March 14, 2016
As the bull moose swayed his rack threateningly, I held my bow at full draw. Vaguely, I could sense Larry running the camera to my left and hear Mac calling in the background, but now all my attention was focused on the approaching beast. He was getting close — dangerously close — and still I could not shoot.
At 15, 10, 5 yards, he kept coming until he finally circled a tree into the open, 12-feet away. There he stopped and looked all around, probably wondering where that other bull had gone. Still no shot.
Slowly, he swung his head back to his left, perhaps to turn and walk away. With my sight pin firmly planted behind his shoulder, I waited, and when his right leg moved forward to give me an open angle into the vitals, I released.
In an instant, the bull lowered his head, aimed his rack at me like the blade on a snowplow, hit the throttle, and lurched forward at full speed — straight at me. This was an all-out charge, and he meant business!
Instinctively, I turned to run but took one step, got my size 14 feet tangled in a knot, and fell flat on my face.
I'm dead! I thought.
The date was September 29, 2006, a moment I had dreamed of and yearned for since the age of 10 — more than 50 years. Well, I hadn't yearned for a moose attack, but I had dreamed of hunting the Yukon.
It really all started in the 1950s, when John Jobson wrote two series of articles for Sports Afield magazine on hunting the Bonnet-Plume region of the Yukon for moose, grizzlies, mountain caribou, Dall sheep... Wow! Then Fred Bear wrote of bowhunting for grizzlies, mountain goats, and other big game in the Yukon. These writers told of remote lands untouched by civilization, lands teaming with big game, full of adventure, and spiced with danger. In the mind of a young boy, this stuff was explosive. Someday, I had to do that.
However, the qualities that make hunting the Yukon appealing also make it expensive, and that had been my obstacle. So, while dreaming of hunting the Yukon, I had accepted that it would never happen.
Then, at a sports show in Reno, Nevada, I met Darwin Watson, who had recently bought Yukon Stone Outfitters. Wanting to promote the moose hunting in his new area, Darwin expressed interest in my coming up to shoot a program for Bowhunter Magazine TV. Immediately, I called Bowhunter Publisher Jeff Waring at his office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and began to beg...
Thus, on September 23, 2006, I met cameraman Larry D. Jones in Vancouver, B.C., and from there we flew to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon. My 50-year dream hunt was underway.
Needless to say, I was excited to the core, but I also had concerns. After all, my yearning and dreams were born in stories writ- ten 50 years before. The world had changed since then. Would the Yukon satisfy my lofty expectations? Or would I be disappointed?
On September 25, we flew by bush plane from Whitehorse north to the heart of Darwin's territory, and the two-hour flight eased my concerns a little. The Yukon has a surface area of 186,000 square miles and a human population of about 32,000 — 24,000 of whom live in Whitehorse. Compare that to, say, California, which has a surface area of 155,000 square miles and a human population of 36 million.
With only 20 outfitting concessions in the entire Yukon, each outfitter has an average of nearly 10,000 square miles, and resident hunting is virtually nonexistent. As we flew over endless mountains and river valleys, we saw no roads, no towns, no development — nothing but wilderness. Maybe 50 years wasn't too long.
Camp consisted of a small cabin that served as a dining room, and wall tents heated with woodstoves for sleeping. The first afternoon in camp our guide, Mac Watson, Darwin's son, explained that the former outfitter had hunted Stone sheep in this area but not moose.We would ride horses into fresh territory each day and hunt moose that probably had never seen a human being.
On September 27, Mac, Larry, and I left camp at 8 a.m. and rode three hours south, where we glassed across a broad valley. After a couple of hours, we had located three moose — a cow, a small bull, and a big bull with antlers about 60 inches wide.
After studying the situation, we rode halfway up to the moose, tied the horses to trees, and proceeded on foot. In the high brush, we searched for an hour. When we finally spotted the big bull's antlers, we stalked within 100 yards and set up to call him in. Larry and I hid at the edge of an opening as Mac produced bull grunts and cow moans from the brush behind us. The bedded bull never moved.
Then another bull came onto the scene, and the bedded bull jumped up and chased him down the hill, bellowing like an angus bull. As he came back up the hill, Mac grunted loudly and began thrashing brush with a stick. That did it. The bull was angry now and immediately headed our way.
After depositing us in the heart of the Yukon, the bush plane departs for Whitehorse. The vast, lonely mountains hold the same adventure today that they did for writers of 50 years ago. At right, guide Mac Watson imitates the grunt- ing of a bull moose. His overtures brought bulls in close — dangerously close.
At a distance of 18 yards, he stopped and stared. The next move was up to us. After several minutes, apparently getting bored, the bull turned to leave, and I drew to shoot. He stopped, quartering away, at 20 yards. The distance and shot angle were perfect, but I could see fine willow twigs between the bull and me. They could deflect my arrow.
