First off let me say that this hunt, except for a few minor gripes, was a near perfect dream hunt for me and my best friend, Dan.
It started off last year with the intention of hunting Dall and Grizzly in the Wrangells, then this year for Grizzly west of Illiamna, ending up with Grizzly north of Teller, which is about 1/2 way between Nome and Kotzebue. I lucked upon outfitter Brian Simpson of Fairbanks; Wittrock Outfitters. Don't look for a web site; it's not there. He's a small operator who gets mostly word of mouth, repeat customers and a once per year attendance at a Michigan SCI meeting. He's outfitted near Eagle, AK for Dall Sheep but now stays in 22D/E for all the species to include Muskox. In fact, if my facts are right he is the only outfitter in Alaska who guides for Muskox, if you can draw a tag; very hard to do so! He uses 8-wheel Argos ATV's pulling Greer trailers. Fantastic vehicles, when kept up, which allow one to really expand the hunt zone and make retrieving moose a much more pleasant chore.
I flew out of Salt Lake City the evening of 5 Sept and met my best bud, Dan McPeak, of Folsom, CA in Anchorage just after midnight, local time. Crashed on the concourse chairs for a few hours. Thank goodness their the type which allow you to stretch out. The intended flight to Nome was delayed as the first stop in Kotzebue was cancelled due to fog there. Instead went straight to Nome and arrived only 30 minutes late. Was picked up by Nome resident, Tok Tozier and driven around town; only took about 2-3 minutes. Dropped off our baggage @ the Aurora Inn. Nice, Best Western quality, for about $150 night. I paid $130 due to military discount. Normally about $150. Had lunch at the Airport Pizza restaurant. Good food and friendly waitress's. Walked back to hotel, about 6 blocks, stopping off at the Nome Outfitters to see what sort of sporting goods they carried. Pretty good selection of ammo to include 454 Casull, Buffalo Bore 45 LC, 480 Ruger, WSM's, H&H mags, odd stuff, etc. Price check: $32.95/lb of Rel 22. Tok took us east of town to check our rifles sights. Mine needed a bit of adjustment. Dinner at the Polar Cafe where we ate from then on out except lunch the next day at the combo Subway/movie theater. Showing was Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Black Knight.
Tok picked us up the next day, allowed us to be baby sat by his 7 kids and wife, Marie, at their home until it was time to fly. Shared smoked Red Salmon and Fireweed jelly; thier both to die for. About 5:15 we got the call from State Senator Donny Olson who is a semi retired physician and pilot with about 6-8 (that I know of) aircraft to his credit; two of which are helo's. Flew 1 hour north from Nome to our camp, about 30 miles north, north east of Teller, on the American River.
Two other hunters in camp, Mike and Charlie, both from Texas. Brian's customer base is primarily from either Michigan or Texas, with a few out of Calif and now Utah.
Next day Mike (retired Texas optician)and I went out with Brian to help retrieve the last 1/2 of a 62" moose and antlers from a hunter who had shot it the night before and flew out that morning. Saw a Grizzly just going over a near ridge, never to be seen again. Got back to camp about midnight where steak and potatoes were waiting for us.
Tuesday, Charlie (retired construction contracter from Beaumont, TX) shot his bull Caribou. Mike and I, went up Bud creek and viewed some old dredge mining sites, Artic Char and lots of beautiful scenery. Caribou for dinner. Great stuff! My buddy, Dan, located a 64" bull but passed as he was holding out for a Grizzly. Mike, on the other hand didn't pass and made a beautiful 257 yd shot with his 338 WM and 225 gr TSX. Between 4 guides and 3 hunters, we made short work of getting the bull cut up, loaded and back to camp. We all had ring side seats with a combo of binos and spotting scopes. I love my Zeiss 65mm Diascope sitting on a K&K 36" tripod. In fact, that combo became the talk of camp for spotting game at long distances.
Wednesday, woke to a heard of Muskox loafing about 100 yds from camp; big bull with them. Took some pics at about 40 yds. Headed south across the Agiapuk and American rivers to a mountain range I had assumed was too far out of our zone. The Argos made it possible. About 2-3 miles south of camp, stopped to glass the mountains since the lighting was very good and found my bull and a Grizzly on the same ridge, about a mile apart; about 5-6 miles distant. This was 12:30. Kept heading south to the mountains, up a ridge which was absolutely packed with blue, black and raspberries.
