A Moose Hunt Turned Into a Deadly Encounter in Southcentral Alaska
A moose hunt turned into a deadly encounter in Southcentral Alaska.
September, we wait all year for it. As hunters, it’s a magical month, a time to chase love hungry animals through thick woods and steep terrain in pursuit of adventure. But it’s also a time to unplug from our day to day lives and let the wilderness recharge our spirit. This last season, my third in Alaska, I focused my efforts on trying to score my first moose, but we all know that in the woods, things can change at a moment’s notice.
“…unplug from our day to day lives and let the wilderness recharge our spirit.”
My oldest son, Leo, and I loaded up our homemade camper . (A link to how I built our truck bed camper should be up soon, it’s a great DIY project and it keeps us warm and dry here in Alaska.) The plan was to set up camp before dark, so we left Anchorage and headed north in search of a moose to fill our freezer. We cracked jokes between bouts of admiring the beautiful scenery along the Glenn Highway. Our excitement grew the closer that we got and Leo began asking questions about the upcoming adventure. It was his first moose hunt so he couldn’t wait for the experience and the chance to miss a few days of school, though I’m not sure which he looked forward to more. Halfway to our destination Leo finally asked the most important question, “Hey Dad, can I see the moose tag?” My stomach dropped as I realized I’d forgotten my harvest ticket on the kitchen counter. I’d set it there with the hunting regulations booklet, specifically so I wouldn’t forget either one. He thought I was joking when finally I told him that I’d left it behind by accident, not believing me until I turned back to Anchorage. The truck was silent for the two-hour drive home and back, something I’m sure he’ll never let me live down. The plan to make it to camp before dark was ruined when we pulled into our spot around 2 am, but a late arrival certainly didn’t stop the trip from being memorable. After barely four hours of sleep, my alarm blared in the camper. Isn’t it funny how our alarm is our worst enemy during the work week, but one of our favorite sounds during hunting season? It gives the hunter hope of what the day might bring, similar to the feeling of when an elk bugles across a canyon or a turkey gobbles from its roost. About an hour later we parked the four-wheeler at the top of a bare sided mountain, at about the same time that the sun peeked over the hills. The mountainside swirled with reds and yellows from the Fireweed and the Birch trees. Fall in Alaska may be short, but it sure is beautiful. We settled into a patch of blueberries, snacking on them as we scoured the surrounding hills with our binoculars. Throughout the morning we watched a good sized bull off in the distance and spotted a cow moose as well as a few black bears on another hilltop. The unit we were hunting allowed the harvest of bears, with a ticket only required for black bears. In this unit, one brown bear is allowed each regulatory year without a harvest ticket. We watched the black specks eat berries miles away, knowing that a blueberry filled black bear isn’t worth the hunt, even when given the opportunity. Eventually, we headed back to camp empty-handed for the time being.
“Isn’t it funny how our alarm is our worst enemy during the work week, but one of our favorite sounds during hunting season?”
I kept our gear and my Remington 700 .300 Win Mag on the four-wheeler when we made it back to the truck, ready for another hunt that evening. In the meantime, we settled into the trailer to catch up on sleep. We woke up a few hours later and Leo stepped outside to use the restroom. When he returned we started to plan our next hunt. “What was that?” He asked me and we both sat silent, listening. We heard twigs break and footsteps in the dry leaves outside of the camper. My first thought was that maybe another hunter had stumbled across our camp. Then we heard the heavy breaths of an animal sniffing the other side of the camper door. Our eyes widened and all of the sudden the truck shook as the unknown creature stood on the rear bumper. And just like it did when I realized I’d forgotten my moose tag in Anchorage, my stomach dropped as I remembered that I’d left the rifle on the quad and my pistol in the cab of the truck. I knew then that the element of surprise was my next option. Leo grabbed my arm as I reached for the door, but I explained, “I have to scare it off.”
“…my stomach dropped as I remembered that I’d left the rifle on the quad and my pistol in the cab of the truck.”
