Moose Madness by W.A. Hughes February 1977
W.A. Hughes is a part-time writer and a teacher in Chehalis, Washington
The Bloopering Bowhunter Finally Gets His Moose, Then Argues With A Grizzly For The Horns And Head!
YOU MAY NOT believe this, but I’m one of those highly educated individuals with a long string of initials behind my name. Each day I meet with troubled folks -many with serious problems – listen and offer advice. Once out of the office, like Jekyll and Hyde, I undergo an almost schizophrenic change of personality. No longer the suave, educated counselor, I return to being myself – a guy to whom funny things, weird things, unusual things happen as a matter of daily occurrence.
To be quite frank, I do a lot of dumb things, Things that would drive even the most macho individual right to the psychiatric crib. But W.A. Hughes is accustomed to unfortunate incidents – he thrives on them. Perhaps in some masochistic way even enjoys them. My wife describes me as an accident looking for a place to happen. Perhaps she’s right.
My Alaskan moose hunt was a typical example of the things I do. My partner Ken Calluso and I drove practically nonstop to Alaska in his pickup truck. It was a trip I’ll never forget. You know Alaska has three seasons: dust and mosquitoes, damn cold, then rain and mud. Well, we drove up during the dust and mosquito season, hunted during the damn cold and drove out during the rain and mud. But it was super fun, and I’d go back tomorrow if I could talk someone into it. You see I’m slowly running out of hunting partners. I guess they just can’t take it, or else my deodorant just isn’t doing the job.
We drove three nights and four days to get up north, through a sea of grey-brown dust, flying gravel, flat tires, busted fuel pumps, cracked windshields and a few other minor inconveniences.
My left arm was covered with tiny white blisters where I got sunburned hanging my arm out the window. I had bags under my eyes the size of a No. 10 can of peas, and my entire body was covered with little red bumps where AlCan mosquitoes and other tiny creatures fed off me when I went swimming or washed up in an isolated Yukon River.
My entire body looked like something I once saw in a Marine Corps training film of guys that had been indiscreet.
When we arrived at our destination on the Denali Highway in Central Alaska I felt as if someone had beat me with a club, but now was no time to slow down. Calluso and I unloaded the Trail 90s from the pickup.
Calluso and I broke fast with a delicious meal of a Baby Ruth and a Snickers bar and took off on the bikes. Now those bikes just scare the hell out of me. I don’t know why I even ride one because every time I do, I have to replace all the skin on my knees and invariably end up picking little chunks of gravel out of my hands. It might be that I just can’t control my emotions.
This time was no different, I know better –I don’t know why I do these things — but after the bike warmed up a minute I cranked the throttle full open like some care free kid. The front wheel reared up in a wheelie and I rolled off the back over my pack and dropped all 256 pounds of my weight on a rather pyramid-shaped piece of quartz sprinkled with shiny pyrite. Oh, the pain!
Calluso displayed his usual sardonic sympathy: “Will you knock off the horseplay, Hughes? Let’s scout this place out.” That’s not really what he said, but this being a family magazine I wouldn’t want to embarrass the editors by printing a factual account of what my retired Marine partner really said. Or what my reply actually was, for that matter.
Not to be put off by the aching part of my anatomy that later showed a bruise the size of a milk bucket, I picked up the bike only to discover that my kick starter was broken off – gone completely. I searched but couldn’t find it. No doubt it was kicked off into the brush by the tire.
For the rest of the trip I did encounter some difficulty starting the machine. Fortunately there was a nub there to push and sometimes I’d just run along and kick the bike into gear. Just another minor inconvenience that I’ve grown accustomed to
Five miles down the trail we entered a spruce forest in a beautiful park-like setting. The ground was getting a little boggy. As we turned a sharp bend in the trail, a pool of water about twenty yards across the hardpacked path. Calluso braked his bike to a stop.
“Shall we walk them through?” he asked.
“Let’s hit it, Calluso.” I goosed the bike and hit the pond at about twenty miles per hour. Well I mean to tell you, I goofed. Although I could see the bottom of the pool and it was only about 6 inches deep, the bottom was mud-soft peat.
Halfway across, the back wheels spun out kicking up a comet of mud and water. I eased back on the throttle and put my foot out to balance the bike. Almost in slow motion, my foot sank ankle deep, then deeper. The bike slowly tipped further and further until it fell over on me.
It was a beautifully sunny day, but that water was cold. I squirmed out from under the bike and walked it to shore. Calluso just walked alongside his bike and gave it a touch of throttle. No problems. When he climbed back on his bike and rode down the trail he smiled, then he laughed until the tears rolled down his cheeks. Lord was I cold, but I hung in there.
