Hunting within Anchorage city limits
If you’re like me, you’ve read, watched or heard just about every hunting story and watched every show about Alaska. All or most of those shows portray one of the many seasonal hunts located in a desolate, secluded spike camp deep in the middle of nowhere. This story, however, is about a little-known hunt located in the middle of the largest city in Alaska–Anchorage.
Each year, there are Lottery Hunts and Draw Hunts. This is where Alaska residents and non-resident disabled veterans can apply for a handful of what I refer to as “special hunts.” These hunts are reserved to areas not open during the normal hunting seasons or in areas where only lottery winners can go. One of these hunts is what the military calls DM426. DM426 is on the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. It’s the epitome of a luxury hunt. The hunting area is almost a thousand square miles. With all that space, you would think that finding a moose of any sex in the allotted 30 days would be a gimme.
It was about 8 a.m. when I rolled out of my nice warm bed to a phone call from my buddy, Joe. “You up,” a rude voice asked. Lying through my teeth, I said, “I’ve been up since 6, you lazy moron. Get your tail over here and let’s go kill something!” I threw a pack-sled and all my cold weather gear into the back of my truck and tapped my temp gage to make sure I was reading it right. I was. Minus seventeen and dropping fast. We were about to be in an area on the eastside of Anchorage, alongside the mountains, which meant it would be even colder there.
I grabbed my seal and beaver skin hat and headed out the door. After topping-off on fuel and getting some health food at McDonalds, we headed for the gate. I tapped on the temperature gage again. “Bummer,” Joe said after taking a sip of coffee and looking at the gage, which now read minus twenty-three. It was about 9:15 a.m. when we finally rolled ourselves out of the truck and into the sub-zero wilderness.
Geared up, we looked like two scruffy Michelin men in camo. I could barely move as we made our way under the pole of the locked gate and into the hunting area. Good news was, we were the only ones out here; Bad news was, we were the only ones out here. It was just starting to snow when we made our way down the unplowed access road. The snow was just below our knees. Thick, wet and deep, each step was exhausting as we struggled to lift our legs completely out of each hole and into the next. Snowshoes were out of the question due to the type of dense brush and tree-covered terrain we would be going through.
The temperature was holding steady at about minus twenty-five when Joe picked up the first tracks. Looked like a lone bull that came up and over the road, then went back into the thicket. Judging by the feel of the powdery soft edges of the imprint, the tracks were fresh. Everything was completely covered in snow from a recent snowstorm; it was like something out of a winter wonderland post card. Like God had dusted everything with white powdered-sugar. Beautiful beyond words. Unfortunately, it was also a hunter’s worst nightmare–besides not being able to see anything, the snow acts like a natural sound barrier where you can hear a gnat fart in. Prior to getting hammered with snow, we had a major ice storm which left about a two-inch layer of ice below. So, in addition to the cold and not being able to see 10-feet in front of us, it sounded like we were walking on broken glass with every step we took.
I was only a few yards in when I spotted a young bull straight in front of me. He was standing there, feeding on the leaves and twigs of some dead fall birch. I thought for sure he was going to bust me–he was no more than 25-yards from me–but he just continued feeding like I wasn’t even there.
I drew a 29” 5575 Gold Tip arrow with a Slick Trick 100 grain broadhead from my quiver and slowly placed the shaft inside my frost-covered whisker biscuit. Then, right when I was leveling my bow to make nocking the arrow a little easier, he looked up at me. I stood motionless, my eyes almost closed so he couldn’t catch me blinking.
“Whew, that was close,” I thought as I continued trying to nock my arrow.
His back was turned now and he was quartering left to right when the arrows nock finally met the string. Next thing I knew, the bull flew up and over a pile of logs and disappeared into the snow-covered forest.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught another moose stepping into the picture. I steadied my 20-yard pin on her, but she darted off in the direction of the bull. I followed her at full-draw the best I could, but it was like watching an old 8 mm movie–her image flashed repeatedly through the open holes in the snow-choked brush. I gave her my best bull grunt and, to my surprise, she stopped right in her tracks. However, the only thing I had now was a neck shot inside a radius of about 6” at over 50-yards.