I flung the door open and stood there face to face with a grizzly bear, his front paws still on the bumper. I yelled, “GET OUT OF HERE BEAR!” and it stepped down slowly, staring up at me on all fours. With one hand still on the door, ready to slam it shut in an instant, I reached back to find something to throw at the bear. The first thing I found was a decorative pillow that my wife had put in the camper to give it a more “homey” feel. I didn’t understand the point of it until I swatted it at the bear’s snout and he took a few steps back. Maybe it had a purpose after all. With the bear further away, I was able to search for a better weapon and found a hatchet near my feet. I picked it up and swung it like a madman, the grizzly now about ten feet away, then decided to try my luck at throwing it. Now, in my defense, I use my left hand for everything except throwing, but that was my only option as my right hand grasped the door frame in case I needed to swing myself back in the camper. So as much as I’d love to say that I made solid contact with a grizzly bear using a hatchet, I can’t. I meant to hit the ground though, right? However, my tomahawk attempt did make him turn and step into the Alders. The bear stood in the trees on the rear driver’s side of the truck and with the four-wheeler parked on the passenger side, I knew this was my chance. I jumped from the camper and sprinted to the quad. My hands shook, making it difficult to undo the bungee cords around my gun case, but finally, they came off. With my rifle in hand, I moved to the front of the truck, knowing that I had to keep the vehicle between us. The Griz moved through the tree line, stalking back towards the camper. I threw the gun against my shoulder and peered into the scope. I couldn’t see anything. The scope was on 16 power from the earlier hunt. With only about ten yards between us, I quickly dialed it down to 3 and readied myself again. I peered through the scope just as he stepped into an opening. The click of my safety caused him to stop, placing his shoulder perfectly in a small space between two Alder’s. I focused on that spot and pulled the trigger. Nothing. In the excitement I’d forgotten to jack a shell into the barrel. The bear stepped forward and turn to look at me. I jacked one in as he raised his head to sniff the air. His front half was now clear of the tree line so I placed my crosshairs behind his shoulder and squeezed. BOOM! He bit the entry wound on his left shoulder and spun around, his right side now facing me. I quickly loaded another round and BOOM! Another shot connected, this time with his other shoulder. He went down a ditch and out of sight. I listened for groans or the sound of branches breaking, but the woods were silent. Leo called out from the trailer, asking if I was okay. I reassured him and ran for the door, but he’d locked both the bear and me out. “Did you get him, Dad?” I told him that I’d hit the bear with both shots. Instantly he wanted to go look for it, but the last thing I wanted to do was chase a wounded grizzly bear in the woods. Plus I had no boots on. We listened and after thirty minutes of silence, we decided to check where the bear had stood during the first shot. We found hair and blood with bubbles, a good sign. The blood trailed to the ditch that the bear had disappeared to. Staying as far away as I could I caught a glimpse of him in the dirt. We snuck down the ditch and I nudged it with the barrel of my gun. No movement. Leo and I high fived. We couldn’t believe the size of the beast. I’ve killed black bears back in Oregon, but this bear was easily three times larger than any of them. Leo could barely lift the grizzly’s head. Thankfully, it was a short pack trip back to camp. We were actually able to drive with four-wheeler up to the embankment, hook the bear up to the wench, and drag him out. He was heavy enough that the quad was almost drug into ditch. But finally, we were able to get him out. In this particular unit, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game does not require the hunter to salvage the meat, but I’ve heard that bear meat isn’t bad if it hasn’t been eating salmon. Also, I wanted to use this as a teaching moment for my son to not to waste the meat of any animal that can be harvested. So we quartered him up and had the meat processed. And surprisingly, the meat was delicious! We ate it all winter and even served it at a Christmas party themed, “Caught it or Killed it”. Link and intro to recipe Alaska is well known for its wild nature, something that my son and I got the chance to learn first hand. And although we weren’t able to land my first moose, I did get my first grizzly bear, an awesome story to tell, and a reminder that you can never predict what might happen in the woods. Keep an eye out for more of our Alaskan experiences. Prey on Adventure!