Now, did you know that when you step off your Alaskan cruise liner, back home, you will have viewed less than 10% of Alaska? That's right! Less than 10%. Yep, further north is 20,320 foot Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, located in Denali Park. And what about that Gold Mining country near Fairbanks? Or the mighty Yukon River? It's a fact that Alaska is one third the size of the rest of the country, more than and twice the size of Texas!
No, I'm not saying what you viewed wasn't stately, beautiful and full of magnificent grandeur. There is no doubt this is one of the worlds most scenic shipboard cruises offered to the public today. And I am happy you took lots of pictures and can enjoy telling your friends all about your Alaska trip. But my story is about a little bit of that other more than 90% of Alaska you didn't see from the deck of a cruise ship. The location of my story is one of the more remote areas, even when measured by our own Alaskan standards.
The Alaska Peninsula extends southwest from the Alaska mainland and points towards the Aleutian Island chain. The Alaska Peninsula is a part of the "ring of fire," that circle of live volcanoes which encircle the Pacific Ocean. On the Peninsula itself there are nearly a dozen major mountain peaks with a number being considered active. They smoke!
So, now you know a bit about the physical area of this story. If you look closely on a National Geographic Map of Alaska you can find Mother Goose Lake. The lake lays almost due south of the villages of Pilot Point and Ugashik.
Mother Goose Lake. How did it get a name like that you ask? Well, I don't know the answer, but I will give you a guess. The lake is pretty good sized and has an area of shallows towards one end. It is directly in the nesting area and flyway of the beautiful Canadian goose. Maybe some trapper of yesteryear saw lots of little geese growing and learning to fly. Who knows? Anyway, that's how I think Mother Goose Lake got its name.
Why am I telling you about this lake? First, let me say I make my living by flying airplanes. You people in the "South Forty-Eight call them bush planes. We think of them as providing us with our daily transportation needs.
The time of my story is during the mid 1960's and I am an owner of a tiny part of an air service called Kodiak Airways. At this time in the mid-1960s, Kodiak Airways owns a hunting camp situated on the northeast corner of Mother Goose Lake. We offer a Moose hunting package to the population of the town of Kodiak and the U.S. Naval Station which lies close by Kodiak. We have some good local hunters living in town which use our services. And out at the Kodiak Naval Station, we have the Navy fellows who, now that they are living in Alaska thanks to Uncle Sam, like to take an opportunity to build those hunting tales that they can tell their kids and friends in future years.
This area of Alaska offers excellent hunting opportunities. Kodiak Island is home to the world's largest carnivorous animal, the Kodiak bear. It is the belief of anthropologist Dr. Hrdlicka, of the Smithsonian Institute, and Dr. Capps, of the U.S. Geological Survey, that this animal is a descendant of the extinct, legendary, great cave bear of the Mongolian Siberia. Also close by, on Afognak Island, are two large herds of Roosevelt Elk. In addition, the small Sitka deer is found in abundance on Afognak and the northern part of Kodiak Island. Finally, the Alaska Moose is found, in great number, close by Kodiak Island on the mainland of the Alaska Peninsula.
Professional Kodiak bear guides are required to be hired in order to hunt the great Kodiak bear. In the 1960s the bear tag alone cost $100. Add in the guide's fees for a hunt and your expense is now up in the thousands of dollars. But you don't need a guide to hunt the deer, elk or moose, just the transport to get to the hunting areas. . Kodiak Airways got in on this action by offering charter service to several areas of good hunting for the elk and moose. Our moose hunt package consisted of a round-trip flight in one of our Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft across the Shelikof Strait to our camp on Mother Goose Lake. The group of six hunters stayed five days at the camp and it was the plan for each to get his moose within that period.
