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One Girl, One Giant Grizzly and Two Magnum Moose in Western Alaska [Kurt's Perspective]

OR….
One Girl, Two Stinky Bossy Guides, & Three Big Critters
[Trina’s Perspective aka “The Peanut Gallery”]

“Hey, what are you doing in late September?” asked Lance. “Sounds like I’m going on an adventure with you.” I answered. “Can Trina come?”  “Of course!” Lance responded.
What kind of crazy adventure is he taking me on now?

The beginning of another crazy adventure.

The beginning of another crazy adventure.

At the British Columbia/Yukon border.

At the British Columbia/Yukon border.

Looking toward Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

Looking toward Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

We detoured to Valdez...

We detoured to Valdez…

...and took the Alaska Marine Highway Fast Ferry over to Whittier!

…and took the Alaska Marine Highway Fast Ferry over to Whittier!

 

Hunting? But I want to have a BONFIRE!

Hunting? But I want to have a BONFIRE!

Several weeks later, Trina and I crossed the Canadian border north of Haines, Alaska with the pedal to the metal and headed to Anchorage to meet up with fellow guide/outfitter Lance Kronberger.  After arriving in a remote native village in Western Alaska, we hurriedly sorted and packed our gear into Jim’s Cessna 180 and headed to a pristine river for the adventure of a lifetime.

Let's go hunting!

Let’s go hunting!

Awakening to ptarmigan chattering near our tent, we wolfed down some breakfast and headed out at a fast clip to track down some moose. Or, more accurately, track UP some moose. We were hiking UPSTREAM. That’s where Jim had kicked our raft out of his airplane, so we had to retrieve it if we wanted to float anywhere.

Blueberries!

Blueberries!

The multicolored tundra had the most spectacular-looking mosses and lichens that crunched under our feet and we snarfled the plump blueberries every chance we got. Coming from the thick wooded rainforest of Southeast Alaska, it was a real treat to be dry and to be able to see for miles in all directions. We were only ONLY two hours into the hike when Lance spotted the brown butt of a Grizzly bear eating blueberries across the river.
We kicked it into high gear after sizing him up in the spotting scope, charging across the river and up the hill at top speed only to find that he had eluded us. Where did he go? We could see for miles but no Griz. We tried predator calling and split up for a time to cover as much ground as possible. Still no Griz.
“Hey Trina! There he is a mile away up that draw!” exclaimed Lance as he was already in third gear.  We motored towards the feeding bear and couldn’t have gotten a better setup. The bear had his head in the berries, his butt in the air and didn’t have a care in the world.

Is anyone else noticing all these gears, speeds and motoring? At this point I had one gear and one speed. As directed by Kurt, I was to “stay right on Lance’s @$$ no matter what!” In order to do that, my “speed” equalled “as fast as my little legs could carry me”. Truthfully, at one point in the stalk, Lance stopped abruptly and I slammed into his backpack. Peeking over Lance’s shoulder, I caught a glimpse of the bear at about 150 yards. Lance decided it would be exciting to GET CLOSER! At around 60 yards the packs were tossed to the ground and it was ON.
“That’s your bear Trina. Go kill him!” Lance whispered in Trina’s ear while he busily set up his video camera on a tripod as I nodded agreement.
Trina and I wriggled up to a small rise and both of us got set up for the shot.
Kurt was busy getting set up, so for a few brief moments I was not being bossed around! I was going through my mental checklist which always starts with 1. Don’t screw it up, cupcake. Followed by a more normal: round in the chamber, safety on, scope covers off, scope dialed in properly, target acquired, safety off…My boss-free moment was interrupted, however, as Lance took over, literally crawling on my prone body to whisper directions into my earplugged ears. “Trina, when I want you to shoot, I’m going to pat you on the butt like THIS, okay?” Pat, pat, pat. I nodded in acknowledgement and was no sooner snuggling into my scope when PAT, PAT, PAT. PAT, PAT, PAT! Alright already! I think to myself, I’ll shoot the bear when I’m dang good and ready and not a second sooner, so pat away!  A final calming breath in, and halfway through the exhale I dropped the hammer.
I had the bear in my crosshairs for several seconds before the blast from Trina’s .300 Winchester Magnum jolted me to action and I put a round into the fleeing bear’s butt.
“Why’d you shoot my bear in the butt?” interrogated Trina.
“It looked like he might charge us,” I meekly replied.
“Yeah, it was the first time a bear has ever charged butt first,” Trina mocked while Lance laughed.
“That is one humongous bear!” Lance congratulated and we all high-fived, hugged and danced a jig.
All that is true. Trigger-Happy McGraw couldn’t have shot any sooner than he did without actually being the first to hit the bear. I let him know the bear was just relocating to a convenient and beautiful spot for photos. Lance and I enjoyed teasing him throughout the photo shoot and skinning process.

