Although the old superstition is that bad things come in threes, for one peninsula hunting couple, this season proved to be just the opposite.
Mike Stacy and his wife Sarah, both of Soldotna, found that this year good things came in threes -- those three things being a bear, a caribou and a trophy moose big enough to get into the record books.
"We had the best hunting season of anyone I know," said Sarah.
Things started off good from early in the season when they drew the permit to hunt the Killey River caribou herd.
The couple live off of Funny River Road, so they packed up the horses -- which is the primary way the couple hunts, as opposed to using four-wheelers or going solely by foot -- and they set off on their hunt.
They explored from Indian Creek to Killey River to Timberline Lake searching for caribou, and just being in the great outdoors was magnificent right from the start, they said.
Sarah Stacy rides out after a successful hunt with her husband Mike.
"It's nice to be out on the bench together. It's big and beautiful and we don't see anyone else," said Sarah.
They didn't see any caribou at first, but they did see just about everything else the peninsula has to offer in the way of wildlife.
"We saw a couple of moose, a few wolverines and some sheep late in the day," said Sarah.
"We also saw lots of bears," said Mike. "We saw as many as four bears at one time while glassing, without having to move positions."
So, since there weren't any caribou, Mike decided to pursue one particularly large black bear that Sarah had spotted.
It wasn't the priority of the hunt, but Mike admitted, "I've wanted one for years and we had it in mind before we went up there. We were hoping to get the chance to get one."
Mike had never bagged a bruin before so this would be his first. They tied up the horses and began to stalk the bear. An hour later, on the northeast side of Tustumena Lake, at the headwaters of the Funny River, the bear began moving up the mountainside across from the Stacys.
"We had worked an hour getting that close and we didn't want to risk losing him," said Mike. They were still far form the animal, but close enough to take a shot, so Mike did. The round from his .300 Winchester magnum flew more than 400 yards, but it found its mark and the big bear went down.
"He's a good shot," said Sarah. "He's successfully made shots over a quarter mile in the past. I've measured them with a GPS."
They finished the laborious trek to claim the carcass. They took the entire hide, skull, paws and claws and some of the meat.
Sarah Stacy, Mike's wife, poses with a black bear Mike shot during another hunt this season.
They said they were conservative in butchering because they didn't think they would like bear meat since they had heard mixed reports as to it's flavor. However, once they tasted it, they regretted not taking more.
"The meat was excellent," said Mike.
They returned to camp and secured their meat and trophy, but hadn't given up on getting a caribou. They continued to hunt for the next few days. They saw several cows and an occasional calf, but not much in the way of bulls -- until the fourth day.
It was back by Timberline Lake and, just as with the bear, Sarah saw the caribou first.
"I could see his antlers sticking up out of some brush," she said. This would be a much closer shot than the bruin, since the caribou was only a quarter mile away when they first spotted it. Sarah stayed with the horse and Mike took off on foot to intercept the hoofed mammal.
"His attention was on the horses, so he didn't see me sneaking through the brush," said Mike. "I was able to get within 100 yards of him"
Mike made a clean kill.
After many more hours of butchering, the couple returned to camp, and then shortly thereafter returned home, but the hunting season was far from over for them.
Three weeks later it was back to the bush on horseback on another permit hunt. This time it was for moose, but unlike the last trip, this hunt started off a little rocky.
"We were heading toward our destination, a spot near Bear Creek we had locked into our GPS," said Mike, but a surprise was waiting for them. "We got to the spot and a guide with a hunter was already there."
The bad news didn't stop there though.
"The guide told us he had been there for days and there were no moose around," said Mike. "According to him it was too warm."
The couple was disheartened, but rather than turning around and heading home, they decided to go a little further into the timber. As the sun went down they made camp.
"We were bummed," said Sarah. "Not only was someone in our spot, but we thought there would be no moose too."
After spending about 30 minutes setting up camp, they sat down in the dark and began to listen. They were hoping to hear something to give them a little hope.
That hope came in the sound of a call.
"We heard bulls grunting in the distance," said Mike. "We thought we would investigate in the morning."
At the crack of dawn they were up. Mike started calling about a quarter mile from camp just to see what would happen. He said a friend named Kevin Johnson from Ninilchik was an expert moose caller that had show him the tricks of the trade. His call didn't go unanswered.
"We started hearing a bull racking his horns in the trees and breaking brush about 300 yards away," said Mike.
From the opposite direction, another male was doing the same thing.
"We stayed in one place calling for about 15-20 minutes and the two started coming in," said Mike.
"It was really exciting," said Sarah. "The timber was dense, so we couldn't see them until they got close."
A cow came out of the brush first. It was looking in Mike's direction, but didn't see Mike and Stacy. They remained still.
A minute later a big bull popped out from behind some spruce trees.
"I could see the steam with each exhale from him," said Mike. "I saw three big brow tines on each side and some really big antlers."
From 20 yards away, Mike leveled the cross-hairs of his scope for a good heart-lung shot, and squeezed the trigger. The big beast dropped like a sack of bricks.
Things happened so fast that Mike didn't have time to suffer any buck fever when making the kill, but he said after it was over and he realized how huge the moose was he could barely stand.
"My legs were like jello and I was shaking all over," he said.
The bull's rack measured more than 68 inches wide, had 14 points on each antler and had a beam girth of 9 inches.
"We couldn't believe it," said Sarah. Not only had they bagged an enormous bull in the first 20 minutes of their first day out, but they had done so after being told there were no moose to be found.
"We weren't expecting to see anything after what the guide had said. He had totally taken the wind out of our sails. It was a total surprise," said Mike.
On top of it all, the second bull that Mike had called in had never stopped coming. Minutes after the first moose was dead on the ground, this second bull -- with more than a 50-inch rack -- showed up with two cows trailing behind him.
Mike said the moose quickly moved off, taking with him the cow that had shown up with the first bull.
Mike and Sarah butchered together for the entire day and then camped out for the night before returning home the next day. However, the surprises weren't over yet.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game informed them that the bull had a score of 241 on the Boone and Crockett scale -- anything more than 224 gets into the record book.
"Overall it was the best hunting year ever," said Sarah.
Although she didn't pull the trigger this year, she's bagged her share of big game in the past. For her, like most hunters, it's more about the experience of the hunt than just making a kill.
She likes being together with her husband and doing something they both enjoy.
"We always hunt together. We enjoy hunting and we enjoy doing it together," said Sarah. "And with the moose, it's nice to know we did it, just the two of us. Not just alone, but together."
Mike added that hunters who leave their wives at home don't know what they're missing.
"I don't have to come home and share stories with her. She's right there a part of it all," he said.
Mike also said that even when Sarah's not hunting , she's still a valuable asset. "She's the one who spotted the bear and the caribou," he pointed out.
Although this hunting season certainly was spectacular for the Stacys, it's started to add up now that it's all over.
"The taxidermy will cost a lot," said Mike. "I'm not complaining though. I'm glad for the opportunity to have to pay a taxidermist."
He said he more than breaks even in the long run too.
"We haven't spent $50 on meat in the last five years," he said. "We've had all wild game and right now we've got two chest freezers full of meat and still gave a lot away to family and friends."
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