Found a rocky overlook to check out my bull and see if the bear was still eating berries. Had lunch, looked for the bear, who dissapeared, and sized up the bull who had 3 cows with him about 3/4th up a ridge in a small pocket of willows. I wasn't too interested in a moose as Dan and I both came for Grizzly.
I was packing the Ruger Blackhawk as backup in a slightly custom made Mernickle Field II holster worn cross draw. Slightly custom as the original holster sent me would not allow the higher Gary Clements front sight down the holster. Mernickle was fantastic about the whole affair. They asked I send the original holster back to them and they would make me a new one, post haste as they knew I was leaving for my hunt in about 2 weeks. Great company to deal with! I like the holster too. I wore it daily, usually forgetting it was even there, on a Wilderness Instructors belt along with 6 extra rounds on the opposite side in a 6-round cartridge slide, also from Mernickle.
My main weaponry was my CZ 550 American in 9.3x62 shooting 286 gr Partitions at 2500 fps with a Leupold 2x7 VXII with LR dots. It was fully weatherized for the nasty Alaska weather, which for the most part didn't really materialize. Thank goodness!
Any way, I decided that if the bull was really big and Brian could get me within handgun range, I might be interested in shooting him. Remember, I had never really been interested in a moose. But seeing two 60"+ plus bulls upclose in the two previous days, my steadfast desire to only shoot a bear was waining. When I told Brian it had to go 70" he told me their was no way; "maybe mid 60". I then told him it had to be with a handgun. His eyes rolled, he paused a long while, thinking about terrain, wind and vegetation, finally saying it could be done. He would carry my rifle, just in case we ran into the bear.
So off we went in the Argos, down our ridge, just crossing the creek, ending up about 1000 yds from the now bedded bull. Oh, yeah! The bull and his small entourage had moved two willow draws over. "Just a Moose thing", Brian said. This ridge was not steep nor was the willow draw deep. Cliff Weyiouanna, Brian's Eskimo business partner from Shismaref, stayed in the Argos to watch the show and would signal us if the moose were up and moving. We went through the first willow draw, watching all the time for any activity. All 4 animals were now bedded with two cows up high and a cow and the bull near the bottom of the draw. As we approached the final draw, Brian and I kept whispering back and forth do's and don'ts and what to do "if's". Upon reaching the near side of the draw we found a tussuk perch about 3 ft higher than the rest of the surrounding terrain. The willows were in the 3-9' high category and any height we could obtain would be helpful to see the bull and if necessary see across to the other side of the draw if things went sour.
We stood for about 20 minutes, looking, listening and waiting for something to happen; it didn't. Brian and I whispered back and forth about him cow calling. I was afraid if things were to go bad, they would do so very quickly. On the other hand, they could good, very quckly too. Suddenly, Brian just up and unzips our fly's. Meaning he cow called without giving me heads up. Over the space of about 10 minutes he calls three times; nothing! He hands me my rifle, steps about 10 yds into the willows, picks up a 2" by 24" long willow branch and starts raking the willow brush, immitaing a bull raking the brush. About 1 minutes later, I look up slope. We had figured the bull was either in front of us or down slope from us; not up slope. Then their stood the bull and a cow, about 125 yds away, up slope from us. The bull's head gear was clearly visible but his eyes were low enough and behind some brush, he couldn't see me. But, the cow had me pinned. Brian turned to walk back to me, not realizing the two were up and aware of our prescence. I simply and slowly opened my right hand in the "stop" position and then pointed two fingers in the general direction of the moose. Brian immediatly understood, slowly raising his bino's to size up the situation. He turned back to me and spread his hands as wide as they would go and mouthed the words "he's huge!". That was enough for me, my decision to shoot the bull just got made. About 2 minutes later the cow turned her head and lowered it just enough below some brush to where she could not see me. That's all I needed. I ducked down and trotted up slope about 50 yds. Trotting is a figure of speech because for those of you who know about this Tundra stuff, understand. Those who don't, think of trying to walk on top of huge grassy topped bowling balls which sway and move with every step. The option is to step over and inbetween then, sometimes only inches deep, sometimes several feet deep. Needless to say one does not jog through this stuff but you struggle, tilt, trip, fall, SWEAT!. Still on the fringe of the willows I had to figure a way to get closer, into and through the willows. About then I hear Brian pull off what I thought was a near perfect bull grunt and raked the willows some more. That was it! The bull went beserk! He started down slope, angling across the willows, towards Brian, ranking brush and grunting nearly the entire time. What I didn't realize was Brian was now in a panick. Here he was, fly unzipped, no gun, a 2" willow branch for a weapon, no where to go (fast in the Tundra) and he didn't know I had decided to shoot the bull. To say he suddenly felt very much like a 90 lb cheerleader who just gave a 300 lb linebacker the green light for him to take her virginity on prom night would be putting it lightly.