One Girl, One Griz, What's Next?

One Girl, One Griz, What’s Next?

Trina & her Tail Gunner, literally!

Trina & her Tail Gunner, literally!

 

By the way, it’s COLD. I know in these photos it’s sunny and bright, but the wind is HOWLING and it is a cold wind. If it was warm, I wouldn’t be wearing THREE hats.

We could hardly move that fat monster and it took everything we had just to spin him and get him posed for the photo shoot. My best guess on his weight was around 900 pounds. A behemoth of a Grizzly bear for sure. I have guided well over thirty Grizzlies and many more Brown Bears and that fat toad is the largest Grizzly I have ever seen. There might be larger ones, but not by much. We later squared the hide and came up with a very conservative, honest measurement of 8’ 9” and his skull officially measured 25 inches Boone & Crockett.  My brown bear I shot years earlier was smaller than this giant!
The photos were stunning. Some of the best trophy shots I have ever seen. I was in awe and we were only a few hours into the first day of the hunt! Incredible stuff!
We skinned and skinned and skinned on that giant Griz and finally stuffed it all into a backpack…barely. I stumbled the one mile to the river over the grass tussocks and tundra to meet up with Lance and Trina at the river bank.
We draped the hide over some willows with the hair up and the wind circulating underneath. I then started downstream when Lance asked where I was headed.
“Back to camp,” said I.
“Well, we have more daylight, lets go moose hunting.”
I was speechless. Never have I guided anyone to a moose and a bear in one day and frankly I didn’t want to start now, but Lance and Trina were already off and running. I grudgingly followed.

Come on Buddy, we're burning daylight!

Come on Buddy, we’re burning daylight!

Kurt’s memory failed a bit here. We had already decided to go find a moose WHILE we were skinning the grizzly bear. He grudgingly packed the bear hide a mile upstream and away from camp. I’m pretty sure he was secretly excited about the prospect of having me shoot a grizzly bear AND a moose in the same day. Talk about braggin’ rights!
About an hour later, settled into a good vantage point, Trina impressed me yet again by spotting a cow moose’s head protruding from the tall grass. It looked like a stump, but eventually moved its ear and later we saw another cow and yet another.
After blurting out “There’s a moose!” I followed immediately with “No, wait, it’s a stump!” I think I’m fairly good at spotting animals and I hate having to admit when my eyes trick me, so I was quite relieved when it really was a moose.
Then we saw one of the oddest things I have ever witnessed: two cow moose fighting over a bull that was contentedly chewing his cud and watching the ruckus for ten minutes until one cow finally got run off. None of us have heard of such a thing. We wouldn’t have seen the bull if the cows hadn’t been making such a fuss.
It was a bad deal for him as he later stood to reveal his massive rack. Now we had another shot of adrenaline as the big bull ambled right towards our lovesick cow moose calls and into rifle range.
“Shoot him when you’re ready.” Lance and I instructed.
“Instructed”! He’s so diplomatic in his bossy-ness! Notice they are both close enough to “instruct.” Lance and I had guilted &/or shamed Trigger-Happy into sitting on the sidelines this go-around.
The problem now was that Lance’s excellent calling, though bringing the moose closer to me, was also moving the giant beast further from the river. That may not be a problem for ME, specifically, but my “guides” turned “packers” might prefer a short haul.
This thought was interrupted by PAT, PAT, PAT. I have been watching the bull through my scope and now I’m thinking, “WHERE, exactly, does he want me to shoot?” The bull was facing us straight on and we were looking WAY down on him from our lookout. So despite his mass, I was just not feeling warm and fuzzy about a BARELY quartering to shoulder shot at 174 yards downhill with a stiff crosswind. PAT, PAT, PAT! But apparently Lance was!  PAT, PAT, PAT! Here we go, INHALE, don’t screw it up, cupcake!
Ka-Boom barked Trina’s .300 Winchester Magnum and that bull looked like he got hit by a locomotive. I have never seen a moose die so fast. Her one shot hit the lovestruck bull in front of the shoulder and exited its ribs without so much as two tablespoons of ruined meat. It was an execution. We later found the bullet had clipped off the top of its volleyball-sized heart. Since Alaska bull moose weigh more than 1200 pounds, there is no moving them and it was all we could do to prop up its impressive antlers for the photo shoot.

