by Dave Grover
So You think you want to go Moose Hunting?
I had committed to this hunt in early February close to my 75th birthday. I knew that if I didn’t go this year, that I would most likely not have the opportunity again. That being said, I spent the next eight months trying to back out and sell my spot, but family and friends would not accept or cooperate with my efforts to back out. They stayed on me, and I'm grateful they did, but at the time I was thinking: “What in the hell am I doing going on a moose hunt at age 75?!” My knees are not what they used to be and I knew I had a challenge ahead of me trying to survive a two week Moose Hunt in Alaska!
I have only been Moose hunting once before, back in 2004 with my son Rick. We did a do-it-yourself float trip down the Koktuli River into the Mulchatna River, 110 mile drift as the crow flies. We had a combination Moose or Caribou tag.
Upon being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and watching our lifeline fly away, you get a knot in your stomach and that’s when it all sinks in; It’s just you and vast Alaskan wilderness!
That year the river was low and after dragging rafts for three days down a trickle of a river we finally got into flowing water. I remembered how tough the hunt was and the dangers involved but there is something primal in all of us that pulls us back again and again no matter the dangers. I have never felt more alive than when in the Alaskan wilderness.
My son had called in a smoker bull on the 6th day. At less then 15 yards away he fired his 300 short Mag into the front shoulder. The moose turned and faced him in thick brush. The moose was shaking it's head and moaning, so my son thought he had a clean kill so he did not take a follow up shot… Big Mistake!
After 10 minutes of watching, the moose finally went down. His partner that morning kneeled down and pulled out his camera and knife. As the two of us “high-fived” with excitement, to our amazement, the moose rose to his feet and lit out like a scalded cat. Unable to get another shot off, my son knew he had screwed up! After spending two days of searching with no sign of the moose, we had no choice but to move on.
As heart breaking as it was we each learned just how tough a bull moose is to take down. The key lessons learned that day were: Don't stop shooting until the moose is down… put them down and keep them down! Even once down, never take your eyes away from that location until you know it's dead, only then should you attempt to approach the animal.
My son had to wait another 13 years, until 2017, before getting the chance to redeem himself. He took a young bull in the same location as our upcoming hunt. It was the first year that Alaska allowed out-of-State hunters to take any bull moose. Normally the legal requirements for a bull is a minimum of 50" rack or four brow tines.
The time had finally come, and I was off to Alaska for the hunt. I was to meet up with my son Rick Grover 52 (founder of Raptorazor, and inventor of the Big Game Skinner, a revolutionary type of field dressing knife); my Grandson Rowdy Grover 18 ; a long-time friend and coworker Allen Conrad 55 and Porter Turnbull 65 a chiropractor and long-time friend of my son. They would all be coming in from Hawaii.
I have to admit that my son had done most of the leg work setting up the hunt and I was along for the ride. And what a ride it was!
From Anchorage we flew Raven Air, with one change of planes. Our outfitter was waiting to pick us up and before long “we where off to the races”. Arriving in the late afternoon, we still had to load all the gear onto boats and travel 50 miles down the Yukon and set up camp before dark. The weather was good so at least we had that going for us! Our Camp was 15 miles from our unit.
The first night was filled with the normal jet lag and preparing our gear for the next day. One thing about hunting in Alaska in September is you have plenty of time in the morning waiting for the sun to rise. After topping off the boats with fuel and loading gear before sunrise, we where on our way. With five guys we where forced to split up. Porter and Rowdy took the smaller boat, and Rick, Allen and I took the larger boat.
The first day proved more difficult than I had imagined, and upon exiting the boat in the thick mud I quickly ended up face first in it. Porter had a close call also ending up chest deep in mud. It took Rowdy over 15 minutes to free Porter! Beware of the soft spots. They usually exist at new sand bars, the river is constantly moving and in the winter the Yukon can freeze over with 4’ of ice. During the spring thaw, tons of new sand is swept down-stream creating new water ways and sand bars. After getting our boats stuck in the mud a few times, we soon learned to stay in deep flowing water.