At the camp at Mother Goose Lake, Kodiak Airways kept a Piper Super Cub on floats, a real little workhorse which could jump in and out of little "pot hole" lakes. Here was how it all worked. Since each pilot also wanted to get his own moose each year, the pilots would take turns staying at the camp for one or two five day periods. The Grumman Goose would bring in another six hunters from Kodiak. It would then take back the six who had finished hunting, plus the hunters' meat. Sometimes this took a second Grumman, maybe a smaller Widgeon amphibian with all the seats pulled out. We used our radios to work out the load requirements.
The six new arrivals would get settled into the camp. This consisted of a building which housed five double bunks, a sitting area with a sofa, table and chairs, oil stove and a smaller second room which served as a kitchen, cooking area and cooler/pantry. There was an outhouse about 75 feet from the main building. At night this wasn't used too much, since our camp was in the middle of an area of many Alaska Brown Bears. These guys, though smaller than our Kodiaks, were still plenty big! Most everyone agreed that during the middle of a black, black night, that 75 -foot long path through the high grass seemed so very long. That flashlight gave out so little light! Only under the most urgent conditions did one make that scary trip to the outhouse.
Many of the hunting and flying regulations now in place were not yet litigated during the mid 1960s. What was legal then might not be legal now. That's a good fact to remember in this story.
There are two moose seasons in Alaska. The fall season is the most popular. Our main hunting area was northeast of the lake. This was the direction where the peninsula is grassland, mostly flat and doted with many small lakes. The landscape becomes marshier as you fly towards Pilot Point and the coastline of Bristol Bay. This is the area favored by moose.
We would fly about 600 feet above the grassland and my hunter and I would be watching for moose. Finding one, I would land in the nearest body of water suitable and drop off my hunter. He was now on his own. His job after shooting his animal would be to quarter it and haul everything back to the lake edge. Leaving him, I would fly back to the camp and collect hunter number two and repeat the same process. I would return in the late afternoon to my hunters and then transport their meat, the rack, and the hunters back to our camp. A maximum of three hunters out each day was my limit. This gave me time to make a mid day flight to see how each hunter was doing and then gave me the time to collect all three before last light. Back at the camp we had set up a ridge pole covered with heavy plastic. Here we hung the quarters to age until taking them back to Kodiak for the store butcher to cut, wrap and freeze. It was a good system and worked well.
It was my turn to man the camp and get my one moose for the year. My wife and I shared it with another family. It helped our annual meat bill greatly! A half of moose was enough for my two girls, my wife and I to use during the year. I would be taking my Winchester model 70 30.06 featherweight to shoot my Moose. I also own a Smith and Wesson model 29, a 44 magnum pistol which I carry in my flight bag along with 24 rounds of ammo. It has a 4 inch barrel and fits in nicely inside my flight bag. If I was ever forced down and had to spend time in bear country it would be more help I think, than throwing rocks! The 44 magnum S&W pistol is with me on every flight.
My six hunters arrived at our Kodiak terminal with their gear which we loaded into one of our Goose amphibians sitting in the parking area. After coasting down the steep ramp the plane hits the bay with a big splash ... and ... it really floats! Our landing gear retracts and soon I have us all airborne with the two big Pratt and Whitney engines pounding away as we climb out over the mountains of Kodiak Island. Crossing the Shelikof and the mountains running along the east side of the peninsula, I start my descent towards Mother Goose Lake up ahead. The trip takes about an hour and a half.
Via radio, my fellow pilot at the camp has told us that one Goose would be enough today for he and his hunters to make their return flight back home to Kodiak..
Soon, parked on the shore in front of our camp, we offloaded all my hunters gear and I helped load first the meat and then his passengers on board. Before bidding goodbye to the other pilot, I receive his briefing on where the moose were hanging out, that the Piper Cub was running fine and that he has a list of food which will be needed to come over on the next trip. With his five days growth of beard, he climbs up into the Goose, secures the door, fires up, taxis out and on down the lake and soon is in the air, turning towards home.