Trina's "proud face"...her moose is down, over her left shoulder.

Trina’s “proud face”…her moose is down, over her left shoulder. The cows are standing around wondering what just happened.

One. Big. Animal.

One. Big. Animal.

65" Alaska-Yukon Moose.

65″ Alaska-Yukon Moose.

 .

Trina and her Guide/Packer, Kurt.

So here we were, according to our GPS it was six miles line of sight from our tent and we just pole-axed a giant moose and a giant Grizzly on the SAME DAY.
Did I mention braggin’ rights? I’m not sure who was more proud, me, Kurt or Lance.
Now what?
Twenty-two river crossings, six long miles and six sore feet later, we arrived in camp and wolfed down our Mountain House dinners before we collapsed in the tent.
Drat, we couldn’t sleep in because of all the work left to do.
Twenty-two river crossings the following day and we were nearing the kill site.
“You two need to approach the kill site from above so you can see if a Griz has claimed the carcass,” I advised as I trooped off to get our raft.
“Go slow and don’t take any chances,” I added.
I found our 90 pound raft, had it strapped on my pack frame and was headed to the river when I noticed movement about a half mile away.
“WHAT are they doing?” I mumbled as I watched Trina swinging a paddle over her head from side to side and looking down at the river.
She was signaling something to Lance who was setting up his video camera on the edge of the river. I was confused since the kill site was at least 600 yards from Lance. That’s when I noticed a flash of antlers from the alders upstream.
It’s another giant moose! Why did I volunteer to go get the raft? Why where they hunting? We already have critters scattered all over and now they are trying to catch another one? Craziness! I was jealous, mad, excited and awestruck all at the same time.
Catch? Kurt probably didn’t think that. Kurt only thinks KILL. But the locals in the villages call it “catching” for anything from a moose to a fox to a bear to a whale. And I happen to like it.

A typical scene: Lance, glassing. Trina, eating blueberries. Kurt, taking photos.

A typical scene: Lance, glassing. Trina, eating blueberries. Kurt, taking photos.

Doing as we were “advised”, Lance and I sat and glassed the marshy brushy area where my massive moose lay waiting for butchering. No other critters had claimed it for the short time we were away. Knowing this, I turned my attention to the blueberries that literally blanketed the ground all around me. Lance, always in Hunt Mode, continued to scan the surrounding area. “Trina! There’s another moose. I just have to see it and I’m going to kill it!” I was given a paddle and a quick run-down on Lance’s secret hand signals and POOF, Lance switched into Kill Mode and took off downhill with his rifle, video camera rolling.
The massive moose came to Lance like a puppy on a string. It walked right in front of the camera only to get whacked with a .338 the second its feet exited the river.
Ka-boom came the delayed rifle report after the smoke billowed out of his rifle.
I was thoroughly enjoying the show through my Leica binoculars from my lofty perch. Trina was jumping up and down, hooting and hollering. Lance was raising his arms in triumph and pumping his rifle in the air.
I was tickled for them, but my back was aching at the thought of the hundreds of pounds of moose meat we had yet to pack.
Knives flew as giant chunks of delicious meat were processed. We made short work of Trina’s moose and packed it the 500 yards to the river. It seemed more like a mile and I vividly remember thinking that was as far as I ever wanted to pack a moose! We later gutted Lance’s moose then trudged out the twenty-two river crossings back to our cozy camp.

