sweating, suffering, swearing, a fair chase, a fair bit of meat, a fairly good life, a damn good life, a hard knock life, a hard knock hunt

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Mighty Richardsons

I’ve seen photos of the place and the animals it holds.

For me, it wasn’t necessarily the size of this sheep's horns that made me want to venture into the Richardsons but rather the beauty of the land, the opportunity to explore this area by wearing out another pair of hiking boots, and the thought of sheep tenderloin melting in my mouth.

Ask me how someone ever captured these stunning images of the Richardsons, I couldn’t tell you. I spent a week in the Richardsons and could barely see my feet let alone sun gleaming off rolling mountains in their gold autumn foliage.

I convinced my ski coach that hunting is indeed ski training and that hiking around in a remote Yukon mountain range would fit nicely in place of the roller skiing volume block that was planned for me. Dust swirled behind the car as I sped down the Dempster Highway. The thirteen hours from Whitehorse passed quicker than the hour I spent in traffic on my way to the Calgary airport. I’d never been passed the Tombstone Mountain Range before and it was apparent the Dempster’s beauty didn’t stop at the Tombstone’s jagged peaks, but rather kept on blossoming into the vast tundra and white rock mountains of the Ogilvies. It was smooth sailing and sunny skies all the way past the Arctic Circle. Going over Wright Pass on the Richardson Mountains however was like opening the door of a cozy cabin to a raging blizzard. Dark clouds swallowed up the sun and a sudden snowstorm caused whiteout conditions where driving was barely possible. Descending across the NWT border, blizzards turned into torrential rains and mud caked my tires, but I’d made it. “This is madness”, I thought.

Here I was about to depart on a solo, week long, backpacking sheep hunt. I was already regretting not turning back for my weeks supply of cheese and salami. 45 minutes out of Whitehorse I realized I’d forgotten the meat and cheese in the fridge at home. I was too excited to finally be on the road to make rational decisions. As I set out in the rain I thought about what else I might add to my plain macaroni, stoned wheat crackers, white rice, quinoa and couscous.

I walked until the light started to fade and set up camp on a small gravel bar littered with grizzly tracks next to a noisy creek and high willow bushes. I know, it sounds stupid but it was getting dark and finding a suitable spot to pitch a tent in this country would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. I buried my food bag under a pile of rocks several meters from the tent and reasoned with myself that perhaps it was a good thing I forgot the salami.

I woke to a damp, soggy morning but was thankful no bear had shown up in the night. Breakfast was a great meal because it was one of the few that can go without meat and cheese. On a full belly of oatmeal I headed off in the fog. I stumbled upon an old rusted 30-30 level action lying in the moss. I picked it up but the action was rusted shut and the wood stock badly deteriorating. I placed it back in its place and not a second later looked up to see a big old "grizz" walking right towards me! I froze as the figure appeared through the fog. I was downwind. The bear spotting me right away, stoop up on its hind legs, and fell forward into a full charge. I frantically flung my rifle off my pack and slammed a bullet in the chamber. The bear stopped short of me and I slowly backed away, rifle at the ready. The big boar followed me, keeping the same distance until I was all the way back at my campsite on the gravel bar. I was relieved when it seemed as though I was finally out of his zone. The problem now was that I had to choose a different route which would add a considerable distance. I started up the adjacent drainage. Fifteen minutes after finally ditching the bear, I spotted another grizzly just ahead! This one was busy eating berries and had not seen me yet. I managed to avoid the bear without it sensing my presence but it meant doing an even longer detour. I was way off course but at least made it to higher ground, out of the valleys and hopefully bear country.

Navigating by topo map was troubling for me in the fog. I could not make out any of the defining mountains or ridges. One drainage runs straight north along the Yukon side of the NWT border. North was the direction I was headed so I figured I would drop down into the valley and follow the creek. The walking was awful. What looks like a soccer field from a distance, is actually muskeg and hummocks where I'd sink up to my knees in the mucky, saturated moss. Each step my hiking boots were suction-cupped into the ground. If it wasn’t for the permafrost I think the ground could very well have swallowed me up. I hiked to exhaustion. It was an eighteen-hour day on my feet but I had made it into the start of the zone where I was allowed to hunt sheep. I pitched my tent on a ledge above the creek and watched a band of caribou walk right by my camp. The biggest bull caribou I’d ever seen stood 100 yards off, rubbing the velvet off his antlers on the surrounding willows. I must say I was tempted. I had a caribou tag with me and here was the biggest caribou I’d ever seen, giving a 100-yard, broadside shot that I could take laying prone in my sleeping bag, out of my tent vestibule. Lucky for him, I was on a sheep hunt.“Hopefully the mountains will show themselves tomorrow” I thought as I drifted to sleep.

