This article originally appeared on Foxworthy Outdoors. March 1, 2012.
“Shhhhh…I hear a moose,” whispered Steve Vogt.
“Yeah, I hear him too. Sounds like he’s a half mile down river,” I replied.
The 16-foot aluminum boat with its jet drive kicker drifted down King Salmon Creek, no motor running….quiet like, just oars keeping the boat in the middle of the creek. The cold fog hung low across the river. You could breathe its water.
Steve looked back at me from the bow where he sat and said, “Scotty, I’m going to kill a moose.”
He had the look of a fighter pilot approaching his target.
You see, a few years earlier I had killed a fine bull moose in the Mulchatna drainage area several hundred miles to the north and now it was Steve’s turn. We had flown commercially into King Salmon, rented a boat with enough gasoline to run a destroyer for a week then headed up King Salmon Creek.
We made camp and the next morning started a downstream drift. We rounded a bend in the river. I could hear the bull moose’s haunting groan downriver. Steve was still on high alert, when I saw a big silver back roll in the river at the bend. A salmon.
I quickly rowed over to the bank when Vogt angrily said, “What in the heck are you doing?!?”
I responded, “Steve, I saw a salmon roll right here at the bend and we could use the meat.”
Steve responded again with frustration, “Have you lost your mind? What in the heck are you doing? There’s a moose down river!”
I said, “Just let me catch one salmon for supper.”
Steve replied, “Dad gummit, you’re going to mess me up on a good moose over a dang salmon.”
I’m afraid my old buddy was pretty hot over the situation. I rowed the boat over, jumped out and tied the bow to a tree. I pulled out my old Shakespeare spinning reel on a Cabelas fiberglass rod with a green pixie spoon tied to 12-pound line.
Steve said sarcastically, “You didn’t see a salmon. There’s no fish in this pool.”
I cast the heavy spoon up river and brought it back and ‘wham,’ a fish hit & I fought a very large rainbow trout to shore.
“Good gosh, wait for me, Scott,” Steve said.
He jumped out, grabbed his spinning rod with a red pixie spoon and started casting. I tossed the rainbow in the bottom of the boat and threw the spoon out again. Wham! I reeled in a 12 pound silver salmon.
Excitedly Steve said, “Scott, don’t throw again, I want to catch one. They don’t seem to be hitting this red spoon. Don’t throw again. Dang it, I want to catch one too.”
I tossed the salmon in the boat next to the rainbow. My old buddy hadn’t had a bite. He was right - they didn’t like that red spoon but they liked my green pixie spoon. He said again, “Don’t throw again. There might not be many fish in this pool.”
I threw again and…well, you guessed it…bam! I reeled in another large rainbow. I brought the fish to shore. Steve dropped his rod, ran to me, pulled his knife out and cut my green spoon off my line. He ran back laughing, like a sick kid. He cut his red pixie spoon off and tied my green one on, looked at me and said, “Take that, you @#%$#!”
But, as he finished tying the spoon on, he instantly took on the expression of terror! He put his hand over his lower belly and with painful anguish, looked at me and said,” Oh Lawd! Oh no, I got to go to the bathroom, and I got to go now!!”
I started laughing while Steve proceeded to tear the boat apart looking for toilet paper.
“Scott, this ain’t funny. Oh no, help me find it, where is it?”
He found a roll and took off, taking tiny little steps. One hand on is belly, the other hand covering his…well…his posterior.
As he shuffled away in pain, he yelled back at me, “Don’t cast again, wait on me…oh no…oh Lawd…I ain’t going to make it!”
He shuffled 20 yards around the bend and up river so I couldn’t witness the coming storm. Now the creek here is only as wide as a two lane country road. Less than a minute after he disappeared, I started to hear voices. Unbelievable as it sounds, a raft came around the bend carrying two couples. The women were laughing hysterically….well no, they were now crying. One of the men looked at me, laughing, while pointing up stream as the raft drifted by me.
“Your buddy, he ain’t doing too good.” And then the laughter erupted again.
I said, “Did you catch him in the ‘on’ position?”
The man couldn’t respond. One of the women was lying in the bottom of the raft laughing. The raft drifted a hundred yards down-stream and you could still hear the roar of laughter.
A few minutes later, Dr. Steve Vogt came back around the bend, walked up to me, looked me dead in the eyes with a cold stare and said, “Can you believe it, hundreds of miles from nowhere, a man can’t even go to the bathroom…I’ve been dehumanized. Those folks saw me in the ‘on’ position.”
I couldn’t hold it anymore. I fell to the ground in laughter. Steve kicked me but I couldn’t help it…I couldn’t stop laughing. He picked up his rod off the bank and threw my green pixie spoon in the river and on the first cast, brought a large rainbow to the bank. We climbed back in the boat and continued our drift for moose downriver.
After several miles, it was evident that all the commotion had spooked the bull moose we had heard earlier. After several miles, I cranked the Evinrude and shot back up river toward camp some 10 miles ahead.
That evening Steve cooked up a mess of salmon and rainbow and I’m telling you, you would have had to been there. It was the best feast of fresh fish and coffee with a big ole’ Alaska moon lighting up the whole river. It was a great meal, us sitting around a camp fire laughing about the day’s events.
The next morning I hiked three miles north of camp while Steve hunted south of camp along the river. I saw one young bull moose and a few caribou cows. But Steve passed on a great bull that he watched walk right through our camp. That decision haunts him still today. He said it was just hard to pull down on a bull some twenty yards from our tent.
