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Alaska Moose & Caribou 
Drop Camp Journal

by James MacMillan

Day 1 (September 3, 2001)

Dan and Paul and I flew from Seattle to Anchorage and checked in at the Barrett inn near Lake Hood. The Barrett inn took good care of us and had the facilities to cater to fly in hunters. They had an area to hold all extra bags and packages at the hotel while the hunting party was in the woods. They also had a walk-in freezer to keep the game in when we returned from the hunt. This was very convenient for us and was a welcome solution to some of the problems associated with being out of town dealing with large quantities of perishable meat.

We walked down to Ketchum air services to check in. then we watched the video required for a Moose hunt in Alaska. It was pretty much two videos that reviewed how to clean and care for the meat after a moose is down and some entertaining clips on how to judge whether or not a moose was qualified to shoot. This was good to have some practice determining whether a moose made the 50 inch wide spread, or four brow tine requirements.

After the movie Ketchum Air Service suggested we bring all of our gear down to the dock to be weighed. This was a good idea! If we were over the 125 Lbs. Weight limit, we would have some time to rearrange our gear. We found that after weighting in we were 25 Lbs. Underweight.

We then went to Walmart and purchased our game tags and had dinner. It was good to arrive in Anchorage a day early to have time to get everything in order.

Day 2
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We ate breakfast and went over to Ketchum Air. We were welcomed by the Ketchum Air representative and instructed to get our gear on the dock and weighed by the pilot. The people at Ketchum Air were very helpful and accommodating. We were on the dock with about four other hunting parties and everyone was excited to fly out. There were two groups going on a float hunt and two groups going on drop camps. We were loaded on a DeHavilland Otter with the other drop camp hunters and took off.

We were dropped of on a small lake and directed toward where hunters had previously camped. He pointed to a ridge about 2 miles away and told us there were Caribou on the ridge. It was raining very hard when the pilot left us. We set up camp in a downpour. Everything was wet and soaked. After the camp was setup we decided to go out for a hike to the ridge where the pilot had told us the Caribou were. This was two miles away through bogs, swamps, alder thickets, across streams and finally onto high open ground. 

This would have normally taken 30 to 45 minutes. Due to the terrain, it took us three hours. It was raining hard, the vegetation was wet, we were sweating profusely from hiking with all our gear on with hip waders. When we got to the top of the ridge we were completely soaked through and through. We took a quick look around and saw five to six large Caribou on the ridge above us. Since it was not legal to shoot the day of the drop off, we decided to leave and come back the next day. On the way to and from the ridge there was all sorts of Moose droppings and sign that there were moose around, very encouraging! Three hours later we were back at camp very tired and wet. We all ate dinner and went to bed.

Day 3

We got up and hiked up to the ridge, we immediately spotted four Caribou. On the stalk to get them, another party shot at them and missed. This scared them off out of distance. We hiked around and saw another group of three small Caribou and then another single in a different area. We looked back across the ridge where we had just came from, and another group of five were working their way toward us. We could not cut these off in time and they walked past us about a quarter mile away and disappeared. Hiked back to camp very tired. One of the guys was so tired he did a face plant into the swamp twice. The other person ended up with a hole in his waders.

Day 4 

We decided to take a dry out day and recuperate. Still raining all day. Everything is wet. Started fire and dried out clothes. We walked about a mile to a larger lake and tried fishing. We got about four strikes and had one on but could not land it. Found out that walking in the lake was the easiest walking yet! Went back to camp to continue drying clothes. Jim was pinochle champion that night.

Day 5

Trudged back up to ridge walked 4.5 miles according to Etrex GPS unit to go the 2 miles to ridge. Swamps and Alder thickets are brutal. We found one small Caribou calf, we were so hungry for meat we tried to shoot it and missed from about 500 yards. It ran off unscathed. Glassed the area for the next 6 hours and found nothing but a Moose shed. Walked 3 hours back to camp carring the Moose shed. We are starting to toughen up. Decided to play cards, Jim was Pinochle champ again!

Day 6

Today was warm and sunny. Everyone is so very happy, all is drying out Hurray!! We took the Moose shed out in the morning to hunt Moose. We thought we heard something, but did not see anything. Hiked back up to ridge and hunted for Caribou. No Caribou around. Spotted a Red Fox on the next ridge and then spotted two coming at us on our ridge. Dan was wanting to take out some aggression and shot the first fox with his 300 Winchester magnum. The shoot killed and gutted it at the same time. We tried Red Fox meat for lunch. This was boiled with some Tabasco sauce as flavoring. We decided to call the fox Brittany because she was cute, had a nice tail, and was dumb as a rock. Brittany did not taste as good as she looks. Hiked back to camp and decided to take a cold bath in lake. Jim and Dan took a bath (at separate times), Paul passed, he just stinks! The Etrex and Etrex summit units worked great. Really needed the units to find camp every night through the thick spruce trees. Took five days to figure out all the features. Got real cold that night--ice on everything.

