Yukon River Moose Hunt 2017
My friend Bob P had been asking me to go with him on his annual moose hunt on the upper Yukon River, and this year I committed to go. As things worked out, Bob went up by himself a few days before I did, so it was a solo drive for me. I’d driven several times up to interior Alaska from Haines, but never taken the Taylor highway that starts east of Tok. I got on the ferry to Haines on Sept 10 and arrived in Haines about 10am in the morning. I’d bought a boat and kicker from a friend of Roy’s and stopped to pick that up on the way. I’d made a custom roof rack with U bolts and 2×4’s on the GMC Denali Yukon, with eye bolts on the ends of the boards for ratchet strapping the boat down. When I’d seen the boat earlier in August when we were up in Haines fishing, I was a bit concerned it might be too big for the car, but it fit just fine. I ran 3 straps over the hull, tied down the front and back, and it was tight and didn’t affect driving. I was on the road by about 1 pm.
I stopped at Canadian Customs, where I handedin my already filled-out gun transport forms and paid the $25 fee with Canadiandollars someone tipped me with on the whale watch boat last year, and was on myway. Another group on their first trip through Canada with firearms, it seemed, didn’t have any paperwork pre-filled out so must have wondered how I was in and out so quickly.
The drive from the border to Haines Junction in the Yukon is my favorite part of the drive, with stunning scenery and little traffic. I got fuel in Haines Junction at the PetroStop, and also an excellent homemade monster-sized spring roll sold by who Iassumed was the lady who owned the gas station.
I saw a pile of bunnies along the road as eveningapproached. Looks like it should be agood year for lynx trapping up there. Saw some spruce grouse here and there, too. I made it to Tok about 9 pm and couldn’t finda place I liked to just pull over and sleep so I bought a tent space at thelocal camp ground where I could unload what I needed to put down my sleepingpad and bag in the car, and slept like a baby.
Next morning I was up early and went to Fast Eddy’s in Tok forbreakfast. I had to get a my mooseharvest ticket at the sporting goods store across the street, so I wasn’t in ahurry. The owner opened the shop earlierthan posted because it’s moose and caribou season. I got my ticket and a thermos of coffee and was off to Eagle.
I backtracked the 12 miles to the junction with the Taylor Highwayand headed north. I was traveling up thehighway several days after opening day for moose and caribou in the area. The first part of the road was deceptivelynice, made of payment and a normal width. After awhile, the road turned to gravel, but still in good shape. Hunting along this road is apparently done by4 wheeler, and every turn out from the road held about 5 trucks with trailers. Their occupants were gone on their 4 wheelers for moose or caribou. The passes were foggy and there was rainoff and on.
I got to the town of Chicken, which I realized was a miningsite, and got some coffee at the store. The road around Chicken was newlypaved, and again, a deception. The roadsoon went to dirt and gravel. I came tothe junction where you can go left to Eagle on the Taylor Highway or right to Dawson City in theYukon over the Top of the World Highway. The road was now mainly mud. Itook the left, and continued on my way. The road go steadily narrower and moved along steep canyons. Many of the turns were blind hairpin turnsand barely 2 lanes. I had to go so slow due to the road and just hopeda person coming the other way would be going slow, too, and you’d have time toavoid each other. The drop off down themountain to the river below was breathtaking – in a bad way – and you knew ifyou ever went off the road, death was a guarantee. There’s even a sign noting where a borderguard had died when he went of the road some years back. At one point, the road was down to almost asingle lane at one of the steepest and longest drops down, but at least it wasa straight section where you could see if another vehicle was coming. Lots of squirrels and a few grouse along theroad. And still trucks with empty 4wheeler trailers at every pull out.
When I finally reached Eagle, I was frazzled from thedrive. I stopped at the restaurant forlunch, and told the waitress the Chamber of Commerce should have a persongreeting people coming into town for the first time with a comforting hug and tell them it’s all gonna be alright now. Iimmediately liked Eagle. Everyone seemedfriendly, with some neat well-kept rustic houses and buildings and several logbuildings both old and new.
Now for finding the boat landing and getting the boat downfrom the Yukon myself. I easily found the boat ramp from Bob’s map and was able to getthe boat down with minimal damage to the rig. I put it in the water, and just like the seller told me – no leaks. I mounted the kicker – a 1981 9.9 hp Johnsonoutboard. I thought I’d better test theboat before loading it. The outboard firedright up on the second pull, and aftersome adjusting of the trim on the motor the boat and motor seemed to run justfine. I loaded the boat with my tent, campinggear, and food and rifle. I parked theYukon in the lot at the ramp. I left theextension rack holding the spare tire and gas on the back of the car andtrusted that no one would steal it as people seemed so nice in town.
