Nice grayling SLUGZ... those little suckers are great fun to catch, and fight well above their weight class. It looks like you and your son are well invested in KUIU gear....I've done the same as the closeout deals come around.
Before even flying out of the bush I was thinking about the next one and things I may do different. That tells ya just how awesome this hunt was. Key to our success was the planning. Detailed planning, to include multiple plans, what ifs, discussions with many and gear testing in the Flat Tops. A ton of watching videos to judge moose, regs review and map/terrain review. One bull would be considered success for us. My son even let me shoot first. I wanted him to shoot first but he said no way. So the first legal one was mine to try and harvest.
Well the day finally came to head to the airport. We both were walking around with smiles a mile wide. Denver to Seattle then to Fairbanks was uneventful. All the gear made it so that was a relief. We had an Apple tag in each bag so if one didn’t make it we were sure at least of what we didn’t have.
Air BNB close to the airport on the front side of the trip made for a relaxing two days. This will come into play again at the back side of the trip. Nice log cabin and garage. We checked zero on the rifles, picked up the rafts, grabbed some fuel and ate some great food. Inflated and checked the rafts for leaks, started the motor, checked filters then repacked everything for the flight in. It was nice having the garage so we could stage everything for easy loading into the shuttle van. Like most Air BnBs I’ve stayed in we met the owners at one point and they let us store our extra bags not needed, small items not needed and hard rifle cases in a locked conex they had. Lastly we marked weights on each bag and got some sleep.
The van shuttle 5 some odd hours north of Fairbanks was uneventful and we arrived in our small town for the bush flight in. Weather delayed us a day so we got to meet some locals, hear some stories and play a bunch of pool in the one restaurant, bar, road house. The next day there was a 5ish hour window to fly before the next weather rolled in so late afternoon of that day my son, our go in gear and I flew in. Our go in gear consisted of camp, food, survival items in case we didn’t see another flight for a few days.
Light mist and rain was the weather as we landed at the drop off lake and started the 1000 yard hike to the river. Our main hunting area was 1 mile ish down river. Newbie mistake #1 “ the lake shoreline that looks like a shoreline really isn’t a shoreline” Well now I know.
We offload, plane departs and we are left with a single crane screaming its head off in excitement I think that we are there. Quick look at Onx and off we go carrying as much as we can. “Dang is this moss, water grass thing shitty to walk in” We get to the river and quickly realize the outside turn of the river is grass to the edge, drops off to a depth solidly over our heads, there isn’t a flat spot within eye shot. Wet soaked and worn ass out we pick the flattest spot available and set camp. The Redcliffe Winnerwell stove combo really shined here. Out of the rain, fire started and drying out. That was dang nice. We sat there a little in disbelief and had the momentary look of “what did we get into” “ we gotta get the rafts, fuel, motor and rest of the gear across this 1000 yard opening”. Quick check of the weather on the InRreach and it would appear to me, we aint seeing no plane the next day.
Slept hard that night. I always sleep good in the rain. Woke the next am to low fog and drizzle. I felt confident there was no way in hell we were gonna see a plane today so the priority after a fire in the tent and breakfast, gathering more wood and setting up the DST tarp for a shelter. We did a quick hike around and got to an open spot so we could see the closest hills. Their tops were 2700 AGL so I estimated we were 500 overcast ½ mile vis in light rain and fog. Our pilot reached out to us about 10 am and I passed him the report. Took a good look at the river and she was high, looked like a milkshake. Lots of water moving for sure. Banks overflowing. We spent the rest of that day sitting near a fire, staying warm and dry. The next day was the same when about 1500 the layer started to lift a little. Our pilot checked in shortly after and asked how it looked. I estimated 1900 OVC and 3 miles vis so not so bad. I still had my doubts as he messaged us and said he was gonna give it a shot. We started to make our way to the lake and half way there start to hear plane. I kept looking in the direction of the sound but I wasn’t looking low enough. Through the saddle and like a pig jumping in the mud he lost a ton of altitude quick and landed. Dang I thought. Quick off load of the gear, sent him on his way and hike back to the camp. Our target was to wake up the next am and get the rafts, motor, fuel and remaining gear to the river by 1200. We felt if we met that target then we could get all assembled and float to the primary camp and hunting spot with enough time to set up a shelter with some light left. Dragging the rafts sucked. 200- 300 yards really aint bad but that 1000 yard hump plain sucked. We met the target though, loaded the rafts and got to our spot. Tent, stove up, hydrated, ate and went to bed.
