By Michael Deming
Urgh, Urgh, Urgh, was all we could hear as the big bull moose crested the ridge. He was seeking out the hot cow we had been pretending to be for the past forty-five minutes with our love sick moans. The giant paddles kept getting more and more visible with each step. As he came into full view with all of his glory on display, he keyed into our Montana Decoy cow moose set fifty yards below us. You could see his look of caution turn into a swagger as he started closing the last three hundred and fifty yards to his future mate.
This was exactly how the hunt played out in my mind when I talked to Wade Renfro of Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures about booking a moose hunt. I’ve always wanted to harvest a really big Alaska-Yukon moose and Wade is known for delivering giants and going back to hunt with an outfitter you already have experience with is always a special time because you know and trust them. Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures has been one of our endorsed outfitters for many years now and I’ve successfully harvested a good brown bear and had a couple of great fishing experiences. So, when Wade told me that he could get me into the kind of animal I was looking for, I was committed to the next available opening, which would be the last ten days of September 2013. I would be sharing these prime rut hunt days with my good friend Jeremy Sage from Sportsman’s Warehouse.
We both converged on the big town of Bethel, Alaska late in the afternoon on the 20th of September and began organizing our gear for the departure to the backcountry the next morning. Staging our gear in the airplane hanger gave us an opportunity to check out all the moose which had been taken by the other clients prior to being shipped to their taxidermists. “WOW”, is about the only way to sum up what we saw. Nearly a dozen racks stacked along the wall were a sight to behold with a monster 73 incher being the largest which took our breath away. Numerous sixty inch bulls with lots of points and mass were next in line and on the bottom end were all bulls I would be happy going home with come October 1st.
The next morning, we loaded up three different planes with guides, guns and gear for the next ten days and departed for our backcountry excursion. Sam Kuhn would be along on the trip to guide us since I had a brown bear tag in my pocket and hunting brownies in Alaska requires a guide. What better way to lure in a big brown bear than to have a moose carcass on the ground.
Since you can’t legally fly and hunt the same day in Alaska, we used the first afternoon at our camp to familiarize ourselves with the best lookout points and see if we could spot possible shooters for the next morning. By dark, we had seen one really good bull about four miles away which was headed in the opposite direction, along with numerous cows very close to camp. Since we knew the rut was in full swing, we hit the rack confident that the scent of the cows and our calling would deliver our desired caliber of bulls over the next eight days of hunting.
Our first hunt morning was extremely cold with frost covering our tents. Legal shooting light wouldn’t be until nearly nine o’clock this far north, but by the end of the day, we would still get in ten hours of hunting. The lightweight insulation layer of my Sitka Kelvin pants and jacket were a great asset for these long spotting sessions in the cold, moist air.
We had hardly sat down on our first lookout when I spotted movement two miles to the west. Confirmation with my Vortex Razor spotting scope let me know it was a cow with a good bull in tow. They were working our direction, but would take several hours at their slow pace to get to us. Sam noticed a much larger bull behind the two which we estimated to be in the mid sixty inch range. Unbelievable; two shooter bulls our first morning. The rutting show continued as they all pushed closer to our location and just as our hopes were starting to look like a shot opportunity might be within the next hour, a bank of fog rolled in which took visibility down to less than fifty yards. The frustration of knowing your bull of a lifetime might just be within rifle range, but you can’t see him is devastating. We waited on the fog for several hours and when we finally decided to throw in the towel and go back to camp, visibility was down to a few feet.
After burning the majority of our first hunting day in camp, Jeremy and I were chomping at the bit to get back on our perch to see if either of the bulls we had seen were still in the valley. The fog had become more sporadic and the snow flurries took their place. With two hours of daylight to spare, we endured the elements and made it to our lookout. The first few snow squalls made the glassing impossible and we were second guessing our decision to climb up for a look. Just when we were about to throw in the towel, we got a break in the weather and visibility went to over a mile. A good bull was tending a cow nearly a thousand yards away and in the same draw we had seen the other bulls head into when the fog rolled in. He looked like a definite shooter to me, but since I had lost the coin toss and wasn’t the shooter, it wasn’t going to be my call. Jeremy sized him up through the spotter until we ran out of light, but we just weren’t convinced that he was the “ONE”. We figured he would stay in the valley with his girlfriend while we eyed other trophies in the area.
