By Matt Walker, LaFayette, N.Y.
My dad and I traveled up from New York and Pennsylvania for a self-guided, eight-day hunt in the mountains rising out of Alaska’s Tanana River Valley. My brother, acting as our guide, has lived in the area for about 10 years and has become very skilled at pursuing Alaskan big game. He was also bringing along his 8-year-old son for this special trip.
Over the course of the hunt, we saw nine bull moose, including a 60-plus-inch bull, and had one heck of a time trying to gauge their size. Alaska has a rule stating nonresidents have to shoot a bull at least 50 inches wide or one that has at least four brow points on a side. Gauging 50 inches of antler is hard! While seeing nine moose will get the blood pumping, that wasn’t the most thrilling part of this hunt.
On the fifth morning of the hunt, we called down a long valley as the thermals were rising up in our face. After an hour with no response to our calls, we decided to move. As we were grabbing our bags, my brother caught sight of something a mile or so down the valley in the aspens. He quickly unpacked his spotting scope and set it up for us to take a look. A very nice bull was bedded with a cow on the north slope of a distant hillside. Since the bulls were not yet in rut, we contemplated whether we would try to make him come to us or go in after him.
“What the heck?” my brother questioned in frustration a few minutes later, as he watched a grizzly chase the bull away through the lens of his spotter. My dad and I thought he was joking until he started packing up. Despite the grizzly, the plan still was to head to the moose, and we’d either get a moose or a bear! I was hesitant, but we had lots of firepower and I wasn’t going to back down from my little brother’s plans.
Arriving at the moose’s last known location, after 20 minutes of calling with no answer, we started lunch. As we ate, we heard a tree crash less than 50 yards away in the same direction we last saw the moose. We started calling again when we heard a strange snort in the trees. I looked over at my brother; he was smiling. The grizzly was clearing his snout to get a better whiff of either us or the moose. Without hesitation, we all drew our guns.
“When the bear comes out, it’ll either run right at us or run away,” my brother said. I was shaking pretty good, and my dad was trying to convince my brother to leave. We stayed put in a semicircle like we were expecting an Old West shootout. After a few minutes, the bear apparently moved on, but my nerves were still tingling.
Back at camp that night, we came to the consensus we’d hunt the same area where we’d heard the bear. Our rationale was that the moose was good-sized, and the bull was apparently pretty bright if he outsmarted a grizzly, so it seemed like a good challenge.
We arrived back at the same spot the next morning on day six. Upon calling, we heard a moose grunt back and then rake the trees. After several minutes, the moose’s replies closed to a few hundred yards. I set up facing the sound. Unfortunately, the sun was rising in that same direction, so we were blinded. We shielded our eyes, hoping to see a large rack rocking back and forth in the bush. Then the moose hung up. To make things worse, my nephew thought he heard something in the bush behind us.
“Bear, bear! Dad, I heard a bear,” my nephew yelled. Even with the commotion, the moose stayed put, so my brother and I decided to put a stalk on the bull.
My brother called from 30 or 40 yards behind me, and I moved when the moose sounded back. The more he called, the more answers I heard. I covered about 100 yards before I finally saw the bull as it stopped broadside in heavy cover about 75 yards away. I got my crosshairs on the back edge of his vitals and fired a 180-grain round from my 7.62X54R Mosin-Nagant, making a solid hit. The bull then ran toward me, stopped and stared straight at me. I placed two more shots right under his chin. The bull fell on the second shot.
My brother rushed over after hearing the report of my shots, and we exchanged high-fives! It was a trip I’ll never forget, especially with three generations of Walkers on the hunt.
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