Day 7

Sunny again! Went Moose hunting in AM, Ice on everything, temperature is very cold. After hunting we had a great breakfast of instant oatmeal and went off to try fishing again. We took and packed our one man raft to the adjacent big lake and paddled it all over the lake trolling to catch a Pike. Must have paddled five miles, no fish! Paul finally washed up in the lake, he's livable again. Hiked back to camp and had to coax everyone to go Moose hunting in the PM. We hiked to edge of swamp and hunted Moose. Took Moose shed and trashed four spruce trees and gave moose grunts. Cow Moose came crashing through the brush in front of me and covered 150 yards in about 3 seconds. Very impressive indeed! The Moose continued on and stood in front of Paul and then it continued on to graze in the swamp around Dan for the rest of the night. Went back to camp and Jim was Pinochle champ again!Click for more information about this book

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Day 8

We decided to Moose hunt in the AM, everyone excited. Dan had the cow Moose come within 20 yards of him. Heard another moose behind but could not see it. We went back to camp to pack up to fly to new location where there would be some Caribou.

Pilot picked us up and reported seeing a cow and Bull Moose running around the area together. We flew to the new location at Center lake. This lake was higher in elevation and clear of the thick trees. We could look around and see for miles. Glassing would be a lot more productive. Took a hike to explore the new territory.

Day 9

Dan shot Caribou about a mile and a half from camp Jim and Paul helped bring it back to camp three loads excluding the head and antlers. Had Caribou steaks that night for dinner. Meat so lean we had to add oil to get them to fry up. Steaks were excellent!

Day 10

We all took off to go hunting Dan and Jim went to get Dan's antlers and Paul went off in another direction. We sawed the antlers off and rounded around the back side of the mountain. Spotted a herd of Caribou about mile and a half away milling around one of the ridges. We sat down and had lunch watching the herd. Dan took his antlers back to camp as I kept an eye on the herd. When Dan returned we moved to a better location to go after the Caribou if they decided to move. 

Watched some more. Dan went looking for more in another location and came back. Still watching the herd. I showed Dan a large silvered body Monarch Caribou that I thought I might like to get. It was the one I was most impressed with. We watched him and all the others for the rest of the afternoon. Finally four animals started moving across the meadow angling away from us. The wind was in our favor, so I tried a sneak and got to within 450 yards before they took off. I came back to were Dan was sitting and we glassed the rest of the herd again. 

After a while I noticed the Silver Monarch was breaking away from the rest of the herd and starting to walk toward us. Dan and I could not believe it. We waited until the Monarch walked into a small gully and them I took off running. In this area there was not cover to hide behind to hide yourself when stalking. After running full tilt for around half a mile. I asked Dan if the Bull had come out yet. He signaled that it was still down in the gully. I moved to within 100 yards and looked at Dan again. He still signaled it was in the gully. 

I moved up to within 50 yards of the gully and the only thing separating me and the Bull was some thick yellow thickets about chest high. I started walking with the cross wind to try and get a fix on the Bull. After the first couple of steps I saw a set of antlers stick up form behind the thicket, then go back down. I had located him and he was close. I took another couple of steps and the antlers stuck straight up again. He was very close, but I could not see the body for some reason. The bull was trying to get downwind of me and we were quickly running out of thicket, so I quickly took a few steps to the end of the thicket and shouldered the .338 Winchester model 70 and waited. 

A second later the Bull appeared and I was still heaving from the run. When I took the shot I missed the bull completely from about 70 yards. I put another shell in the chamber as the Monarch ran off and stopped about 100 yards away. This time I fired again and heard the bullet make contact. This shot spun the old bull around in a circle 3 times before stopping. I had Hit him in the front leg. This is just how my hunting instructor had demonstrated how to do it!. I was down to my last bullet and I finally steadied myself and placed the last shot through the heart. The Monarch went down. I had my first Caribou.

While I was stalking and getting the Monarch Paul was stalking another Caribou from the heard about a half mile away. After I shot the herd moved in his general direction and he was able to stalk close enough with little or no cover to get another nice Caribou. We had two Caribou down. I cleaned and quartered the animal and Dan helped me pack out a load of meat. Paul did the same and we met back at camp for another great dinner of Caribou steaks. What a great hunt and a great day!

Day 11

Got up and made runs to downed Caribou to get the final cleaning done and bring back meat. Dan helped Paul and they brought back his entire animal in one trip. I had a large load and had to go back for another load before I could rest. 

On the way back I came across a set of six Caribou grazing in the same spot we had lunch the day before. I got within 100 yards before I spooked them. I kept walking and there were another 25 standing directly in the trail in front of me. Off to my left there were a herd of about 80 to 90 animals in the meadow. They behaved very different than deer. If I kept walking they would just look at me, If I stopped walking and looked through the scope on the rifle they would begin t run off. I would start walking again and they would sop running. I found this peculiar and did this routine a couple of times to see if the were consistent. Every time they behaved in the same manner. I would stop they would run, I would walk and they would stop. As they started gathering together they ended up to be a herd of around 200 Caribou. To me this was quite spectacular. I got to my downed animal and loaded the last quarter of meat and strapped on the antlers and walked back to camp. 

