Bear, Bison, Caribou, Goats, Moose and Sheep with Packrafts, Planes and Wheelers

SLDMTN

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951
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Palmer, AK
Wasn’t sure what else to call it but this is my 2018 season so far. I have a couple tags left to punch but I’m working on it.

SPRING BEAR:

Aubrey and I have been trying to get her a bear for two years now. Through the cold, rainy nights and sleeping outside, she kept a good attitude all last season. We had a few opportunities but just couldn't get a shot I felt comfortable with her taking. Frustrated as we both were, it made for a great opportunity to teach her it isn't all about shooting something. We watched wild grizzlies from 20 yards away, watched the sows and cubs interact, watched owls swoop down and catch mice in the late hours of the day. The time we spent together was priceless and the look on her face when she saw her first bear up close, you can't buy that.



This year I moved locations to a bigger area and I had been second guessing it since trail cam activity was very very slim. The spring has been very cold up here and everyone I've talked to has had little activity.



With a good boar turning up, we decided to spend a weekend in the blind. It was a cold, rainy weekend but our new blind setup was really a big improvement over last year. Nothing turned up so we headed back to town.




This week, I took a chance and burned a day of leave on Thursday since I'd be at a wedding all weekend. We ran out to the stand and got settled for the night. After 15 minutes of silence, we heard a loud snort. It wasn't the right species but it was neat to watch him feed in front of us.



The sun went down and the temperature dropped quickly again so I got Aubrey situated in her sleeping bag for the night on the floor of the blind. From my camp chair, I kept an eye on the swamp in front of us. Eventually I drifted off as well around 2:00 in the morning.

At 4:00 I was abruptly woken up by the crashing noise of aluminum. The only thing anywhere near our camp made out of aluminum is the ladder up into the blind...I panicked thinking I had a grizzly making its way up into the blind with us. Flying up out of my chair with my neck all stove up from sleeping at a weird angle, I slid the shade down to survey behind us. Luckily the ladder was still standing.

While I tried to figure out if I had been dreaming or it was a real noise, the bears answered that question quickly. Yes, bears plural, four of them actually. They took off from directly under our stand and went crashing out to the barrel. I woke up Aubrey and got her chair set up again. At first glance I had written them off as four small 3 year olds, until one of them reached up and plucked a scent ball out of the tree from 8' up. Aubrey was dead set, that was HER bear. Dad, it's so pretty! I want that one!

After a few moments of calming her down, she propped my .270 WIN up onto the blind. We took a three count and shot when the blonde gave us a good broadside look. It never even took a step, the bear dropped right where it stood.

My little girl, 9 years old, hammered her first big game animal and it was a beautiful grizzly. I was a mess, Dad are you shaking? Yep, I was definitely shaking. It was one of the best moments of my life.



 
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SLDMTN

SLDMTN

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951
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Palmer, AK
SHEEP:

I’ll just start by saying, this sheep season kicked my butt. We had a grand plan to combine wheelers, packrafts, and hiking to get into an area typically only accessible by airplane. Getting to the trailhead went smoothly, the wheelers started and did their job getting us to the river. With the packrafts aired up and gear loaded in them, we set off to cross the swift braided out river. Due to the level of rain we’ve had up here this summer, the river was several feet higher than usual and instead of 3-4 channels to cross, we had somewhere around 12. We had crossed 5-6 channels and everything was going smoothly, I should have known something was up. I rested the raft on the edge of the water and loaded my gear back into it from portaging across the sandbar. The moment I got my full weight into it, the raft shot out from underneath me like a skateboard and I landed on my butt in 2-3 feet of water. The current ripped both Crocs off my feet even though I had the four wheel drive strap engaged. By the time I got my footing, the raft and all of my gear was already 8 feet away and moving fast. Unable to catch up to it before the current carried it downstream, I was left standing barefoot on a sandbar in the middle of a raging river.

It was somewhat of an out of body experience watching my gear float away like that. The shock and disbelief quickly faded as the gravity of the situation took its place. My brother in law, seeing what was happening loaded his gear into his raft and paddled over to my sandbar. Our only course of action was retreat, this sucks.

