Elk, crab and the dog ate my plane ticket….

Elk Hunt 2008

My slope hitch ended on opening day of elk season – Sept. 25. I left Deadhorse, where a quarter inch of snow was on the ground. I made it to Kodiak the same evening, but too late to get out to Afognak. I stayed with my brother in law’s college roommate, Alan, who was to fly me to Afognak the next day.

I arrived at elk camp in the back seat of Alan’s super cub the next day.. I had not flown in a cub for many years. The small plane had a lot of room in the back seat, and we had good weather for the flight.

My arrival was several days after my hunting friends had made camp. They arrived a few days before the elk season opened to get a prime spot and to do some scouting. I arrived to a ready made camp, with everyone out hunting.

After we taxied as close to shore as we could and jumped into the ankle deep water, we heard a shot not far away and assumed it was a signal shot for Alan to stay around until the group returned. Soon after, 2 hunters showed up, and said the other two were close behind. The other 2 showed soonafter, and all looked like drowned rats.

The party had taken a mammoth elk opening day, late in the day, and in thick alders. Two of the party shot the elk, and were immediately worried about the approching dark. They were happy when my sister in law and her husband showed up, having come to the rifle shot. It was late in the day – 4:30 pm – when the elk was killed. It took the 4 of them till after dark to dress, butcher, bag, and hang all the meat. As night came upon them, they didn’t have the heart to try to pack out 75 to 100 lb packs in the dark, so they hung the meat in the woods, away from the kill site so as not to invite a bear to their meat, and humped it back to camp, mostly in the dark.

The next day, they headed back to the kill site for the first load of meat. The animal was a 5 pack animal, and with only four of them, one pack of meat and the 6 by 5 rack was left for the next day. We arrived to camp just before they did, each with a load of meat in their packs. I helped the hunters dismount their packs. Alan, now with a me out of the plane, had room for the 250-300 lbs of meat in the back of his plane, and off it went back to his meat shed. He and I saw about 4 elk in the hills behind camp on the way in, but they looked a long way off – longer than you’d want to have to pack them.

The next day was my first day of hunting. After days of rain, it cleared out, and was a beautiful day. The grass had a solid frost, so we got through that and into the higher country without getting our legs wet from the normal morning dew or rain.

I was priveleged to hunt with Mike, who grew up in the town where my inlaws live. Mike is a commercial salmon, halibut and blackcod fisherman, a wolf trapper, and local city councilman. He spends a lot of time in the woods, and I often wondered what his brain was processing as he looked at tracks and other signs along the game trails we climbed.

We hunted all day, bugling every so often. We got no reply from any bull elk, nor did we see any deer. We did find some nice black tail deer antler sheds. Elk had definitely been in the area, but with a herd animal like elk, they are not distributed here and there. You either find all of them in a bunch, or none of them if the bunch isn’t in your area. Although huge animals, it’s easy to miss them. The herd might be over the other side of the ridge you are on, or in the woods directly below you, and you’d never know it. Luckily, bull elk can’t resist replying to a bugle from another bull elk this time of year, and so usually, you can call and get a reply if elk are in the area.

We arrived back at camp in the early evening. The crew looked tired and sore. I was surprisingly not sore or cramped. My slope daily workouts of a half hour on the bicycle and six flights of stairclimbing a few times a day was paying off. We had a dinner of elk meat. The meat was very tasty, but tough as hell. Taking the herd bull produces a lot of meat, but it was going to take some ingenuity, I could tell, to cook this critter. It also made me determined to take a smaller bull or cow if given the opportunity so we’d have some better meat.

The next day, both groups split up again, and we all covered new territory. However, the results were the same. No one got a return bugle, nor saw any elk. Mike and I did, however, call in 3 large blacktail does to Mike’s bugle call. One came up a small opening in the trees so quickly it may have knocked me over had I not let out an exclamation that caused it to take a quick 90 degree turn at the last moment. I’m going to have to try bugling on Admiralty or Douglas Islands near home to see if the deer there respond.

Mike and I went further from camp than the day before, and were up on one ridge, down again, and up another. We covered a lot of ground. Again, I was surprised at how good I felt. My only sore spot was my feet. I had to wear my work boots from the slope on hunting day 2, because my hunting boots got scortched in the heel while drying by the fire. I duct taped them, but was not sure if the patch would hold, and did not want to risk wet feet. If I had this decision to make again, I’d opt for wet feet, as my feet slid around inside my larger work boots, causing undue strain. However, there wasn’t an instance on either day where I felt I wasn’t keeping up, nor did I need a handful of ibuprofen at the end of the day. I feel in surprisingly great health, particularly for being overweight, and hope that little by little I might get a hold of my weight – which I attribute to overeating and nothing else – as I continue regular workouts.

The DeHaviland beaver float plane arrived on day 3 to pick us up in two trips. Roland, our pilot, plugged the plane with nearly the entire camp of a wall tent, large pole tent, camp stove, lanterns, packs, etc, and 3 of the 5 of us in the first trip. Those planes can really pack a load. Roland was our pilot last year as well, when he was using a plane leased from a fishing lodge because he’d wrecked his own plane earlier in the summer. He now had the rebuilt plane back, with new floats, rebuilt wings, and new interior, and it was a great ride.