Our camp was on a sand/gravel bar some 150 yards long. Slough behind us and a hill close by to glass from. Seems to be a lot of varying input on camp and what you can and cant do in camp. We stuck to a simple plan. Whisper/low voice in camp. No metal to metal clanging. Camp fire pretty much all the time it was light out and raining. Fire in the tent every night.
Woke up the next am and looked out at 615 ish and it was just starting to get enough light to shoot so I got dressed. Slung my rifle and grabbed an elk scapula we brought with us and my call horn. The horn was sent to me from my uncle who used to guide up in Quebec. Birch bark rolled inside out into a funnel, end secured with small wood plug like rivets with a coat or two of varnish on it. Pretty dang cool. I walked down river 50 yards raked a little, waited 10 minutes, raked a little then let out 4 cow calls in generally cardinal directions focusing across, down, up the river and behind us into the slough. I then slow walked back to camp and 50 yards up river. Wash rinse repeat the exact same thing. Back to camp and made some coffee. I repeated that sequence every 35ish minutes until 1030 each am. We would then fish a little and gather wood till 1115 then grab our packs/lunch and head to the small hill behind us. We would let out a call from up there every 1.5 hours until 1630 or so then head back to camp. Roughly 1800 then we would start the exact same calling sequence again from each calling station 50 yards up and down river from the camp until 2100.
We executed that for 4 days straight. Only saw one cow swim across the river about 1400 one day but we kept after it knowing we need to play the slow patient game. Day 5 of hunting waking up was uneventful, at the start. Awake, walk down river call, walk up river call, back to camp and make coffee. Camping that close to the water we heard and saw a fair amount of beavers and water noise. As the river dropped this one birch in the river would make a glump glump sound regularly that sounded way too close to a bull grunt. I heard it at night, in the am, while fishing, all day long. If it wasn’t so deep I would have waded in and cut it. Well the difference was now the glump glump was regular and getting louder from across the river. That was a dang bull. Holy crapola. I toss my hat off, grab my rifle, pull off the binos and take a knee crouched position behind a drying log we had in camp. My mind immediately switched to judging him to ensure legal. I figuring I hear this thing coming so it should be easy to see coming through the the timber. I was wrong. Like a ghost he just appears across the river, never stops and walks into the river. He realizes its too deep, nose up to breath he swims across and makes landfall within 5 yards on my down river calling station. Well holy shit. He looks big as all hell. Oh yeah he’s 30 yards from camp now as he’s walking up the river bank and starts to tear into a medium size willow. I’m 80% sure he is legal. He didn’t have the 4 brow tines but a quick check of how many eyeball widths I could get outside of each horn base was 2 and then some. Feeling good he’s legal as he had a lot of space and some sag from his base to the palm. So now I’m pretty sure this legal bull is 10 yards on the other side of the tent my son is sleeping in.
Now I go into defense mode as I’m worried this thing might run right through camp post shot and trip up on something while running over the tent. I start to whisper “Jack get up” “ Bull right here and I need help judging him”. Well, Jacks side of the story is he rustles a little bit and thinks to himself, dang Dads bull grunts really sound good. His next thought was, that’s weird Dad usually doesn’t rake that hard on the willows. Rolls over again and hears this thing shake the water off him. That got him up. Out he rolls with the phone on and we talk for 10 minutes while the big guy is smelling the ground where I pissed not 30 minutes before. The bull starts to slowly turn to walk down river and I shoot #1 in the heart. He trots 20 yards and two more in the neck and he goes down, but now he is in the little slough behind camp. We both are amazed at what happened and go back to camp. 30 yards the other way to make some coffee, eat a little and get the waders on. We stood over him for probably 45 minutes gazing at his size and trying to come up with a plan. Water was cold as all hell so at least we had that going for us. In the end we lopped off his head and neck, got his forward and rear quarter off, then sawed his ribs off on the exposed side and finally pulled all his guts out. We were able to get the big raft back there and got those large chunks back to camp. The other half of him we rolled on his back, legs up in the air, put two ratchet straps underneath him and secured him to the raft. Little by little as we tightened we were able to float him just enough to get him out of there and back to camp. Well at least into 6 inches of flowing cold river water to finish the job. Onto wood racks he went. 13 hours later I started to grill up some tenderloins, garlic, olive oil and mashed potatoes. Data point, you need 135ish pounds on the other side of a raft to use as a counterbalance for half an Alaska moose carcass, hide on