A Season of Madness: Moose Hunting in Alaska

By , September 20, 2009

The local moose opening started last Tuesday. This is a permit-only subsistence hunt, with special antler restrictions.

For our family, this is a very big deal. From now until October 7th, moose will be on my mind. Last year I hunted for the first time, falling into a clear pattern: drag myself out of bed before dawn every day I possibly could, hump a rifle and a pack full of gear all around the peninsula till mid-morning, then come home and write about my experiences, preferably while nursing a cup of coffee.

I regret that the hunt coincides with the launch of my blog. In these early days I’m introducing myself to my fellow contributors and to you, the reader. We’re forming first impressions, getting used to the tone of it all. Hopefully, this annual obsession with stalking and killing large animals will not establish me as a gung ho sport hunter.

Because that is not what I am. I did not grow up as a hunter, even though I should have, by right and blood. I am a native-born Alaskan because my father did his ministerial internship in Barrow, among the Inupiaq. During his time there, he hunted, as did every able bodied man. I don’t think he liked it. He has fished avidly since those days, but to my knowledge never hunted again. I remember how betrayed I felt once when my grandfather’s slide show included one of dad and his brother as young adults, plinking with rifles. I couldn’t believe he’d done that, and not taught us how!

My mother grew up in rural northern California, and—unbeknown to almost everyone—was a crack shot with a rifle her whole life. She almost never touched a firearm as an adult. When she did, those watching fell back amazed at her skill!

Growing up, we were never allowed BB guns; my parents argued that this weapon is too easily regarded as a toy to be safe. They told my brother and I that if we wanted firearms, we would have real ones, and we would pay for them out of our own pockets.

I learned to use a .22 rifle in junior high, as the State of Alaska requires hunter safety education in schools. I found I liked it as much as I thought I would, and did very well, but, as ever, I found better things to spend my money on than a rifle of my own. I target practiced with friends in high school, but never hunted with them. So I came to hunting as an adult, very late in life, and on my own.

Now that we live on the homestead, hunting is far more important to us. I own and maintain firearms for the purpose, and hunt when I can.

Unfortunately, opportunities are limited in our immediate area. Although we regularly see deer sign, this is not “officially” deer habitat, so it’s illegal to hunt them here. Smaller game surrounds us, a topic to be taken up at another time. Our main hunting opportunity each year comes from drawing a permit to hunt moose.

This suits us on several levels. Protein is an important part of our diet, which is, by necessity rather than ideology, largely vegetarian. Low on income and leery of factory farming and processing methods, we avoid commercial meat when possible. Acquiring wild meat at low cost, and taking responsibility for acquiring and processing it ourselves, has much greater appeal for us. It also provides an opportunity to be good neighbors: we have no freezer or refrigerator, so if we eat moose, everybody eats moose!

Moose season thus passes for High Drama in our household. Last year’s tale was one of mixed fortunes: humor, terror, ennui, and ultimate failure. The outcome of this year’s hunt remains to be seen. Will our hero bag a massive amount of meat to feed his family and neighbors? Will he be charged by an angry bull in the depths of an inescapable thicket? Will he break his fool neck walking off a cliff? Or, will he freeze his scrawny butt in the cold autumn mornings, then straggle home unsuccessful yet again?

Stay tuned!

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