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by Alan Griffith a.k.a. GSSP Last updated: 2008-10-19 16:47:31
First off let me say that this hunt, except for minor gripes, was a near perfect dream hunt for me and my best friend, Dan.
It started off last year with the intention of hunting Dall and Grizzly in the Wrangells, then this year with just Grizzly west of Illiamna. We ended up with Grizzly north of Teller, which is about 1/2 way between Nome and Kotzebue. I lucked upon outfitter Brian Simpson of Fairbanks; Wittrock Outfitters. Don't look for a web site; it's not there. He's a small operator who is mostly word of mouth, repeat customers and a once per year attendance at a Mid-Michigan SCI Chapter meeting. He's outfitted near Eagle for Dall but now stays in unit 22D/E for all the species to include Muskox. In fact, if my facts are right he is the only outfitter in Alaska who guides for Muskox, if you can draw a tag; which is very hard to do so! He uses 8-wheel Argos ATV's pulling Greer trailers. Fantastic vehicles, when kept up, which allow one to really expand the hunt zone and make retrieving moose a much more pleasant chore.
I flew out of Salt Lake City evening of 5 Sept and met my best bud, Dan, of Folsom, CA in Anchorage just after midnight, local time. Crashed on the concourse chairs for a few hours. Thank goodness their the type which allow you to stretch out. Intended flight to Nome was delayed as the first stop in Kotzebue was cancelled due to fog there. Instead we reboarded and went straight to Nome and arrived only 30 minutes late. We were picked up by Nome resident, Tok Tozier and driven around town; which only took about 2-3 minutes. Dropped off our baggage @ the Aurora Inn. Nice, Best Western quality, for about $150 night. I paid $130 due to military discount. Had lunch at the Airport Pizza restaurant. Good food and friendly waitress's. Walked back to hotel, about 6 blocks, stopping off at the Nome Outfitters to see what sort of sporting goods they carried. Pretty good selection of ammo to include 454 Casull, Buffalo Bore 45 LC, 480 Ruger, etc. Price check: $32.95/lb of Rel 22. Tok took us east of town to check our rifles sights. Mine needed a bit of adjustment. Dinner at the Polar Cafe where we ate from then on out except lunch the next day at the combo Subway/movie theater. Showing was Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Dark Knight.
Tok picked us up the next day after we received a late check out, allowed us to be baby sat by his 7 kids and wife, Marie, at their home until it was time to fly. The shared Marie's smoked Red Salmon and Fireweed jelly; thier both to die for. About 5:15 we got the call from State Senator Donny Olson who is a semi retired physician and pilot with about 6-8 (that I know of) aircraft to his credit; two of which are helo's. Flew 1 hour from Nome to our camp, about 30 miles north, north east of Teller, on the American River.
There were two other hunters in camp, both from Texas. Brian's customer base is primarily from either Michigan or Texas, with a few out of Calif and now Utah.
Next day, Mike (retired Texas optician)and I went out with Brian to help retrieve the last 1/2 of a 62" moose and antlers from a hunter who had shot it the night before and flew out that morning. Saw a Grizzly just going over a near ridge, never to be seen again. Got back to camp about midnight where steak and potatoes were waiting for us.
Tuesday, Charlie (retired construction contracter from Beaumont, TX) shot his bull Caribou. We then went up Bud creek and viewed some old dredge mining sites, caught Artic Char and saw lots of beautiful scenery. Just a few miles to our nourth was the Continental Divide. Had Caribou for dinner. Great stuff! My buddy, Dan, located a 64" bull but passed as he was holding out for a Grizzly. Mike, on the other hand didn't pass and made a beautiful 257 yd shot with his 338 WM and 225 gr TSX. Between 4 guides and 3 hunters, we made short work of getting the bull cut up, loaded and back to camp. We all had ring side seats with a combination of binoculars and spotting scopes. I love my Zeiss 65mm Diascope sitting on a K&K 36" tripod. In fact, that combo (Dan has one too) became the talk of camp for spotting game at long distances.
Wednesday, woke to a heard of Muskox loafing about 100 yds from camp; big bull with them. Took some pics at about 40 yds. Headed south across the Agiapuk and American rivers to a mountain range I had assumed was too far out of our zone. The Argos made it possible. About 2-3 miles south of camp, we stopped to glass the mountains since the lighting was very good and that's when found my a bull and Grizzly on the same ridge, about a mile apart; about 5-6 miles distant. This was at 12:30 pm. Kept heading south to the mountains, up a ridge which was absolutely packed with blue, black and raspberries.
