Saturday, October 4, 2008

Full Freezers

The skiff was launched Thursday afternoon as Ryan and I headed up the Nushagak River on the annual quest to fill our freezers. It was the second year for Ryan and I hunting moose with calling and waiting instead of running up and down the river, in and out of sloughs. Last year proved a great adventure with an exciting and close encounter (read about it at Always looking to improve our techniques, Ryan and I bought a tree stand. Plan was simple. Find a good clearing, set up a stand, and call in a moose.

We found an incredible spot after a little looking, one big spruce tree in the middle of a huge clearing with moose sign in every direction. After packing the stand a quarter mile from the skiff to the tree, cutting branches, setting it up, and strapping the thing down we settled in to call our first moose of the year. At 7:30 PM Ryan let out the first cow call. Cow calling is done by putting your hands together as if to pray, bringing those hands up in front of your nose, pinching your nose with your thumbs, cupping your mouth, and letting out a loud muted nasal moan as long as your lungs allow.

We sat. We waited. Both sitting and waiting are the most difficult aspects of this type of hunting. You feel like you should be doing something. Sitting quietly just doesn’t feel productive. Dusk began to settle on the clearing. We called it a night. After climbing down out of the stand and locating a likely bush a few feet away, I looked up and noticed something at the brush line. Two symmetrical white patches that I didn’t remember seeing there before were now clearly in view. “What’s that?” I asked Ryan in the waning daylight. They moved. “It’s a moose! Let’s get ‘em.” I quietly stated. We repositioned ourselves just a few feet away to gain a better view. It was in fact a moose and he was walking straight for us.

Our plan was set in muted one word phrases two experienced hunters understood clearly. We would simply wait for him to walk right up to us. About 300 yards out we saw his tactic. He began circling to get downwind from us and determine just what we were. This required a revised approach on our part. We needed to cut him off. We slowly worked to intercept his path as cover allowed. Just before getting directly down wind, he walked behind a tree. I hustled to cut the distance. He walked out from behind the tree at about 150 yards offering a broadside shot generously choosing to fill our freezers. He was a big full grown bull measuring 54 inches across his antlers. Darkness was coming quickly so we cut off a couple quarters and removed his guts planning to return the next morning when we would finish cutting and hauling him out.

After seeing to proper care of the meat, eating a hot meal, and getting a good night’s sleep, we again found ourselves sitting in our stand in the same clearing belting our nasal moan to every bull moose for a mile around. The gut pile was roughly 350 yards away. We looked that way and noticed how quiet the area seemed. No ravens or magpies fluttered about, seemed nothing was there. We climbed down to take a look at the day old kill site. There in an area the size of most kitchens was an enormous pile of grass and dirt. A brown bear had been there to cover his lucky find. By the looks of the pile, it was a big bear at that. It made no sense to call in this clearing any longer. With a day and a half left in the season, we calculated a new plan.

We chose to relocate to one of a couple sloughs and try calling in another bull. We set up in one slough and heard a moose being shot very close by. Then we moved to another slough and had a boat drive right by. Evening was turning to night when we picked one last slough. After the second call, we heard another volley of close shots followed by a voice, “Bubba! Over here!” Ryan’s brother shouted. We figured that was it for the evening.

“We can help them cut it up and pack it out,” we agreed. Repositioning our boat to another bend in an adjacent slough, we saw two moose, one sporting the requisite antlers of a young bull. They stood well giving Ryan all the time he needed. We were quickly loaded in the boat and headed back to camp making the run down the river in the dark. Ryan’s brother, Bubba, and a big “meaty” moose arrived just after us.

We’ve been enjoying the moose in the weeks since the season closed. Johanna’s planning a nice steak dinner tonight. Empty freezers were filled and we are thankful. We are thankful for the animal and the choices it made to fill our freezer. We are thankful to live with a river where waters flow deep, cold, and clean. Pray we keep those waters clean and our freezers always full that we shall remain thankful.

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