Besides, I had doubts. The hunt had barely started, no one had hunted moose here for years, and we had them all to ourselves. We might find something far bigger, and I'd waited 50 years for this; I wanted it to last. The bull walked away.
The next day, we broke through brush and tangled trees with the horses for several miles until we emerged into a remote valley. Glassing the head of the valley, we saw a huge bull some two miles away, and then we saw another a mile across from us. Both bulls were moving steadily, almost trotting, apparently covering ground in search of cows in heat. Even as we watched, they each traveled several miles, and we were unable to catch up with them before dark. But we knew where we needed to be the next day.
The morning of September 29, snow was falling steadily, and after three hours in the saddle, we were pretty well frozen. So we stopped and built a fire, and toasted and ate Spam sandwiches.
When we'd finally thawed out and the snow let up, we began glassing and soon saw the same huge bull we'd seen the day before. Now he was with a cow. They were only a half-mile away, on our same hillside. We could reach them quickly.
With the wind blowing downhill,we jumped on our horses and circled to come in from below, but we had ridden only a short way when we saw another bull of similar size, directly in our path. Change of plans!
Tying the horses, we circled on foot below this moose. We tried to be quiet, but in the head-high brush it was impossible. And we could see nothing. We had to find a clearing.
Too late! Apparently the bull heard us and was coming to investigate, because we soon heard him breaking limbs and saw his antlers over the brush, 30 yards away. He was looking for us. Ready or not, here he comes!
My biggest concern now was escaping this brush to get a clear shot. Desperately, we rushed to a small cluster of spruce trees, where we found a clearing. It wasn't big, maybe 15 yards across, but it would have to do.
With the bull grunting and crashing toward us, I positioned myself in front of a spruce tree, while Larry stood just behind my left shoulder and Mac moved 20 yards behind, where he began to thrash brush and grunt like a bull.
The moose circled in front of us, grunting, swaying his rack menacingly, and busting anything in his way. As he reached the edge of our spruce grove, I prepared to shoot, thinking he would stop broadside at 15 yards. Instead, he turned and walked directly at us. I drew my bow, and when he stopped 12 feet away and swung his head to the left, giving me a good shot angle, I released.
The instant my arrow passed through his chest, he charged. I'm dead! I thought. Turning to run, I fell to the ground and reflexively curled into the fetal position. That's how I had come into this world, and that's how I would go out. My only thought now was, Make it quick so it doesn't hurt too long! Waiting for the impact and the breaking of bones, I was terrified but also sensed a certain peace. I have always said I would rather die young on a mountain than old in a nursing home. My destiny was at hand...
Suddenly, all went quite. Afraid to move, I listened and waited. Finally, sensing Larry and Mac moving nearby, I staggered to my feet.
"What happened?" Mac hissed. "His horns must have just about touched you, didn't they?"
"I...well...uh..." I stammered incoherently.
Miraculously, Larry had kept the camera rolling, and he was the only one of us who had witnessed the entire event.
"The bull's antlers came within inches," Larry said. "Just before he made contact, he slid to a stop, raised his head, and rolled his eyes as if to say, 'I don't feel so good.' Then he turned and ran back the way he'd come."
A half-hour later, just before dark, we found the bull lying 200 yards away. He had died in mid-stride. As we approached the giant beast, I was astounded. His rack measured just under 60 inches wide and carried 16 points on one side, 18 on the other. Each side had four long brow tines.
On September 30, we returned with the horses and spent all day packing meat and antlers. Then we devoted the last three days of the hunt to mountain caribou. This is the only variety of caribou I have not taken, and I badly wanted to kill one on this trip.
High on the tundra, we stalked animals each day, and on the last day, October 3, we called a herd bull within 30 yards. I held at full draw, ready to shoot, but he never gave me a good shot angle and walked away unscathed, ending the hunt. I could have been disappointed but just chose to believe it gave me a valid reason to return.
Ten days earlier, when Larry and I had flown to Whitehorse to begin this hunt, I'd been excited, but I'd also had concerns. After all, 50 years is a long time, and the world has changed. The era of John Jobson and Fred Bear was long since gone. My expectations were too high — much too high! Surely, I was just setting myself up for disappointment.
Climbing into the bush plane to return home on October 4, I thought about my concerns. For 50 years I had yearned to witness remote lands with no hint of civilization, to explore and experience adventure, to see abundant trophy big game — to face danger — just as Jobson and Bear had.
As the bush plane lifted off, I looked down with amazement at the Yukon Territory's vast forests and mountains and thought about all that had taken place. Then my eyes fell shut, and I smiled. I was not disappointed.