 .

HALF the neck meat. This is for Trina’s pack!

Moose ribs, YUM!

.

While Lance & Kurt butchered, I cleared the path for the pack out.

While Lance & Kurt butchered, I cleared the path for the pack out.

Last load = Wide load, and HEAVY!

Last load = Wide load, and HEAVY!

A last-of-the-daylight photo of an amazing, huge moose!

A last-of-the-daylight photo of Lance’s amazing, huge moose!

The following morning found us stumbling back upstream after our morning serenade from the ptarmigan. The photos were awesome and Lance’s 70” moose made Trina’s 65” moose look small. What a beast! What a bunch of moose!
Lance’s wife Nikki was the voice of reason that morning as she told Lance to stop killing things and get to butchering. We all agreed.
I think Nikki’s exact words were, “Maybe you guys should stop pulling the trigger for awhile.” Regardless, she was right. We had work to do! More to the point, I had a trail to blaze from my moose to the river, photos to take, neck meat to pack and a raft to inflate. Lance and Kurt were my true heroes and did all the really hard work. I still often joke that without those two I’d still be out there, eating on my moose and calling in airdrops for more ammo amidst my ever-growing pile of predators.

Base camp.

Base camp.

 

Wow!

Wow! And look, the river is just a few steps away!

Make ready the raft!

Make ready The Raft!

 .

.

Two whole moose! Just add gear & guns, we're ready to go!

Two magnum moose! Just add gear & guns, we’re ready to go!

After stopping to pick up the Grizzly Bear, we set out in search of a gravel bar.

After stopping to pick up the Grizzly Bear, we set out in search of a gravel bar.

The twelve foot, self-bailing raft that we piled all the meat in was so overloaded it seems we dragged it more often than we floated before finding a suitable gravel bar long enough for a runway. Floating in the raft with two entire moose, one giant Griz and the three of us was a sight to behold. We were sure happy to be floating and not walking back to camp that night. Lance couldn’t grill that tenderloin fast enough!
“Happy to be floating” is an understatement. Kurt calls them “stone bruises.” All I know is the bottoms of my feet have never hurt so bad in my life. Even now, over two years later, the tip of my right big toe is STILL numb from those three days on the river. A minor price to pay to be able to say, “I caught a moose and a grizzly bear on the same day.”  Right?

The next day, Jim was scheduled to arrive shortly after noon and we had a ton of work to get our ‘runway’ into shape. Our saws were indispensable, and if only we had a shovel! But first, MORE photos!
Jim’s airplane was like the proverbially clown car. I still don’t know where he shoved all that meat and those huge antlers. He did make several trips and we kept him busy until dark. We were walking zombies as we staggered into camp that night and fed like wolves.

Moose on the airstrip.

Ready for pickup.

Trophies!

Trophies!

 .

.

.

.

 

Chilly camp!

Chilly camp!

Grumpy Bear!

Grumpy Bear!

The next few days found us enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and dry weather of Western Alaska immensely. I would love a Tundra scented candle! What a treat. We didn’t even have to pack anything heavy! We didn’t have to pack anything at all! We dined on moose tenderloin and Mountain House every night. I got very close and personal with a sow Griz that was not pleased at having her blueberry feast interrupted. While Kurt was having “up close with bears time,” his spotter (me) was having “character building time” on the opposite ridge, which was totally exposed to the cold, wind and snow. The fresh snowfall and partially frozen river reminded us that Winter was approaching. We were truly blessed and fortunate to enjoy this time in this incredibly wild place. It was a spectacular hunt that filled many freezers and memory banks. One Girl, One Giant Grizzly and Two Magnum Moose! WOW! Yep, wow!

One...

One…

...two...

…two…

...THREE!

…THREE!

And I finally got my BONFIRE!

And I finally got my BONFIRE!