next day at the same time.
The bull was 64 6⁄8 inches wide and measured 229 6⁄8, enough for the No. 3 spot in the Pope and Young Club's record book.
"One of the things I appreciate about that place is the total absence of sound," Tim said. "If you hear something, it's a bear or a moose. Because you don't hear the wolves ... until 1:30 in the morning, and only if they're howling to announce that they've located breakfast ... you.
"That's why Chris carried a little air horn," he added. It was the guide's way of saying, "No, your breakfast will bite back."
When Tim learned that his bull would sail into, if not onto the top of, the list in P&Y records, he wasn't any more excited than he'd been at the prospect of going, but for a very different reason. Starting out, he had no idea what hunting moose in the Yukon was like; at the end of the trip, he realized that actually shooting a moose was only a bonus.
"There was a chance it could've been a world record, for all we knew at the time," Tim said. "But that didn't matter to me. I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.'
"Shooting an even bigger one wouldn't have been any sweeter," he added. "It was an absolutely incredible experience. That's what I'll remember whenever I look up at the mount. Every time, I'll think about being there again ... not about what it scores."
Tim's boss, by the way, came away equally thrilled. He shot a 68-incher.
Though wider, it didn't score as high as Tim's bull did because, as Shockey would say, "It didn't have all the rigging."
Editor's Note: To learn more about the hunts offered by Jim Shockey's Rogue River Outfitters, log on to: www.jimshockey.com.
-- Reprinted from the September 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine