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In Fruitless Pursuit of Moose

By Marcus Weiner

Mac decided that he would obtain a Tier 1 caribou permit in Unit 13, which would allow him to hunt caribou early and take either-sex animal. This was a meat hunt, so Mac and Eagle figured to get to camp a day early, hopefully find some caribou, and take one in the morning.

Choosing to utilize a Tier 1 permit, which is only available to residents of Alaska, means that Mac could only hunt moose in Unit 13. So he put in for drawing permits for moose in Unit 13 and he magically drew an any-bull tag. Anyone could hunt the area, but they would only be able to take a 50-inch or 4 brow-tine bull, while Mac could comfortably shoot any moose with antlers. Amazingly, Mac also drew a Kodiak goat tag.

When the Tier 1 season opened, Mac and Eagle loaded up the wheelers, drove north to the Swede Lake trailhead and headed about 25 miles down the trail. After negotiating miles of muddy trails and sinkholes, they found a nice campsite near dark, pitched tents, sipped spirits and hit the rack. While making breakfast in the morning, Eagle spotted caribou on the ridge about a mile from camp. Bingo. The pair spent the day goofing off. At about 4 a.m. the following morning Mac stood fully dressed, waiting for daybreak and the chance to go shoot a caribou. By 9 the pair sautéed caribou tenderloin. The cow was average size, and one of the first ones to break free of the small herd. They spent the day celebrating, then headed back to the trailhead in the morning. It had been a good scouting trip and they had caribou to turn into polish sausage.

Due to some other obligations, Mac couldn’t head out to moose hunt until the second week of September. He’d have about a week to take a bull moose and figured that others would be turning down small bulls, so he’d get his chance. Boy was he wrong.

The parking lot at the start of Swede Lake Trail looked like any campground in southcentral Alaska during the peak of the salmon run. That meant it was crammed past capacity with motorhomes and trailers. Looked like he and Eagle wouldn’t be alone.

After 35 tough miles, the pair began to think about finding a suitable campsite. Bent on getting away from other hunters, Mac led the pair off trail and over the edge of the nearest peak. The descent down the backside was white-knuckled lunacy, and on multiple occasions Mac vacillated between riding wheelies to pull the trailer out of the endless alder thickets or trying like hell to avoid flipping ass-over-tea-kettle both the bike and trailer. They finally stopped midway down the mountainside with a wide valley unfolding below them. It felt remote; that is until the sun went down and fires became visible in all directions. Mac counted seven.

The next week went something like this. Wake up at first light andglass, eat breakfast and glass, glass some more, find firewood, glass, eat lunch and glass some more, spot a moose and get really excited, determine it’s a cow and get back to glassing, try to avoid falling asleep while glassing, find more firewood to help wake up, glass until dark, eat dinner and go to sleep. Wake up and repeat.

Eagle and Mac erected a bombproof shelter, which was comprised of an oversized tarp beneath them, their two tents on top and both domes covered with another oversized tarp. It created an enclosure that helped trap the heat of the fire, but it also trapped the smoke. Six months later, Mac could still smell smoke on the dry bags that were used to transport their gear.

Firewood was scarce near camp, composed mostly of scrubby alder and the occasional fire-scourged spruce, dead but standing. Much of the excitement in each day revolved around navigating the wheelers down the steep hill, finding an adequate spruce and using the winches and the wheelers to pull over dead trees. The ride back up the hill was equally challenging with a tree in tow. And breaking the knotty spruce into burnable chunks ending up being a real bear. First step was to cut it into firewood-size chunks with a bow saw and then split it into burnable pieces with the maul. Mac took out his frustrations at not finding any moose on the firewood.

On the last day of the season, Eagle spotted a cow about 3 miles away. Mac, eager to close the distance and hopefully find an enamored bull not far from the cow, took off at breakneck pace through the alder tangle. Battered, bruised and sweaty, he finally emerged on the far side, unable to spot Eagle on the hillside behind and unable to find any moose ahead. In a nutshell, that described the hunt.

And just to add insult to injury, after losing the trailer on the freewheeling joyride down the rest of the mountainside, Mac buried the wheeler to the top of the wheel-wells and continued to try to get unstuck until puncturing one of the aluminum rims on a submerged rock. Thankfully he was able to ride it out, and the pair returned to Anchorage, a bit broken and bested, moose-less and wondering if the Tier 1 permit was worth it.

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