We found a rocky overlook to check out my bull and see if the bear was still eating berries. Had lunch, looked for the bear and sized up the bull who had 3 cows with him about 3/4th up a ridge in a small pocket of willows. I wasn't too interested in a moose as Dan and I both came for Grizzly.
I was packing the Ruger Blackhawk as backup in a slightly custom made Mernickle Field II holster worn cross draw. Slightly custom as the original holster sent me would not allow the higher Gary Clements custom front sight down into the holster. Mernickle was fantastic about the whole affair. They asked I send the original holster back to them and they would make me a new one, post haste, as they knew I was leaving for my hunt in about 2 weeks. Great company to deal with! I really like the holster too. I wore it daily, usually forgetting it was even there, on a Wilderness Instructors belt along with 6 extra rounds on the opposite side in a 6-round cartridge slide, also from Mernickle.
My main weaponry was my CZ 550 American in 9.3x62 shooting 286 gr Partitions at 2500 fps with a Leupold 2x7 VXII with LR dots. It was fully weatherized for the nasty Alaska weather, which for the most part didn't really materialize.
Brian then threw a monkey wrench into my plans of shooting a Grizzly. He asked me if I wanted to shoot the bull. I had zero interest in shooting a moose. I made that clear to him. Once I started getting up close and personal with the Zeiss spotting scope my detrmination started to wain. So I put out a challenge to Brian. I said I'd shoot the bull if it would go 70" in antler width. Brian studied the bull through the glass and informed me he would only go about mid 60 inches. I thought it over for a while until countering with a challenge that if Brian could get me within handgun range, I might be interested in shooting the bull. Remember, I had never really been interested in a moose. But seeing two 60"+ plus bulls upclose in the two previous days, my steadfast desire to only shoot a bear was weakening. When I told him it had to be with a handgun, his eyes rolled, he paused a long while, thinking about terrain, vegetation and most importantly, wind. He finally said it could be done. He would carry my rifle, just in case we ran into the bear.
So off we went in the Argos, down our ridge, just crossing the creek, ending up about 1000 yds from the now bedded bull. Oh, yeah! The bull and his small entourage had moved two willow draws over. "Just a Moose thing", Brian said. Cliff Weyiouanna, Brian's Eskimo business partner and guide, stayed in the Argos to watch the show and signal us if any of the moose up and left. We went through the first willow draw, watching all the time for any activity. All 4 animals were now bedded with two cows up high and a cow and the bull nearer to the bottom of the draw. As we approached the final draw, Brian and I kept whispering back and forth do's and don'ts and what to do "if's". Upon reaching the near side of the draw we found a tussuk perch about 3 ft higher than the rest of the surrounding terrain. The willows were in the 3-9' high category and any height we could obtain would be helpful to see the bull and if necessary see across to the other side of the draw if things went sour.
We stood for about 20 minutes, looking, listening and waiting for something to happen; it didn't. Brian and I whispered back and forth about him cow calling. I was afraid if things were to go bad, they would do so very quickly. On the other hand, they could good, very quckly too. Suddenly, Brian just up and unzips our fly's. Meaning he cow called without giving me heads up. Over the space of about 10 minutes he calls three times; nothing! He hands me my rifle, steps about 10 yds into the willows, picks up a 2" by 24" long willow branch and starts raking the willow brush. About 1 minutes later, I look up slope. We had figured the bull was either in front of or down slope from us; not up slope. Their stood the bull and a cow. The bull's head gear was clearly visible but his eyes were low enough and behind some brush, he couldn't see me. But, the cow had me pinned. Brian turned to walk back to me, not realizing the two moose were up and aware of our presence. I simply and slowly opened my right hand in the "stop" position and then pointed two fingers in the general direction of the moose. Brian immediatly understood, slowly raising his bino's to size up the situation. He turned back to me and spread his hands as wide as they would go and mouthed the words "he's huge!". That was enough for me. About 2 minutes later the cow turned her head and lowered it just enough below some brush to where she could not see me. That's all I needed. I ducked down and trotted up slope about 50 yds. I really should say I trotted, as you don't trot through through those tundra tusseks. Still on the fringe of the willows I had to figure a way to get closer, into and through the willows. About then I hear Brian pull off what I thought was a near perfect bull grunt and raked the willows some more. That was it! The bull went beserk! He started down slope, angling across the willows, towards Brian, ranking brush and grunting nearly the entire time. What I didn't realize was Brian was now in a panick. Here he was, fly unzipped, no gun, a 2" willow branch for a weapon, no where to go and he didn't know I had decided to shoot the bull. To say he suddenly felt very much like a 90 lb cheerleader who just gave a 300 lb linebacker the green light for him to take her virginity on prom night would be putting it lightly.
