Nathan my youngest grandchild of 7 grandchildren is quite a young man, a jokester and really fun to be around. While I think Nathan liked hunting in general he especially enjoyed our family hunting trips. Nathan and his big brother Jared have always had a special bond. On our hunting trips, Nathan was always by Jared’s side. After everyone left for collage, however, he was on his own. In 2013, (Nathan had just turned 14), he ended up taking a super 386 point B&C caribou and his first moose, a 46 incher. He was also drawn for a mountain goat permit in an area on the Kenai Peninsula. It was an area that I had hunted in the late 70’s. I was excited since I knew the area so well and was looking forward to hunting it again. I hoped Nathan was as excited as I was. We made plans for a mid to late September hunt.
All of my hunting friends as well as most of my sheep clients knew that August 10th, opening day of sheep season in Alaska, was my birthday. When I first arrived in Alaska and discovered this fact I thought that it was kind of cool but after sheep hunting became my obsession then I felt it was pretty special. During my first few years as a resident I only hunted sheep on the weekends so I really wasn’t in the mountains on my birthday, but in later years I would take leave and always celebrate my birthday in the majestic Alaska mountains chasing sheep.
Airplanes are a necessity for most guide businesses in Alaska. Whether it be getting clients into camp by using a flying service or as many guides do, use them to set-up and check on spike camps, fly-in supplies or for the numerous things needed done on a daily basis. You really get dependent on them. Operating in the bush in Alaska with the extreme weather conditions and bad or just short landing strips sooner or later you are going to have an accident. You may remember my first job as a guide working for Tony Lee in the story “I Can Do This” he had an accident on my first day. Another case in point is Gary Bishop, our chief pilot at the Dog Salmon River camp, was talking to one of our newly hired pilots about his personal safety record and the guy said with a cocky attitude, “I’ve never had an accident.” Gary said, “If you work off airport in the bush it’s just a matter of time.” The very next day the guy had an accident. AAA was no different than any other guide operation. On any given day during our season we would have two or three “super cubs” performing a wide variety of different tasks. We also had flying services flying our clients in or out of base camps so there was a wide range of exposure.
Growing up in West Virginia in the late 40’s and 50’s, a female hunter was unheard of in our part of the woods. I’m sure there were some out there, but I never saw a single one during my hunting trips. In the late 60’s and early 70’s during the Women’s Liberation Movement, women were doing just about everything a man could do. I was all for that as long as they were capable. I have two daughters and wanted both of them to have the same opportunities as men, whether it be sports, the job market or whatever they wanted to pursue.
As Sagen opened the flap on the tent he said, “Rog, I’ve spotted five caribou on the bench across the creek and they’re coming our way! They look like bulls but with the low light I can’t tell how big they are. I don’t know if we have enough light but we should try.” I replied, “Get Rachel, I’ll turn off the stove and grab my stuff!”
I often spend time at my desk looking at old photos, reminiscing about my past hunts and the many people that I have hunted with. God has blessed me with so many good hunting buddies that I got to thinking about, “What makes a great hunting partner?”
The flying community lost a great pilot Sunday February 4, 2018 as he took his very last flight. Gary was a good friend to many and especially to those of us who knew him through AAA Alaskan Outfitters. Gary started flying for AAA in the fall of 1991. He was the chief pilot for the Dog Salmon River Camp until he retired in 2014. I personally learned so much about flying “super cubs” from Gary. He always knew he could count on me in short field landings and flying in bad winds but knew my weakness was flying in low visibility. His super cub, 645 Romeo Fox, flew about 3 MPH faster than 36 Alpha, which was good because Gary would be ahead of me and would talk me into staying focused and keeping calm in those conditions. I know he saved me more than once.
I returned to Elmendorf AFB after my remote tour at Galena during the summer of ’76 and continued my pursuit for both dall sheep and mountain goat. I still used a bow to make it more of a challenge while looking for those record book animals. I upgraded my bow to a PSE compound. Those old compounds were nothing like the new ones but I was still amazed how flat it shot. My rule was if the animal wasn’t bigger than my best I wouldn’t even make a stalk.
It’s hard to believe that February marks my second year of writing my blog. It has been fun and I thank all of you for your comments and continuous support reading my stories and sharing the site. It is now in 97 countries and almost 1200 cities. I recently added over 250 photos of animals and scenery and some from upcoming stories in the “other photo” category. You might want to check them out.
I know for some of you diehard hunters, stories about the business itself doesn’t interest you but please hang in there because I have many more hunting stories. I just want people to get a better understanding of the outfitting business.
After completing my first tour of duty at Elmendorf AFB I had no idea that I would be returning to and retiring in Alaska fifteen years later. It was a dream come true.