The Apex-Part I

Posted on January 31, 2014

Part one in a two-part series about an epic Moose hunt. To read Part II, click here!

The Apex

Fulfilling a dream of one day hunting giant Alaskan moose finally comes to life.

Story and photos by Eyad Yehyawi

The author takes a few moments to practice before the day’s hunt in Dry Creek.

The author takes a few moments to practice before the day’s hunt in Dry Creek.

Every man has dreams, and we as bowhunters are no different. These dreams often embed themselves deep in our soul, become peaks to climb one day, quests to embark on.

One in particular remained at the apex of my wish list, a journey to the far north to hunt the giant moose of Alaska. Feeling it was time, and nearly two years in advance, I decided to book a hunt for September 2011 with Eric Umphenour and Hunt Alaska, a guide operation based in Fairbanks.

For months I trained hard, tuned my broadheads and stalked four-legged foam at the archery range, doing all I could to prepare. My son, however, had other plans for me—my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world the very week I was scheduled to leave.

Though no feeling could surpass that of holding my first-born child, I still felt the ember of that dream I longed to fulfill. Pushing my hunt back to the fall of 2012, I patiently waited for the cool winds of autumn to return, and before long it was time to leave for Alaska.

The Last Frontier

After spending the night in Fairbanks, I boarded a small plane that would take us to base camp on Dry Creek in the Alaska Range. With the knowledge that Fred Bear had spent many years hunting this area, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic as the plane’s wheels lifted off the tarmac. The colorful changes of the fall foliage, the rivers and streams glistening throughout the landscape, and the mountain peaks on the horizon all made for an incredible flight.

Quickly circling as we neared a mountain peak, we began a sharp but steady descent into the creek basin below. Experiencing a mixture of apprehension and excitement as the small plane dove quickly into base camp, I found myself catching my breath as the wheels gently landed on the gravel bar.

Eric had wanted me to arrive in early September before the dominant bulls acquired their harems. Raking trees and bushes with Eric’s “high-tech” call, which consisted of a plastic oil can taped to the end of a stick, we hoped to draw a big bull within range. On the verge of the rut, we knew the bulls would be more likely to respond to calling, and take on any “oil-can” adversaries they viewed as competition.

Eric Umphenour of Hunt Alaska glassing the valley below.

Eric Umphenour of Hunt Alaska glassing the valley below.

Glassing From Above

I slept very well the first night in camp and can only attribute that to being up for most of the last year with my young son. The small fire I had made in the wall tent the evening before had long since abandoned me, making the departure from my sleeping bag a tall order. After getting dressed, I checked my equipment to ensure travel and time had left well enough alone, and soon was ready to go.

Being in the midst of the Alaska Range, a combination of foothills, mountains and valleys would make up the area we would be hunting. Working our way to the highest points and glassing the surrounding valleys below would be our primary strategy. If all worked according to plan, we would locate a bull through our spotting scope and binoculars, then make our way downwind to try and close the deal.

We began our day near the top of Iowa Ridge and, being born and raised a Hawkeye, the irony was not lost on me. Reddish-purple hues seemed to brush the tundra below, while gilded aspens and green spruce trees dominated the hillsides around us. The skies had opened up by mid-morning and, with a brisk wind on top of it, I found myself throwing on every piece of clothing I had.

After a couple hours of glassing, Eric spotted a great bull down in the valley. Knowing we had no chance sitting on top of the ridge, we loaded up our packs and headed down toward the palmated giant. Though the scenery was picturesque, getting across it was a different story all together.

Walking on ground with the consistency of water-logged sponges while periodically falling into deep pools of water and mud, I realized the terrain was far from what I had expected. Each step was more challenging than the last, and the combination of steady rain and soaked tundra ensured that my clothes and boots were drenched. The wind was also picking up speed, aiding the cold rain’s momentum as it pelted my face like minute shards of glass. Still, we closed the gap, and before long I began to make out the tips of his massive rack through the brush. Being cautious of each step and movement, I knocked an arrow and continued to slowly work my way within bow range.

But just as quickly as this hunt had transpired, it ceased to exist, as the bull silently disappeared into the tree line. Whether it was his sixth sense, a fickle gust of wind that had betrayed me or just bad luck, the end result was still the same. With dripping clothes and hanging heads, it was a long journey back to camp. We would dry our gear, console our egos, and regroup for tomorrow’s hunt.

Despite the fierce wind, we awoke to find our spike tent still intact.

Despite the fierce wind, we awoke to find our spike tent still intact.

Brutal Conditions

We awoke on day two to foggy conditions and brutal winds. This was Alaska, though, and one comes to expect changes in the weather, sometimes by the hour.

We spent the day on another ridge top, glassing between screens of fog and hoping to catch a shooter on his feet. Other than spotting a few small moose and a giant grizzly gorging on blueberries in the valley below, all was quiet that day. We elected to set up a spike camp on the ridge that night, as the wind howled and threatened to blow our tent and belongings to parts unknown. Still, morning came soon enough, finding our tent intact, and Eric and I ready to go.

We headed to a vantage point further up the valley, and if we thought the first two days were windy, we were in for a big surprise. With wind gusts in excess of 40 mph, we didn’t expect to see much movement, and two hours later that prediction had become reality. Though a few caribou dotted the landscape around us, the moose seemed to have vanished, until Eric quietly said, “I see a couple cows Eyad, and there’s a bull with them.”

High above the valley below near a rocky point on the adjacent ridgeline was a big bull with two cows. How Eric had seen them I’ll never know, but his glassing skills were impressive to say the least. Through my binoculars, I could just make out flashes of his white antlers against the honey-colored hillside. As the giant appeared to bed down on the steep slope, we decided to move down the ridgeline a bit further to get a better look.

The bull looked incredible through the spotting scope, but the hard reality remained that he was a good distance away and in a very difficult spot. We would have to circle around, climb a hillside that would make a mountain goat cringe and then ascend the tangled gradient that the bull laid upon. It was almost crazy to consider, but within minutes I had a bow in my hand and a pack on my back, and we were headed into higher country.

 

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