Back to my point of view. The bull was about directly across the draw from me, about 40 yds away with a very large willow bush between us. I could just see an antler on the down slope side of the bush. Brian, raked once more and suddenly the bull dissapeared. "Where'd he go", I thought. I then saw him coming around the up slope side of the bush. For a moment, I thought he had found me and was coming for me. As it turned out their was a somewhat natural path through the willows which would bring the bull just upslope of me and he had every intention of using it so he could keep the high ground and try and get downwind of us to smell the cheerleaders panties once he whooped her boyfriend's butt. At that moment I realized this was now turning into a handgun affair. I set my CZ down and moved about 6-8 yds towards the bull, looking for a shooting lane. I found one just moments before the bull would reach it.
Cliff, in the exact spot the bull was when my first round hit him. He stands about 5'6". The bull's shoulder was about where the skyline is.
I drew the Ruger, having enough precense of mind to make sure their was no leather scrapings on the front sight. I had at numerous times before wondered if the sound of the cocking hammer would alert my intended quary. Gladly, it didn't! I came to a solid standing modified Weaver shooting position and waited for the vital zone to appear; nose, eyes, rack, neck, shoulder, tight behind the shoulder, BOOM!! I could immediatly tell I'd hit the bull as he let out a load grunt and humped up. Quickly as I could, I thumbed the hammer two more times and dumped two more 335 gr Cast Performance WFNGC slugs into his left vital side. In the adrenalin filled moment, I later found out I was not squeezing those last rounds as I was hitting low/left. That's when things started to get exciting for me. He turned 90 deg downslope, towards me. I must have been in the zone because I again had the precence of mind to say to myself, "I'm going to need to put one between his eyes before he decides to turn me into a hotdog on a long stick". Fortuneatly he kept turning the additional 90 deg, back towards the way he had just come. Now, I panicked, thinking he was getting away. I tried to place the remaining 3 rounds into his right side, only hitting him 1x, that I could tell from the following autopsy. He traveled about 10-12 yds away, stood there briefly and just topped over, taking 1/2 a 7' high willow bush with him. Talk about a sureal moment! It was 5:30 pm, five hours after I first found him.
Sorry to say, did not find any slugs nor could I tell if any slugs exited. Some Eskimo villager will hopefully find one in the meat and send it to me.
We started out about 9:30 pm but never made it to camp until 0200 am. My head hit the pillow @ 0300 am.
In 15 days of hunting, Brian had 8 non-residents take 5 mooose which went 48", 62", 64", 64" and a possible 67" (two broken, just hanging-on, outer points) bull. There were 3 caribou, 2 Muskox and one 8-1/2' boar Grizzly, taken by my best bud, Dan. It missed the book by 1/16".
We ended up driving the 30 miles via Argos down to the Imurak basin, near Brevig Mission and crossing the basin via boat which pulled a barge loaded with Argos and trailer. Then drove the 70 miles to Nome, stopping to take pics of numerous Reindeer. We came out of the the field a day late so our reservation at the Auora Inn was no longer valid. Ended up staying at the Polars Hotel. I don't advise it! It's directly above the Polaris bar which closes at 0200 am and I think every local from the surrounding villages was in town, getting snockered on there yearly state check which had been enhanced by Gov Sarah Palin. Needless to say, not much sleep, but still a hot shower; first in 12 days.
Of course we missed our flight, so we rebooked for $100 and it took 2 days to get home.
Can't wait until a future spring bear hunt with Brian. He hunts the same area but from the north, heading south out of Shismaref on snowmobiles ("snowmachines" in Alaska).
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