Covering 10 to 15 miles a day in thick brush was out of the question for me on this Hunt. I would have to rely on my patience, (which I’m notoriously in short supply of)… and a little luck. This time of year the big bulls are coming down out of the mountains and gathering up as many cows as they can handle. The cows usually come into heat the 2nd or 3rd week of September. But with warming climates, the rut can be pushed back by several weeks. We have seen the same thing with elk for the past two decades.
The bulls come out onto the banks of the river in the early mornings and late afternoons to drink and look for other moose. Tracks in and out of the timber is a sure sign that moose are in the area. The moose are usually no more than a hundred yards back from the river bank into the bush. If you choose to hunt further back than that, you’re going to pay for it on the pack out! A typical bull moose can reach 1,500 lbs. and stand 10 to 12 feet tall. They are magnificent creatures.
Al Conrad was the first to fill his tag, He took a nice 50" Bull about 80 yards from the shore late in the afternoon on the 3rd day. My son and he made quick work of the harvest with Rick’s Big Game Skinnerä and MANOä knives and had it packed it out within the hour. I had been glassing a meadow most the afternoon and had only spotted a cow and calf from a distance. After getting back to camp in the rain just before darkness set in, we still had to hang the meat. We had worked on a few meat poles days earlier so with the help of everyone there, we where able to quickly hang and cover the meat before complete darkness fell on us. After Dinner and a victory toast, we where quick to turn in from the long day.
My 18 year old Grandson, Rowdy, was next to get his bull. He was determined to take his with a bow and by God he did! He was able to get within 25 yards of a bull bedded down and was able to put an arrow right where it counts as it stood up. Pulling back on his Prime "Centergy" Bow, he released the arrow with a fixed broad head from Tooth of the Arrow, it proved to be a perfect shot. The bull ran less than 30 yards before collapsing to the ground. It was a huge bull with four brow tines and a rack measuring 60" wide.
We had stopped by Rowdy and Porter’s boat in the early afternoon and noticed that they had come back for the meat packs and dropped off the bow with one arrow missing. So we figured that they had been successful. We were unable to reach them on the radio or satellite phone so we continued on our hunt.
As late afternoon approached we decided to head back and see if we could make contact with Rowdy and Porter. As the sun was setting we made our way to the bank where they had docked, still no sign of anyone.
Rick and Al climbed the steep bank with guns in hand ready for the unknown. Bears are always on the back of your mind in Alaska. Bears have been conditioned over the years to hear a shot or pick up the scent of a kill and immediately move in knowing they have an easy meal. We hoped this wasn't the case this time. With daylight dwindling they called out to Rowdy and Porter. Rowdy immediately answered. He was less than 15 yards away packing a whole hind quarter out. "Where’s Porter?" I said. "He's coming right behind me." " How far Back?", Rowdy replied: "I'm not sure." "Is he also packing meat?", Rowdy answered; "Yes." " How far in did you get your Bull?" they asked, "Far, Maybe a mile and a half".
Now, Porter is a seasoned hunter and Outdoorsman, and knows better than to split up in thick timber packing meat out. But unable to keep up with the stamina of an 18 year old he had told Rowdy to keep going and not to worry. We all became increasingly concerned as time went by with no sign of Porter. There was no return of our call even after traveling several hundred yards into the thick timber. Al was packing his rifle and we quickly fired off two rounds. Seconds later a shot came back, maybe 500 yards away. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
By the time Porter finally made his way out it was pitch black and he did not have his pack with him. He had made the decision to turn back to a marked GPS location that they had been at earlier in the day and drop off the pack, so he could make it out more easily.
The big Problem was that Rowdy and Porter had switched packs so Rowdy could pack out the heavier load. Porter had Rowdy's pack with all his gear in it, and it was now three-quarters of a mile back in the woods with fresh meat in it… in pitch black darkness in Alaska… Not Good! With the help of Rowdy's Onix® maps and lights we were able to retrieve the pack about 45 minutes later.
But now we faced another obstacle; we were still miles away from camp on the opposite side of the Yukon river in total blackness and the wind was picking up. The only land we could make out was a mountain ridge directly across from us. We motored straight across the mile wide Yukon, and hugged the shore line until we came to our camp a little after midnight.
