Big day in the Paris on the Kuskokwim

On the way home from the Jamaica trip, as I landed in Seattle, I had a text from Dougie: if you can get her this week, we’re making a last trip to the Yukon for moose.

So, on Monday, Kurt said he could meet the heat pump guy on Tue, I checked on the boat, and made reservations with mileage to Bethel.

I got to Bethel just before noon. Val was heading to Anchorage for a couple days on this same plane, so it would be me and Dougie fending for ourselves. On the Anchorage to Bethel flight, I met a woman from King Cove who was married to a Sand Pointer, and who knew of Val. So Alaska.

This morning, we met Pat at 530 at his house, and headed to the Yukon. It was about 10 degrees. We spent the first hour or so on our headlights as dawn came, and then a beautiful sunrise with a blood orange sky. Lots of snow on the trail, and the riding was decent. We saw some ptarmigan flocks and a fox along the way.

We got to the Yukon River about 830, and started looking for moose on Willow Island. Pat pointed one out to me right away, but it was in the taller willows and was spooked and not a good shot. This is my 3rd year here now, and I know from experience that I don’t have to rush a shot or shoot the first moose I see. There were tons of tracks in the willows and lots of gut piles. There’s plenty of moose here. Just be patient. And there’s 15 hours of daylight now in April out here.

We moved down river along the island, and saw one more moose, but again, not a chance for a good shot. Pat got out to the edge of the island, and across a side channel on a little island, there were half a dozen moose. He said to get ready, and motor over there and try to get a shot. I chambered a round in the 30.06. It would be a single shot today, as I’d forgot to bring the magazines!

I idled across the side channel. Five moose scattered, but one remained. I lined it up with a root wad about 70 yards from the moose, and turned the snow machine straight towards the root wad to somewhat conceal myself. I got to about 20 yards from the root wad, and the moose was still standing there, so I stopped, shut off the engine, and hunched down low to keep myself below the height of the root wad. I put on my ear muffs, and walked up til I was at the root wad, and the moose hadn’t moved.

I got a good rest on a piece of the wad, then calmed my breathing, and put when I got a decently steady cross hairs behind the shoulder, I squeezed off a round. The moose went down to it’s knees, got up, backed up a few steps, and tipped over. No need for a second shot. Pat came over from the other side of the river, and we waited a few minutes for the moose to expire. It was 9 am.

Doug joined us, and after a couple photos, we got to butchering the moose. Pat has butchered more moose this season than many Alaskan moose hunters will do in a lifetime. I stomped down the snow around the moose, then he and I tipped the moose on her back, and he started the process. Doug and I started in as well, skinning the hide from the carcass. Pat soon had the breast plate off so fast I didn’t even notice him do it. After he took out the full formed fetus calf in it’s sac out, we rolled out the guts, and then started helping each other get the quarters off, with one person pulling on a leg and the other cutting. Once the quarters were off, Doug started sawing off the hocks while I helped Pat with removing the ribs from the torso.

By 10 o’clock, we had the moose parts on the sled, and were eating our lunches, which were musk ox sandwiches for Doug and I. We soon were headed back to Bethel with this big cow moose and a sunny day and temperatures climbing to about 30. We saw several flocks of about 100 ptarmigan. One flock flushed and then landed high in a tall cottonwood (?) tree, which was spectacular. I’ve never seen ptarmigan or grouse all land in a tree like that.

We got back to town about 2 pm, left Pat at his house, and had all the meat hung up in Doug’s shed by 230 pm. What a day.

I was still on borrowed sleep from my Jamaica trip, so took a nap while Doug tidied up his sled and the sno gos. At 445, we picked up Doug and Val’s friend Marie, who is from a nearby town and working at the college and studying to be a nurse. We were headed to a procession for Robert Sundown, the head pilot for the refuge here, who died a few days ago out moose hunting where we were. He had taken a moose with a friend of his and was on his way home when he had an apparent heart attack and passed away. Just like that. In his early 50’s I think. Today, his body was being flown to Anchorage, and the town was giving him a sort of send off. We got in the line of vehicles that followed the truck carrying his coffin. After his body was dropped off to the airport, we parked along the side of the road where the airport runway ends, perpendicular to the road. A procession of local planes did flyovers in Robert’s honor.  Small town Alaska at it’s best.

After the flyovers, we headed down river on the ice road in Doug’s truck. Below the town of Oscarville, we found a couple groups of about a dozen vehicles of all shapes and sizes:  pike fishermen. Mostly women. We joined one, and when Doug saw some of his cronies, we got out and hung out with them for awhile. Everyone had a few pike laying next to their fishing holes. Everyone’s gear was the similar: a stick about 2 feet long, with some kind of twine wrapped around it, and the end if it down the ice fishing hole. Everyone jerked their stick up every little bit as they yaked and yaked and yaked. What fun. I need to write a story about this for the ADFG magazine.

We headed back to Bethel to the late evening sunshine. Pretty full day in Bethel City.

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