I have my guys get settled in with each picking a bunk for himself. Usually in this type of group there is one or two who consider themselves cooks. We, the pilots, will do the cooking if no hunter comes forward. Simple fare. Lots of stuff out of cans plus the usual bacon and eggs for breakfast. We bring over fresh eggs and lots of bread each flight.
The main event of this story actually begins when I notice one of my hunters, a Navy fellow named Gilbert, showing off his new "sporterized" British Enfield 303 caliber rifle. The 303 isn't that powerful a load but I supposed it would do for a Moose. After several years of carrying hunters you learn things. The fellows whose clothes are worn and whose rifles don't look brand new are usually the experienced ones. Watch out for the fellows in new clothes with a shiny new gun. My "303" fellow has new looking clothes, too.
The next morning I have just landed after dropping off my number two guy. It seems the hunters in camp decided that my "303" guy would be the last to go out today. The others will wait until tomorrow. After a cup of coffee I make sure my hunter has the gear he needs for cutting up his moose, and his canteen, and snacks enough for the rest of the day. I check his gun empty for the flight. This I always do since I learned a dangerous lesson a couple of seasons before. A hunter put a 300 H&H mag. bullet through the top of the aircraft, missing my head by less than twelve inches. I was deaf for over five minutes! Lesson learned!
We pile into the little Cub and I taxi out into the lake a bit before turning to parallel the shore and make my takeoff run. I love a Super Cub. It's quick up onto the step and when there is a 10 to 12 knot wind blowing; it pops up off the water in just a few hundred feet. So, off we headed to look for another Moose in another area, away from the other two hunters.
Within 15 minutes we have spotted a nice looking animal. It appears to be grazing and slowly heading for a small lake, which has enough room for me to land in and get out of. So, pulling back the power to idle, I slow the Cub and swing around to land into the little bit of wind we have. Full flaps slow us even further. Soon we floated over, a few feet above the grassy edge of the shoreline, and plop down on the water, coming to a quick stop. I love a Super Cub!
On these little pot hole lakes you taxi straight into the mud bank, sticking both floats up into the mud. One line tied around the main stem of a bush will usually be enough to hold the Cub, unless the wind is blowing strong.
I help my hunter out and we look off in the distance to see if our moose is still headed towards our lake. Our landing hasn't seemed to bother him, as with his head down, he continues to slowly work his way in our direction.
I tell my hunter, "When he turns away from the lake, that's when you want to shoot him. It's hard work carrying the meat, so you want him to come as close as possible under his own power." He nods to me that he understands this concept.
I decide to stay because I am afraid that the noise of my taking off out of the lake might scare the animal away. Another twenty-five minutes pass and our moose is now about 250 to 300 yards from the lake. He has slowly been turning, and now it seems that his distance from the lake is about to increase. Quietly, I suggest to my hunter it might be a good time to take his shot.
He brings up his new sporterized 303, takes aim and fires. WHAM! Moss flies off the animal's rack. It shakes its head and looks up and around, and even with his poor eyesight, looks right at my airplane, which is hard to miss. My hunter has hit the rack only. Headache time for our Moose!
I then look at my hunter, expecting to see him jacking another round into the chamber for a second shot. He stands there transfixed. Hasn't moved at all. Frozen.
Well, I think, it isn't a big game lion or elephant that's going to charge us.
Wrong! I look back at the moose who seems to be zeroed in on my Super Cub as he is turning and starting to run towards us.
"Shoot him again!" I cry to the hunter. Still frozen ... he stands there.
I have been standing on the front of a float, and suddenly realize I have a big problem! With two steps I am back reaching into the Cub's small cabin for my flight bag. Flipping open the top, I claw out the holster and pull out the heavy 44. A step forward along the float and I lay the gun, holding it by two hands, on the engine cowl and aim at the moose, which now has up a head of steam and is charging full tilt at the three of us ... me, the hunter and my airplane!