Rowdy and Porter had only packed out only a portion of the meat. We figure the next day would be a long one, and it proved to be as long as they get. Unable to traverse the thick brush and steep terrain with my knees acting up, I was left at camp. I spent the day looking after the meat and splitting firewood. I figured the guys would be back sometime in the early afternoon. But as the afternoon worn on there was still no sign of them. Finally, as the sun had made its way behind the mountains, I heard the roar of a motorboat. One then two boats came into view; the guys had done it!
It had taken them 6 trips to pack all the meat and antlers out. Just as Rowdy had said, he was a mile and a half in on the far side of a large meadow with some ponds. It turned out to be quite the workout. But their work wasn’t over yet. They still had to and pack the quarters up the steep bank, then make more meat poles and hang the meat. Again, we worked into the night as a storm front moved in the wind started picking up.
Concerned with the weather condition on the river, we spaced the boats out and loosened the lines so they would not get swamped. You don’t want to make the mistake of tying the boat down too tightly to the bank or the waves will come over the back and swamp them. We took turns that night checking on the boats every hour. At times we had 6' rollers coming backwards up the Yukon. The Yukon river is no Joke and has to be treated with great respect.
The next morning, the guys were exhausted, but I was eager to get out and hunt. After only a few hours of sleep, we all headed back out. The winds had died down and it was looking like a clear day. As we made our way down to our hunting unit we spotted a nice bull standing on the bank at the boarder of the two zones. After confirming he was in-deed in the right unit we turned the boat off and drifted down-stream a few hundred yards off shore. As I pulled up my rifle I spotted the bull in my scope, but could not steady myself in the boat with three people. To my great frustration the bull turned and walked away. Had this been my only chance, I asked myself? One thing was for sure, I needed to quickly figure out the best way to get off a reasonable shot from a moving boat. It is legal to take a shot from a boat in Alaska as long as the motor is off and the boat is drifting.
The next few days were more of the same, covering 50 to 80 miles on the river, checking out the same location where we had seen moose previously. It wasn't until the 9th day that my luck changed. My son Rick had decided to hunt with Rowdy and Porter in the afternoon. Al and I started drifting down the south side of the Yukon river. It wasn't 45 minutes later that a large bull stepped out into the open. He was 800 yards away, but he was heading in our direction and the current was moving us in his direction. I got set up as best I could on the bow of the boat, kneeling down, using a life vest as a rest. With Al calling out the yardage “700 - 600 -500”… I wondered if my luck would hold and I decided to take my shot at 400 yards. "475 yards”… “425”… I knew I was close …I pulled up my rifle and put my cross hairs just above his front shoulder. The wind was light and we had little to no chop on the water. I couldn’t ask for better conditions. At this point I knew he was big but I focused on keeping my cross hairs at the top of his front shoulder. "400 yards" Al confirmed… I took a breath, held it, and squeezed off a round. It was a hit but a little further back than I wanted.
I opened the action and loaded another round. My second shot was rushed and I missed completely with the motion of the boat throwing me off. The next round I loaded very gently so as to not rock the boat. As I pulled up for the third shot, the bull was moving back to the cover of the timber. I could see he was hurt but I was not sure where my first shot actually connected. Taking my time, I squeezed off another round into the bull, but he kept going.
He was appearing to pick up steam so I knew I had only one more chance before he was back in the cover of the timber, so I had to make it count. Again, I discharged the spent round and loaded a new one, trying not to rock the boat. Setting up for my final shot and probably last chance of ever getting a bull moose, the adrenaline was racing through my veins, I could feel my heart beating, but I trained my entire focus on putting a bullet right in the sweet spot. With one last crack from my rifle - the bullet flew straight to its intended destination and the bull fell to the ground. I had done it! I had shot my first bull moose at 75 years of age.
Porter was the next to get his bull on day 10. Porter’s bull was second in size only to Rowdy's monster-sized bull. My Son took his bull on day 11. Rowdy was telling him not to shoot, that they could find a bigger bull, but at 30 yards from the boat my son did not hesitate to pull the trigger. The only downfall was that it dropped in a beaver pond and took twice as long to break down.
