The giant Alaska-Yukon moose, with its incredible bulk and even more impressive great palmated antlers, is an irresistible lure for most hunters in the world. Many enthusiastic stories have been published about this hunt, describing it as the ultimate wilderness adventure. But on the other hand, this title should imply dangers and hardships that may be beyond the ability of the average hunter. Where’s the truth, and what should you be prepared for if you are headed to an Alaska moose hunt? We talked this over with Matt Moskiewicz of High Country Guide Service, Llc.
– What’s that thing that draws hunters to moose hunting in Alaska?
– There are two kinds of people that come to Alaska to hunt. The first kind is basically clueless as to what it takes and what they have signed up for regardless of what you tell them. This kind of person seems to be motivated by the romance of the hunt that is usually based on a hyped-up magazine article they read when they were young. The second kind is a well informed high skilled hunter that has reached a point in their hunting career where they really want to challenge themself. This kind of person looks at the hunt more like a marathon race, where they train and practice and study, they also have an attitude that says I might not get the first place but I will work through all the trips challenges best I can and I will be happy at that.
– What kind of clients do you prefer to have on your hunts, and what should they get ready for?
– I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect client. However, people that do best out here understand that this is hunting, not killing, and nothing is guaranteed in the woods. Secondly, hunters need to be in top physical shape to hunt with me. I do real hunts in real conditions with real consequences if you can’t get there. Thirdly, people need to take the gear list seriously. If your gear fails and you are a 3 days’ walk from the road, you might die. Good clients also practice with their gun. For some reason it seems like most hunters can’t load their gun let alone shoot well under pressure. People also need to be prepared to be in rain/snow mix weather for the whole hunt: the autumn in Alaska is not very nice.
– How do you hunt moose? In what terrain? Using what method?
– My moose hunts are a drawing for non-residents. I only do a moose hunt every couple of years and there is zero pressure from anyone else. This allows me to grow them until they are at their best 60-75 inch spread. It is a 4-5 mile walk into my spot, once we are there we climb half way up a mountain and make camp on the glassing knob. We stay on the knob until we have our target moose spotted and figured out. Then we sneak in and get him. Once in a while the moose moves very far up the valley when this happens. I put on a big moose drive in order to get them a mile or 2 closer to the road; location of the kill is very important due to the size and weight of the pack job.
– What’s one thing that most first-time moose hunters don’t know or got wrong?
– Most first-time moose hunters are surprised by the amount of time you spend sitting under a tarp glassing a valley. You need to be vigilant from sun up to sun down no matter what. The other big surprise is that with moose it’s a really bad idea to just run up and shoot one. You need to wait for them to be in a good spot so you can butcher them. If the moose dies in water or too far from the road you are in big trouble. Another real big rookie mistake is the size of the gun that you need. If you show up with a 30-06 or 7mm it’s too small and I will not let you shoot past 100 yards. If you want to be ethical you need a .338 or better.
– What’s one item of gear that most first-time moose hunters don’t have, forget to pack, or have one that’s inadequate?
– I would say rain gear and footwear are the most important. You need rubber rain gear and none of this light gore tex stuff. You also need rubber hip boots or my homemade cloth hip boots – moose like swamps and a lot of the time you stalk them in the mucky stuff. Good binoculars and the right kind of gun is also very important.
– How do you field-judge a moose to know which one to take and which to pass?
– On field judging there are three things I look for: width of spread, number of brow tines, and width of palm. The width of the spread is determined in two ways. On the average, a moose is two feet wide in the chest when it is looking at you straight on, you can use that to help judge the width of the spread and palm. Another thing to help you with field judging is that the distance from the base of one antler to the base of another antler is about ten inches. So, if you have two of those spaces on the left side and two of those spaces on the right side, it’s safe to say the moose is about 50 inches, which is the minimum spread for a legal moose in my area. A legal moose in my area also needs 4 or more brow tines on one side.
– Is moose hunting a dangerous hunt, and what is the most important risk factor?
– I think moose hunting is kinda risky as compared to bear hunting. Whether you are bear hunting or moose hunting you are in the same spot and both animals are always around you, but when you knock down a moose things can get interesting. Now you are covered in blood and surrounded by meat and if you’re gonna fall asleep on the ground, you can be sure in my area the bears are coming. If the hunter has a bear tag this is a good thing, if he does not then things get hard because if you shoot one without a tag the hunt is over and you need to report a DLP bear immediately while your moose hangs in a tree and more bears show up. Don’t fret, it’s all manageable. The secret is keep the moose meat moving and don’t leave it for too long. Have a bear tag – then you can shoot everything except sow with cubs (and when they show up I usually beat them off with sticks and rocks; so far it has worked well).
– When comparing offers from outfitters, what to pay most attention to?
– The animals are pretty much the same no matter what; it’s more a question of how do they hunt, and will you like spending ten days in a tent with them? Can you physically hunt that way? Who will you be in the field with you? A lot of big companies will stick you in camp with a teenager from Ohio that has only seen moose in pictures or some old guy that can’t go anywhere. One other thing to think about with companies that run a lot of volume and have high success rates is: Have they over harvested their area in years past? That often happens.
It seems to me that with all the high fence hunting options that hunters have these days, they think anywhere they go a fat guy can get out of the truck, shoot a monster, take a picture, and go home. That’s not the case in Alaska. It’s real fair chase hunting here, and the environment is full of challenges. You need to work hard to be successful here and nothing comes easy. In other words, hunters coming to Alaska need to be an active participant in their hunt, not someone that sits there waiting to be fed breakfast while they shiver.
Matt Moskiewicz is a Registered Guide-Outfitter (#1319) and has made his living guiding hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts in Alaska since the early 2000s. His High Country Guide Service Llc offers a variety of traditional Alaskan outdoor pursuits from running traplines and coastal waterfowl hunts to mountain hunts for Dall’s sheep, mountain goat, and, of course, caribou, bear and moose.