Back to my point of view. The bull was about directly across the draw from me, about 40 yds away with a very large willow bush between us. I could just see an antler on the down slope side of the bush. Brian, raked once more and suddenly the bull dissapeared. "Where'd he go", I thought. I then saw him coming around the up slope side of the bush. For a moment, I thought he had found me and was coming for me. As it turned out their was a somewhat natural path through the willows which would bring the bull just upslope of me and he had every intention of using it so he could keep the high ground and try and get downwind of us to smell the cheerleaders panties once he whooped her boyfriend's butt. At that moment I realized this was now turning into a handgun affair. I set my CZ down and moved about 6-8 yds towards the bull, looking for a shooting lane. I found one just moments before the bull would reach it.
Cliff, in the exact spot the bull was when my first round hit him. He stands about 5'6". Which means the bull's shoulder was about the same height as the skyline in the pic.
I drew the Ruger, having enough precense of mind to make sure their was no leather scrapings on the front sight. I had at numerous times before wondered if the sound of the cocking hammer would alert my intended quary. Gladly, it didn't as the near constant 7-9 mph wind covered the clicking! I came to a solid standing modified Weaver shooting position and waited for the vital zone to appear; nose, eyes, rack, neck, shoulder, tight behind the shoulder, BOOM!! I could immediatly tell I'd hit the bull as he let out a load grunt and humped up. Quickly as I could, I thumbed the hammer two more times and dumped two more 335 gr slugs into his left vital side. In the adrenalin filled moment, I later found out, I was not squeezing those last rounds as I was hitting low/left. That's when things started to get exciting for me. He turned 90 deg downslope, towards me. I must have been in the zone because I again had the precence of mind to say to myself, "I'm going to need to put one between his eyes before he decides to turn me into a hotdog on a roasting stick". Fortuneatly he kept turning the additional 90 deg, back towards the way he had just come. Now, I panicked, thinking he was getting away. I tried to place the remaining 3 rounds into his right side, only hitting him 1x, that I could tell from the following autopsy. He traveled about 10-12 yds away, stood there briefly and just topped over, taking 1/2 a 7' high willow bush with him. Talk about a surreal moment! It was 5:30 pm, five hours after I first found him.
My Ruger bull along with Mike's bull.
Sorry to say, did not find any slugs nor could I tell if any slugs exited. Some greatful Eskimo villager will hopefully find one in the meat and send it to me.
We started back about 9:30 pm but never made it to camp until 0200 am. My head hit the pillow @ 0300 am.
In 15 days of hunting, Brian had 8 non-residents take 5 mooose which went 48", 62", 64", 64" and a possible 67" (two broken, just hanging-on, outer points) bull. There were 3 caribou, 2 Muskox and one 8-1/2' boar Grizzly, taken by my best bud, Dan.
We ended up driving the 30 miles via Argos down to the Imurak basin, near Brevig Mission and crossing the basin via boat which pulled a barge loaded with Argos and trailer. Then drove the 70 miles to Nome, stopping to take pics of numerous Reindeer. We came out of the the field a day late so our reservation at the Auora Inn was no longer valid. Ended up staying at the Polars Hotel. I don't advise it! It's directly above the Polaris bar which closes at 0200 am and I think every local from the surrounding villages was in town, getting snockered on there yearly state oil check which had been enhanced by Gov Sarah Palin. Needless to say, not much sleep, but still a hot shower; first in 12 days.
Missed our flight, rebooked for $100 and it took 2 days to get home.
Can't wait until a future spring bear hunt with Brian. He hunts the same area but from the north, heading south out of Shismaref on snowmobiles ("snowmachines" in Alaska).
We also caught Silver Salmon and Artic Char in addiion to shooting a small brace of Ptarmigan the day after Dan shot his bear.
Sorry I can't figure out how to place the pics right to the story instead of links to the pics