Several days later we decided to move back towards King Salmon then go down Big Creek some thirty miles. We stopped at King Salmon to buy more supplies. We walked into a grocery store that had a small deli in the back. Man, we were hungry. Both Steve and I got fried chicken and a big ole’ spoonful of macaroni and cheese and ate it standing up in the store. We both were wearing hip waders, felt hats and had pistols on. Heck, no one cared. I was eating there in the store, leaning against a wall when two young women came by. They had Swedish accents.
One of them looked at me up and down and said to the other, “Buckaroo.”
Well, I tipped my hat to them and nodded.
Steve walked up and said, “What did those girls say to you?”
I replied, “Buckaroo. You see Steve, I’m still in good physical shape - like I’m still in college playing football. Heck I’m still an athlete.”
Steve looked at me up and down and said with a scowl, “You idiot, look at yourself.”
I looked down, and dad gum, my zipper was open and my thermal underwear was sticking out. “Dang, no wonder.”
Vogt said, “Buckaroo…that’s probably Swedish for dang fool.”
We loaded up our supplies in our boat and headed toward Big Creek.
Steve would laugh now and then and say, “Buckaroo…dang fool.”
We hit the fork of the King Salmon and headed down Big Creek. Twice the motor overheated and I had to pull over and pick rocks out of the jet drive with my Leatherman tool. Then we would continue on. We made camp at dark next to a ridge that was close to the river. It was the wettest camp I had ever made. We laid a tarp on the ground, set our dome tent down and then put a very thick tarp inside the tent. It got cold that night, I mean cold.
Early the next morning I stirred from my Coleman Peak sleeping bag, reached out and lit the single burner stove that would perk our coffee. In five minutes it got so warm in the tent that we piled out of our sleeping bags, dressed, and then had oatmeal with our coffee. I strapped on the old Ruger Biseley 44 Magnum, put my backpack on and shouldered the battled scarred Winchester model 70 in 375 H&H Magnum.
We climbed the tall ridge above camp and settled down to hunt.
You see, in Alaska you do a lot of glassing. When you find something with your binoculars, you pull out a spotting scope, then make the decision to stalk or not. You must have elevation in order to see. We glassed for hours. It was lunch and I made a decision to walk back to camp while Steve stayed on the ridge. Once there, I climbed in the boat, opened up the ice chest and pulled out a big hunk of cheese and ham. I made myself a big ham and cheese sandwich, wrapped it up and then made another one for Steve.
An odd thing then happened that I often think about to this day. I have always carried my father’s fork and spoon that he carried in WWII. That fork and spoon went through New Guinea, the Philippines, and then with him in Hiroshima, weeks after the bomb hit. The same fork and spoon goes with me on all my expeditions. I bumped my backpack on the edge of the boat and the spoon popped out of the backpack and went into the river. Panic struck me, like a child losing his favorite toy. I leaned over the edge of the boat and frantically searched the bottom for the spoon. I couldn’t see it. Finally, the water seemed to clear and I spotted the spoon resting on the bottom. I took my jacket and flannel shirt off, leaned over the edge of the boat and after many attempts, was finally able to reach the spoon. I grabbed it, overwhelmed with relief and put if safely back in the backpack.
I packed the sandwiches in my backpack and headed back up to the ridge. I sat down next to Steve, we ate our lunch and continued to glass.
A few minutes later, I heard Steve say, “Caribou.”
We glassed twenty caribou bedded down over a small ridge on the other side of the river. Perfect!! We hustled towards camp, jumped into the boat and rowed to the other side. The stalk took us two miles to a ridge not ten feet tall, but tall enough to hide us. Both of us crawled to the top and eased over to see. There they were. Twenty caribou…many young bulls, but also one nice one. Not a trophy, but respectable. Steve knew he had messed up passing on that great bull that walked through camp. We also knew this could be our last chance.
Steve said, “I’m gonna take him.”
We both studied the bedded-down bull and both agreed it would be a 400 yard shot. There was no way we could get closer. Steve took off his backpack, chambered a 300 Win Mag into his Winchester model 70 and settled down for a prone shot. He used his backpack for a rest. I watched through my Bushnell 7x50 waterproof binoculars and waited. Finally the bull stood up after a few minutes and started to walk from our left to right.
“You better do something.” I said.
Steve replied, “I’ve got him.”
As I glassed the bull Steve settled in for the shot. The 300 cracked as I watched water explode from the back of the bull. He took off on a dead run for fifteen feet then crashed head-on into the tundra. Steve Vogt made a one shot…clean kill at 460 yards. We took pictures then noticed hundreds of porcupine quills in the bull’s right rear leg. The poor animal must have been suffering. We butchered the bull, bagged the meat and packed it back to the boat.
That night we ate another fine meal around another great fire, under a beautiful Alaskan full moon. I thanked God for the opportunity to be in such a beautiful place as the Alaskan bush.
The next day we broke camp and made for King Salmon and our flight back home. You see, I didn’t pull the trigger on this trip but I was happy. Make no mistake, I enjoy shooting big game as well as the next man, but I don’t have to pull the trigger to make a successful hunt. It’s the little things that happen on a trip that makes a trip an adventure. I would be back another time, God willing, and then maybe a trophy caribou would challenge me or maybe I’ll find another honey hole full of salmon and rainbows.
When we climbed on board that Delta 757, buckled our seatbelts, I chuckled and said to Steve, “I hope we don’t run into those folks you entertained back there on the river.”
Steve looked at me and said, “Yeah, me too... buckaroo.”