Discovering Your Limits
A Dream, and Potential, Is Realized After a Grueling Moose Hunt in the Wilds of Alaska
By Tana Grenda
Alaska—the Last Frontier. Void of skyscrapers, subways, and metropolitan madness. A wild animal kingdom engulfed by rugged mountains, quilted tundra, the midnight sun, and sheer beauty. A land so peaceful, vast, deserted, and serene that it remains entirely unforgiving. Mocked by some and embraced by others, Alaska uniquely stands as the ultimate adventure.
That adventure began early spring when my husband Adam and I abandoned the beauties of North Idaho to chase a dream and willingly accept all the challenges of living in the bush. For years we dreamed about residing in Alaska, antsy to live and breathe nothing but hunting, flying, and exploring the amazing state. We took another vital step forward and bought our ultimate hunting machine — a Piper Super Cub. Then September came, which meant moose season fell upon us. Our lifelong dream of hunting with our own airplane on D-I-Y hunts became reality when Adam flew us and a friend into a secluded area, and landed our cub in a swampy meadow within the heart of moose country. Wheels of excitement turned for what could be in store during the next 10 days off grid. We set up our wall tent, gathered firewood, and though we were eager for what opening morning would bring, we eventually drifted off to sleep.
An absolutely beautiful morning greeted us for opening day. With clear blue skies for miles and temperatures at nearly 60 degrees, we gazed in awe at the mountain peaks and hillsides of alders. A huge basin surrounded us, full of grassy meadows and uneven tundra splattered with thousands of blueberries. Fighting brush and alders to make a path to an ideal glassing spot, we finally spotted a few decent bulls bedded on top of a far ridge, but none were even close to being within hunting range. We only hoped to locate a rutting bull that would run to our beckoning call. One smaller bull, borderline 50 inches, appeared 150 yards from us after raking a tree. The rut was just beginning. For the rest of that hot, sunny day, we glassed for hours and soaked in the serenity of it all.
The following day, we hiked at first light to where we were the previous day, and continued this pattern throughout the week to avoid spreading too much of our scent. Our friend, Justin, spotted a group of moose in the bottom of the basin within minutes of glassing. Three bulls stood scattered amongst the sparse timber with a couple cows. We could see their white paddles flashing in the morning sunlight. We hurried down the ridge to get a closer shot. Trying to determine which bull was bigger, Adam began to cow call and the widest bull made his way toward us. He looked at least 60 inches and had four brow tines so there was no question that he was legal. The bull stopped at 596 yards and Justin took the shot. The bull literally tipped over in his tracks and died instantly!
After walking up to the bull we discovered something incredible. Our tape measure only went to 60 inches and it was clear that this bull was high 60s. We took a piece of parachute cord to measure the width, and then measured that with the tape. He taped out to 68 7/8 inches. Justin just killed an Alaskan giant, and only one mile from camp! We were in disbelief at what just happened. With more incredible weather, we carefully caped the bull for a future mount, and split the moose into 10 separate packs, spending the next day and half packing a very heavy moose between bouts of rain and sunshine.
With one moose done and packed by the end of day three, it was now my turn. Unfortunately, the day before season, a cold hit me. I got sicker each day. Every step of exertion and moose pack drove the cold deep into my lungs. Breathing remained a struggle and it took every ounce of energy I had to hike one mile through tundra to glass for a bull. By day four, the cold and fog arrived with wind. My sickness hit me hard. Breathing seemed nearly impossible, let alone hiking, hunting, and sitting in the cold wind to glass for hours. Concerned that I was on the verge of pneumonia, I told Adam I had to take it easy or I would get incredibly ill on this mountain. He said I should rest and giving hunting a break to fly me to a doctor. I sternly told him he would not be flying me anywhere until my tag was filled. I would do whatever it took to get my first Alaskan moose.
After some needed rest and a warm fire, we hiked back that evening to glass. I was beginning to feel a sense of desperation to fill my tag with any legal bull we spotted. As dusk approached, Adam saw a legal bull emerge from the timber. He stood 1,500 yards away but would not budge. After watching him for an hour, he finally bedded down in a tiny opening. Velvet covered his entire left palm and pieces of loose velvet hung from his brow tines. He was definitely wide enough to be a legal bull. We planned to go after him in the morning.
Walking back to camp at dusk, a visitor surprised us. A huge bear was feeding in the meadow 200 yards from our camp. Jet black fur engulfed his plump body and his fur had silver tips along his spine and tips of his ears. His head remained buried in the meadow, ravenously eating. He never noticed we were there.