I dreamt of the old 30-30 rifle and the unfortunate soul who'd perhaps encountered the very grizzly in that same spot years earlier. What was his fate? 

I awoke with the false sense of hope strewn upon me by my orange tent fly that seems to make even the cloudiest days look bright through its fabric. Reality sunk in when I stuck my head out the tent, it was wet with low-lying clouds, same as the past two days. Rather discouraged, I busted out the satellite phone I’d borrowed and phoned my friend Colin for the weather report. Colin’s cheerful voice was a pleasant sound after listening to myself swear and bitch for the past couple days. Pleasant as it were, the weather forecast he gave me was for rain, rain, and more rain. I sat in my tent procrastinating putting on my soaking wet hikers. By late morning the deed was finally done and I set off up the mountain to see if by some chance I could break through the cloud cover. This is where I hoped to be glassing sheep on Mt Millen, one of The Richardson’s highest peaks. Who was I kidding?

I hunkered behind a pile of rocks as hurricane force winds threatened to blow me off the mountain. Spotting sheep seemed far-fetched while literally being inside a cloud. What to do? I wanted the weather forecast to be wrong. A dreadful thought filled my head: “If I call it right now, I’ll have flown to Yukon, driven a thousand miles, hiked all this way through muskeg, mountains, buck brush and grizzlies and have nothing to show for it”. I was only able to make up my mind when an even more dreadful thought filled my head: “If by some miracle I shoot a sheep up here, I have to go through everything I’ve already done but with an entire Dall ram on my back”.

I took my first few steps in the direction home. “You’re Knute Johnsgaard, you don’t give up” I’d turn back around and the wind would blast me in the face. I stood on top of the mountain in the storm as my brain reasoned with my ego to finally let me turn back. I felt crushed. The mountaintop became vast. Obstacles appeared through the cloud at last minute. One detour after another found me overlooking a steep creek gully. This was bad. My map didn’t have this creek on it. I enabled my smart phone’s GPS. Unless I somehow wandered over five kilometers off track, into the NWT, it had to be wrong. “I don’t get lost”, I told myself. I once again reasoned with my ego, confirming the GPS location by the landmarks around the creek. I pointed myself in the right direction, turned off my phone, and started back into the Yukon. I continued through the mist for a few hours. I would try to drop back down into the same valley I’d come in on. It runs straight for fifteen kilometers and is easier to follow than the ridge. I started descending into the valley, was I having déjà vu? I stopped in my tracks. A grizzly had charged me but I’d never felt this scared in my life. This was either the exact same creek I’d seen hours earlier or I was going completely insane. I sat down exhausted and soaking wet and treated myself to the last of my stroopwafles, basically the only “good” food I’d brought after forgetting my cheese and salami. It was a rough day physically but all the hurt in my joints and muscles could not be felt next to the screaming frustration of having given up, only to have gotten lost. I imagined glassing sheep on an alpine meadow under sunny skies in the Yukon’s Southern Lakes region.

I put my mind over matter and came to grips with the fact I was not invincible, but rather vulnerable because of my own pigheadedness. My new goal was to simply make it out of the clouds and into what I’d deemed “The Great Valley” by nightfall. I met that goal by periodically checking my phone’s GPS. As I broke through the cloud level, descending into the valley I felt immediately better. I had spent the entire day lost in the clouds; lesson learned to always travel with a compass.

I was now paralleling the creek in the wide-open valley. The walking was hard but being able to see my surroundings was enough to keep me in good spirits. I felt like a child on an Easter egg hunt as I walked through miles of cloudberry habitat; they were just sparse enough to get really excited at the discovery of a big juicy one.

