Monday, September 22, 2008

The Moose Hunt

Fall, moose hunting and living in the north. It seems those three always go together. Well...maybe not always. There are some northern communities where moose are not present, but you could probably just sub in the word "caribou" for "moose" and that would cover it. A few other communities in mountainous areas may look forward to sheep hunting, or perhaps deer or elk, but moose is still the predominant meat animal up here.

Moose hunting is really a lot of things. It is a way to survive; though today "survival" is usually more economic than literal. An animal weighing in excess of half a ton represents a lot of protein. In remote communities "store food" is very expensive and what little meat they do have is just too costly to eat on a regular basis. "Getting your moose" really does fill your freezer and get you through the winter.

But there are other aspects to moose hunting. There is the "male bonding" part, since most hunting is done by men (most, not all). There is the sense of "manly pride" that a moose hunter feels when he returns home with his catch, especially if it happens to be a large bull. There is the "rite of passage" idea that applies when a younger hunter gets his first moose. I personnally have taken part in this one many times, as I have taken boys out hunting for years. I can't count the number of guys who got their first moose on these trips (two more this season) but every time it's a lot of fun. I get into this part of moose hunting so much I can go years without shooting one myself. It's totally a blast (corny joke intended)

But my favorite part of moose hunting is just getting out there. The fall colors. The cool nights and cold mornings around a campfire drinking hot coffee. Just the sounds alone are worth the trip. Beavers working or slapping their tails in alarm, ducks paddling and chattering, swans honking as they wing their way overhead. There may be squirrels churring, water trickling, rain on the tarp at night when you're snug in your sleeping bag, or a mouse rustling around the camp in the dark.

The real memories are made if you hear a far-off loon wailing it's eery call, wolves howling or the star of the show, a moose calling. For an outdoor sound afficianado it's paradise. And if it turns out you don't hear anything too exciting, that's great too. Where else can you experience such peace and quiet?

The northern moose hunt; I love it (even though it can be physically exhausting, the weather can be hideous and you can "get skunked"). The highlight from this year was the canoe trip I made with my son-in-law. We paddled a local river and were able to get a nice bull. The hunt was great; we heard a bull and a cow calling, we then called them to us and were able to get the bull (Ms. Cow was last seen heading for home, no doubt to log on to e-harmony and check her matches).

I will use half the meat and shared the rest with another family who weren't able to get any. That's another great part of moose hunting; when you are successful you have enough meat to share. They got the head (the local favorite for making soup), a front and back leg (roasts, grind, "dry meat"), the neck (grind, soup and stew) and some ribs and brisket (favored for soup or just plain eating). I kept the other legs, the rest of the ribs and the tailbone.

I better finish this post; there's half a moose waiting for me hanging up in the shop. "Getting the moose" is only part of the job. Now its time to clean, cut and wrap, and it's a lot of work. Kinda makes me glad moose hunting only comes once a year.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

5 minute escape

Life got you down? Are you worn out from all the frantic troubles that modern American life throws your way? Do you need a diversion? Tired of hurricanes, scandals, campaigns and economic woe?

Then come with me on an imaginary journey to my world (imaginary for you; real for me).

Bet you can't guess what I did yesterday. Go ahead, take a shot. Nope. Hmm-mmm. No, try again. You're not even close. Cold. Colder. COLDER! Oh forget it.

Yesterday I dug a new hole and moved my outhouse. Eeewww! Yucky! So gross!

Actually it was no big deal. The poles holding it up were rotten and the last time I used it I had a bit more excitement than I was counting on. Yeah, things broke and the whole privy rocked way back like a recliner. Reclining is cool if you're in a La-z-boy watching TV, but a reclining outhouse makes for a real interesting experience. Needless to say I didn't waste any time reading the paper.

But today it's all good; ready to go for another ten years or so.

Why do I even need a "one-holer"? I do have indoor plumbing, right? Yeah, I do, but our water is off quite frequently. There's also the benefit of having an "external facility" when nature calls and I'm working outdoors. This way I don't have to remove all my apparel; such as boots, winter clothing, etc. But the greatest benefit is at times like now, when we have guests staying with us. Our home is basically an "improved" one room cabin, so you can imagine the lack of privacy, not to mention the competition I face for "toilet time". A recently re-done outhouse is great.

May I suggest you put one in your own backyard.

OK, time for a change of subject. I'm still in the hunt for a moose. I sure could use some meat and I'd love to give half of it to another family in need.

The cranes started flying by yesterday. Thousands of cranes spent their summer out on the Seward Peninsula. Mid to late September is usually when they pack their bags and head south. The odd thing is they have to fly east across Alaska in order to go south to the lower 48 and Mexico, which is their destination. The cranes leaving is just one more sign of severe weather ahead. Of course another sign is the snow that fell in a neighboring village yesterday.

OK, your 5 minutes are now up (and so are my grandkids). Next time I'll try to focus on a subject a bit more respectable than reclining outhouses.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Wow; this is a busy time.