I hobbled barefoot across the sandbars as we ferried the gear and me back to the wheelers. At this point, I have no choice but to wedge my feet into my brother in laws boots. He was still wearing the boots he brought to cross the river and had his hiking boots in his pack. The downside, he wears a 10, I wear a 12.5. My hobbling continued but not due to sharp rocks anymore.

Riding the wheelers back to the truck, I had an hour to think about things. Monetary totals began to add up and I was out well over $8k, packraft, spotting scope, binos, tent, the list goes on. I had to get my gear back, I can’t afford to replace it all and I had several hunts coming up that I’ve been waiting for years to go on. If only we could scout the river to look for it but still be able to get back upstream. An airplane, that was my best idea.

I hate to call it luck at this point in the hunt but luckily I found a pilot that happened to be sitting idle due to the foul weather where we had been headed. He fired up his 172 and off we went. Starting where I went in, we combed the river looking for any piece of my gear. On our third pass as I was starting to lose hope, my brother in law came across the mic, “There’s the packraft!” The pilot put the airplane on its wingtip banking way harder than I thought a 172 could and we made another pass just off the ground. HOLY CRAP!!! Underneath the overturned packraft, the lid of my Kifaru and barrel of my gun were poking out just above the water. We dropped a pin on the GPS and headed back to the airstrip. With daylight hours limited, we raced back to the river and hiked several miles downstream with the other packraft and of course, boots 2-1/2 sizes too small.

Now comes the challenge, we have to get to the middle of the river and back all over again. With our guardian angels working double time, we carefully picked our way across the channels. As we got to the mess that was my gear, it was all there, everything. We drug it up onto higher ground and I swapped into my boots, talk about heavenly. On the way back, we carefully planned our route and set off. Due to the current we missed a few sandbars and ran some rapids that we had said were absolute no go spots but we made it to the last channel without any major incident. As I was scanning the bank where we would be done with our crossing, a large black bear poked its head from the brush, can’t make this stuff up. I looked at my brother in law and asked him if he had a bear tag in his pocket. It was the most disgusted “NO” I’ve ever heard haha. He wasn’t in the mood to shoot a bear apparently. A few howls had the bear hightailing it out of there and lightened the mood a little. Back on solid ground and feeling like we just might make it out alive and in one piece, we lined the raft up the bank for several miles. For those of you who haven’t ever done this, you have one guy tow the bowline while the other uses a paddle to push the raft away from the bank. You can move very heavy, wet packs upriver easily this way. We got cliffed out and had to haul everything the last 1/4 mile but we made it to the wheelers again. Cramming food in our faces while we lashed the gear, the trip back was cold but we made it. At the truck somewhere around 1:00 AM, we cranked the heater and passed out. We’d left our houses at 5:00 AM the previous day and going hard for 20 hours.

The drive home was quiet and I was feeling very humbled by the reality check I’d just received. Drying our gear out, we took 24 hours off and headed back out to the same unit but a different area. This time we left the wheelers and packrafts at home. Sticking to what we do best, we hiked in. Clearing treeline, I noticed a white rock looking shape that was out of place. Dropping my pack, I pulled the spotter and glassed up our first ram. It was a huge morale booster that we both needed. He was 3/4 curl but we were in the sheep. Watching him for a time, we turned up another ram who was bigger. Deciding we needed to invest some time here, camp was dropped and set up tucked away in the trees below. As the weather rolled in and out, we watched the rams and determined the larger ram was legal but barely. We made a plan for the following morning and put the rams to bed.





As dawn broke the horizon, we were already making our way up a creek bed out of the rams sight. We climbed and sidehilled our way over to a knob and stayed low in the brush to watch. From 300 yards, we counted rings and could only make him 7 years old, his right side was good but left was just short. As we watched the weather rolled in with thick fog so we hustled back into the trees, built a small fire and tried to wait out the rain. The weather never broke and we were forced to head back down to camp. We watched the rams that night until dark as they worked their way across the rocky hillside.





