FAIRBANKS - The animal had been down more than 20 minutes by the time his brothers arrived. But Brett Bostian's story rolled off his tongue as if he were still wrapped up in the event.
He looked down at his hands, fingers outstretched. "Look at this. My hands are still shaking," he began.
The Texas bow hunter had two Pope-and-Young class elk to his name, but stringing his bow for Alaska moose was something completely foreign. Books, videos, magazine articles and trading numerous stories with his Alaska brother had prepared him as well as he could be prepared for stalking moose. His experience as an archer would have to do the rest.
He had one other grand thing in his favor. He was hunting during the late season in Alaska's moose-rich Game Management Unit 20A, a narrow strip of the state's Interior running roughly from the Yukon River to the state's border with Canada.
While many area hunters are calling it quits as numerous seasons closed in mid-September, a wise portion were getting geared up for the fruitful last week of seasons that are open through Sept. 20.
A first-time hunter's story offers evidence why, once they've tasted the late season, many Interior Alaska moose hunters will never go early again. Brett Bostian had his first taste in the fall of 1999. He would be afield again in the same location, but the terrorist attacks and America's frozen airline system left him home to remember seasons past and hope for another opportunity in the future.
On that late September morning, well before dawn, Bostian walked alone, silently and slowly. He crossed the alpine tundra and slipped into the treeline under cover of darkness.
Silent and still, he waited only moments before he heard the strange songs of moose in the rutting season; moaning and crying cow calls, the grunts of bulls and crunching and scraping of antlers against brush. One bull seemed particularly near.
While he never caught sight of the animal, he followed the bull through the brush, playing a game of sounds for hours. The bull wasn't moving all that much. Sometimes it sounded as if it simply stopped, or perhaps laid down to rest. "When he stopped, I stopped. He would grunt and I would grunt, and he would grunt back."
He found that all his months of worry about learning how to call moose was somewhat unfounded. "It's nothing special. Once you hear it, it's pretty easy to imitate," he said.
Finally he saw an obvious, fresh scrape. A bundle of four or five small black spruce standing in a field of tussocks off the treeline caught his attention. Among the reddened fall foliage they shone white where they all had been stripped of bark and then broken off about 6 feet high. The stripped and mangled tops lay on the ground.
He put down his bow, selected a tree top shaped like a long ragged baseball bat, reared back and used the makeshift club to smack the trees with all of his might.
"Grnnnt, grnt, grnt, grt. I could hear him grunting and he was busting through the trees coming to see who was messing with his scrape," Bostian said.
The bull burst from the trees full of attitude. "He came stomping out of there like a bull at the Mesquite rodeo - swinging his head, turning around, looking for somebody to fight."
As the bull settled down to survey the meadow, the bow hunter took his opportunity from something less than 25 yards. "I leveled off and every (sight) pin was in the kill zone," he said.
The broadhead pierced the moose in the blink of an eye. It passed between ribs going in and out, and puncturing the center of both lungs in-between. The arrow fell to the ground not 15 yards on the other side of the animal. The bull walked a few steps and slowly fell to the ground a matter of paces from the arrow.
The bull was a large one. The butcher put the hindquarters at 168 and 169 pounds, respectively. The neck alone weighed 90 pounds. The antlers were meagerly palmated, but measured just over 50 inches.
Months later an official score put the moose just short of qualification for Pope and Young trophy recognition.
Trophy or not, it was a hunt unlike any he had experienced, and before leaving the state he already planned to return to play that game of sounds with another Alaska moose - late in the month of September.
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