Slay to Gourmet: Alaska moose hunt

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Moose hunting in Alaska // Photo by Jon Wipfli

A year ago, my Uncle Mark called me with an invitation to go to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a week of moose hunting and a getaway from the city. Thankfully I agreed, despite not knowing much about moose, or moose hunting, or Fairbanks, or what the hell I was about to get myself into.

I won’t bore you with all the details of what happened in between that call and when I took off from the MSP Airport a few weeks ago. But I’d recommend that if anyone ever calls you and asks you to go moose hunting in Alaska, just say yes and figure out the details later. The worst possible outcome is that you have a ticket to Alaska and the best possible outcome is a hunt of a lifetime.

We had about six days of hunting just outside of Fairbanks and were confronted with a variety of methods for taking a moose. The most interesting option was to hunt the river. We’d quietly float for miles while eyeballing shores and shallows for a bull that had decided to come to the river for a drink or to eat some twigs.

Preparing to launch // Photo by Jon Wiplfi

Day one: Got on the river around noon and headed upstream, and by 3pm we had stripped the boat’s engine of its gears, having caught a rock between the skeg and propeller. We found a place to camp overnight that looked moosey—we found lots of feeding signs and tracks and glassed over a burn area—but saw no moose. Set up camp and hit the hay.

Day two: Woke up at 3am to an incredible display of the northern lights before falling back asleep. Woke up around 6am and scouted for moose on the river bank. No moose spotted. Floated back downstream, packed up the boat and headed back into Fairbanks to assess the damage and develop Plan B.

Day three: It’s rainy and cold, slept in a bit waiting for the weather to change. Left for an evening hunt, primarily glassing and scouting. Mark was stalked by a lynx who came within 20 feet of him before slowly retreating. Spotted multiple large bulls from our vantage point, though over a mile away as the crow flies. Still, we found a trail that would lead us close to them.

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Floating the river near Fairbanks // Photo by Jon Wipfli

Day four: Hunted a second time near town in the morning and took a fixed-up boat to the river around 2pm. Motored successfully three hours upstream, floated back downstream and arrived back at the truck around 9:30. One cow spotted, no bulls.

Day five: Decided to take the trail leading to the glassed bulls, thinking it was more of a scouting trip than a hunting trip. Mark was on Rokon, I was on foot. I spotted a cow and a calf about three hours into the hike and Mark spotted one cow quarter of the way out on the trail.

Roughly halfway out, I was tired and took over the Rokon while Mark agreed to hike. Fifteen minutes after being on the Rokon, I spotted a bull moose at about 150 yards away. I killed the engine, retrieved my gun and slowly moved 25 yards closer behind some brush and took my shot. Mark heard the gunshots and hurried to the scene, where we put a final kill shot into the moose at roughly 9:15pm. Field dressing the moose promptly ensued. Left the moose in the field for the night and returned home by midnight. Drank beer.

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Jon Wipfli with his moose // Photo courtesy of Jon Wipfli

Day six: Called Mark’s friend, Jim, to see if he could help us remove the moose with his ATV. Spotted a very large bull at 10am, but no one with a tag was available to shoot. We spent the rest of the day butchering the moose in the field and back in Mark’s garage. We’ll let the quarters hang in cool weather for about four days. I flew out at 11:30pm.

All in all, it was a great trip with plenty of excitement and many reasons to return to do it again. And, there’s a year’s worth of red meat stacked in the freezer.

Next page: Recipe for moose heart with ginger, chili, and garlic

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