I don't bother to think about the tiny 4 inch barrel or that I could miss. My adrenalin is flowing as I take aim and squeeze off a round. The gun does its usual massive kick and I look past it and watch the two front legs of the Moose fold and his head and rack dig into the ground. His rear legs are still running full speed, which sends him around in a circle. As he comes sideways to me I take a second shot and he crashes down to the ground. I really think I was more surprised than the animal. To make two hits on him at close to 125 yards with my short-barreled pistol seems impossible. Neither the two explosions nor those two rounds buzzing past my hunter's head (he is about 3 feet aside the line of fire) seem to have brought him back to life.
Securing my pistol, I jump down off the plane and go up to my hunter saying, "I'll take your gun, thank you!"
I jack the empty casing out and throw the bolt forward, jacking in another round. Placing the safety on, I tell him, "I am going to give your gun back to you. This is your moose on your Moose Tag. He's still alive. I want you to go up and shoot the animal through the head. Make sure he is dead. Then you can get to work cutting him up in quarters. You're lucky. He is close to the edge of the lake and you won't have much work bringing him down here. I'll return this evening and pick you up. Now, do you understand all that?"
"Yes, I understand. I'm sorry about not shooting again. I don't know what happened." he answers.
"Don't worry. You go and kill the Moose now. It's your animal." I say.
Reloading my pistol I watch as he approaches his moose, takes aim and kills the animal outright. I then untie the Cub and jump up onto the float after pushing my plane off the mud.
"I'll be back this evening." I call.
I watch him get close and stare down at the large animal laying there before him. He bends over and starts to take out items from his pack. It seems he is finally back to normal.
I'm sorry, but that's the end of the excitement in this story. If I was a professional writer maybe I would know how to raise the 'excitement level ... but never having a moose charge me before ... I felt I had enough excitement for the day.
I kept busy during that afternoon, flying the meat, racks and the other two hunters back to our camp.
It was getting late when I left camp to pick up my 303 guy. By now the bugs were out thick and I wondered if Gilbert had brought a head net with him.
Oh well, lets see how hard he has been working today, I thought.
I was chugging along at 200 feet as I approached his lake. Up ahead I could see him standing beside his quarters of meat on the shoreline. He waved as I flew past him. I chopped the power and circled around, so that I could land into the light wind which blew across the small lake.
Securing the Cub to the same bush I had used that morning I could see he had been hard at it since I had left him. He had dragged the four quarters close to the edge of the lake. The head and antlers were still at the site of the kill. He helped me lift three quarters into the back seat area. I told him I would be right back as soon as I had dropped his meat back at the camp.
Forty minutes later I was touching down on his lake again. He agreed to leaving the rack out overnight and returning for it the next day. He got cozy with the last quarter of meat in the back seat and we soon were back at our main camp.
As dinner was being prepared, I wondered just how Gil would tell the story of his kill to his fellow hunters. A bit surprised, I heard him say,
"Bob helped me stop my Moose. It actually charged us!" he exclaimed. "Bob knocked it down with his pistol and then I finished it off."
This got the fellows all talking.
"He charged you?" "Bob, where do you keep this pistol?" "What kind is it?" "I had a feeling a 303 might not have enough knockdown power." "How close did he get to you guys?" Questions like that.
Most of those questions were directed at me, so thinking before I spoke, I said, "Gil's first shot didn't drop him. In fact he turned, saw the plane, and charged us. I figured if his first shot wasn't effective I better not wait around to see how the second one would do. It never hurts to help out if a big animal is coming at you. I carry a 44 magnum in my flight bag and my first shot knocked his front legs out from under him. I quickly squeezed off a second round ... he was still trying to run at us, and he went completely down. It did get a bit exciting for a minute or two."
The other two hunters that day had taken just one shot to kill their animals. They seemed almost disappointed that their excitement level was about the same as shooting a cow. It seemed, thanks to Gilbert, my 303 fellow, we had all the fun and excitement this day.
Where is this aircraft today?