I wish I could write all about the importance of moose hunting to village life and culture; the financial savings a moose means in terms of food and the key part of native culture moose hunting represents. I would like to talk about hunting, camping, the local geography and weather, how important boats are, and more.

I'd also like to talk about fall in Alaska. The feeling of "impending doom" that fall brings to the far north (well, maybe "impending doom" is too severe, but there is a real sense of change, of transition, from the easy days of summer to the very real struggle for survival entailed in winter. You can feel it in the air, you see it in the environment around you as leaves fall, annual plants die, water freezes, the last barge of the season comes and goes.

When I was out at the camp the other day, packing up and bringing all the gear back to the village, I could feel it; it was palpable. The beavers are working hard to store enough food to get them through winter. The waterfowl are moving out and heading south. I was the last one to visit that hunting area, due to the dropping water level, making it impossible to get there (or, more importantly, making it impossible to get back). We were the only humans around; the closest were about 50 miles away. If our boat broke down we might not have been able to get help; the boat may have been left there for the winter.

But I don't have time to get into all that. I still need to get our moose. I still need to take more guys out to help them get meat. I still need to take advantage of the last of the fishing; the whitefish (hold on; my grandaughter is crying...) What a cutie! OK...the whitefish...?...hmmm...what was I saying?

Oh well, the point is I'm pretty busy right now and I don't have much time for this. The seasons are in transition; worlds are changing. The time of plenty is morphing into the time of trial. It's like Joseph in Egypt interpreting Pharoah's dream. The difference is we go through this every year.

There is much more to say, but there is no time!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The "hunting hangover"

We came back from a moose hunting trip the day before yesterday. "We" translates as two 14 year old boys, a twenty-something man and what's left of myself.

Every year I set up a fall camp; the base for moose hunting and related activities. Well, every year when the weather, water level and other contributing factors cooperate. Since "all systems were go" this year, the camp is now set up, in one of the most beautiful, awesome places in the north.

I won't tell you where, lest you and a few thousand of your friends show up there next year, spoiling it for myself and the other local residents who savor the unique flavor of this wild, beautiful paradise. Little wonder this wetland wilderness is the ancestral homeland of these indigenous people.

After the two hour boat ride, we arrived at the campsite and set up the wall tent, put up the tarps (it usually rains in Alaska in the fall), and got everything in order to make a reasonably accommodating home in the wild. Camp chairs, propane cook stove, fire grill, cots and other "neccessities" are all part of the deal. Then we went out in the boat to hunt before it got dark. And we didn't see a thing.

A late dinner of burgers and fried potatoes (I grew up eating fried potatoes, and I must say, my Mom made the best fried potatoes in the world), some time around the fire, and we turned in.

Next morning: a fast, cold breakfast, a couple hours of hunting, then return to camp. A meal of sausage, fried eggs, pancakes, coffee and juice kept the boys happy. Afternoon was spent hangin' around camp; the boys spent time climbing trees, shooting the .22 pistol (with supervision) gathering firewood and eating (it's amazing how much these guys can eat!).

Time for the evening hunt. We went in a different direction (near "duck lake"), saw one bull (which quickly got away), then saw another; a young bull in a place we could get to. Our hunting area is more water than land, consisting of lakes, marshes, swamps, islands and sloughs, and you don't have access to all of it. It's not uncommon to see moose in places where you can't go, or in water where you don't want to shoot them. But this guy was in a good spot.

My twenty-something hunting partner instantly dispatched the bull with one, expertly placed shot. It was impressive, so imagine my surprise when he later told me this was his first moose; he had hunted many times but never shot one before.

Now the real work began. The boys were basically helpless, but one was an eager learner (he'll make a fine hunter in another 2-3 years) and "20-something" was a hard worker but unskilled in the art of moose butchering. That left you-know-who to do the bulk of the work. But that's ok, I expect it, since I take young and inexperienced hunters out every year (I just wish my "50-something" body would quit complaining so much). We got the moose butchered and loaded the meat in the boat; before dark, which is nice alternative.

Back at camp we hung the meat, changed clothes and enjoyed a dinner of chili dogs. Then some much-needed sleep.

Next day, after coffee, pancakes, bacon and eggs, we packed up our personal gear and the meat, leaving the camp intact for the next trip. Then we headed for home. It's always a good feeling coming home with meat, especially when one of the crew just got his first moose. It's a blessing to share this experience with "20-something"; who, apart from the few days we just spent together, lives a life without purpose.

My hope and prayer is that he, and the younger boys, will learn from this experience; learn to hunt moose, learn to camp safely in a wilderness, learn to make wise choices in life, and learn to follow Christ on the path of life.

For now, I must deal with the " hunting hangover"; that tired, worn-out feeling as my body recuperates and I clean gear, put stuff away and get ready for the next trip. (I wish Alka-Seltzer made a product to help cure this condition)