Dispatch #1 from the Alaskan Moose Hunting Grounds

By , September 24, 2009

This year’s Tier II Subsistence Moose Hunt isn’t going well. Harvest numbers are down, while illegal kills are way up. If the better hunters are bagging illegal bulls, my chances must be slim indeed!

To be legal, a moose must have the proper antler configuration. This limits the number of bulls that can be taken, and culls non-trophy antler configurations. It also means that once a hunter finds a moose, he or she must spend extra time examining the animal to make sure its antlers are “legal.”  Imagine playing “how many fingers?” with an enemy soldier on the battleground.

During last year’s hunt I realized that I was playing a game of tournament-level hide and seek. I played against the state’s professional team, and I was a little leaguer. And they had the home court advantage.

Once that became clear, I relaxed and had fun with it. This year, especially with the discouraging statistics, it looks like more of the same.

Hunting has the same advantage as fishing: it involves getting outside in the wild, getting some exercise, breathing fresh air and relaxing in solitude. And, if you’re really, really lucky, you might catch some food while you’re at it. Last year I didn’t have any luck, but I had a great time nevertheless. This year, so far, it’s been great fun as well.

The best day so far was when Aly came with me.

My daughter’s participation improves any project. She’s quiet in the forest—or, more importantly, she’s at least as quiet as I am. She has youth’s perceptual advantage over my middle-aged eyes and ears; her tracking skills are often better than mine.

We didn’t see any moose, but I showed her some of the wonderful places I’d found on previous hunts, and we visited our favorite cave, just to see who might be home. We also found some mushrooms.

The first day out, I had my usual doubts about my gear. I wore camouflage, but I wondered whether it made any difference. I soon confirmed that it did: I had started up a ridge trail called “the Moose Highway.” I stopped a moment when I found a nice, fresh chanterelle.

As I stood cleaning the mushroom, I heard running sounds. I looked up to see two fat, sassy river otters coming down the trail toward me. They saw me an instant later. We all stopped and stared.

It’s difficult to tell who was more surprised. Otters are intelligent, wary animals, and these two had practically barreled right into me! They craned their necks, sniffed the air, and swayed their heads back and forth. Apparently, they couldn’t see me very well—it seems my camouflage broke up my outline, as designed. If it could fool an otter, it will probably fool a moose.

They had been making the otter comfort sound to each other, a deep, chuckling “what what what what?” noise. I imitated it, just to see what they would do. I earned a skeptical look, then they left abruptly, heading back up the trail, making their threat call, which sounds like they’re blowing their noses.

It wasn’t the same as sneaking up on a moose, but it seemed good enough for the time being.

More soon . . . .

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