Yesterday’s feelings of self-pity were starting to be replaced by new hopes of harvesting a caribou closer to the road. Caribou are considerably larger than sheep and as I walked I debated how close to the road was close enough. No sooner did I start to think I might be “close enough” did I spot a band of caribou about a mile opposite the creek. When the 500m no-hunting corridor was introduced on the Dempster Highway, people were outraged at the inconvenience it would cause them. I would show those lazy people how hunting is supposed to be. I checked my map: 15km as the crow flies. There’d be no guaranteeing I’d see caribou from the highway. I wanted to seal the deal right here; it was an easy decision.

Caribou don’t always stick around like sheep so I wanted to move quickly. I crossed the creek, ditching my pack on the other side for the final stalk. With little more than my rifle and granola bar I did the classic half bent over speed walk up towards the caribou. The wind was in my favor but it was a blind stalk, meaning because of the rise in the land there was no line of sight between the caribou and myself. To be on the safe side I side-hilled way above where I thought they’d be. As I tip toed over the rise it was apparent I had been a little too conservative. I had a lot of ground to cover still but was better positioned and approached quickly upon the unsuspecting herd. I transitioned from being bent over to crawling to inching on my belly until I was within 200 yards. A bull bedded just below me presented a good opportunity but the bigger bulls were out of range below it. I waited patiently for the bull to join the others so I could get a better look at the rest of the herd. Right now he was just an obstacle. He only moved when it looked like the rest of the herd were making their way down the valley and he didn’t want to get left behind. I followed quickly as if I too were getting left behind, but stayed out of sight. The caribou were now clearly on the move and I feared I had missed my chance. I lay prone, nestled into a good rest and ranged them at 260 yards. It was a little further than I would have liked but I had a good broadside shot on one of the lead bulls so I took it. The shot echoed across the valley and the big bull staggered backwards and fell.

No matter what hardships lay ahead, it was a successful hunt from this point forward. I snapped a couple photos with my phone (easier said than done with nothing but moss, shrubs, and a couple rocks to prop it up on). As I headed back up the creek for my pack the clouds dropped and I was socked in again. I had placed my pack just up from a defining bend in the creek but the dips and hummocks in the land could hide a school bus. I circled the area high and low before resorting to a grid search. In a way, losing my pack was almost worst than getting lost myself. At least I had with me the necessities to survive when I was lost on top of the mountain. I now had my belt knife, a rifle and matches and had already eaten my granola bar. And honestly what good are matches when you’re in a saturated alpine swamp, a two days walk from the nearest spruce tree. I was screwed. The grid pattern search eventually paid off and I swore never to leave my pack again without putting a waypoint in my phone’s GPS.

In a couple hours I had all the meat neatly deboned and in game bags and the antlers stripped of their velvet to save every extra ounce of weight. I split my haul into two loads. I had made a “tundra sled” as I called it out of a crazy carpet, broken carbon fiber ski poles and rope. I was quite proud of my creation and it did slide like a dream along the moss but every couple meters it would tip over on a hummock and the many boulders and willows I had to navigate rendered it useless. The load was almost unbearable as I packed it up the mountain pass. I dropped my pack at a spot that would make do for a campsite and headed down for the second load. It was quite a change to walk with nothing but a rifle and water bottle in my pack. I’d completely forgotten how leisurely walking normally was, even with the rugged terrain. My happiness ended when I hoisted the second load onto my back. I had obviously done a poor job at making two equal loads and the second was considerably heavier. Beaten and battered I finally made it to “camp”.  I had one liter of water to cook dinner with that I had unfortunately added sport drink to earlier. The caribou fried in its own fat made up for the expired Sidekick noodles cooked in Emend.

The rate at which I was moving was starting to sink in and my misjudgment was coming into perspective. Two trips means twice as far right? Wrong, because you’ve got to go all the way back to start your second trip, thus making it three times as far. Grueling as it was, I was headed back to my car with 160 pounds of precious meat and a beautiful set of antlers; I was ecstatic. Boiled meat for lunch and dinner, the more I ate the less I had to carry.

