Super Cubs on Rocky Riverbed, Horses with Attitude, Flu and Bum Knee - Mooseless Me
Ever since I was a young kid, my one bucket list big game animal has been a bull moose. My luck in moose hunting has been spectacularly dismal - how does 1 for 4 sound?.
I took my first moose in Newfoundland. A hurricane hit Nova Scotia two days into the five-day hunt and it rained and blew hard for 36 hours. After the pounding weather moved out, we successfully called in a young bull. Next, the big country of British Columbia beckoned. My first trip came in 2007, hunting with Jordy McAuley's Finlay River Outfitters at the north end of 160-mile long Williston Lake, along the Rocky Mountain Trench.
The spacious, comfortable Fort Graham Lodge was home base. McAuley honors his late father’s Murdoch McAuley’s Canadian Army service with a shadow box on the wall sporting his uniform and service medals. The family crest, “Dulce Periculum” or “Danger is Sweet,” hangs nearby, along with impressive hunting trophies. A couple hunters staged directly from the lodge. Others moved to fixed outpost camps.
The highlight of the trip for me was flying around in the back seat of outfitter Jordy McAuley’s highly maneuverable Super Cub bush plane, my rifle lashed to the plane's struts. Following a flight that wound around mountains shimmering with the yellows and reds of late September’s fall foliage, McAuley landed on a rocky riverbed near an oxbow on the Akie River.
My guide, Bill Chapman, shared that our camp was about eight hours by horse from the closest main logging road. The nearest camp with electricity and other humans was about 50 miles distant.
I was assigned a horse named “Mystery.”Unaware of exactly where we were going to hunt, I was a little startled when the trail took us about a foot away from the edge of a bluff overlooking the river. The horse
plodded past the precipice, sometimes stopping to look around at the vista while my stomach and other part of my anatomy tightened and rose into my core. I begged the horse to keep his eyes on the road. One loose rock or careless step and it was curtains for both of us. Horses quickly figure out a rider’s experience level. Mystery knew I was a rank novice and mostly ignored my input, figuring he could sight-see, and graze often from the grasses and tasty willow leaves along the trail.
By day three, increasing discomfort grew in my right knee, courtesy of slightly torn cartilage untimely suffered in a softball game two weeks prior to this hunt of a lifetime. While my saddle savvy progressed, the bum knee deteriorated steadily over 5 to 7 hours daily in the saddle. Mystery’s’ choppy runs to catch up upon lagging behind Chapman’s horse had me calling him numerous other names, most of which were creative pairings of previously unrelated cuss words, After three days, the knee was so swollen it took both hands to lift my right leg over the saddle. McAuley flew in and we retreated to the main camp, landing at dusk. The guy that replaced me in camp shot a moose four days later.
When something just isn’t meant to be, the signs can be obvious. This includes coming down with flu-like symptoms within hours after arriving in main camp. Some idiot who was terribly sick saw fit to occupy the open seat next to me on the plane while I was flying to B.C. Awaking form a nap to see and hear him sniffling bleary-eyed, I asked what's going on. "My wife said I'm too sick to sit next to her so I had to move,"he said. Well, thanks a lot Bud.
Fever, sore throat, congestion and cough made complicated hunting. I ended up road hunting with another guide for the duration. Still, my guide Dennis Maki and I set out daily in a truck, putting in many road miles, glassing from strategic spots and walking into some hillside cutovers to call. One bull was responding and coming to a call as we stood along a logging road. When the moose was only about 80 yards out, but still obscured by vegetation, a Ford F-350 truck crested the hill 200 yards behind us and parked watching our activity. The bull hung up and then vanished.
We saw five grizzly bears, including a couple walking the dirt roads close to our truck, but, in keeping with my luck, the only black bear we encountered (I had a black bear tag) was a big specimen crossing a road near a beaver pond right at twilight.
McAuley's team gave it their all and I appreciated their efforts. That prime spot on the den wall remains vacant - more "mooseless" adventure stories to come. I'm wondering if that's one that'll ever be crossed off the bucket list.
For more on McAuley and his operation click on www.finlayriveroutfitters.com.