Caribou subsistence permit in hand, I headed north. We were having a record stretch of warm, sunny weather… besides, I like to hunt on my birthday.
My optimism was tempered by the reduction in caribou allotted for the hunt. The herd had been reduced by winter-kill and migration. In the past I have hunted by canoe, raft, boat, motorized rig, mountain bike, aircraft & hiking. River kayak would be added to the list. If I got skunked, I’d at least have an exciting ride downriver.
The idea was to line the kayak up a stream in the non-motorized hunt area. I watched vehicles stop on the Denali Highway to watch the crazy guy dragging the kayak across a swamp enroute to the creek. After a few miles lining upstream I encountered a new experience in caribou country. No hunters! I was all alone, & would not encounter another hunter the whole trip.
I quickly set up my Marmot tent. I spied the bluffs above the river. The high point would allow a good vantage to spot something. I grabbed gun, binoculars & took off. Hidden waterways were lurking between the river & the higher terrain. One false move & my dry socks would be wet. A stream along the edge of the bluff was just narrow enough to leap over. Good job- dry feet!
As I gained the height of land new vistas were thrust upon me. I focused my hunting eyes in a visual panorama of the scene before me. Movement to my left. Caribou! About a dozen caribou, a couple hundred yards away were transversing the bluff, heading south. A mixed group of cows, calves & larger bulls. I made a quick calculation, a flanking maneuver into the brush may bring us to a convergence point. I put my head down & headed for a possible rendezvous.
Some branches opened up & the antlered head of the leader emerged at 75 yards. I thought myself well camouflaged behind brush, with the wind in my favor. All I had to do was wait for the string of caribou to emerge & pick out the best bull. The lead caribou had a different plan. He suddenly wheeled & led the group in the opposite direction. They went crashing off. Somehow I blew it & had given myself away.
I waited for a while. Caribou behavior is hard to predict; they may circle around in a different direction. I slowly ambled over to another ridge, but no sign of the herd. I headed over to the highest point on the bluff. I was eating blueberries along the way & enjoying the continued warm, sunny weather.
An anomaly in the landscape caught my attention. The waterproof Pentax 10×42 binoculars confirmed a moose sighting. The advantage of this hunt is the possibility of bagging a caribou, moose, or both. A moose harvest ticket was in my pocket for just such an occurrence. The next task was to determine if it was a legal bull. It obviously was not a 50-inch rack or greater, so I needed to spot some sign of antlers. The animal was feeding in thick vegetation, but I finally saw what looked to be a spike on one side. A possible legal bull! I estimated the distance at 500 yards- I needed to stalk closer for confirmation. The thought crossed my mind if I had the desire to pack a moose all the way back to camp- almost a mile. I chided myself that it would be good training for winter Nordic ski races. I noted some spruce landmarks, put my head down & began the stalk. Patience was required in the thick low brush to keep noise to a minimum. Some caribou trails wound through that I used to advantage.
The spruce landmarks told me that I should be within 100 yards of the quarry. I slowly raised my head & gazed around. No animals! Nothing but empty hillside. Had I given myself away again? The wind was in my favor as before with the caribou. I visualized myself happily paddling my empty kayak back downriver. Another thought; how about imitating a cow moose & see if I missed something. I gave my best imitation of a love-sick cow moose. I noticed a head swivel in the brush with two pointed ears directed at me.
I trained my binoculars on the head. The poster-moose of a legal fork-antlered moose. I weighed the odds of a head-shot through the brush. I didn’t have to wait long, he was on his feet & broadside. I picked an opening in the brush & the .338 roared. Another shot & he dropped.
A beautiful young bull moose- good eating! We posed for a photo. It was now late afternoon on a warm day. Cooling the animal down required immediate attention. I gutted the animal, reaching my arms as far into the cavity as possible, cutting loose guts & organs. I found two mushroomed bullets under the skin, opposite side of entry. Skinning off the hide would promote cooling. I separated the front quarter, figuring that I could lug it back to camp over my shoulder.
I headed downhill with the front quarter, rifle, & binoculars. It was cumbersome, the brush conspiring to halt my progress. A well worn caribou trail begged my attention. I followed it down to the river. It was a ruse! I was now in the maze of hidden streamlets, rills, & potholes. I suddenly fell headlong into the water. Dry socks no longer concerned me. I finally stumbled back to camp.
Under the blazing aurora overhead I calculated the load on my kayak going out. If I had not bungled the initial caribou encounter, I would have the perfect load to line downriver. I wracked my brain for an answer to the heavier moose load, plus all my gear- it would sink the kayak. And then it hit me- Archimedes’ Principle! My waterproof gear bags would displace the water weight necessary to provide the upper buoyant force in lieu of the kayak. I could simply tether the gear bags to the kayak. The kayak could carry the several hundred pounds of moose meat.
I spent the next day hauling 3 full loads down the hill to my camp. It was an exhausting day. The next morning I loaded the kayak- Archimedes was right. Most of the day was consumed lining down to the Denali Highway. I thumbed a ride back to my truck. The next day at the gym I found myself 5 pounds lighter from the trip. I am now in tenderloin heaven….