One more day! I was starting to exhaust my singing voice and song lyrics but I was back in the same area where I’d been charged by the grizzly so I sang loud and clear “But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just be the man who walked a thousand miles and is really sore. Da-da-da, da-da-da, my legs are really fucking sore.” Other song variations included most of today’s pop melodies supplemented with swear words and lyrics about being tired, hungry, and hurting all over. My pack weighed so much that my heavy-duty nylon hip strap broke. I jerry rigged it with cord from my tundra sled but much of the weight load remained on my shoulders. The willows were thick like brambles and I found simply walking right in the creek was best. Letting the current carry my feet downstream, the creek was essentially making my footsteps for me, or at least I liked to think of it that way to ease the effort. Without my repurposed ski poles I would have likely fallen on my face, been pinned down by my pack and drowned.

Reaching the car was a milestone. I was so happy I almost wanted to say fuck going back for the last load, but of course I didn’t. Walking back empty was countered by having to heave each step against the creek's current.

On the final return trip I was running on fumes with nothing but adrenaline keeping me going. I’d pick a spot in the distance and challenge myself to make it that far without stopping for rest. My last song before reaching the car was Hallelujah.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dall Sheep with a Bow!

Nothing comes easy, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. My toenails have almost grown back now. The unforgiving mountains plucked them loose off my blackened toes. The Mountains also laid claim to a black Iphone, lost forever amongst similarly sized black shale. The Iphone was everything but a phone for me. In order of importance it was: a topo map, a camera, and a watch. I have but one extremely out of focus Go-Pro photo and no one to share memories with, only stories to tell.

I was on a solo backpacking bow hunt for dall sheep. I was slithering through the grass like a snake towards a group of rams. I couldn’t close the distance to within bow range so I changed my tactic. I was now stripped down to my white, wool long underwear, crawling as sheep-like as possible, while angling towards the rams. As it turns out, I’m not a very convincing sheep.

Next I found myself with bow in hand, silent as a whisper, descending a cliff I wouldn't dare tackle without ropes, a harness, and a belay buddy... but for the the perfect shot, I'd do anything. The rams were just out of range beneath me. As I sat perched on a ledge I was too focused on the sheep below to see a different ram ambling along the very ledge I was on! I looked through my rangefinder: a full curl ram at 20 yards! This was it, I’m deadly out to 70 when practicing. I knocked an arrow and went to draw when I realized I wasn’t wearing my release! I’ve never fumbled with anything so much in my life. By the time I had it on, the ram had seen me and was at a considerable further distance. Being too frantic to re-range him I launched an arrow two inches over his back. After missing such an opportunity, the walk of shame back to where I’d left my pack for the stalk was far and felt even farther.

The following day, more vigorous hiking rewarded me with another opportunity on a ram bedded at tree line. I was crab walking towards him and almost within range. I accidently crab walked right into a big red ant town. I held it together for quite some time but was being pinched to death and for once it was almost a relief when the ram spooked and disappeared overtop the next creek drainage. His keen wit told me he was probably the same ram I had seen yesterday.

The next couple days I hiked from sun up to sun down- in the land of the midnight sun, that’s saying something. I came close on a few more stalks, one in particular it was foggy and pouring rain. I’d spotted a lone ram and was able to walk right towards him when the fog rolled in, but as luck would have it, the fog lifted when I was wide in the open. I laid flat on my back in the pouring rain, soaked and hypothermic. I was shivering uncontrollably but was trying to be completely motionless until the fog provided some cover. When I finally got my opportunity I ranged the ram. Laser range finders it turns out, are completely useless in the fog (I suppose the "laser" that normally bounces off the object and back, giving the distance, gets to disrupted). I guessed the sheep to be about 45 yards but after my misjudgment on the first day I wasn’t going to risk it.

I woke up to raindrops on my face. The thought of carrying an extra four pounds outweighed the luxury of a tent. And so I sat shivering under an overhanging rock face until the sun started to rise. I watched far-off rams butt heads. The resulting crack reached me seconds later. Before long I was stalking those very rams. They were below tree line so it was easy to stay out of sight. I knew exactly which ram I was after. As I neared the sheep I caught a glimpse of white out of the corner of my eye. Instinctively I ducked behind the buck brush. He wasn’t the one I was after, but it was a legal ram walking right towards me. It was too good to pass up. I made no mistake this time. I saw the arrow connect and after a short pursuit I released the second and fatal shot. People say: “this is when the real work begins”. I hate that saying. I was in total bliss as I trudged through unimaginable willow thickets, creek beds, swamps and old burns with 150 pound pack of sheep on my back.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Moose Everywhere!