Our second day of the hunt turned up several bulls, but no jaw droppers that we had been hoping to see. The vision of that 73” bull back in the hanger kept creeping into both of our heads and we knew if we were going to put the hammer on one of these bulls, we would have to wait until next year for an opportunity at something of that caliber.
By the evening of day three, we were convinced that Wade had dropped us into a honey hole. We spotted a great bull at over a mile away. By the looks of it, he was just off the top of a ridge which could be used as a landing strip for one of the planes to pick him up if we could get him killed. This is extremely important when making the decision to down a 1400 pound animal. Nine fully loaded trips to get all the meat, cape and antlers to a pickup point needs to play a role in where you shoot one of these guys.
With three hours of daylight left and in a good pack out spot, we figured it was worth a closer look. We grabbed our gear and took off. Keeping up with Jeremy is a lot like a turtle trying to outrun a gazelle and I was falling behind, but my ability to mark the terrain made up for my speed. When we poked our heads out of the alders and looked for the bull, he had only moved fifty yards up the hill. At less than five hundred yards, it was obvious this bull was a solid shooter. We closed the gap down to 410 yards, which was going to be as close as we could get. Jeremy would be forced to take a standing shot off of tall shooting sticks, but with a kill zone twice the size of most game animals we hunt in the lower 48, we were both confident. Jeremy steadied his .338 Ultramag and waited for the perfect shot. Within a minute, the giant stood broadside and Jeremy made a perfect heart shot and the bull fell within forty yards.
What a great experience and it is always fun and funny to watch a hunter walk up to their first moose. The enormity starts to sink in when you have to set up for photos.
We sacrificed the next day getting Jeremy’s bull packed out to the landing strip, but with all of us throwing in a hand and Nate Shepherd, our packer being in the game now, it didn’t take long to get us back into the game.
Jeremy and Nate spotted a good bull the next morning from a lookout near camp while I was on a different vantage with Sam. I caught movement back in Jeremy’s direction and he was signaling me with his arms stretched out indicating a big bull. Sam and I gathered our gear and soon made it to their location. Jeremy said it was a really good bull, but he was headed in the opposite direction. I quickly pulled my spotter out of my pack to reveal the bull of my dreams; huge paddles, lots of points, wide, with a massive front end.
I made the loudest cow call I could muster with my hands cupped around my mouth. I felt like I was yelling at this bull, but just as I stopped to catch my breath and start another session, he stopped and turned our direction. It was obvious he had heard something, but wasn’t sure what. I made another call and with his huge ears cupped inside those massive antlers his curiosity was satisfied that his next mate was on the hill a mile away. He steadily walked across the tundra in our direction before he dropped out of sight. It took nearly forty minutes for us to see the first signs of his palms cresting the hill. My dream was quickly becoming a reality as he locked his focus onto our Montana Decoy. At 325 yards, I confirmed that our cameraman was on target and recording. With a nod of confirmation, I dropped the hammer on my .300 Ultramag and the huge bull piled up within a few yards of being hit.
I had played this rut hunt in my mind a million times prior to getting here and this is just what I had envisioned. And I shared it with a great friend and had phenomenal success.
After getting our trophies back to the hanger and talking with the other hunters, it appeared that this scenario played out in nearly every camp Wade Renfro had. Hunting or fishing with a Sportsman’s News Platinum Approved Outfitter was confirmed once again. If you want to experience one of the great hunts Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures offers for trophy moose or brown bears, you can get more info at www.renfrosalaskanadventures.com or call them at 907-543-1954.