My brother in law and I waited until the second load to fly out with what little was still left from camp. We both had brought along stocking foot waders with no wading shoes, because the plane could not get all the way to the beach because the lake was so shallow. The waders worked surprisingly well in the mud bottom. Only the random spruce limbs lurked in the ankle to knee deep water to puncture our boots, and we were able to see and avoid these on our first trip to the plane in clear water, and then remember where they were in subsequent trips.

We flew out in beautiful weather back to Kodiak. We arrived in town, paid our aircharter fees, and arrived at Patty and Lew’s, who are friends of my inlaws. It was an anniversary of sorts for me. Last year at this same time, Lew showed us his photos and told stories of his work on the north slope. I found out from him what it took to apply for a job there on his crew, then set out knocking them off one by one. By February, I’d completed the last and most difficult requirement – the 50 ton Captains License – and a few months later landed my current job, largely due to Lew’s recommendation to our bosses there. Life has been on the upswing ever since.

Alan not only brought our meat back to town, he cut it up, packaged and froze it all for us , too. I booked an early flight out the next day so I could get back to Juneau in the afternoon. We went to Alan’s and got a box of elk meat for me, thanked he and his wife for all their help, and I went to sleep quickly on return to the house.

I checked my gun and meat as baggage at the Kodiak airport and headed to Anchorage. I arrived in Anchorage, breezed through a short security line for a change, and just as I’d found my gate, I was paged by Alaska Airlines. I inquired at a gate desk what they wanted me to do, and I was informed I would need to provide another lock for my gun case. It already had one lock on the case, and the bolt was not in the gun, but now, even after my gun went through TSA in Kodiak, they were telling me midway through my trip I needed another lock.

So, I had to go back out of security, buy the lock, wait for the TSA agent to give me the all clear, and then go through security again. Of course, by the time I got in line again, the breeze through line was now full, and I waited a goodwhile before I got up and through security again. As much as ever, I realized how sick I’ve become of our government. All this security crapola due to 911, when 911 was a result not of a lack of rules, but a lack of following security and immigration rules already in place, and lack of communication between those supposedly there to protect our country. Instead of fixing those rules, we now make traveling hell for law abiding citizens. It made me believe more than ever that we must get a 3rd party movement going if the country’s leadership will ever represent the average American. Maybe it never has done that. All I know is that our two parties in place now are more the same than they are different, supported by
the same money and media. The country may not fall apart if we don’t get a third party to compete with what is essentially a single party with two arms, but I’m not liking the road we’ve been down, bailing out financial institutions that are supposed to be the experts in handling money, or sending our military to kill tens of thousands of innocent people in an oil control war in a land so far away. In the end, our nation votes in just what we get. People would rather parrot what some talking head says on the television rather than stopping to think for themselves and form their own educated opinion. If the government tells us we have to invade a country that’s done nothing to us, I guess we have to do it. If the government says we have to bail out financial institutions and millionaires, it must be for our own good.

Back in Juneau town, of course the first thing I did was to go hunting with Kurtis. We hiked most of the way up Pt. Hilda on Douglas Is. A nice day for a change here, but very little sign and the leaves were still on the blueberry bushes and devil’s club, so hard to see.

The next day, I went to the cabin. Thought about hunting the next day, but then remembered all the leaves and little deer sign, so decided to check the crab pot and head back. I pulled the first of my 2 pots. There were exactly 20 crab in the pot – a motherlode. 20 crab is the limit for a resident, so I didn’t even check the other pot. I headed back to town, and stopped at our good friends Bob and Laura to drop off some of the booty. Bob is our resident handyman and welding expert, and Laura does our graphic work. We never get a bill for any work, and they don’t go hungry for crab or meat (they got part of my elk meat, as well).

I tried to finish up my chores around town on Wed to get ready to leave on Thurs. The last was to buy 400+ full size candybars for Halloween, as I didn’t want the matron of the household where we meet annually to put on Halloween while drinking too much to have to worry about getting them while she was on vacation with her family in NY.

On Thurs, I got to the airport at the normal time. When I got upstairs at our tiny airport, the line was longer than I’d ever seen it. When I finally got through TSA (only one of the two sides of the TSA line were open), and into the waiting area, we found we were left! Everyone infront of us got on their plane, but they just left us. I immediately called my company on the slope to report I was left behind, and they made arrangements to get me on another flight, and most importantly, to be sure my seat wasn’t reserved going up today so someone else could get on it. It’s a cardinal sin not to make the Anchorage to Prudhoe flight and not call in.

Turns out I could not get on a flight until Sunday! I would miss the equivalent of a week or more of work, with only myself, really, to blame. Although getting to the airport here 2 hours ahead of time does little good since TSA is not open then that early in the morning. I got home so mad at myself I could hardly contain myself. I picked up the cordless drill and started finishing every project in sight.

In any event, I’m now going to Anchorage to try to help my aging in-laws and my sister in law put together some paperwork, as my sisterinlaw is in failing health. So, hopefully some good will come out of it. Kurtis said to tell my boss my dog ate my plane ticket…………….

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