By Ron Adams
Phil Wolf and Ron Adams set aside 12 days for their Alaska float hunt. Halfway into it, both had scored with handsome bulls.
The temperature was a cool 19 degrees on Sept. 3, 2004, when Phil Wolf and I arrived at a small creek in Alaska's interior. We'd long been planning a trip there, and news of the large bull moose taken in that sub-unit excited us.
Our plan was to float the creek for approximately 75 miles and hunt along the way, for which we had set aside 12 days. After that, we'd be picked up by an air service that would fly us back to our vehicles.
Upon loading our 16-foot inflatable raft, we set out and soon became concerned about the water levels for the first few miles. We would not be able to put a 1,200-pound moose in the raft without the vessel scraping bottom and possibly tearing a hole in our only transportation. Plus, we were at least 100 miles from the closest settlement.
Fortunately, however, the going and water levels improved. Phil and I camped that first night on a long beach with plenty of firewood to warm our bodies and a beautiful sunset to warm our souls.
The next morning, our first official day of hunting, broke a cool and clear 16 degrees. We were anxious to see what the day would bring. Up and packed by 7 a.m., we barely noticed the heavy frost that covered all of our gear. Once Phil and I hit the water, it was as if we became one with the landscape. The fall's reds and yellows danced in the breeze amidst the smell of wet leaves and ripened berries - all signs of the coming winter.
Rafting, in my opinion, is the best way to experience Alaska and possibly the quietest way to hunt bull moose.
We were floating just above 2 mph, the oars leaving the water and the caws of a raven the only sounds. Our game plan was to try calling the moose to the creek's edge, using my trusty fiberglass megaphone-like moose call. But we floated most of the morning with only the echo of my calls as a response.
The author poses with his buddy's bull - the duo's shortest-ever packing job and reason enough to consider hunting these magnificent animals via float trip.
Out of the blue, Phil asked, "Would you like to go for a walk to warm the toes and check for moose sign?"
"Sure," I replied. "I like to walk."
We picked a high ridge on a cut bank to stop. We've noticed over the years that moose tend to stay on the high side of the river for a better view of possible predators.
Phil and I grabbed our guns, walked into the woods a few yards and noticed a well used game trail paralleling the river. This is not uncommon, as most of the animals in the area, such as moose, bears and wolves, choose to walk along the river to their final destination or to look for the easiest place to cross. We followed the trail for about 200 yards and noticed what appeared to be a clearing off the main path.
We headed for the opening and discovered that it was a dried-up pond. The fresh moose tracks in the area were inviting, but as my father always says, "You can't eat moose tracks." I began to parallel the pond as my partner entered the clearing, attempting to find fresher sign.
Phil and I were barely 50 yards apart when I glanced up from some very fresh moose tracks to see their maker not 60 yards in front of me. The question immediately was, is it a bull? In the area we were hunting, there were no antler restrictions; so any bull was legal. On the first day, however, size matters.
The trees were thick. It took 20 to 30 seconds before the sunlight reflected off the tines of the mighty beast as it raised its head, probably catching my scent. I chambered a round, looked back to see Phil still looking hard at some fresh sign, likely from the moose now in my scope. My shooting window was small, about a foot square, but it presented a direct path to the animal's vitals.
Fortunately, I was confident with my .375 H&H, especially at that range. I quickly squeezed off a round, and the bull dropped in its tracks. I turned to see Phil give me a look that said, "There is no way you just shot a moose on the first day, right?"
Well, to our mutual surprise, I did. It wasn't the widest among Alaska-Yukon specimens, but it wore a rare 11 brow tines, five on one side and six on the other. We were very fortunate, too, in that we had only 200 yards to pack out the 1,000-pound bull - our closest pack-out ever!
We finished loading the moose into the raft by 4 p.m. and decided to cover some creek miles before setting up our next camp.
Our second day on the river presented, once again, a heavy frost - chilling everything in the boat, including the meat. That was fortunate, because we still had 11 days to go.
We hunted close to the river's edge for the next few days, still in shock that our hunt was half finished. After some discussion, Phil and I decided to try to call our air taxi service for some assistance. We had a satellite phone with us and made a quick call to the air service to see if they would be able to take the meat out for us early and store it until the end of our trip. Unfortunately, they did not have the room at their facility, but they offered us an optional airstrip approximately 12 air miles away, according to GPS calculations.
A satellite phone and GPS are great and increasingly affordable tools to have on such a long hunt. The owner of the air taxi service we were using mentioned that the hunting was good in that area near this optional airstrip. Plus, if we got another moose before that strip, we could be picked up early.
Sounded like a plan to us.
The next morning, we heard a bull grunting just out of sight in the trees. It kept us busy most of the day, but that's all. Later in the evening, while we were catching some fresh grayling for supper, I threw up the moose call and let one fly. Within seconds, we heard the crashing of brush not far off in the woods. We quickly rowed to shore and listened intently as the thrashing got louder.
We were on a long beach and could see trees swinging in the air as the moose was moving our way. Phil and I were looking at each other in shock. Within a few minutes, a 57-inch-wide bull stepped onto the beach just short of where I had made my first moose call.
It was in a beeline for the other side of the river where, we assumed, it thought its challenger (me) was waiting. The bull was just entering the water when Phil fired into its shoulder, dropping the animal instantly into the shallow river.
Now that moose would be the shortest pack ever!
We were very happy to have our second moose only six days into our 12-day hunt. We field-dressed that rascal in record time.
As the sun set, we became almost giddy. Phil and I grabbed our horns and began playfully sparring as if we were mighty bulls.
I remember settling into our sleeping bags for one last night, both smiling in anticipation of our dreams. As I dozed off, I began planning the next year's hunt.
-- Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine