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January 24, 2008

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The Best Day of All?

This fall will be my 40th season of big-game hunting. I've been lucky enough to do a lot of it. I have lots of memories,  but there is one day in particular that stands out in my mind. It was a caribou hunt in Alaska, perhaps 100 miles east of Dillingham (population 2,468, plus 80 security cameras, bought on a Homeland Security grant in 2006 in case Osama should try to infiltrate through a fishing village) and took place in the mid-1990s. I was there with two other hunters and I had gotten a caribou the day before, so I got to stay in camp while they went looking.
      
I was all by my lonesome in the middle of true wilderness. No roads, no power lines, no planes, no contrails, no nothing, just me in a tent camp by a river whose name I have forgotten.
      
It was a beautiful day; blue sky, no wind, no rain, no bugs. I split some wood in the morning, and for lunch made a sandwich out of  Argentine corned beef whose principle ingredients were salt, water, and horsemeat. For the rest of the time I simply sat by the river and watched the salmon roll.
      
Around 4 PM the clouds came in and after them a downpour with high winds. This was Alaska, after all. I went to our tents and started fires in the sheepherder stoves, and before long the others returned drenched, near-hypothermic, and caribou-less. (If there's anything that can bring joy to a hunter's heart it's being inside while your friends are catching hell outdoors.)
      
And that was about it. I don't know why I think of this unremarkable day so often, but there is a lesson here. We don't know how many days afield we are going to get, or which ones we will ultimately value the most, so it's best to appreciate all of them--good, bad, and ordinary.

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Comments

Danpdrman

Thanks Yooperjack for responding.I appreciate the concern. I am in a real pickle. I should not have trusted the travel agent to book a sightseeing/hunting tour. I know where her priorties lie. Maybe I should call up my old high school buddy Phillip Bourjailly and see if he has some advice.

Thomas

Yooper,
The worst snake we have to worry about is the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake but they are so rare that you might only hear about some one seeing one once in a lifetime. The common garner snake is more plentiful and eats the mice from around your house. The Eastern Hog Nose snake has given me a fright a time or two out in the woods. Nothing like just about stepping on one and having it rear back and flatten out it's head like a cobra. But it is harmless like the Eastern Milk Snake.

Thomas

Yooper,
I am more afraid of Spiders then I am of Snakes. I had a friend that was bitten by a brown Recluse and his arm and leg looked really nasty after about a week and a half.

Clay Cooper

The Second Best Day of All?
During my 4-year tour (1986-90) at Eielson Air Force Base Alaska, I’ve been asked how many bears have I taken. I had hundreds of chances. I had my crosshairs on many with a round in the chamber of my 338 Win Mag with Nosler 250 grain partitions loaded at 2800 fps and a harvest ticket in my backpack. An easy one shot clean kill everyone. I never pulled the trigger though.
Why you ask?
The beauty and respect of one a Hunter to the other (the bear) perhaps? I knew in the back of my mind that if I did pull the trigger, the hunt was over. I wasn’t ready for the hunt to end, never. I wanted more days to hunt, just to be out there. Even if I came home empty handed, it didn’t matter. The awesome power, to watch a Grizzly role rocks the size of my ATV like a basketball, hunting for rodents. Most of all, being on a mountain ridge, setting on a giant rock overlooking the endless landscape where perhaps no man ever walked.
To watch a snow flurry on a far mountain ridge and feel the Lord setting next to me enjoying what God has made.
I may have came home empty handed,
but my mind is full of awesome memories
It is a experience, I’ll never forget!
Clay Cooper
……………………………..
Alaska BEAR tales
by Larry Kaniut
Many bears have gone to bear heaven because someone misinterpreted its false charge, and there are many men who have been chewed on by bears because they assumed the bear was only bluffing.