I was having to dig deep into the chest freezer before I struck any meat and my poor truck was looking sad and neglected, nearly rusted in half. Could it make the 1500km journey? I just had to get out for a moose hunt before heading off on another ski training camp. I topped up the oils (as per every tank of gas), checked my tires, and hoped that it’d make it. My friend Logan and I were going to the opposite side of the territory, north. I was leaving next week so this was my only chance. I headed north because it was early in the [hunting] season and the moose rut earlier up north. I use Google Earth tirelessly as well as Yukon Mining Lands Viewer to plan hunting trips. I’ve been thinking about hunting this particular river for a while now. 

When I’m looking for places to hunt I rule out an area if I think that someone can drive an off road vehicle, motorboat or even land a float plane nearby. This river was perfect because I could tell from the satellite imagery that it was a shallow creek with rapids, not a river. I love exploring new areas, but we were really taking a gamble on this one as I’d never heard of anyone running this river. We didn’t know if there was a good put-in or if there was, how to get to it. It wouldn’t be my first time running creek-like rivers and I knew that one of the biggest concerns is always log jams. I didn’t make out any sure signs through the grainy satellite imagery. We were going for it.

I estimated it to be four long days. We’d be hunting moose by canoe and pack raft. We didn’t have a rifle; just my bow for hunting and a 12 gauge for bear protection. I’d arrowed a dall sheep last month so I figured a moose would be no problem with a bow.

We found what we hoped was the right dirt road, which we hoped would at least get us close to the river, which we hoped was runnable. I had high hopes. It went on and on for over 20km. “Maybe around the next corner” we’d tell ourselves. We had almost given up a few times until finally the river came into view. The put in was good, and the river looked shallow. I was also happy to see the river flowing at a reasonable speed. By looking at topo maps I could only make a rough estimate on river speed.
Here's our gear for the hunt!

 We unloaded our gear from the truck and tossed it in the canoe. We’d only inflate the pack raft if we had to. We dinged some under-the-surface rocks right off the bat. Before long I was seriously regretting not bringing any sort of epoxy/fiberglass repair kit. This river was SHA-LLOW. The moose country looked unreal though. We’d float down, call, and fish while we waited. If only the moose were as easy to catch as the grayling in the river! We set up camp on a small beach and began to cook dinner. I put out a cow call and returned to making dinner, going back to the river every 20 minutes or so to call. Just as we were starting to loose light I did one more call: "MOOOoo" – I was cut short when I glanced to my left and there was a giant bull moose standing in the middle of the river, 90 yards away. It was no wonder we didn’t hear him coming, we had the MSR Dragonfly stove going full blast and the swift current in the shallow water was the only other sound we could hear. I grabbed my bow and ranged the moose, which was now walking away from our bright orange tent and yellow canoe. With a rifle, this hunt was over but 90 yards was too far with my bow. Even my most illustrious cow call could not lull him back towards us. He was spooked. It was getting dark anyways so we returned to our dinner of grouse curry and went to bed. I was frustrated but happy that the rut had for sure started. It was only Sept 13.
The moose is hiding right behind those big spruce trees

 We hadn't floated downstream a kilometre the next morning before we pulled over on a nice gravel bar. I thought the moose from last night would still be in the area. When I inspected the gravel bar I immediately smelled moose. There was a fresh "piss hole", moose scent was in the air and I just knew that something would come in here if we called and waited long enough. We called and waited for almost two hours; nothing. We crossed the river to get a view on a high esker. We had a good view but didn’t see anything. We were just about scamper back down when we heard grunting coming towards us, fast. Logan stayed lookout as I hurried back down to the river and paddled across to where I was calling before. Logan was giving me hand signals from atop the hill. Some of Logan’s signals were hard to interpret. We definitely should have debriefed before parting ways. I couldn’t hear or see the moose, but it was apparent Logan could. He was pointing into the bush and doing the ol' hands-above-the-head-antler-signal. I couldn’t figure out why no moose had shown up yet. I’d call and look back at Logan through my range finder. By this point we’re getting better at hand signals and I understood the moose was just standing in the bush but didn’t care for my cow calls. I tried a bull grunt and still nothing.