In the morning we set out on the plan we came up with the night before which was to cut straight up the hill before the thermals started moving and get above them. From there we’d work our way down into a better position. The plan was going great until I popped out eye level with the smaller ram at about 400 yards. Luckily he only saw the top of my head and I froze before he got spooked. Deciding I was a marmot or something of that nature, he went back to grazing. I dropped back down and out of sight, switching our tactic slightly, my brother in law set off on his own to close the gap while I stayed with the packs. If there’s one thing I know, that dude can move on the mountain. He closed the gap to 100, then 50, then 20 faster than you could possibly imagine. At 20 yards, the bigger ram gave him a broadside angle never suspecting a thing. It was meat on the ground easily but he just wasn’t positive the ram was big enough. Pausing that close, the smaller ram caught a whiff of something and got shifty. I can only imagine the self restraint required to watch them walk away but I respect him for doing so. It isn’t worth the possible negative outcome.

He hiked back down to me and broke the news, I was disappointed but understood for sure. Unfortunately, we had lost so much time dealing with the river situation and these rams, our hunt was all but over. We ran out of time and the weather forecast was calling for even more rain and fog. Exhausted but ready for the next adventure, we headed home.
 
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SLDMTN

SLDMTN

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Messages
951
Location
Palmer, AK
CARIBOU:

With only a couple days between our sheep trip and caribou, I had to get my ducks in a row. My gear needed to be dried out and inspected, food needed to be replenished, and the wheelers got loaded back up. This hunt would be with my parents, brother in law and my daughter Aubrey. Opening day for the tag was a Monday and Aubrey had soccer on Sunday so we got a late start getting out to camp Sunday evening. The weather was finally clear and we had a great trip in to camp where the rest of the party was already set up for the opener. We sat around the fire, swapped stories and went to bed at sunset.

Like all diligent hunters, we woke early and got the water boiling before the sun came up. We drank coffee and ate breakfast with binoculars in our hands, life was good. The relaxing nature of these large camp hunts lasted about 30 minutes when I spotted a nice bull skylined several ridges away. Well, time to go!





We kicked off the camp shoes, laced our boots up and threw our daypacks on our backs. Aubrey was a little trooper and kept up through the brush without so much as a word of complaint. Over the ridges, across the valleys we hustled to catch up to the bull. Cresting the ridge he was previously on, we couldn’t turn him up. With some careful sneak and glass we worked our way off the other side of his ridge when my brother in law spotted him. He had bedded down a couple hundred yards lower in some brush. With my brother in law just behind us, Aubrey and I worked our way down the hill towards the bull keeping the wind in our face. We popped over a small edge and found him still bedded about 30-35 yards away. Aubrey and I tried a few different shooting positions and came to the best solution of having her shoot off my shoulder as a rest. She waited until he got up and turned broadside while feeding on willows and asked for the OK. I probably got a “Ye” out and the gun went off. She tucked that bullet just behind the shoulder and hammered the bull with my .270. I pulled the gun off my shoulder, stood up and sent an insurance policy to make sure we wouldn’t be blood trailing for hours. It turned out to not be needed but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Not quite the right angle but a cool pic.



Focused on Aubrey’s bull, I missed the fact that there was a second bull bedded only 500 yards away. Immediately after filming the shot, my brother in law dropped his phone and went after the other bull. A short time later, we had two bulls down. It was going to be a long day.

Aubrey’s bull took a half dozen steps and died in the thickest willows around so I got the treat of dragging him out in the open for skinning and a few pictures. With the meat laid out, I loaded both hinds in my pack and set off towards camp as the rain started. My Dad, brother in law and I each took two trips and got both caribou packed back to camp around dinner time. Rather than spending another night, we quickly broke camp and loaded everything into the wheelers. A late night had us home around 1:00 again. We got the meat hung, broke out our soaking wet gear and cleaned everything up.



Grandma got to see her take her first caribou!



Aubrey got to euro skin the other bull for practice. (Pay no attention to my messy shop.)



 
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SLDMTN

SLDMTN

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Palmer, AK
BISON:

This was it for me, the Super Bowl of tags for a kid growing up across the river from the herd. I’d been applying for 20 years trying to draw with no success. Last year, my brother in law drew it on his first attempt. Remarkably, I drew it for this year, I was so pumped!

Using a raft last year worked really well but the takeout point was blown out really bad by all the high water, this year we decided to use the jet boat. My buddy who flew the area last year for us was hooked up so we’d be going in blind. Deciding to bank on last year’s success, we ripped down to the exact same location and set camp. Well, we almost got camp set…Hey there’s a bison on the bluff!