Clay Cooper

The Best Day of All?
Hunting with my Father
Those days are gone
Only a memory
But who is that behind me
Standing in my shadow
My Grandson Alex
An eight year old
Blond hair blue eyed boy
That wants to be a Sportman
Just like my Father
And that’s my dear Friend
The Best Day To Come!

ishawooa

High in the mountains just dropping to the tree line under sunny blue skies. Slowly drifting back toward camp. There is just a hint of snow that might come from the north but that's OK because a fresh white layer in the morning will change the world. The horse sweat is evident as you shift weight in the saddle to offset that scoped magnum under your leg. Your favorite foxtrotter stops and stares into the timber as you also identify the odor of elk eminating from within the trees. You glance over your shoulder toward your friend on the narrow rocky trail since he just shared your experience. You both silently dismount and look for a place to quickly tie your horses. Pulling our rifles from their scabbards we both smile. This is a place in time that lasted only a few seconds but remains in my mind forever.

Clay Cooper

The Best Day of All?
Hunting with my Father
Those days are gone
Only a memory
But who is that behind me
Standing in my shadow
My Grandson Alex
An eight year old
Blond hair blue eyed boy
That wants to be a Sportman
Just like my Father
And that’s my dear Friend
The Best Day To Come!

Steve C

The best days are those which make you feel full of life. I’ve had them on motorcycle rides, camping with the kids, a neighborhood chili cook-off, and teaching my daughter to fish on the shore of Duck, NC.

But I’ve had only one perfect day. It was in a duck blind with good friends, a breathtaking sunrise, corny jokes, hot coffee, and cooperating birds. My idea of heaven. Simple magnificence.

Clay Cooper

Ishawooa
O’Thank you Sir!
Thank You for bringing back those old cherished memories Sir
Now I remember those days, the adrenaline and heart pounding rush dismounting and finding a place to tie up the horses.
Now, I remember that one snow blizzard day in Buck Canyon in New Mexico on open day of deer season. A monster buck ran in front of me and I jump off my horse. I drew my Ruger Super Black Hawk 44 Mag, pulled the hammer back and pulled the trigger, THUNK! Snow was packed between the hammer and firing pin. So I grabbed my 25-06 out of the scabbard and shouldered it. WHITE OUT! The front lens instantly covers up by blowing snow as if some gremlin threw a snow ball and the buck runs away!

YooperJack

Thomas
I've heard of that rattlesnake. It's so rare I think its illegal to kill them in MI. We have them in the U.P. (Bois Blanc, Island).
The Hognose snake has scared me to death in WI! How that snake can imitate a cobra is truly a great mystery. I keep my eye peeled for wood spiders. Try not to bother them because they catch mosquitos.

Clay Cooper
Your little writing was touching. I treasure both the times spent in the woods with my father and the times spent with my son. Just wish he could've spent time with my father also. We did spend a great deal of time in the woods with my father-in-law, however, and I also treasure that.
Also, your thoughts on bears mirror mine! I see them, wonder what they'll have for supper, wonder where he'll sleep, etc. I wou;ld really hate to have to shoot one to defend myself. It would be the only reason.
YooperJack

RICOCHET!

The Best Days Of All?
Being out on a big game hunt
with those Ol’Crusty NCO’s
Setting around a camp fire
Listening to their stories

Clay Cooper

YooperJack
Since my Father passed away last September, my Daughter made it a point to have her Son Alex spend as much time outdoors as “reasonably” possible. Tuesday I got a call from her and wanted to know if I can go to Alex’s school for show and tell? Sure, no problem! What I didn’t know, is that little stinker wanted me to be the show and tell. Touched on subjects like Hunter Safety to Hunting game to the benefits of. A couple of the kids got a little shaken up so I switched gears and talked about what President Roosevelt did to the Kaibab region turning it into a wilderness area and the devastation of the result. Had both the class and teacher spell bound for two hours!
But above all, I remember walking behind my father in the dirt, snow and mud, stretching as far as I can with my short legs to step in his footsteps is the fondest memories of all!