We had now wasted half the day and only paddled one kilometre of river. This moose obviously wasn’t coming to me so I figured I might as well try going to him. I know enough to know that you can’t walk up to a moose without it hearing you. Those big radar ears can hear a call from miles away. It’s not often a cow would just walk up to a bull so I opted to bull grunt as I walked towards where Logan was pointing. I had just started into the bush and I stumbled on a pile of bones from a moose long past, likely wolf killed. I picked up an old sun bleached shoulder blade and rubbed it gently on some willows as I slowly walked into the bush. After hours of watching Logan’s hand signals, finally I saw the moose for myself, his huge antlers towering above the brush. It would be hard to fling an arrow through the bush. The moose was standing on the edge of a more open muskeg meadow so I decided to walk right out in the open meadow. I held the shoulder blade above my head and slowly tilted it side to side with every step while grunting. Finally when I was 50 yards from the beast he started displaying. He was just standing there snorting air and huffing, not really grunting. He really didn’t want to get out of his little swamp in the bush but he knew he had to fight now. He started raking trees and angling towards me. He was still in the bush at 40 yards and I almost shot when there was about a foot opening between two trees. I thought he would come closer, so I waited. At one point he started angling away and I thought he was going to back out of this fight. Then he turned again and walked right out into the opening. I had the shoulder blade over my head in one hand and my rangefinder in the other. For ten seconds I experienced what I imagine to be Parkinson's disease and couldn’t get a reading with the rangefinder. Finally I got it: 30 yards. He was broadside but he was looking right at me. I didn’t want to just drop the shoulder blade to grab the bow because he might know that something’s up. I waited until he turned his head a bit then dropped my “antler” and knocked an arrow. I put one right through the bottom of his rib cage, behind his shoulder. He spun around in a circle and I shot another one through both lungs. He only took a couple steps and fell down against a tree, coughing up lung. That’s when I saw a cow emerge from behind the willows. That explains it: no wonder he wasn’t coming into my calls, I can’t compete with a real cow moose. “WE GOT HIM!” I yelled back to Logan who was scrambling down the bank. The 1200lb moose was lying about 400 yards from the riverbank. He fell against a log and the two of us were unable to even push him over on his side so we had no choice but to skin him as he lay. A few hours later we had it field dressed and all the meat in game bags. We stupidly did not bring any pack frame so we ended up putting a pole between the two of us to carry the quarters. We only had to use headlamps for the last couple trips. When we had all the meat back at the river we lit a huge bon fire, took off our blood soaked clothes, and went for a swim.
The moose! Meat for the winter. 56" wide, well over the Pope and Young minimum 

 The next morning we were heading back to the kill site to retrieve the antlers when we heard more grunting. I did a quiet cow call just for fun. 15 minutes later when we just finished sawing off the antlers, another huge moose appeared out of the morning fog. I picked up the antlers and gave a grunt. I immediately regretted my foolish behaviour when the giant animal came stomping towards us like a raging bull. I threw down the antlers and picked up the shotgun loaded with 5 slugs and we backed away shouting at the moose. He sure didn’t like the fact that we were two assholes and not a cow moose. We had to back off and wait some time before he finally wandered off and we could collect our antlers.

We had about 700lbs of moose, 100lbs of gear and 170lbs of me in the canoe. The rest of the gear and Logan were in the pack raft. We had made it less than a quarter of our way down the river. I knew that it would be faster to line our way back upriver to the truck, but Logan and I both agreed that would be lame. We went downstream. We would paddle until dark. I say paddle but I probably ended up lining the canoe down half the river. We were running aground before, now we had three times the weight in our boat. Paddling the canoe solo was like trying to steer a barge with a soupspoon. My fiberglass canoe has four “ribs” that help it keep its structure. Before the end of the day I’d splintered two of them. More swear words came out of my mouth that day than ever before. The current would pick up before a 90-degree corner riddled with sweepers. “OHHH FUUUCCCKK” I pried on my paddle until I was sure it’d break under the force. I slammed a few sweepers and went over and under some other ones. Logan was having an easier time in the pack raft but was probably getting tired of listening to my bitching. The boat sprung a slow leak so I was bailing as I paddled. When I was lining the canoe downriver the bow of the canoe would sometimes run aground and the entire force of the river’s current would try to whip the stern around. If I beached it sideways in the river, the current would surely just flow over the gunwales and swamp the boat.