We rode fifteen to twenty miles back on the trail. The country was beautiful. Puffy white clouds dotted a pale blue sky. Gentle rolling hills, covered with mattress-thick layer of moss and red-leaved wild cranberries, stretched out to the horizon. Blue-green lakes speckled the tundra. Spruce forests covered the valley floor. A river, loaded with grayling and rainbow trout snaked its way across a lush green valley.
“Wow,” Calluso said “The whole trip is worth the view.”
I sat on the soft tundra, my back braced against a six-foot spruce tree. “I can’t believe it,” I hissed. “Take a look down there.” I handed Calluso the Bushnell lens and pointed to the far side of the valley.
Where the creek widened out to form a pool, two gigantic bull moose grazed along the edge of the pond, belly deep in water. One was chewing the tender roots of a lily pad. A small herd of seven caribou grazed on the side of the hill.
“This is it, Hughes,” said Calluso. “Let’s go back a mile or two and set up camp, I don’t want to disturb this place.”
Early the next morning, which was August 20 and the opening of the moose season, we dressed full camouflage, hiked back to the top of the hill and glassed over the valley. Almost immediately we spotted a brown speck on the valley floor.
“Put your glasses on him,” Calluso ordered.
“He’s a big one, Calluso.” Was I excited. My heart was thumping like a jackhammer, the muscles in the back of my neck were wire-fence tight. I could swear a cannonball was lodged somewhere between my craw and stomach. Even the little bones in my knees were doing the Watusi.
We talked it over for a few minutes and planned our stalk. Calluso would follow the trail to the pool’s edge and try for a shot. I would get above and behind the moose, but I never made it.
Halfway down the hill a bull with a fifty-inch spread of horns jumped out of its bed in a head-high stand of willow. I didn’t have time to think about what action to take. I drew, anchored the twenty-eight-inch glass shaft on my chin and released.
The razorhead sunk into the moose’s side nearly to the feathers just behind the front shoulder. I snapped another arrow out of the bow quiver and missed a running shot about fourteen feet.
Now I was excited. My hands shook so bad I had trouble getting another shaft out of the quiver and on the bow. “Settle down, Hughes,” I kept saying to myself. “Wait it out.” Well, I couldn’t take my own good advice. I took off through the brush like a D-12 cat.
When I’m in top shape I can run about one hundred yards without risking a coronary, and that’s about how far I ran. There was my moose –standing in the middle of the trail, head down, facing me. I put the brakes on fast, set up and took a shot. The arrow hit a horn and went straight up. I whipped another razorhead out of the quiver, but didn’t need to pull. The bull went down. “Whooopeeeee!” I cut loose with a rebel yell that would have sent chills up the back of U.S. Grant.
Like a big dummy I ran over to the moose and guess what? He got up, staggered about two steps and went down again, right on top of me. I couldn’t budge.
What do you do in a situation like this? I lay as quiet as a church mouse and when the moose made a last valiant effort to get up, I rolled free.
“Hughes, where are you?” Calluso yelled. “I need a hand.”
“Over here Calluso.” I grabbed a tall birch sapling and shook it. In a minute Calluso came into sight. When he saw my trophy he turned all smiles and shook my hand.
“He’s a dandy,” he admitted. “Almost as big as mine.”
Well gang, the fun was over. It took tow days to quarter the meat and hang it up. We hauled it out of the brush a piece at a time on the back of the Hondas – but my luck held.
On the last trip for the head, horns and the ribs on one side. I had a terrible shock. It was all gone. You didn’t have to be a mountain man to see what happened. We found bear tracks in the soft mud down the trail.
I wasn’t about to give up that easy. That set of horns meant a lot to me. Fortunately the grizzly wasn’t difficult to locate. That evening we saw a big mama bear with two cubs and the moose head. From a long way off, we started hollering, yelling and waving our arms in the air. Calluso blew the horns on his bike and we must have just scared the devil out of those bears as they took off fast.
Calluso and I rode the bikes down the hill as far as we could, grabbed that head and took off in the opposite direction. Three hours later we were at the Alaska Game Department check in station on the Denali.
When I explained to the biologist what happened he looked at us like we belonged in the puzzle house. “You mean you shot this moose with a bow and arrow and then ran down the hill and took the head away from a grizzly?” He handed back our license and turned to his paper work.
Why argue? Nobody believes the things that happen to W.A.Hughes <—-<<
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