As I got on my way, it was near 60 degrees and I was inshirtsleeves thinking – here I go, down the Yukon River, which I’d never beenon before, in a boat I’ve never driven, and everything is falling into place. I easily found Bob downstream at camp an houror two later. He was surprised to see methis early as I thought I wouldn’t get down to camp til the following day buteverything had gone so smoothly that here I was.
I got the tent set up oh the gravel bar next to Bob’s. I have an ancient Thermos Prairie Schoonertent I bought from friends at ADFG back in my days in Kodiak who said theybought the tent for $25 for elk hunting and that’s what they’d sell it to mefor. It’s a great tent that you canstand up in and easy to set up. I set up a luxury lite cot I bought a few years ago for traveling to Sierra Leone, and put a 2 inch foam pad on it and my Wiggy’s sleeping bag. Slept good all week and could have stayed there a month. Or permanently. Bob told me the game plan of how he thought we should hunt. We were at a place he thought the moose wouldcross from one side of the river to the other, and that we’d set up on eitherend of this long gravel bar area and wait for one to cross. The river is only about a quarter mile widehere and only running in a single channel on the far side. The stream beds between the islands and the mainland on the near side were dry at this time of year. I could hear owls hooting across the river and Bob said it sounded likea great horned owl pair with an offspring just learning to hoot. They hootedday and night. A cross fox that Bob thought was young of the year came around camp each night and had no fear of us, which was not comfortable for us. Bob scared it away a few times and in future tours it steered a little more clear of us.
The colors were unlike any I’d ever seen in Alaska. The hills were a sea of various shades of yellow, with some green, orange and red mixed in here and there. The longer we stayed, the more yellow was added as the green leaves turned color.
The next morning I got to my hunting spot, and there weretracks galore. Moose, bear, wolverine,fox, and maybe otter or beaver tracks. There were moose tracks that came across the gravel bar and right to thewater so it definitely was a spot where the moose did cross, as Bobthought. I saw 3 swans fly over so low Icould see the definition on their tucked under feet – probably an adult pairand their fledgling.
On the second day, I saw something black from my huntingstand, which was on the dry stream bank in the crook of the roots of a tree I’d dragged to the spot which afforded me a view both ways up and down the dry streambed. At first I thought it was a ravenhopping along the far bank, but then when it crossed the dry stream bed at thebend it turned into a blackbear. I had no time to set up and shootbefore it was gone out of sight. Ifigured it either would stay in the stream bed and Bob would see it from hisstand, or it would go up into the brush, so I didn’t pursue it. I never heard Bob shoot and he didn’t see the bear. Each day Bob would go to his stand and me to mine. A few days in, I made a little blind of sticks to break up my outline sitting on the dry stream bank. I read the ADFG hunting reg book to stay awake the 2nd day, but had not brought any books. Luckily, Bob had a huge novel – Once anEagle – he was reading. The book was sobig he’d cut it into about 200 page sections, and gave me the sections he’dread so I would have something to read during the the rest of the days hunting. I read like I never remember reading before. Reading 150 to 200 pages a day. Later the next day, I heard shots. I gathered my thingsand headed Bob’s way. He’d shot the bearI’d seen the day before. Bob was prettykeyed up as you get when you shoot something, and he led me to the bear. I’d never skinned a bear, so school was insession.