Dr. Ralph

Nice post Dave... My best day afield was one spent entirely alone and resulted in no killing just as yours. Late 1980's I drove to Hickman County about an hour and a half from home at 3:30 AM and arrived at least 45 minutes before legal hunting. Grabbed my trusty Winchester 30-30 with open sights and headed off. Fifteen minutes into the darkness snowflakes the size of dimes started falling and I felt like a five year old once again. There is no way to describe the pure unadulterated non chemically induced high that comes from being miles away from phones, bathrooms, electricity and other people in a snowstorm in the Tennessee hills. The best was yet to come. An hour later I started to hear someone rattling and headed that way to ask them what the hell they were doing on my land, topped a ridge and lo and behold two bucks were going at it... I had never before witnessed this and was dumbstruck. I was so entranced by the beauty and strength of these fine animals I forgot I was supposed to be hunting. Never raised my rifle, don't regret it for a minute, and it is something that I will carry in my mind until the day I die...

YooperJack

Nice of you to do that Clay. Hopefully, you piqued some hunting interest in a kid that didn't have any. We really have to do as much as we can to get these kids in the woods. The nice thing about this topic is that we enjoy the outdoors, not just the killing.

Dr. Ralph:
I'd give my eyeteeth to see that once! I've heard about people getting bucks like that, maybe once every three years.
YooperJack

Del in Kansas

Clay,

Was I was at Ft Wainwright (1984-1987)when You was down the road at Eielson.
Dave you really know how to make people dream about the past. I spent 3 years in Hawaii and 3.5 in Alaska and there is no comparison. The only reason I don't live in Seward right now is my family refused to go back. The wife and kids hated the darkness in winter. I would love to re-live a 1986 fly in caribou hunt in the Wood river wilderness area. Msg. Cliff Dufrain and I saw about a thousand caribou. All day long for 3 days there was flock after flock of noisy sandhill cranes migrating overhead. I saw but did not shoot a giant bull moose (Too far to pack the meat).
Then there was the last time I took my dad fishing before he died. It was just a KS farm pond but we had a great time catching bass, bluegills and channel cats. When the old man was in his hospital bed I told him that trip was small amount of payback for all the good times he showed me when I was a kid. He was paralyzed by a stroke and the only way I new he understood was the tears in his eyes.

Del in Kansas

Clay,

That deer just wasn't meant to die right then.

Del in Kansas

Clay,
Oops I went back and reread. Looks like you got there ayear before I left.
I was the NCOIC for range control. Spent lots of time on Tanana river flats and the land out behind Eielson. You could see some giant moose out there from a chopper.

Jim in Mo.

Thomas,
We have the massasauga snake where I live. They like low land, river like damp areas. In fact back in the 80's I damn near crawled on top of one as I was helping a buddy wrap insulation on his trailors water pipes. Also those hog nose snakes that swell their heads and necks, I always thought they were called Puff Adders. Your probably right but I was at the archery range one time and almost stepped on one. Scared the livin hell out of me when he reared his fat head.

Clay Cooper

Del in Kansas
You was their too? NO JOKE! You remember the first time a green horn gutted his Caribou and punctured the stomach or forgot the piece of string to tie off the esophagus! Man that was the good Ol’Days! Did you ever hookup with the Tanana Valley Sportsmen Association there in Fairbanks? Your Major in Mental Health was in charge of their High Power competition then when he retired/transferred out, he dropped it into my lap! By the way, that was smart of you on not dropping that moose! If you can’t get to it with an ATV or boat, you are going to really find out what work is really all about!!

YooperJack

It wasn't my best day, but I did have an interesting day this past season. It was second week of season. I went to a new client's hunting camp. I asked him howhis deer hunting was? He said "Its okay but boy it used to be rally good. Now there's way too many hunters around here". After I left, I stopped at a bar for a beer and chili. I was the only customer. I asked the owner/barmaid how business was? She replied " It used to be really good but hunters don't come up here like they used to". The bar and hunting camp were 3 miles apart. Go figure.
That, and a great bowl of chili made a very special day!
YooperJack

YooperJack

Clay
I'm a total greenhorn with Moose, Caribou and Elk. What's the string for?
YooperJack

Jim in Mo.

