Wet Feet, Bugs, and No Moose

Posted: Tuesday, October 01, 2002

I was informed that I was going to be laid off from my job on the SDC Drill ship this fall when I took the job last May. How disappointing to be out of work during hunting season and forced to enjoy hunting on the last frontier. All summer long I looked forward to hunting this fall and was quite confident I would be able to harvest a nice moose. I did not draw any special tags this year nor did I get a permit for hunting antelope in Montana that I also applied for.

This meant that moose hunting would get my full attention and I felt confident that I would be successful this year. My first moose hunt this year was on Swanson River where I canoed down the river with a father and son team of Jim and Tim Von Haden, Jim Ries, and Steve Dambacher. We decided we would make a combination trip of this by combining some fishing with our moose hunting.

We had a real combination of canoeist on our trip from the very experienced Jim Ries to the rest of the crew in various beginner stages. Steve Dambacher and I were in one canoe, The Von Hadens in one and Jim Ries by himself. Those two guys you saw perched on top of those rocks laughing were Steve and I! So Steve decided to day dream just as we were approaching a flat rock and run us aground. The father and son team of Jim and Tim were the ones that were spotted sideways in the river and each paddling in a different direction! If we would have gave them bigger paddles they would have pulled their canoe in two and could have each went their own way in their own half of the canoe. Jim Ries was the yellow canoe with so much gear he only had about 4 inches of free board!

Our first camp sight provided us with enough rainbow trout for a nice meal of fish and provided enough fresh fish scent in the air to lure a lynx into our camp. The big cat visited us on two occasions and since he never bothered us or appeared as a threat we didn't bother him. We had a good host at our first camp sight which seemed to make everything seem more like moose hunting time and also inspired Jim Von Haden to haul dead firewood in from all over the forest. Jim, who has heated his home in Wisconsin all his life with firewood, seemed quite happy at providing our wilderness camp also with wood heat.

I woke up one bright sunny morning and decided I would hunt in my sneakers and try to sneak up on a moose hunting the ridges overlooking the swamps. If I stayed up high I should not get wet and my sneakers will work just fine. Well, I ended up back near the river and soon I stepped over my shoe in water and got a soaked foot! Oh well if I'm careful and manage to get back to camp without two wet feet that would still be an impressive feat and quite an accomplishment to the others at camp. About two steps later and I was the proud owner of two wet feet and a little embarrassed to think I could hunt moose with sneakers in Alaska and manage to stay dry.

There was a lot of moose signs in the area but an abundance of wilIow, birch, grass, and other moose browse. But no legal moose were spotted, only cows and calves so we packed up and headed on down the river.

We spotted a lot of silver salmon but they were not very interested in biting on the upper stages of the river. The small rainbows seemed to be every where and provided us with both entertainment as well as a few meals. Our next camp sight was on a ridge that overlooked another large swamp, but despite some serious hunting by the group Mr. Moose was able to avoid us here too. The bugs made up for it as they found us immediately and at times made life miserable. Bug nets provided about the only real relief from these very vicious white sox who also had joined forces with mosquitoes as well as several battalions of no-seeums. The smoke from our campfire helped reduce visibility and reduce the effectiveness of this air assault on us and gave us an opportunity to at least eat without wearing a bug net or about a gallon of bug spray. The rain finally reached us and offered us some relief from these pesky bugs but the constant rain made hunting a very wet and unpleasant experience. With rain gear you're too warm and without it you are soaked after walking just a few feet.

Waking up at dawn in a warm sleeping bag and hearing the soft patter of rain on your tent does not sound very inviting even to the most die-hard moose hunter. With the body already aching from several previous days of stomping through the marshes, climbing over downed trees and beating the brush you tend to get a little wore down. But yet each morning you crawl out of the sleeping bag because you just never know when Mr. Moose will make his appearance. Each morning and each evening you head out hoping just hoping this will be the time when you are successful. Each day you return and hear the same frustrating unsuccessful results from the other members of your camp, it makes it all the more difficult to get up early the following morning. But yet each day you trudge on across the swamp and hunt desperateIy for the one animal that wiI1 fill your freezer.

By now the continuous rain has started to take its toll on you and the other members of your hunting party. Your hands and arms are bitten and swollen your starting to ache because of the cold wet damp conditions as well as the many miles you have walked during this hunt. The thought of a nice warm shower and comfortable bed start to sound better all the time.

We continued to move downstream and are seeing more and more silvers along the way. At one point we were chasing silvers ahead of our canoe and when they decided it was time to head back upstream there were so many of them when they turned and swam towards us it created a wake that was at least a foot high! The closer we got to the canoe landing the better the silvers bit. We caught several nice bright fish with Tim Von Haden catching the biggest, a 33-inch whopper that I estimated to weigh 15 lb. The fishing proved to be a whole lot better then our moose hunting.

None of us saw a bull on our 5-day trip to Swanson River so needless to say we never got a moose. I also hunted Marathon Road and Mystery Creek this year too but how much room does it take to tell you I got an F in moose hunting this year? I hunted nearly every morning and every night of late season and never saw a bull of any kind period! I walked over 40 miles through all types of terrain at all different hours of the day. I hunted early, stayed late, spent long periods of time glassing but still came home skunked this year.

Ready to give up you ask, no way, in fact you might spread the word to them moose that I plan on coming back next year more determined then ever....In fact I'm so determined after this year I plan on sending my wife out already to start scouting for me. By the time she gets her 40 miles of swamp stomping in with her short legs and complete report delivered to me on the couch it will be time to go chase them moose again. If my wife would buy me a four-wheeler I would even go with her! Here in Alaska both male and female must do their part in filling the freezer.... See you next week!

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