Bob placed a tarp next to the bear, and took out a knife hisparents had given him in the 60’s. First, he pulled out the intestine and I got to show Bob now toremove the intestine from the crotch area since we do this on deer. He’d primarily only harvested bigger big game animals like moose, where youleave the guts in and simply take the quarters off as you go. When he got the intestine out, he had me holda bag while he removed what he called the “mezzanine fat” from between thesections of intestine. Apparently, thismakes the best fat or lard. When he gotto the end of the intestine at the stomach, he sliced open the stomach to seewhat the bear had been eating. It lookedlike a bowl of fresh berries, ready to eat. The greater section of the stomach was packed with high bushcranberries, and there was another small section where the bear must have founda patch of low bush cranberries. Theberries were undigested and if you didn’t know they were in a bear’s stomach,they looked fresh and ready to eat. Bobthen deftly skinned the bear out where it lay on the sand, leaving not a hairin the meat nor letting the skinned meat get into the dirt. As he went, he cut off the quarters which hedropped into the game bag I was holding. I put each filled bag on the tarpuntil all the quarters were removed. Then we put the remaining torso in a game bag. School was still in session, as Bob showed mehow to make a meat hanging pole. Hefound two about 12 foot sections of small diameter beach logs, and tied themtogether side by side as tight as he could. He then crossed the tied sections into an “X” standing up off the ground, and in the top of the Xplaced a third log that extended down to the ground. The two tied logs supported the third log andwe hung the game bags on the third log. Bob then covered the logs with a tarp to keep the meat dry, and he putthe hide skin side down over the top of the tarp to dry the hide and keep thetarp in place. Brian bought me a Jet Boil for Christmas and I put it to work on this trip. He’d bought me the coffee press attachment, too. Every morning I filled the pot with water and put in some Folgers on top and brought it to a rolling boil. Then turned off the heat, plunged down the grounds, and filled my thermos for the day. At night, I cooked pouch meals Sara had sent, putting in some smoked sausage from Jerry’s meats to taste. The Jet Boil is the best stove I’ve ever owned. You can pack the stove and fuel cannister right in the pot and it boils water very quickly. At night fall, we usually had a campfire and I’d share cookies Sara made with Bob and wait for the northern lights. One night in particular the northern lights were as spectacular as I’ve ever seen. They’d go from nothing to a streak across the sky and right over our heads. At one point, they looked like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a billowing cloud of lights that looked like candle ice in the sky directly overhead. It looked supernatural. Maybe it was. The last two days in camp we picked high bush cranberries. I picked about 4 gallon bag fulls. Bob picked about 10 gallons in a honey-hole he’d found. Unlike here, the berries there seem to all have wild roses growing alongside them, and I got a few hips from the bushes, along with an annoyingly large number of thorns in the top of my hands while picking the cranberries. We hunted the rest of the week and never saw a moose. The glorious dry weather that was warm in the day and cool at night may have had something to do with it. Bob said the moose move more when it’s colder. We found out the ferry was full from the 21st to the 25th, so I either had to make it down to Haines by the 20th or not get my vehicle back til the 25th. Bob had a reservation for the 21st, so we decided to leave on the 19th. I packed up camp and left first thing in the morning since I had to be in Haines a day earlier than Bob. I was soon loaded up and on my way. The outboard ran about a 1/4 mile and quit. I thought maybe the fuel can wasn’t venting, so cracked the cap a bit more and got another 1/4 mile and again the outboard quit. I then looked to see if the water pump was discharging water, and sure enough, the old outboard had the discharge hose going through a tiny nipple out the back of the outboard that a grain of sand could clog. I removed the hose from the nipple, then removed the nipple altogether and just ran the hose out the hole the nipple was in. I had to jam a stick next to the hose to keep it going out the hole, but that did the trick. I got back out in the river and was on my way. The I was moving slowly upstream and didn’t have any more outboard issues. The boat was plowing and going slowly, and I just thought that’s the way it would be. I tried moving gear forward but that didn’t help. About an hour or two into the upstream trip, I was coming by the ADFG sonar site, where they were busy test fishing along the shore. I was going to stop and chat and dropped to idle for a second before changing my mind and speeding up. That was like cutting off an anchor. The boat planed right out and I was now going twice as fast as before – another lesson learned. I probably could have cut an hour off my return time if I’d done this earlier. I got to the ramp in due time. Now for unloading the boat and somehow getting it onto the Yukon myself. Another guy came in in his jet boat with wife and two young kids. I asked him how it went and he said it was basically a camping trip because of the two kids, who looked to be having the time of their lives. He beached his boat then was up in his truck with trailer eyeing me like he wanted to back down to the spot I was at. I asked if he wanted me to move and he said he wasn’t in a hurry. I moved to the other side of the ramp anyway and he backed down and loaded his boat. I think it was then that he saw my roof rack and no trailer and asked if I needed help putting the boat on my car. Did I! I quickly unloaded the rest of the gear and he and I had it on the roof in 5 minutes with no harm to the car. That was a Godsend. Turns out he’s a logger on Afognak so we talked about elk hunting out there. I got the car packed, stopped at the restaurant for a thermos of coffee, and was on the road at 1 pm. It was a beautiful day and the road was dry and no fog. The good luck just kept coming. When I saw all the vehicles and hunters along the road on the way to Eagle I wondered how the moose population could