A little bit past King Mountain, we pulled off the road into a small grove of trees and bushes. (Actually, the trees up there are more like bushes than trees.)
I knew the routine - early to bed and early to rise. I looked forward to the many varieties of blueberries we would sample and to seeing more animals in the wild. By noon, we were away from every sound of civilization and at one with nature. The colors were wonderful - a crazy quilt of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. Flocks of geese flew over us, heading south. All around were signs that we had better hurry to get ready for winter.
The third day, we split up, softly whistling to one another to keep in touch. (It wouldn't be nice to shoot each other.) About noon, we could both smell the moose. Now, if you've never smelled a moose, maybe you have smelled high bush cranberries - they smell similar. (I wonder if it's because the moose eat the berries?) All of a sudden, I heard a shot! And then, another. Then, Earle yelling for me to come. I had quite a little ways to struggle across the spongy tundra to get to him. There was the biggest moose I had ever seen. It was huge! Earle was all excited - he thought it could be a world record spread.
So now the work began. First, he dug a little hole in the moss, right under the moose's chin. Then, he slit the throat, bleeding it. Next, he had me hold up a hind leg while he slit the belly, turning out all the guts. Next, he cut the moose into quarters, so we could move it away from the guts, leaving them for the critters. I couldn't even budge a quarter! So he cut out the back strap, heart and liver, and put them into a game bag for me to carry. Then, we started the haul.
He would drag a quarter, hide down, about the length of a football field and then turn it cut side down, leaving me there while he went back to get the other pieces. About 5 p.m., he decided we should leave them, mark the spot and go for help. So he dug down into the tundra a bit, gathered the meat, turned it cut side down, covered it with moss and tied my scarf to a spindly spruce tree nearby. From 5 feet away, they were invisible. He thought they would be safe, too, as it was cold and the meat didn't smell.
We traded off the game bag as we tried to make time hiking back to the camper. We had taken our sweet time getting back there, now we needed to get out and back, fast.
There was a full autumn moon to hike by, so we kept right on going, over mountains and ridges and down through the valleys, sometimes hearing startled moose move out of our way as we went. About noon the next day, we saw the camper down below us. I was always amazed that Earle could just home in on any point and get there - no compass, map or landmarks. We drove down to King Mountain Lodge and called my daughters. They had strong boyfriends. So we told them to meet us as soon as possible, with back boards and garbage bags. We enjoyed a good meal at the lodge while we waited. (All lodges on the Alaska Highway have great pie.)
A couple of hours later, here came the eager young men and the curious girls. Off we went, back to our camp place, and started over the mountain. It was a great adventure for the kids, until we reached the meat the next day. My daughter tells me today, "Mom, I was so tired and that meat was so heavy and walking in the tundra was so hard, I kept saying to myself, 'I hate this! I hate this!' " Her boyfriend was wiry and strong and made two trips to her one. We all would haul and then flop down to rest. The young men made short work of it, though. When we all got back to Chugiak, the men had a lovely time as Earle taught them how to properly butcher a moose.
His father had taught him well. I had roasts, steaks, ribs and so forth all marked. We had to buy a huge chest freezer to put it in, and figured we had close to 1,800 pounds of meat dressed out. Oh yes, and the antlers were one inch shorter than the record. They stretched from side to side on our king-sized bed, but somewhere, someone has a bigger set. We shared meat with everyone we knew, and some we didn't, and it still took over two years to eat the moose. The ladies reading this can guess what I told Earle I would do if he ever killed a moose that big again!
Ellen Northup is a longtime resident of Juneau and Alaska.
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