Here we go!

I finished laying my bag inside my tent and grabbed my daypack, bow, and packrafts. We had to ferry across a tributary before we could stalk the bison. On the other side, we hiked up into the thick deadfall and brush. Working slowly and as quietly as possible, we snuck to the bottom of the bluff and left the packs with my Dad. Working up the face of the bluff, we kept the wind right and managed to crest the line of sight to the bison before he saw us. Ranging him, he was at 21 yards straight uphill. I drew back and settled for the shot, squeezing my release the arrow rocketed towards the bull. Embarrassing as it is considering the size of the animal, my shot was a little low but I caught him in the lungs. He was throughly confused as he ran 10 yards and then stood there coughing blood. We watched him just over the crest for several minutes as he swayed. The bull turned and started walking along the ridge, as he did, he spotted us and froze. Staring straight at us looking like he was either going to bolt or charge, I let a second arrow fly. Straight through his throat and buried into his spine. We found out later that it wasn’t deep enough penetration through the massive bones to hit the spinal cord, it was 1/2” from dropping him right there. The bull whipped around and ran away along the trails atop the bluff. Quietly following the tracks and the blood trail, we got to 20 yards again on him. Being in thick brush now and not wanting him to go any further from the river, I took up a rifle and finished the job. I had finally gotten my bison after all these years.







My Dad had hauled the packs to the top of the bluff and brought them in to the bison. We peeled the quarters and got them hanging from a deadfall. Now he was finally light enough for the three of us to wrestle him around for the other cuts. Our first load out was the hind quarters and a front shoulder. We made the long slow trek back to the tributary and stashed the meat for the night. We weren’t about to try to float it across in the dark.

I was so happy to see this little slice of heaven!



The following morning, we got up and packed the stashed meat back to camp. After breakfast, we headed in to the hanging meat and packed out the neck, other front shoulder and bags of cut meat. Back at camp with our second load, we ate lunch and hydrated as much as possible. Our third and final load out was the head/cape, ribs, and remaining cut meat. My brother in law and I took turns with the head/cape combo, that pack weight was ridiculous. At one point I stopped at a deadfall to sit on it and rotate to get across it, well that was a bad idea! The weight of the pack pulled me straight off the log backwards landing on my pack. All I could do was laugh, unbuckle the straps, and pick the pack up onto the log to start again.

The bison was completely hauled out in 9 total trips (3 each) and we were done around 7:00 PM. We cooked dinner and sat there telling stories of the day and laughing about mishaps.



In the morning, we loaded the boat with most of the bison and my Dad and I ferried it to the truck without incident. Leaving my Dad at the truck with the meat, I ran back down and picked up my brother in law, camp gear, and remaining meat. One more trip up river and we were done. Two bison in two years.

[video=youtube_share;oCeAq_FjDhk]https://youtu.be/oCeAq_FjDhk[/video]
 
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SLDMTN

SLDMTN

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Messages
951
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Palmer, AK
MOOSE:

On a Wednesday night, my cousin called and asked if I had weekend plans. He wanted to know if I was interested in going after a couple good bulls he had seen two weeks before the season was open. A buddy and I were planning on goat hunting for a couple days but reconsidered since the goat tag wasn’t supposed to close until later in the year. Moose however was only open for a few more days in the area my cousin was considering. After talking things over, we loaded gear and switched from a boat to wheelers.

After a long drive, we made it to the trailhead, unloaded, stowed gear and set off towards the hills. The trail was in good shape and we made great time getting in to where we’d be camping.



In the morning, a great bull was spotted across the valley and we talked over possibilities. Unfortunately we just didn’t have time to get the bull and have my cousin back to work on Monday morning, maybe next year.





In the early afternoon, we got a tip from another camp down the ridge that there was a good bull across the valley on their side. They were an older group and had no interest in going after a moose that far from a trail. Well, our group wasn’t as smart…



We hustled over to their side, found the bull and made a stalk plan. Cramming gear and kill kits in our packs, we set off. Down the hill, across the creek, up another creek, and skirting a plateau, we were able to get downwind and above the bedded bull.