support such pressure – which I know, compared to lower-48 public land, is probably no pressure at all. On my return trip, I changed me mind. The weather was beautiful and the road now was dry and my apprehension of driving the road again was much less. And I didn’t pass another vehicle going north for 55 miles. Nearly all the hunting vehicles were gone from the pullouts. As I looked over the country on either side of the road, all I saw was rolling hills and wilderness. Not a sign of human design like roads or buildings or runways. As far as I could see. Just moose and caribou habitat – much of it burned black spruce that was replaced by willows and other deciduous trees and grasses. Lots of country for a moose to hide and with so much country it could support a lot of moose and hunting pressure. When I got to the Alaska Highway junction, I automatically went right towards Tok. In less than a mile, I turned around and headed towards the border and assumed a gas station would be open between here and Beaver Creek in the Yukon. Plus I had my spare fuel still onboard. I stopped at the station at Northway. I asked the clerk how moose hunting was going and she said her boyfriend had gone towards the border and seen a cow and planned to try to get it the next morning but that a pack of wolves had beaten them to it. I told her I was going to stick with deer hunting because of my lack of luck with moose, and she was surprised there were deer in Alaska. She thought maybe they were introduced but didn’t know there were indigenous deer on the coast. Just shows what a big state we live in. I got through the border and headed for Haines. I saw two sets of cow and calf moose, and several lakes still had swans in their last few days of young-rearing before they fly south. I committed somewhat of a crime of driving through the northern part of Kluane Park and sheep mountain after dark, but I was wide awake and thought I’d drive as far as I could that night. Wow, my 53 year old eyes cannot see at night. The gravel parts of the road had no center line or line along the curb and I almost stopped several times when other vehicles passed me as I couldn’t tell where I was on the road. I pulled over about 15 miles out of Haines Junction. It took a little while to remove enough gear from the rear of the Yukon to put my pad and sleeping bag in but I slept pretty good once settled. I awoke not long after sun rise. I started the car and got out to take a leak. The Bob Dylan CD was playing “When the night comes fallin’ ” and right on cue a small owl flew low overhead and landed at the top of a spruce tree across the road. I was soon in Haines Junction and not a restaurant is open at this time of year for breakfast. After checking with the lady at the Petro Gas station to be sure I wasn’t missing an open eatery, I headed to Haines. Back through my favorite stretch of the trip. I stopped about half way and put in my 10 gallons of extra gas plus about 4 gallons of boat gas, emptying all my fuel containers so it would be easy to put them under the skiff on the roof when I got to Haines and then take off the rear basket that goes into the receiver hitch and put that on top of the boat so as not to have to pay for the extra length of my vehicle on the ferry. I stopped at Pete’s on my way in to Haines to get the boat registration that I forgot when I picked up the boat, but no one home. Lots of high bush cranberries along his road. I got to town and went straight to the ferry terminal to be sure my tickets were there and I was good to go on the evening ferry. I called Brenda and she invited me out to her office for her birthday cake at noon. I had breakfast at the Bamboo Room, then dropped off the egg containers Roy had given me duck eggs in earlier in August at the house, and went to the party. Brenda works with a bunch of nice people and I even met their person who was in town from Craig and whose kid went to high school with my niece there. I gave Brenda a gallon of my cranberries from the Yukon River. I got out to the ferry early, and there were lots of moose hunting rigs there. I put the gas jugs under the boat on the roof, then put the basket on top of the boat on the roof and tied it tight. Then I got to looking at the other vehicles. Every one of them that was moose hunting had a moose it seemed. Everyone but me. I talked with a guy I knew from Juneau and he got what he thought was a 1500 lb bull late in the last day he was hunting so I guess there’s some luck to it after all. They had a small freezer in the bed of their truck running off a little Honda generator, and they were rotating the meat in and out of the freezer to keep it cool but not freeze it. I made my first batch of high bush cranberry ketchup on Saturday morning. It’s the first time I remember using a manual food mill to remove the seeds and extract the pulp and juice from the berries, and the product was beautiful. I had about 48 cups of berries plus about 12 cups in the freezer from last year. I put the berries in the pot and added a few cups of water so the berries wouldn’t scourch. When the berries were hot and soft, I started culling them out and running them through the food mill. The 60 cups of berries made about 23 cups of pulp. There was a quart of juice left in the pot after pulling all the berries and I saved that separately. I put the pulp in the pot, and added 12 cups of diced sweet onion, 10 cups each of cider vinegar and sugar, 15 teaspoons each of salt, allspice, ground cloves and cinammon, and 5 teaspoons of pepper. I put the pot on the woodstove to boil down. After a few hours, the onions softened up and the consistency looked right. I canned 48 half pint jars. I tried the sauce with tortilla chips, and as a salad dressing and it’s all good. Should be good on venison, too. Bob had checked in via text. He’d made it back just fine and got on the last ferry out of Haines as after his ferry got back, it broke and so no ferry for 3 days to Haines and they already were backed up and booked solid. Yikes. The tent is hanging in the garage to dry it fully before putting back into the bag, and the sleeping bag is airing out near the woodstove. I did a few repairs to the boat hull, put a new longer hose for the water discharge on the outboard, and put the hunting gear back up in the garage. This is one of those trips I’ll always remember. With no moose, time to start getting serious about deer hunting.