Drawing on a massive Yukon bull that walks out, rolls his eyes, sways his headgear, and grunts looking for the challenger who called him out is not for the faint-of-heart. At less than 20 yards he stands broadside, and you realize the only thing between him and you is some grass. You quickly know that you better make the shot of your life–or be able to run faster than your cameraman or camerawomen.
MacMillan River Adventures' moose hunting reputation has been unsurpassed for many years. When we got our chance to go up there and hunt with new owners Rod McGrath and Keith Marks, both of us jumped at the chance.
Flying into this remote part of the world is not only breathtaking, but costly. All this travel is why the cost of the hunt is up there, yet the reward is hunting an area that has hardly any pressure. The game is plentiful, and we both must admit that we think we’ve found Bowhunter's Moose Heaven.
Each morning the sun comes up and adds a yellow tint to the already golden colors of fall. To walk out of our tents and see fresh tracks that a grizzly had made on the other side of the river sometime last night before, sparks the awesome realization that we are in a very special place. However, it is no wonder why we didn't head out until light. The river's deadfalls, shallow bars, and water temperature just one degree above freezing make it treacherous. One false move up here, and you might not like the outcome!
The morning air is crisp, and dressing in layers is best. We had our MadDog rain gear with layers below to allow us to stay dry in and out of the boats. Yet we could take off some gear when we hiked into the moosey areas of the river. Wearing life vests was mandatory while traveling up and down the river, and our guides, Joel, Russ, and Les, all had large, blaze orange floating parkas.
Each day we traveled to areas that Joel and Russ had scouted for sign before our arrival. Every place we checked out had fresh moose and grizzly sign. The MacMillan, due to its winding back and forth, creates oxbows that provide excellent areas for the moose to lay claim to. Each day as the rut got stronger, more bulls came down to the river to check for cows.
These oxbows also offered different ways to enter them, depending on the wind. This seemed to help in a big way. For years this area was hunted only on the river, but because of Rod and Keith's guide experience, they knew the area, knew how to use the wind, and were not afraid to get off the river and go after the bulls.
On the second day, after seeing 15 moose on our first day—yes, that's right, 15 moose—we were heading back down-river when we all saw a good bull just entering the timber on the north side.
Joel quickly shut off the jet motor, and Russ and I grabbed the paddles to quietly paddle to shore. Without a word, Russ took off his parka and put on his black shirt. I grabbed my Hoyt bow, and Ralph already had the camera rolling. Joel stayed back as we walked across the rocky shoreline with Russ in the lead, grunting and waving the boat paddle back and forth in a slow, meticulous manner. Climbing the steep shoreline, we peeked over the top, and he wasn't there. But once Russ let out another grunt, the bull quickly responded with a grunt of his own. Russ started raking a spruce and breaking brush. You could hear the bull get more aggressive, and he turned towards us. With the wind in our favor, we needed to set up, so we moved to an opening in the trees, and here he came.
At 50 yards we could see his massive rack waving back and forth. He was heading directly toward us. Russ continued the paddling and grunting. Step by step, my first Yukon bull was coming into my shooting realm. I quickly used my Nikon rangefinder to measure surrounding yardages, then came to full draw.
The bull came from our left and walked into an opening at 27 yards. I took a deep breath and released. My Beman Black Max, tipped with a NAP Razorbak 100, struck in back of the front shoulder a bit low. He spun, and Russ quickly waved the paddle and grunted. To all our surprise, the bull turned and started his walking trance again, waving his rack and rolling his eyes in the back of his head. By the sign my arrow had hit home, but here he came closer. I already had knocked another arrow and came to full draw again; 20… 18…15 yards away. My arrow went up to the fletching, and he spun off only to run 70 yards or so, then down. I couldn't believe what had just happened. Really, none of us could, but then it hit us, and we all went crazy.
My bull was massive, and on the second day of our hunt I was done. At 58 1/2 inches wide and great paddles my first Yukon bull was down and it took us the whole next day to get him out. Like we always say, once you release an arrow on one of these big critters the fun stops and the work begins. But really the fun is the whole adventure.
On Day 4 I had my trusty Hoyt, and it was Vicki's turn to be cameraperson. We located a bunch of moose. You can't believe how hard it is to call in a bull bigger than anything I have ever seen in all the years I have been moose hunting, then have Joel say, "No, he is too young."
Yes, Rod and Keith have their QMM—that's Quality Moose Management—in progress. These guys are looking for a very strong future. Believe us, based on what we saw, they will have it.
So after numerous encounters, we were heading back. Since the wind had shifted, Joel and Russ wanted to try a spot they knew would pan out soon. We approached an area right up from camp, and it was loaded with fresh moose sign and even more griz tracks. We paddled in quickly and climbed out. This time Joel took his black shirt and paddle. We looked over the top of the bank, but nothing was there. We went into the brush, and Joel made a few grunts. Then, from the distance, we heard a bull and he was coming. The wind swirled, so we had to move deeper in the bush. That bull was on a string coming right toward all the noise, grunting and thrashing brush. We needed to keep the wind in front of his nose. Climbing through this thick brush was no easy task, but you have to remember these critters weight 1,500 pounds or more. What was coming in sounded like a freight train, so noise was not a factor.
At 45 yards through the brush we spotted him. Joel quickly pronounced him "a shooter." My heart, already pounding out of my chest, went in overdrive as we cut down the distance. The bull waved his head gear back and forth, grunted and crashed through. His eyes rolled back and forth as he came closer: 25 … 20 … 18 … 15 yards.
The bull took the arrow and ran less than 20 yards, then piled up. It was over in seconds, a lifelong dream come true. But more than anything, Vicki and I shared an experience that we can only hope we do justice on our TV show.
My bull ended up 62 inches wide and a bit bigger than Vicki's. (Yeah, baby!) At least she didn't beat me this time… All in all, this was a hunting memory that will surely go down as one of the tops in our diary.