I could hear when got close to camp that Dan was giving Paul a lesson in two handed Pinochle. We started a new game three handed and Dan creamed the both of us. Paul took over from that point and won the last game. We had the fixings to make up a pot of stew. We fried the Caribou cubes added some stew seasoning that Paul brought and then mixed in a Mountain house meat stew package to the mix and it turned out fantastic. The three of us ate the entire huge pot of stew. Another wonderful day of hunting!

Day 12 

The day started real bad and got worse. First we all got up and started heating the coffee. Halfway through Dan knocked the coffee pot off the stove and flooded the tent. We were then preparing to go out and eat lunch in the field so we brought all of our lunch stuff. We then brewed another pot of coffee and started out from camp. About a quarter mile from camp Paul spotted a large massive bull Moose across the small valley from us. Since I was leading Paul called to me we all got down and glassed across the valley at the Moose. He was walking straight toward us in the flat open tundra. As the Moose went into a small dip in the terrain, Dan ran out to track him down. 

Paul and I figured that we would have to clean the Moose, then pack about 9 to 10 loads back to camp, we were feeling pretty lucky that the Moose happened to be so close to camp. In fact if we would have waited ten more minutes, we could have shot it from the front door of our tent. As Dan stalked the Moose we thought it was all over. Pretty soon Dan motions us down, he can't find the Moose. I ask Paul if the Moose showed any signs of knowing that we were there, and he said no. I suggested that I go and take point and that Paul should cut off the Moose from going back to the woods. Paul went to cut him off and I went to help Dan. We all converged on the Moose. We were sure we had it surrounded. As we all came together the Moose was gone. 

Dan went left, then he went right. He then went up, then he went down. Dan and Paul went down the valley, then they came back up the valley. The Moose had disappeared! Ol Henry the ghost Moose had given us the slip. An animal the size of a car had evaded us on the flat open tundra!

When we finally got to where we were going to hunt Moose we had forgot the fuel for the stove and could not cook lunch. What a day.

Went back to camp for lunch. After lunch Paul went to take some pictures of the Caribou while me and Dan went back to go Moose hunting. We got in position and started calling. We worked at it for about 2 hours when we spotted a Bull Moose coming at us from about 2 miles away. He was walking right at the edge of the tree line and coming toward us. We called, and flashed a couple of sheds and watched as he went into a low dip in the land and then it got to dark to see. This was definitely a 50 inch or larger Moose. This was very exciting. 

We commented on how goofy we looked trying to coordinate the antler sheds when flashing the Moose. It started out good at first then we got out of sequence and started bashing each others antler and not swinging in sync.

Got back to camp and Paul had taken some nice close up pictures of the Caribou herd and some additional video.

Day 13

Went Moose hunting in the AM no Moose, no Bear, went back to camp. Jim went for a hunt around the lake and did not see anything but Caribou. When returning to camp we found Caribou 200 yards from tent. Dan asks why did we shoot Caribou all the way around the other side of the mountain. Dan won at Pinochle with help from Paul!

Day 14

Fly-out day. Both Dan and I had heard something walk through camp last night, could have been Caribou, maybe Moose. The weather was cold for the last couple of days.

We have our last Breakfast we've been saving the real pancakes until today. Mixed up some Mountain House blueberry cheesecake to top off the pancakes. Tasted great. Pilot made a pass to warn us and came back 30 minutes later. The Pilot informed us of what was happening. It was now Saturday and he went on to explain hat had happened at the World Trade Center. It sounded like a Clancy story. Didn't sound true.

We got back to Anchorage and the Barrett inn came and picked us up. They sold us some airline wax meat boxes to put the meat in and placed all the meat in a freezer for us. We then gathered our gear that was left from when we left for the field. We prepared all the meat for the airlines making sure we made the 70 Lb weight limit. 

Day 15

We had the Barrett inn take us to the Anchorage airport. Some people have been stuck in Anchorage for the last four days. We called to make sure we were still scheduled to leave out on time, and to make sure that Alaska airlines would still take the antlers not sawed in half. When we got to the airport, we found out that Alaska did not ship antlers anymore and we needed to find a shipping company to ship them home. We had one of the airport persons who would normally take bags at the curb help us with what to do. The airport was a mess, the lines were four hours long. The porter directed us up to the side counter and got us immediately in line and directed Dan to the shipping companies to ship the Antlers. All in all we got through the lines and security in 1 hour and made our plane flight.

I have to say the trip was great and everyone treated us wonderful. Some of the other parties coming out of the bush were not that happy. Some of them went on float trips and missed animals or did not see as many. After hearing our story they thought they might try a drop camp next time.

Notes:
  • I have no affiliation with Ketchum Air or the Barrett inn, I am reporting my personal experience with their services and was very satisfied. 
  • No rain gear would have kept us dry in the environment we were in.
  • Would have brought extra water purifier filters to filter water. They clogged up on the 12th day and we had to boil all the water for the remaining part of the trip.
  • Bring waterproof tent drop cloth for under the tent. The ground through the entire countryside is soaking wet. 
  • Bring extra socks and sock liners
  • A warm jacket would be good to bring for around camp after hunting. This is something that should be used around camp and separate from the hunting clothes, must stay dry!
 

 

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