Magic Alaska Hunt
It was still very dark when I awoke on that cold and clear mid-September morning. I reluctantly poked out of the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag just enough to light the stove and then quickly retreated to that lovely synthetic world inside my bedroll. It was the 3rd day of Larry Goehring's hunt, of which I was guiding. We spent the previous day watching a lot of bull moose from the knoll above camp. We watched throughout the day, 5 different bulls over 60" chasing cows or each other. We also decided before going to bed that we were going to make an attempt on the biggest boy down there today.
With extreme caution I slowly slipped a hand out of the bag to check the temperature. The hand seemed to return without damage, so like your average Alaskan hunting guide, who on the average, hasn't a lick of sense, (otherwise he'd have a real job), I unzipped my bag to begin another day well before the sun had decided to do the same. After lighting the lantern and watching Larry retreat further into his synthetic world, I knew that there were some guides that would have had a hard time resisting chuckling at him as I put the water on. To some guides it would have been pure ecstasy watching the figure of Larry inside his bag, physically wrestling with mental demons, emotional issues, and other forces confronting him about why was he on another big game hunt. Now it's a long, long time known fact that what makes some idiots decide to take up guiding has nothing to do with loving the outdoors or challenges or any of that nonsense. It is purely because some people are so sadistic that they love to watch other people suffer so much that they are willing to suffer way too often themselves, just to be able to watch others suffer on a regular basis. Myself, I love the outdoors and the challenges it brings, but I do notice the suffering and try not to take it too seriously. Sometimes this suffering can even be documented with photos or other witnesses, which is the main reason why guides hire extra help. Generally, the more people a guide hires the more sadistic he or she is. Again, I only hire 1 or 2 employees each year. I only take a few clients each year too, because I don't want to feel too guilty after the season on what all I've witnessed.
I could feel Larry trying to think about what could have caused him to get himself in this situation again. Pretty much the same thoughts I go through each morning, finally demanding to myself that any job would be better than this one. But then I picture watching my client get up and suddenly the great outdoors motivates me once again! Finally, what would be one of the high points in some guides' day- Larry emerges from his sack with an unbelievable look on his face. I'm sure there are some guides that would have had a hard time resisting laughing out loud at this point. Larry's only mistake is not being awake with a light and camera ready to document my emergence on any of these mornings. Like I said, some people just aren't that sadistic. That's the kind of guy Larry is. He's one of those guys that's easy to guide, fun to be around, and he doesn't try to document any of his guides "Love of their work"- (in town it might be considered suffering,) Of course it doesn't much matter how good a hunter is, it's hard to change guides. My coffee sure was tasting good, and it was warming me up too.
About the same time Larry started coming out of his bag to a warmed up tent, I just had to go #1. I had had to go since I got up, but I was too cold until now, I just couldn't hold it anymore. Boy did that little tent cool down quick when I opened the door wide to get out. I didn't want to snag myself on the door or anything. Poor Larry scrambled for his clothes while mumbling something about leaving the door wide open. As I stood and relieved myself, I remember thinking about how a lot of guides might be laughing at the noises coming from the tent at that point. Those guides that don't guide for the right reasons, that is.
We began to hear my assistant guide, Henry, in his tent nearby. Sounded like one hell of a wrestling match. I remember wondering about how many battles it takes to officially be a war.
I re-enter the tent, and act very busy now to get breakfast and other preparations done. Most of the suffering and possible enjoyment is lessened after Larry starts his coffee. Here comes Henry into our tent. Henry doesn't have a stove at all in his tent. Employees aren't supposed to. Henry has a smile on his face and seems ready to hunt. Wow!, it's just amazing how some hunters can disguise suffering.
After breakfast during the 2nd cup of coffee it usually starts to set in. The realization that we have to leave the tent for a sub-freezing, windy great outdoors. That's usually the second time in the day that I re-evaluate my career.
Finally we're headed up our hill to our lookout. Quite seriously, it's good to be out hunting. Nowhere I'd rather be right now. When we get to our spot to glass from, Larry sits down a lot closer to Henry. You'd think he was worried about me forgetting to close the tent door up here too.
It's not long before we spot the big boy. He's really big and I'm sure he's over 68". I think he's quite a bit over 68 and his palms are huge. He's a couple miles from us. We devise a plan which basically calls for us to work our way towards him through a lot of thick stuff, keeping the wind in our favor and pretending to be another bull and a couple of cows. (Me, the bull of course, and those guys the cows.) We head down the mountain towards the giant moose.
After wading the river and working our way into the thick stuff a little ways, I start advertising to anybody that can hear, that we're just a bull and a couple cows on our way through the woods over to see the king of the valley. Every little ways, I bawl like a cow or grunt like a bull and we make no real attempt to be super quiet. At times we make more noise than we need to raking brush etc?Not very far into it I hear an answer from ahead. We stop and stoop down. The bull grunts, and I answer with a weak grunt. I add a cow bawl. The bull starts grunting continuously now and he's coming towards us. We wait! There he is! I can see antlers coming through the brush. We get the video camera out and get ready just in case, even though he's not in the right place to be the big boy. He keeps coming and steps out in the meadow. He's about 55". We film him as he continues towards us to about 75 yds. or so. We enjoy the moment together. Ah ! There's no better career in the world! Finally he decides Henry and Larry ain't that cute and leaves. We push on towards our objective. We continue to call and act like moose as we go (me being the bull) through the brush and over the beaver dams we go.
