‘That was my dog’: Even if you don’t get a moose, you might hear some tall tales around the campfire

Moose season is gearing up in Game Management Unit 13. There are five separate hunts. The ever-so-not popular Community Hunt began last week but the majority of guys are stuck with the general hunt, which begins Sept. 1. That hunt requires no special permit, only the standard harvest tag.

There are not a lot of moose along the Denali Highway these days. The tough winter didn’t help. However, the lack of animals won’t stop the hunting public.

There are 9,000 caribou permits out there somewhere, and the caribou are way back off the Denali. The result of the “way back” caribou will ensure about 8,000 of the permit holders show up in September.

They will be hoping to get lucky and see a moose. Some will not even see a cow moose this season.

Still, the lack of game should not deter any hunter. The stories around the campfire, fueled somewhat by a few six-packs, should be more entertaining than an actual hunt.

Hunting is hard work, especially if one scores a moose. A few stories come to mind.

One fine September day, a man named Floyd and I were semi-seriously road hunting (this was back in the day). About halfway down the Maclaren Summit we saw a truck was in the middle of the road with the door wide open. A dude was leaning across the hood with his rifle pointed at a big cow moose 50 feet from the road.

“Hey!” Floyd jumped out. “That’s a cow!”

“Really? I can’t see too good, I’ve got pinkeye.”

That man has been known ever since as Pink Eye. Pink Eye has been known to also see Dall sheep from the window of the bar. He also demonstrates how he shoots ptarmigan out of the air with his bow. Legitimately, he is quite a good shot.

There was also the guy who walked down the Crazy Notch trail and didn’t return. Two days later, his wife stopped by and mentioned her husband had gone hunting but took no overnight gear. Normally, I might suggest she go check with some of her friends and see if he might be around another camp. But I had met this guy. He might actually be lost.

I had a real good tracking dog then, a big shepherd named Collin. It wasn’t long until dark, so being 20 and relatively dumb, I took off down the Notch trail. After 5 miles it was full dark, but Collin had a trail. This was back before headlamps came on the scene, so the best I could do was a flashlight in my teeth.

Another mile or so went by and the dog checked in with me and gave a low bark. He had something.

Now, Collin liked bears, so I was ready, just in case. About then I heard a high-pitched scream so I yelled for my dog so he wouldn’t get shot. Collin showed right up and I put him at heel and yelled for Larry. After two or three tries I heard a low, “who’s that?”

A couple days out in the September weather with minimal gear had made Larry a little more bushy than he normally was. It took me a while to convince him I knew the way to the Denali Highway. He had seen the car lights coming down the summit and tried to reach the highway in that direction. Said he kept running into a river.

At the campfire or nudged up to the bar, the “biggest moose I’ve ever seen” story is heard in many variations. Several of these animals have actually been shot only for it to be discovered they were not quite legal.

One evening, a bunch of hunters were at the bar telling their tall tales of the day’s hunt. A friend of mine, Buller, who was quite a good hunter but inclined to stretch things a bit, sat quietly at the end of the bar as an old guy at the other end of the bar told a story:

“I was sittin’ this mornin’ by a big swamp. Just knew it was moosey. Of a sudden I hears a commotion and out of the brush runs a big grizzly. Right behind the griz is a little brown dog ‘bout the size of a beagle. Halfway through the swamp that little dog caught the bear and climbed up his back. That dog made his way across the grizzly’s back, bit him in the throat and killed him. Then he proceeded to eat that entire bear!”

“Hey Buller!” the old guy said. “You believe that?”

“Yup,” said Buller. “That was my dog.”

So, folks, come hunting on the Denali, moose or no moose. And if the caribou are way back in the hills? It matters little. Stop by and see if you can top Buller.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.