Within 30 minutes of first light the next morning, Adam had the bull spotted, standing in the same meadow as the night before, but this time he had a cow with him. He would be over a two-mile pack to camp, for he wouldn’t budge with any attempts at calling. Knowing it would be tough pack, I was still willing to pursue him. I did not have much longer before I wouldn’t be able to hunt anymore. My lungs were struggling and my body could barely keep up. While making a game plan, we spotted another bull, this one a mile away located a just above our camp. What? How did we miss that one? I watched him meander through the alders. He was on a mission and headed up and over the far ridge. I set up the spotting scope to get a closer look. From the side I could not tell if he was legal. Then he faced me and flashed his palms. He displayed the whole package: decent palms, long points, fairly wide, and remarkably symmetrical. “Woah. He’s big! I want that bull Adam; he’s the one I’ve been waiting for,” I whispered. Nearly thirty seconds later, he disappeared over the far ridge, never to be seen again.
I attempted pushing the image of that beautiful bull out of my mind and watched the other bull a few miles from camp. I tried to stay positive, but deep down I was pretty depressed that I never got a chance at the other moose. I kept praying that we could make something happen. Adam glassed back toward camp five minutes later and there he was: that bull actually came back! It is truly amazing how far a moose can hear a cow call. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was walking down a ridge almost next to camp. We had to make a move, and fast. We practically ran up the hill back toward camp to attempt at getting close for a shot. It was a miracle that I did not collapse. My lungs would not cooperate and neither would my weak muscles. I pushed on with everything I had. I would not miss another opportunity.
We found a closer vantage point to find him amidst the timbered hills and alders. To my surprise, he emerged from the trees into a little opening, 452 yards away. He was on the move and a sea of tall alders separated us. He spotted us and stood broadside, giving me the perfect shot. I set up the gun quickly as the bull stood broadside gazing directly at me. Through my scope, he did not look as big as I thought he was, and he only had 2 brow tines on each side. I asked Adam if he was over 50 inches and he confirmed that he was legal. At this point I focused on my breathing and slowly squeezed the trigger of the .338 Ultra Mag. He lifted his front leg, hopped around in a circle and tipped over. I saw long front points as he spun. I couldn’t confirm if he was over 60 inches, but he was definitely legal, and certainly a nice bull moose. A wave of relief fell over me. I did it! The hunt was over and I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude that he was a complete Godsend to me. He died 300 yards from where we could taxi the airplane.
Walking over to the moose, we passed our meat stash hung in the trees. One bag was ripped open and one of Justin’s quarters was missing. We walked a little farther and found the quarter laying in the tundra, ripped open but barely touched. We retrieved the meat and continued toward my bull. As I walked up to my first Alaskan moose, my eyes widened. There was no ground shrinkage with moose; actually, quite the opposite. His palms were wide, his fronts had double daggers curled up almost 24 inches long, and he had long, symmetrical points all the way to the top of his palms. His final measurement was 64 5/8” wide. After shooting a nearly 65-inch moose, I could not have asked for a better hunt! I was in shock for my first moose.
The next two days consisted of cutting up my moose, and Adam started shuttling meat out in the cub. After going back and forth to our meat stash to load the airplane between flights, it was revealed that Justin’s cape was … gone. Where it was just hanging in a tree 20 minutes prior, it had vanished.
During the last flight for the night, Adam circled camp and confirmed it was that same big boar that took the cape, for he was bedded 50 yards from our meat stash, and close to where we were cutting my moose all day. We never recovered the cape. Justin’s moose carcass was finally buried by that big bear. A sow and cubs moved into the area, with a nasty wind and rain storm just as Adam took the last flight out.
Overall, we had the most enjoyable hunt imaginable. The weather was unbelievable for an entire week. Despite not feeling my best, we harvested two big bulls in five days, none of which would have been possible without my fearless pilot and husband, Adam Grenda. As I reflect on this successful hunt, I realize that when it comes to hunting, the length of the hike, the distance of the shot, or the size of the animal remain the least important factors. Sometimes, it’s all about serenity in the mountains, the remarkable adventure, and discovering what lies beyond your limits.
Editor’s Note: For Tana’s contribution she received a Halo XTANIUM XT1000 Rangefinder valued at $299.99. WHJ will award readers free hunting gear when their story is published. If you have a reader story you’d like to be considered, please send your story and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.