I kept thinking as we made it further down stream, more tributaries would flow in and add more water to the river. The streams didn’t seem to help the water volume though. Finally it was getting dark, we were exhausted, and everything was soaking wet, especially Logan’s clothes which were in a not so dry dry-bag. We chopped wood with our remaining daylight, lit a big fire, and made a drying rack to hang out wet clothes. We sat around the fire tending the clothes and practicing our moose calls- apparently we’re pretty good. It was pitch dark when we heard grunting right behind our tent. We were camped on a really small island and there was obviously a moose on the island with us. He passed right by our huge fire at no more than 20 yards. We shone our dim LED headlamps and we could see the reflective eyes of a huge bull walking right through our camp. I wasn’t about to pretend to be another moose this time. The shotgun was now designated as moose protection, not bear protection. He crossed over to the other side of the river and was thrashing the alders like crazy. Before long, there was more grunting, but on the opposite side of the river from the moose thrashing the willows! We were definitely in moose country.
Drying our clothes before the moose walked through the camp

 I was glad we were not trampled in the night. Yesterday left me sore all over and it was hard to imagine that we had another estimated two days of this. We repacked the canoe with the meat we’d taken out to air. I made more of an effort to distribute the weight better this time. Right off the start I could feel it was a hundred times easier to steer. I felt stupid for not taking the time to rearrange the weight yesterday. It was still a bitch to steer though and the river was still shallow as all hell. We'd be completely screwed if anything happened to either of the boats. There were a couple rapids where we should have taken all 800 pounds of stuff out of the boat and portaged, but we lined instead and just about paid for it a few times. I was glad to have brought my chest waders so I could jump out of the boat at the first sight of a boulder field and line the canoe down. There were a couple small logjams that we managed to just squeak through in a narrow channel. All in all it was an easier day than the previous one and by the end of the day there was starting to be more water in the river! We knew we were home free when we started seeing a couple cabins on the river. The first signs of man in three days! By nightfall we made it to the confluence of a larger river. We floated down a few kilometres and found a nice island to camp at. When we were unloading the boats another great big bull moose stepped off the island and started swimming across the river! We hadn’t even called this one. We heard him thrashing in the bushes across the river and could hear wolves howling. We howled back and they’d respond right away. We didn’t want them to come eat our moose meat though so we stopped the foolishness.
Not a lot of freeboard left on that canoe!
Deeper water!

 The next day was a huge relief. Finally there was enough water in the river that we didn’t have to worry about rocks and sweepers. My boat was on its last legs. I bailed it as we floated down, eating what was left of our food supplies: prunes dipped in peanut butter. Yum? We saw a nice black bear eating berries on the hillside. By mid afternoon we reached the take-out. Now, the plan was for one of us to guard the meat while the other hitchhiked on the deserted road to the 4x4 trail where we had stashed a mountain bike. It only took an hour to snag a ride, not bad considering I was the dirtiest, looking bushman in the north. The mountain bike ride was further than I remembered but I was happy to collect a few game birds along the way: a few grouse and some ptarmigan- 3 of them in one shot! I made it to the truck. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the big bull moose standing 200 yards from the vehicle! I sat and watched him for a while and decided that I’d poked fun at enough moose and didn’t need to get him any closer. It was an hour and a half drive back to Logan and the moose meat.

We celebrated with a couple of my home brews and a jar of olives Logan had saved. The drive home would be too much that night so we spent one more night.

The next morning I shot a spruce grouse with my slingshot and we ate it for breakfast with some cranberries berries we found around camp (besides moose meat we were literally out of food). We stopped at the corner store to buy a Dr Pepper. I’d been craving sugar for days and the prunes dipped in peanut butter just didn't do it for me. We were less than 2 hours from home when we saw a work truck parked on the shoulder of the road. The driver was on his cell phone, looking at a bull moose, no doubt calling his buddy to come quick with a rifle! That concluded seeing moose everyday of the trip!

Now I had two days to hang the meat and two days to butcher the entire thing before leaving to California for an altitude ski training camp. We finished butchering and packaging at 2am. I had five hours to pack my gear for my three week trip and be at the airport.