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A glimpse of life at an Alaska moose camp

  • Author:
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published September 28, 2012

We spent the weekend of Sept. 15-16 camping on a beach next to the woods and swamps, so far up the river from Haines that we were practically speaking Canadian.

Perhaps the moose up there do speak Canadian, as we didn't see a legal bull, or at least I don't think we did. I am sworn to secrecy since the hunt continues until Oct. 6. The antler restrictions for this subsistence hunt require a spike, or a fork, or three brow tines on either side, or that the whole rack be over 50 inches wide.

Yes, it is complicated, and it means you have to be pretty darn close to that huge, amorous bull moose to see it clearly before you shoot.

It all makes for a very exciting and, I think, pleasant hunt. It is quiet, thoughtful, slow, and very cautious, with a lot more glassing than shooting, along with moments of sheer terror as the big bull is called in so very close, and we all hold our breath and hope he doesn't see us, and I look for a good tree to climb, just in case he does.

There is much tip-toeing through the brush as well, and hiding behind cottonwood, birch or spruce trees, ducking down in the cranberry and alder bushes, and a lot of sitting on rain jackets looking and especially listening for cracking brush, grunts, and the thrashing of antlers in the branches.

You can smell moose, too. Four of us took an air boat up into river channels too shallow for jet boats. We traveled light, with two nylon teepees. One had a small stove in it. The engine of the boat almost overheated once, so we bumped onto a sand bar and waited for it to cool down before continuing.

We were up at 5 a.m. for coffee and bacon and eggs, and hiked a half hour or so through challenging country: thick alders, ferns, roses, boot-sucking swamps, and forest primeval; but also into park-like clearings of dry green and white lichen meadows, red-leafed dogwood groundcover, and white-barked birch trees. We made it to the wide moose-y meadows by dawn.

We stayed until lunchtime, when we trekked back to camp, then napped until 2 p.m. and then went back out and hunted until dusk. We pulled off our hip boots, and heated stew around the campfire, while my companions recalled other memorable hunts -- when they were boys, or with their sons, or with each other; these guys go way back. Then we fell fast asleep until the next day, when we did it all over again.

Just as I was getting used to the dirt and the rhythm of camp life, it was time to come home -- until next week, or maybe before. Then we'll do it all over again.

Heather Lende writes from Haines. Her new book is "Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs." This post originally appeared on her blog. It has been reprinted with permission.

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