I think I hear branches break! We stop and listen. I grunt softly. I bawl and then rake some brush. I look back at my guys to make sure nobody's getting the wrong idea. Keep in mind, my assistant has been away from his wife for some time. We wait. Nothing. I give another louder grunt. No answer. We wait, and I bawl. Still nothing?We pick up our packs and move on. We're still quite a ways from where we last saw the big boy earlier. I grunt or bawl periodically on our way.
When we get to where I think the big boy may hear us, we stop, get ready and I start calling. I grunt and rake a tree with a dead branch. We listen for a response...Silence...I bawl loudly, shaking hysterically. I grunt again and go silent...We wait and listen...I hear nothing. It seems no one hears anything. Larry waits patiently with his rifle ready. I can tell he's really enjoying himself. Henry waits with the video camera, all of his senses acutely listening for the slightest noise. I grunt again. Still we hear nothing. I bawl and grunt in succession. We listen...but hear nothing. After a little longer wait, we push on.
After another few hundred yards, we stop again. I bawl like a cow. I pick up a dead branch and start raking an old dead spruce tree. I bawl again. We sit still and listen?I hear a bull grunt. I motion to the boys that we got a response. I grunt again and rake the spruce. I hear a moose coming towards us. A cow runs by us rapidly and bawls. Briefly, I hear him grunting rapidly as he's trotting down towards us. I see movement, and figure it's him. I move to look, but it's another cow going by. It's so thick we can only see a few yards, and things are happening very fast. I hear other moose, but can't see them. I stand as tall as I can to see over the brush. All of a sudden, there he is 30 yards in front of us, standing there, looking for the bull he thinks is there somewhere. I move out of the way and point at the monster and say to Larry, "Him big enough, shoot him." All you could see was the upper part of his neck, his head, and his antlers. Larry dropped him with a shot through the spine of his upper neck.
When we walked up to the fallen giant we were in awe at his size and beauty. His size especially, made me re-evaluate my career once more. It was the 3rd time already that day, and it was early yet. Larry jumped across the moose and hugged me. He said, "George, a dream of mine has come true, and you're a part of it." About that time, I was hoping he knew I was only kidding about that stuff of me being the bull and so on. Seriously though, Henry and I were happy for him. The bull turned out to be over 72" wide. I'm told he has officially scored very well in the Boone & Crockett All-time Record Book. It really couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
Packing the meat out, I re-evaluated my career several times. Actually it turned out to be a pretty easy 45-minute pack out to the river where my jet-raft took over the honors.
That night we toasted Larry, the moose, Henry, the huge cigars Larry had, the great outdoors, and even my career, more than a few times.
After boating the meat up to the lake, we had the glorious pleasure of watching thousands of caribou migrating by the following day. We put the scope on quite a few of them and made a stalk on a few of them, but none that we saw were big enough to take at that point. Larry wanted a book caribou, if he could get one. It sure is hard to beat watching thousands of caribou crossing the tundra all day. I didn't re-evaluate my career even once that day.
After flying back to Aniak, getting the meat, trophy and everything squared away, a much-needed shower was embarked upon. Even though there's no enjoyment to be had by a guide seeing his client enjoy a hot shower in the middle of his hunt, there wasn't much I could do to stop it from happening. Between the clients and hired help together, one must keep in mind there's always a chance for a mutiny.
The next morning it dawned clear again except it was really cold now. We're talking single digits here, and small ones at that. After 3 distinct wrestling matches and 3 exorcisms, we came out of our bags and started another day. Larry and I launched in the big jet boat, headed up river again. We're looking for bear and caribou this time. The country seemed to go from green to gold to bear limbed in a matter of days. Perhaps time to re-evaluate? But the country, mountains, and river are truly beautiful. We stop and enjoy a little fishing along the way. I want to show my client and friend I know how to stop and smell the roses along the way, even though there isn't a live leaf in sight, let alone Roses! A few hours later I pull into a dead end slough and park. We will camp on board the boat on this outing. It's a little colder and therefore presents more opportunity for enjoyment of the great outdoors. Larry and I enjoy a hot lunch and another one of Larry's fine imported cigars. As I eluded to before, Larry's the type of guy who won't smoke a cigar in front of somebody without offering him or her one. He just doesn't have a sadistic bone in his body. He's got a lot to learn, I know. You gotta forgive him, he's just a cheechako.
For the next 3 days, Larry and I enjoyed watching perhaps 5,000 or more caribou walk by the boat, no more than 50 yds. away. We went out looking for bear sign in the morning, but there was no salmon in the river that year, and the bears had apparently left the river by now. Finally a giant bull came trotting along and I mentioned to Larry that he might want to consider putting down the camera for a moment, and shooting this one. I wasn't sure if he'd make the book, in fact I told Larry he was very close, but probably wouldn't make Boone & Crockett's all-time book. Larry dropped the bull at 40 yards. I wonder if caribou ever re-evaluate the direction in their life?
We took pictures and video of the beautiful fallen monarch. He would score high in the SCI record book and might squeak into B & C. After that we butchered the animal and merely had to toss the quarters into the boat. Ah!, what a job! Somebody has to do it. We enjoyed the constant sunshine which was finally starting to warm up the day. We watched beavers and otters work their way up and down river. Life was magic! No re-evaluations today.
We spent most of our remaining time together smoking fine cigars and filming caribou at very close range. They provided us with constant entertainment. One bold bull with impressive antlers walked over and hung his head over the side of the boat and looked through the door into the cabin. The humans and caribou, separated by only 4 or 5 feet, staring at each other for a moment in time. I wondered if some caribou are sadistic at all. I have seen them do things to each other and watch each other in a way that makes me think some are. Over the years, I'm sure I've caught them laughing at me more than once. Probably during one of my re-evaluations.