The brush was a little thicker than we had hoped for and we couldn’t locate him. Slowly working towards his last known location, we couldn’t find him. We worked several directions, still no bull. My cousin pulled out his phone, fired up onX Hunt (which works even without service). I was wrong with where I thought the bull was. With a new heading, we worked our way in the right direction this time.

Just as my cousin was losing hope and thinking we had bumped him, the bull stood at 60 yards broadside. One round out of the .338 WIN put him down within 20 yards. That fast, my cousin had his first moose ever.



We took some pics and began skinning. With packs loaded, we headed off towards camp. It was decent walking for moose country and relatively dry. We packed until we hit the trail, stashed the meat, and hiked back up the hill to camp. The fire felt awesome with some food in our bellies.





In the morning, we broke camp and took the wheelers down to the meat. For the remaining loads out, we were going to be using a different route now that we didn’t have to get back to camp.
 
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SLDMTN

SLDMTN

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Over the course of the day, we ferried meat back to the wheelers until finally we had the last load out. It was getting late, as we secured the last of it to the bed.





On the trip out, we had a few bumps along the way but we made it. Now ice cold, we loaded the trucks and shot back to town. It was a whirlwind trip but a good time no doubt. Huge thanks to Fjelljeger for bringing the tipi and helping us pack meat.



When the antlers are big and the hill is steep, you have to back down haha!

 

Merc

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Awesome year you've had so far! Goodluck on the tags you have remaining.

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Becca

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This might be my favorite thread of the season! What a year you have had, Kyle! Congratulations Sir, on meat in the freezer, and some amazing adventures with family and friends!
 

Btaylor

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Some pretty epic adventures but that 2nd pic of your daughter with her Grizz is just too cool.
 
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SLDMTN

SLDMTN

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Messages
951
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Palmer, AK
This might be my favorite thread of the season! What a year you have had, Kyle! Congratulations Sir, on meat in the freezer, and some amazing adventures with family and friends!
Thank you! In a few short years it'll be the girls leading the charge and Luke & I will be strictly pack mules haha!
 

goodorbit

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Awesome story.
Great pic of the bison with the arrow in mid flight too. How'd you pull that off?
 

Ratamahatta

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Nov 21, 2015
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Over the course of the day, we ferried meat back to the wheelers until finally we had the last load out. It was getting late, as we secured the last of it to the bed.





On the trip out, we had a few bumps along the way but we made it. Now ice cold, we loaded the trucks and shot back to town. It was a whirlwind trip but a good time no doubt. Huge thanks to Fjelljeger for bringing the tipi and helping us pack meat.



When the antlers are big and the hill is steep, you have to back down haha!

Some of the best scenery.

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Becca

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Thank you! In a few short years it'll be the girls leading the charge and Luke & I will be strictly pack mules haha!
No doubt!
As the one currently hauling the girl in our family around, I am looking forward to packing her critters instead of her :)

At the same time, I already feel like the time goes too fast so I am trying to just enjoy every moment.
 

AK Troutbum

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Apr 22, 2012
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Congratulations to you and yours! Thanks for sharing your stories and some amazing photos, it looks like you did indeed have a great year, but it’s not over yet.


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SLDMTN

SLDMTN

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Palmer, AK
Goat:

My brother in law had a goat tag for an area close to our houses so we loaded up the Ranger 6x6 and headed for the mountains. It could only be a two day trip due to our work schedules so we packed light. In the last few days, the area we were headed had gotten about 2" of rain which made all the crossings way deeper than the last time I was there. The last creek crossing was too high and we couldn't get to the area we had seen goats previously. Trying a different angle, we found goats almost right away in a draw that was doable for a 370 yard cross canyon shot.



With his goat down, we worked our way around to it and made short work of skinning. It was a younger goat and we were meat hunting, this one will be awesome eating!



We had crossed several creeks on the way in but close to the goat, there were no puddles or creeks to be found and we were out. There was plenty of ground water on the hillside so we made it work.



Water pumped, it was time for some chow.



All that was left was to pack it out in the morning!

 

Dexter Grayson

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Feb 13, 2017
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Kenai, Alaska
Crazy Awesome season bro! I'll be in town in 3 weeks lets grab a beer and swap some stories, I want to hear more about the lost pack raft.
 
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