11 Days - 5 nice bulls. So now what? Now the work really began! We had close to 3,000 lbs. of meat to break down. Good thing we all had our Raptorazorä Knives! We broke down all five bull moose much faster and easier than I had imagined. It really sunk in at that moment what an amazing field dressing tool my son had invented. In the hands of those who know how to use them, Raptorazor knives are unbeatable.
An unguided, do-it-yourself, Moose hunt in Alaska
The Yukon River Alaska
Due the ongoing pandemic most small villages are now cut off to all Hunters and they have ask not to be listed. Sorry!
Meat was transported in 18 gallon rubber totes. $5.00 to $10.00 each. Recommend getting a higher quality tote as they have to hold up to 100 lbs of meat & handled six or more times. An average moose will give you 500 lbs. of meat, So be prepared to get at least six totes per moose. Meat was de-boned and put into heavy duty trash bags. Lids are attached to totes with zip-ties. We left Alaska with 2,600 lbs of boned out meat and a total of 46 check-in bags. All-in the hunt cost us under $17.00 a pound for the meat we brought back. Not bad!
(Note: You can not de-bone meat in the field. Alaskan regulations state that you must bring out the 4 quarters bone in. They can only be de-boned once you’re out of the bush, so never de-bone in camp it’s a big No-No and is likely to get you fined. It is also Alaska regulation to keep proof-of-sex with hind quarters.)
With a 14+ day hunt in Alaska it is best not to book your return flight out of the bush or back home for that matter. You will most likely end up eating your ticket or paying more money to change the dates. This time of year tourism has slowed down and booking a return flight is not difficult. Weather always plays a big roll in getting in and out of the bush. We chartered a cargo plane to get us back to Anchorage. This does not come cheap! Two trips to get five guys, five moose heads, 2,600 lbs. of meat and our 15 bags of gear out of the back country and back to Anchorage. Although it may sound expensive, spread out between five guys, it was not as bad as one would think. Anyway, it beats the alternative of being stuck. You have to take advantage of any clear day to fly. We had only been delayed one day due to weather on this trip… Not Bad!
How to transport your trophy heads: Alaskan Airline prefers to take your heads un-boxed and un-wrapped. They only require that the tips on the horns be covered. A great inexpensive solution is to use empty 12-gauge shotgun shells and a little duct tape. The scull must also be wrapped in a heavy trash bag and duct taped. The max size of horns they will except are 72" wide. Always check with Airlines ahead of time since policies can change!
Back in Anchorage, what do we do with 2,600 lbs. of meat, five moose racks & 15 pieces of luggage for 24 hrs or more?! At this point we have handled the meat 10 times in and out of boats, to and from camp, on and off planes! The last thing we wanted to do at this point was to have to move it any more than necessary. The other dilemma is that cold storage for one day was running $250 to $300 per moose. So, we improvised: We Ubered to the nearest U-Haul and rented a box truck. On the way back, we picked up 150 lbs. of dry ice. (Total cost $265, instead of $1500). The best part is, we were able to drive straight to the hotel and back to airport without having to handle the gear two more times! Have you ever tried loading up 500 lbs. of moose meat in an Uber? We had arranged the gear so we could easily get to the bags that had the air tickets and other documents needed to travel. We had morning and afternoon flights… Checking in… We were almost there! Be prepared to get lots of attention at the airport. The Alaskan airline crews are great, they see this kind of thing all the time and are very helpful.
At 75 years old, This was my second time hunting moose. I had never seen a bull moose up close. I have always been drawn to the outdoors and tried, from an early age, to escape to it as much as I could. All of my hunting experience has been with mule deer, elk and Hawaiian axis deer. Nothing prepared me for the size and work involved in harvesting a bull moose. With hind quarters weighing over 200 lbs., You need to have a plan. I am very thankful that I was surrounded by men younger and more experienced than I was. In the end it does not matter if you’re successful or not. It’s the time spent with family and friends that is priceless! We will see what adventure my son has in store for me next year? I hope you can use the tips I shared and lessons I learned to plan and execute your next successful outdoor adventure! A Special Thanks to Rick, Rowdy, Allen and Porter. I could not have done it without you!