EGF hunters take Alaska moose hunt DIY style
Jim Benson and Jeff Boushee had spent more than a week on their own hunting moose in the Alaska backcountry, living in tents and eating dried food. Hunting rugged terrain that was mostly devoid of trees, they'd seen about 80 moose, but only a few...
Jim Benson and Jeff Boushee had spent more than a week on their own hunting moose in the Alaska backcountry, living in tents and eating dried food. Hunting rugged terrain that was mostly devoid of trees, they'd seen about 80 moose, but only a few of the bulls had racks big enough to be legal.
Time was running out.
The East Grand Forks men had been watching a particularly impressive bull for a couple of days, but he was at the bottom of a steep drainage where they couldn't realistically hunt him. Logistics were a challenge because they'd gotten here in a 1953 Super Cub bush plane, and it was crucial they shoot within a reasonable distance of terrain flat enough for the pilot to land.
Packing the moose too far would be physically impossible.
Benson, 50, and Boushee, 48, embarked on their do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunt in early September, an adventure that was months in the planning. They were hunting the North Slope of the Alaska Range northeast of Mount McKinley about an hour's bush plane ride from Fairbanks.
They were on their own.
"The pilot dropped us off and said adios," said Benson, who owns Sportsman's Taxidermy in East Grand Forks. Benson was making his fourth hunting trip to Alaska, Boushee his first.
"It was the hunt of a lifetime for me," Boushee said.
The weather was perfect, sunny with highs in the 60s and nighttime lows in the 30s, and the two hunters quickly settled into a comfortable routine. They'd rise at 5 a.m. about an hour before daylight and head their separate ways after breakfast -- usually oatmeal -- glassing the countryside with binoculars and using moose calls to try and attract a bull into shooting range.
They'd meet back at camp about noon for lunch and a short break.
"The moose, you'd see them just about anytime," Benson said. "There was no point sitting in camp, so we spent very little time in camp toward the end of the hunt."
They even set up a second camp for a couple of days, taking a tarp and minimal food and gear about two miles to a site on the opposite slope where they'd seen a couple of big bulls fighting the first day. Hiking those two miles took them three hours, and while they saw a couple of moose, none were big enough to shoot. Regulations for the area they hunted required moose to have at least a 50-inch antler spread or four brow tines on one side.
Even in country loaded with moose, finding one to shoot wasn't easy.
"Just getting in the right situation to shoot is the challenge," Boushee said.
Getting a break
The morning of Sept. 18 -- their eighth day in the wilderness -- Boushee spotted the bull they'd been watching at the bottom of the drainage. It finally had moved to higher ground on the opposite slope with more convenient access for a plane to land.
Time was running short, and the pilot was due to pick them up the next day. The hunters had rented a satellite phone so they headed back to camp and called the pilot to see if they could extend the hunt another day.
"I said, 'we came this far,'" Benson said. "We can't not try to go after him."
Clearing the extra day with the pilot, Benson and Boushee hiked to the spot where they'd seen the bull earlier that morning, crossing the drainage and heading up the other slope.
Benson jumped the moose about 2:15 p.m. in a thick patch of willows.
"I came around the corner and saw him laying in the willows," Benson said. "I was about 15 yards from him."
The bull turned his head, and the moment the hunters had been waiting for was at hand.
"Everything comes rushing at you," Benson said of the encounter. "I knew I wanted to shoot him, but by that time he was gone."
Benson soon had the bull in his sights, though, as it charged out of the willows. He figures he was 120 to 150 yards away when he fired the first shot with his .375 H&H. The bull was about 200 yards away, Benson said, when his second shot finished it.
Boushee, who was standing on higher ground, watched the whole scene unfold.
"I saw Jim shoot once, and then he shot a second time," Boushee said. "It was a monster coming through the brush."
The bull had a 57-inch antler spread -- well above the 50-inch minimum -- and a trophy by any standards.
Going to work
Benson and Boushee then went to work butchering the animal and had the bull quartered, caped and all of the meat removed about five hours later. They left the meat at the kill site that night, wrapped it in cheesecloth for protection and to keep it cool, and began the hour-and-a-half hike back to camp.
The hard work started the next morning, when they returned to the site and began hauling the meat, the rack and the cape to the spot they'd chosen for the plane to land. It was .47 miles according to the GPS, Benson said -- all of it uphill -- and they made six trips each, hauling about 60 pounds per trip.
They started at 9 a.m. and finished hauling about 4 p.m.
"We were both shot by the end of the day," Boushee said. "Then we hiked back to camp."
Benson said they carried 600 pounds of boned-out meat and another 150 pounds of antlers and cape to the site they'd picked for the plane to land.
"That was the scary part," he said. "We didn't know for sure if he could land the plane there."
When the plane arrived the next day and circled several times, Benson admits they were worried, but the pilot landed without any problems, so he might just have been playing a prank.
It was the perfect ending, they said, to a near-perfect trip. Besides moose, they saw caribou, timber wolves and coyotes. They even had ptarmigan for supper a couple of nights, a welcome change from the dried food they lived on for most of the trip.
They contracted with FedEx to ship moose meat home, and Benson made arrangements with a taxidermist in Alaska to have the cape and horns sent to East Grand Forks for him to mount.
Even if they hadn't gotten a moose, both hunters said the trip would have been a success.
"Shooting the moose was just the frosting on the cake because it was such a good trip," Benson said. "I've done a lot of hunting trips, and my all-time favorite was hunting sheep in the Brooks Range. That was the hunt of my lifetime, but this one ranks right up there."
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .