We're back from hunting. I'll save you the suspense and tell you that we didn't shoot a moose. But, while I've got your attention, I'll go ahead and tell you how all that not shooting happened.
Jedd was the mastermind of the operation, and his version of Microsfot Excel is a small yellow notepad. He had a comprehensive list of everything we needed and made Cody and I make similar lists. I followed mine religiously. Cody lost his immediately, but zeroed in on the important items on our group shopping trip to Save-U-More, Homer's knock-off Costco.
We left Steller Air on a sunny Friday afternoon and headed an hour west. In Alaska, you cannot fly and shoot on the same day, so we took everything we could from our flying day and spotted some moose and a camping spot from the air. Our spot on the lake was on a rocky beach by the outlet, the sun set over the mountains, Jedd caught a couple of lake trout, and, most importantly, none of my three cell phones were anywhere in sight. The start was so good, I knew immediately that it didn't matter much if we got a moose or not.
Saturday morning, we started trekking through the brush to the area we had seen moose the day before. The going was rough, a lot of thick Alder and a lot of uphill, and some very tricky creek crossings, one of them dubbed "the raging river of death." After more than an hour's hard hiking, we got to a meadow, settled in to be quiet and watch, and Jedd did some calling. After two hours of nothing but sunshine and light breeze, a cow moose stepped into the meadow, followed by another, followed by a bull moose. Regulations for my hunting permit say I can shoot any size bull moose (many areas require kill-able moose to be over a certain size), but this moose blew any size restrictions of any area out of the water. As with any good fishing story, he gets bigger every time we talk about him, and now his rack was 80 inches if it was 5. I laid in the prone position and tried to line him up in my scope.
Jedd and Cody are both experienced hunters and great shots, but Jedd was adamant that I kill the moose. He really wanted me to have the full experience. He made his brother agree that no one would fire until I did. I protested, but like I said, Jedd was the mastermind.
So there we are, 150 yards from the biggest bull moose any of us have ever seen, and I can't get a bead on him before he walks behind the next tree. The thought flit through my mind that if I just pulled the trigger and missed, the boys would have the go ahead to kill him anyway. But that didn't seem sporting, so, I didn't shoot and proved that cliche about how many shots you miss that you don't take. One of the cows crossed our trail on the other side of the meadow, caught our scent, spooked and the trio took off. I apologized to the boys, but Jedd shrugged: "No biggie. It's only the first day."
Now let's talk about my preconceived moose hunting notions that probably could have been cleared up by a few questions that I never asked. In Alaska, hunting and fishing are really common. People subsist by them. And, by tales and experience, they are fairly easy. If you go halibut fishing, you catch halibut. Salmon fishing, same. People go hunting and come back with bears and moose and goats and caribou like some people go to the supermarket.
Another thing I know now that I only sort of knew then: Jedd is so mellow that even if he was absolutely certain that that bull was our one chance at surviving the winter, and we were facing freezing and slow starvation, he would've said, "No Biggie."
We hunted the entire week in wind and rain on the remote lakes of the Alaska Peninsula. We saw porcupines, owls, eagles, and lots of bugs. We moved location once, and spent a lot of time hiking and sitting in silence in the rain. All the time to think was a good bout of detox after a fast paced summer. We had cards and dice, but we all preferred to play "The Time Game." Jedd was the only one with a watch, and we never tired of seeing who could get closest to guessing the correct time. With simple finger signals, this game can be played under tactical field silence as well.
On our second to last day, the rain really started falling and gale force winds blew for hours. Jedd's tent flipped over, everything was soaked and the lake rose over a foot in 8 hours. We hunted on. The fall foliage was beautiful and to witness the change one storm could have on the landscape was humbling and spectacular. After eeking out our last minutes of the hunting season in Area 9B, completely eluded by moose, we flew back to Homer. I would've stayed and enjoyed the wilderness, the peace, and the company... even if we didn't have a chance at a moose.
Among a slough of thoughts and ideas I had while being quiet and watching, I learned an important lesson about partnerships: I had an experienced hunter with a great attitude, willing to teach me; and he had a float plane pilot, willing to take him to any new hunting venue. Both of us thought we had the best end of the deal, and were each ridiculously thankful. This new appreciation of a 'good trade' might be more valuable than a freezer full of meat.