Patrick Novak had hunted moose and caribou in Alaska, but he’d never experienced anything like the encounter he witnessed on the third day of hunting along a tributary of the Yukon River during a 17-day adventure in western Alaska.
Novak, of Grand Forks, and hunting buddy Mike Stettler of Utah were calling in a young bull moose that was too small to shoot when the show began.
“We were just playing around and started calling when these two bulls came crashing through the trees and started fighting,” Novak said. “The ground was shaking when they were smashing into each other.”
“We just stood there and high-fived each other about 10 times,” Novak said. “It was something else to see. I’ve been on a few hunts, and I’ve never seen anything like those two animals hitting each other.”
Reaching this stretch of the Alaskan wilderness had been an adventure in itself. After flying from Grand Forks to Anchorage on Sept. 9, Novak caught a connecting flight on a small jet to Aniak, Alaska, a town of about 500 people about 300 miles to the west.
Next up was a 90-minute floatplane ride to a backcountry base where Novak piloted a rented Go-Devil shallow water boat with a 30-horse motor for the 180-mile trek to their campsite on the Innoko River.
Stettler was ahead of him, having gotten a ride up the river earlier in a boat powered by two, 150-horse jet motors. Novak slept in a single-person tent somewhere along the river that first night before finishing the trek to camp.
“I ran that thing for a day and a half by myself up that river,” Novak said. “I think we ended up with just short of 580 river miles according to GPS.”
The outfitter provided the boat and camping equipment, but they hunted on their own.
Back for more
Novak and Stettler were camped about 30 river miles from the bull encounter they’d witnessed, but they were back at the site at daybreak the next morning in hopes of getting a shot at one of the bulls.
Hunting regulations in this part of Alaska, known for its trophies, require that bull moose have racks at least 50 inches wide or four brow tines on a side before they’re legal to shoot.
They’d already passed up five or six bulls that were borderline 50 inches, Novak says, but these bulls definitely met the criteria.
The next challenge was getting one of the bulls into shooting range.
They started calling, but nothing happened.
About an hour later, one of the massive bulls they’d seen the previous day walked out of the brush into a spot where Novak could get a shot with his 7mm rifle.
“One shot, and he went to the ground,” Novak said.
The rack had a 64-inch spread, a trophy any way you measure it. From nose to tail, the big bull measured about 12 feet and likely weighed in the range of 1,600 to 1,700 pounds, Novak said, considerably larger than the moose he’d taken in the Brooks Range of Alaska.
“It’s absolutely nuts how big they really are,” Novak said. “Compared to the one in the Brooks Range, that was probably 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. I never knew the body got that big.”
Novak says he and Stettler then spent the next six to eight hours cutting up the bull, taking as much of the meat as they could carry back to camp.
They returned the next day for the rack and to finish caping the bull. Placed on edge, the rack is nearly as tall as Novak.
The outfitter, who also operates a transportation service, flew into camp after about three days and picked up the meat, the rack and the cape. A cargo plane flew the rack, the cape and the meat back to Anchorage. Novak says he’ll get some of the meat, along with the mount, in late November when it’s trucked to Montana.
The rest of the meat will be donated to needy families in Alaska.
Two for two
After shooting his moose, Novak helped Stettler, who shot a bull with a 58-inch rack Sept. 24. They also fished, catching northern pike up to 15 pounds on light tackle Novak had brought for fishing grayling.
They spent more than two weeks on the tundra along the wilderness river.
“We were in the bush for 17 days, and I think it rained on us 11 days,” Novak said. “Every day it was blowing, raining and cold. We were so wet by the time we left that it was wild.”
They didn’t encounter any grizzlies, but wolves were abundant.
“We had a ton of wolves” in the area, Novak said. “We all had wolf tags but could never get a shot at them.”
They saw about 20 bulls during the trip, but a bull that showed itself during the boat ride back to civilization already has them anticipating their next adventure. They’ll return in 2018 if they draw tags, Novak said.
The bull standing along the wilderness river was quite a sight, Novak said, bigger than either of the trophies they shot.
“(Mike) was in front of me, and he looked like he’d seen a ghost,” Novak says. “This bull was close to the mid-70s (antler spread) and had everything you can imagine. We were both tagged out, and he was standing right on shore.”