Standing in waist-high snow and at full-draw, her dark brown neck was sitting just below my 50 pin; my frozen, gloveless finger began to squeeze the trigger when I heard the bull call out. And the next thing I saw were two cows in my sights: the one I had the bead on and another that came out of nowhere.
They were both running left to right as I dropped my 30-yard pin, again, on the first cow. She disappeared behind the first, so I switched my sights to the other cow. Both in a full run now, I followed their flashing silhouettes the best I could, just waiting for one to stop, but they never did. And like the bull before them, they disappeared silently into the white of the forest. I never saw hide nor hair of those three again.
Before I knew it, it was closing day. Between all of us–Joe, Joe’s uncle Karl, our buddy Sam and myself–we had spent almost 20 of the allotted 30 days in the woods on this hunt. Joe and I laughed about how this has been one of the longest, most grueling hunts either one of us had done in a long time. Hell, hunting brown bear on Kodiak was almost easier. Today would be day 21 and it was time for something to die. “And this is the day,” I thought.
We had just slid our bikes through the west gate and were making our way down to one of the firing ranges when we picked up our first fresh tracks of the day. What looked like a cow and calf had made their way along the road, weaving in and out to grab at the alders. Their tracks went in next to a creek surrounded by more snow-packed alders. Why don’t you go around to the access road in back and I’ll see if I can get in here,” I whispered to Joe. “Maybe we can stir them up.” As I stood there contemplating how to get through the labyrinth of what appeared to be some really pissed-off snow-covered alien plant life, I watched a cow and calf shake snow off the trees as they busted out of their hiding place just yards from where I stood.
It had warmed up to minus five. I was riding to the end of Bulldog Trail when I saw a dark brown blur running through the woods. At first, I thought it was people–we were really close to a housing area–but it turned out to be a nice, big bull and he was on the wrong side of the road. He spotted me pretty quick when I locked up my squeaky brakes, but went right back to eating. It was almost like he knew I couldn’t touch him until he crossed the road. After throwing my bike to the side of the road, I slowly made my way towards the bull. I scanned for a place where he might cross, made a guess and hunkered down just 70-yards from him. All I needed now was for him to cross.
“Just step over here, Mr. Moosey, and let me put you in my freezer,” I said under my breath.
But he just stood there. Minutes turned to hours and I began to question my motives and methods. And then, just like that, he laid down. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought as he looked right at me. I crossed to the other side of the road and stood 65-yards from him. I thought that might get him to move. But no, he just laid there watching me as if to say, “not today, Buckwheat.” And he was right. Not today. It’s highly illegal to harass, corral or coax the game in any way, so all I could do was watch and wait for him to make a move. But that damn bull never got back up, at least not for me.
I got back to my house at about 7:30 that night and was thinking about what I had done to anger the hunting gods. All the mistakes and missed opportunities were flooding my mind. This hunt was supposed to be a gimme. I made my way downstairs and down a hallway filled with years and years of hunting memories. As I sat there looking at those pictures, I realized that all of them had one thing in common: the smile on my face. Even during the unsuccessful hunts, I was still smiling. Somehow, during this trip, during the last thirty days, I had forgotten to smile. I had forgotten everything that I learned and became obsessed with the kill. And that’s not what the hunt is about. I stared endlessly at the wall.
A successful hunt isn’t always about the kill. Success comes in many forms. My crazy friends and I trudge through the worst elements on this planet in search of just one dumb moose. We fight off freezing temperatures, ice storms, waist deep snow, illness, injuries. We’re successful in that we enjoy each other’s company and camaraderie.
With only one thing left to do, I cracked the cap on the Maker’s Mark and toasted the next hunt.