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Moose in the Far North

I’ve lived in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, for 12 years and believe me, I have seen a lot. Anaktuvuk means  “caribou droppings” in the Native tongue. Clearly, there are a lot of caribou here. The Nunamiut Eskimos (people of the tundra) have spent thousands of years being nomadic hunters, living in skin tents until 1957. These nomadic hunters settled and the city of Anaktuvuk Pass was incorporated, transitioning the lifestyle from Stone Age to modern day in just a very-short 54 years. The use of Argos and rifles has made hunting easy in comparison.

I usually hunt caribou, but in 2007 there were very few caribou around, forcing me  to redevelop my own hunting techniques. Moose do populate the area, even being seen in town, but these would usually be cows. I started hunting these little patches of willows, doing cow calls in hopes of a bull popping out. I didn’t have much luck.

In 2011 I didn’t have much time off from work, with the season ending Sept 25. With my wife Amanda a native of Anaktuvuk, we hit the trail early in the morning and returned late every night. We usually camped out, but this year an unusually high number of grizzly bears had been harassing other hunter’s campsites. So we would travel light and tight every day, carrying extra-warm gear, medical supplies, food and guns. You have to be prepared and respect the dangers inherent of hunting in the Brooks Range.

We had some long days with no results but at least we had the most beautiful views to keep our spirits high. Being that we were in the second largest national park, Gates of the Arctic, the view never ended.

We woke up early the last day for the hunt and had gotten ready the night before sowe could just wake and go. With the tops of the mountains showing the termination dust of snow, it was dark at first and eerie that we could see just a few feet in front of us. The Argo safely got us through the numerous mudholes, across the rivers and over the biggest rocks. We stopped at every little patch of willows and accomplished a cow call. Even the biggest moose can hide in a tiny patch of willows, so we never stopped, repeating our process over and over until we eventually reached a big hill overlooking a valley called the Kaluutiagaka River drainage. I did a couple of cow calls and just kept going down the trail. We hit a patch of willows below us and crossed a river. When we got into a clearing, there was a huge bull walking right at us at about 800 yards. I quietly asked Amanda to get out the video camera. I started calling, throwing my voice behind me. As Amanda kept filming, I would comment on the size and how he just kept walking towards us to 180 yards, where he turned. I shot him twice with a .243. He walked about 100 yards over to another trail where he dropped.

Upon walking up to the majestic monster I almost got emotional with what I was witnessing. Not only did this true trophy die on the trail but 20 feet away there was an old fire pit with a stack of wood next to it. It turns out this fire pit was from Amanda’s dad. They used it the previous year as a camping and hunting site, making this an extra-special hunt to complete.

We took our time cutting up this majestic animal. We got home and immediately gave away three-quarters of the meat to Amanda’s family and Anaktuvuk’s elders. People thanked me for the “excellent” tasting moose meat, but now this makes me warm inside, sharing not only the meat but also the story.

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