The Alaska Peninsula had a large population of big bull moose during the late 60’s and early 70’s. I had been told by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist that that country was marginal moose habitat so the population was very cyclical. I always wanted to go moose hunting in that country because of the big moose but felt it was just too expensive to get the moose meat back to Anchorage. Plus, I enjoyed caribou hunting way more than moose so my buddies and I always chose hunting them. We had three or four successful caribou hunts before I rotated to the Lower 48 the summer of ’74. That fall a couple of airmen who had worked for me went on a moose hunt on the Peninsula. They had a great hunt taking two moose over 65 inches.
After a year down in the States and a remote tour at Galena AFS, I was reassigned to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage. The summer of ’76 a few of my buddies and I came up with a plan to combine a moose and caribou hunting trip on the Peninsula but hunting them in different locations. As always since we didn’t have an airplane we had to rely on flying services. We had had good luck with Peninsula Airways in the past so they were who we chose. I gave them a call to ask if they could move us in the middle of the hunt from one area to another area. We had never done that before and really weren’t sure it would work. They said, “No problem just give us a date.”
We chose the Cinder River area because we had hunted caribou there in the flats in the past. We wanted dropped off up the Cinder River valley in the mountains to hunt moose then moved down river 15 miles to one of the cinder blows in the flats where we had hunted caribou before. We got everything scheduled. We would hunt the last four days of moose season, move to the flats for four days of caribou hunting, so counting the flying days we would use eleven days of leave or vacation.
There were four of us, Doug Simmons, Chuck Berry, Charles James and myself, all Air Force buddies. We flew down on Wein Air Alaska which was the major carrier to King Salmon in those days. We carried all of our gear over to the Peninsula Airways hanger.
Once there I gave the scheduler the date that we wanted moved and the date we wanted to be picked up. My wife was going to call them the morning that we wanted moved just to remind them. We were flown out that afternoon and dropped off on a great cinder blow with a good place to camp. After getting camp set up we did some glassing but failed to spot anything. The next day we only spotted a couple of cows which was disappointing to say the least. On day two of the hunt we spotted a nice bull lying down close to where the cows had been the day before. After carefully looking him over, we decided he was legal, at least 50 inches. Charles was the first shooter so we slipped over to within 50 yards of him. I got my “super 8” Canon movie camera out to film the kill. The moose got up and Charles made a great shot with his 30.06. I got a fantastic video which included smoke from the powder and all. We measured the moose and he was only 52” which was close, but legal. Unit 9 was one of the first units to go to the 50” or three brow tines to be legal. We were all fairly young so the mile long pack wasn’t that bad. I could joke and say one down with only three more to go but both Doug and I were holding out for a 65+ incher or nothing at all. After two days and an evening of spotting it looked like a big moose was going to be hard to come by. Besides we only had two more hunting days before we were to be moved.
By the middle of day three we had only spotted a couple of cows and a calf when a small bull finally showed up. He was in the thick willow and alder. Initially we didn’t think he was legal by his antler spread but after taking a closer look we could see what we thought were three brow tines on his left side. Chuck decided he was big enough for him so we moved in for the kill. Chuck was using his .300 Winchester Magnum with 180 grain Power Points. A clean shot did the job and we now had two moose. Once we made it over to the moose we could see that he had three points but one was not on the brow palm but it was lower than the brow. He only had a 45” spread. In looking at the hunting regulations, we found that the lower points are the brow so we weren’t sure but we did know that anyone looking at it from a distance would say the same as we did. We packed out most of the moose that day and returned the next morning to get the last load.
We never spotted another moose so on our last day we moved a few items to the strip for our mid-day pick-up the following day. We got up real early that morning and since it was a beautiful day moved everything up on the strip including the tent. We could see airplanes flying up and down the coast all day long. Where are they and why aren’t they coming to get us? Late that evening we set the tent back up so we could eat and sleep there.
We got up bright and early the next morning hoping to be picked-up. Close to the middle of the day a red and white super cub flew up the valley, l assume, looking for moose. We had seen the plane once before circling down the valley. He flew over us and we waved to see if he would land. He circled and then landed. He got out and introduced himself. It was Gary LaRose, Sr., one of the guides in the area. He asked who had dropped us off and when would they pick us up. We told him our story and asked if he could get hold of Peninsula Airways to have them pick us up. He told us he wasn’t headed that way and had no commutations so we were out of luck. He told us he hoped we got picked up so we would be out of his valley. He said, “The moose population was way down and we were lucky to get even one moose.” With that he got in his plane and took off. It was another beautiful day and no Peninsula Airways.
If only there was such a thing as a satellite phone. I never go on a hunt now without one. We just couldn’t figure out what had happened. We couldn’t leave camp to hunt because we didn’t know if or when they would arrive. What a disaster this was!
It was now day three of waiting for the plane. Sometime in the afternoon a blue and white Department of Fish and Game super cub flew over us, circled and then landed. The two troopers got out and introduced themselves and I asked if Gary LaRose had told them about us. They said, “No we are just in the area checking hunting camps.” We told them that we were supposed to be picked up by Peninsula Airways three days earlier and asked if they could inform them that we were still waiting to be moved. They told us they would but needed to check our license and tags before they left. We were all standing by the pile of gear, moose meat and antlers. The shorter of the two troopers said, “I believe that this moose is illegal.” I said, “It has three brow so it’s legal.” He got pretty huffy and the taller of the two said, “I can see why you guys shot it but it might not be legal. You guys are going through King Salmon, right?” We said, “Yes.” He said, “When you get to King Salmon come down to the Fish and Game office and we will have a biologist decide if it is legal or not.” We said, “OK.” They took down our names and license numbers and told us they would give our message to Peninsula Airways. They got into the cub and took off.
Now not only are we worried about not being picked up but maybe getting fined for an illegal moose. I told Chuck that there wasn’t a judge anywhere that would charge him for shooting that moose.
Around 10 AM the next morning Peninsula Airways showed up. The pilot asked if we wanted moved. I said, “No, we only had one day to hunt so take us to King Salmon. Once on the ground I started ranting and raving with one of the owners and he told me it wasn’t his fault it was my friend, the other owner’s fault.
This is what happened. The morning that they were to move us my wife called to remind them. They told her that a plane had already been dispatched to move us. On the pilot’s way to move us the other owner, Orin Seybert , who lived in Pilot Point, got on the radio and asked the pilot that was going to move us to do another quick flight before he moved us. That pilot got busy and forgot about us and since we weren’t coming back to King Salmon no one thought anything about it until the troopers told them. Never would I do that again.
After that big discussion we headed over to the Fish and Game office to see the biologist. We told him what happened and that he was to check out the moose. He said, “No problem,” and we went out to his truck. On our way out of the office the little short trooper yelled that he would be up there shortly. It took the biologist about ten seconds to say that he understood why we shot the moose and that it was legal. As the biologist’s truck was pulling out the trooper was pulling in. He jumped out of his truck and said, “What did he say!!” We all looked at him and said, “It’s legal!” You could see the smoke coming out of his ears. He was pissed that he wasn’t going to get to write us up. Those kinds of guys drive me crazy.
This was not a normal hunt for me but a learning experience for sure. I never did another hunt where I was to be moved during the middle of it. In addition, I should have done more research about the moose population before going on that trip. Oh well, a caribou hunt would have been way more fun.