Yeah me too. I know to tie a shoelace around the poop shoot but the esophogus?

Thomas

Jim in MO,
We call them Puff Ader's here also. But you try to explain what it is to a DNR person and they look at you strange. I just avoid them and let them go on their merry old way. (The Snake) They do have teeth that they use to eat frogs and toads with. But I doubt they are very long.

Bernie Kuntz

I have had too many wonderful days afield to be able to single out one from my 47 years of big game hunting.

But since Dave told a caribou story, allow me to do so too. (Dave, I bet you were on either the Mulchatna River or the Nushagak.)

Anyway, two partners and I floated the Nushagak in 1994 on a caribou hunt. Wonderful fishing for silver salmon, huge rainbows and Arctic grayling, but there were guided hunters sitting on every hill, and then the weather turned bad. We paid for a jet boat ride into Koliganek. A year later I hunted with several other hunters in the same general country. One hunter shot a young bull caribou. I saw one cow caribou in a week of hunting in the rain.

Two Montanans and I got flown into the Kuskokwim Mountains out of Aniak, AK in 1996. On the first day I sneaked up on a big bull caribou and shot it on top of a mountain at a range of 35 yards. It scores 366+. One of my partners also took a nice bull. Then a storm struck and we were stuck in an unheated tent for a week. We eventually stomped a runway in a foot of snow and got pulled out one at a time by the flying service, the pilot flying a Piper Super Cub. Our caribou antlers caught up with us three months later.

My wife bought me a guided caribou hunt which I took in 1998, again in the Nushagak country. I was flown in to Ekwok on the Nushagak R., then out to a spike camp where my guide and two or three Texas hunters awaited. (They are another story in themselves!) To conclude the story, I shot two big barren ground caribou bulls in two days of hunting, then sat in camp just like Dave did--all by myself--while the other hunters were out trying to find caribou. Very peaceful, just me and a plastic bottle of Early Times, and an icy spring nearby to dillute the bourbon.

Dave, you are right. We don't know how many fine days, or even bad days, we have left in the field. After two hip surgeries in 2007 I relish all the good times I have had, knowing well that my best years are behind me.

ishawooa

Clay, it appears that everyone is addressing you so here is a couple more stories you might like. Insofar as the whiteout of the objective lens I have had that happen a few times. Once the largest typical mule deer was eating on the far side of a low thick fur as I rode around it. You know the drill, both stare at each other for a microsecond (seems like ten years), bale off the horse, pull the 7-08, snow hits lens, wipe lens clean (forget about using the soft cloth as a Carhart coat tail will have to do), reshoulder the rifle, and ... the buck has vanished. One other variation was when I watched an estimated 335 B & C bull from about 200 yards for a few minutes to allow him to get in position for a good shot angle. My .300 mag was in a suitable rest between a couple boulders with my vest nestled under the forearm. All at once everything went great as he turned to watch some cows that were down the mountain below him. I settled down behind the Leupold and let out a half breath...right onto the scope lens which was about 10 degrees F. Yep iced the sucker up really good. Of course this bull would wait for me to clean the lens or would walk down to the cows. Nope he hauled butt for Yellowstone Park and I don't think he ever knew I was on the mountainside.
I figure at 60 years old I have maybe ten more years to make these memories and have an adopted 17 year old son to keep me going. Unfortunately I also have a 50 year old wife of almost 30 years who has had 5 back surgeries in three years to keep me out of the hills. Maybe things will get better for her since she got a spinal cord stimulator implanted last week. Yep this is the result of a horse injury she received over 8 years ago. No more breaking colts for us. Damn I'm getting longwinded in my old age.




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