Howard Delo

This excursion wasn’t hunting as much as harvesting, sort of the wilderness version of a trip to the local grocery store’s meat department. That’s how Kevin explained our upcoming snowmachine trip where he would attempt to fill his 1994-95 Unit 16B, Tier II bull moose permit.

Kevin was a much more experienced snowmachiner than I was. He usually rode an average of 3,000 to 5,000 miles a season. I had 250 miles on my machine. I figured I could learn a thing or two from him about snowmachining in the backcountry. I was also looking forward to seeing some new scenery.

The plan was to snowmachine west and north 40 to 60 miles out from a parking area on Point MacKenzie. We would follow a gas pipeline trail; crossing the Little Susitna River, Flathorn Lake, and the Susitna River; and then run up the Yentna River looking for a bull moose. Some of the guys at work had warned me that Kevin only had two speeds on a snowmachine – stop and full-throttle. I volunteered to go anyway.

We would each be riding our own snowmachines and pulling sleds. We would be carrying extra gas and camping gear if we needed to overnight, as well as butchering equipment for the anticipated harvest of Kevin’s moose. We selected a day when we both would be free, which happened to be the last day his permit was valid.

I met Kevin at the parking area that January morning. I was excited and looking forward to what the day would bring. We started down the trail about 8 AM. The warning about Kevin’s two speeds was correct, but to his credit, every time Kevin disappeared down the trail going twice as fast as me, he was always waiting at the next trail junction, making sure I knew which route to follow.

We made timely progress out the pipeline trail, although it was a rough and bumpy trip. Just beyond Flathorn Lake, we moved onto the Susitna River and ran a few miles north to the junction of the Yentna River. The southeastern border of Unit 16B ran along the west side of the Big Su and the southern side of the Yentna River. Once we turned onto the Yentna heading upriver, we were on the edge of his Tier II permit area and Kevin could begin looking for a bull moose.

The bulls had already dropped their antlers, so careful glassing was necessary to determine sex. We started seeing single animals and small groups of moose moving along both sides of the river. We had looked at a couple of small groups of moose and one or two individual animals without seeing a bull when we arrived at “The Big Bend,” 15 to 20 miles upriver from the Susitna River/Yentna River junction. Here the Yentna River made a big horseshoe-shaped bend before resuming its original direction.

The southern riverbank, just before the river started it’s meandering into The Big Bend, was covered with 10-foot-high willows and Kevin figured there would be several moose back in the brush. He was right. As we topped a small rise on the riverbank’s edge, we spotted a group of six moose. Kevin slowly worked his way on his snowmachine through the maze of thick-as-your-thumb willow stems and over near the moose, stopping about thirty yards from the group. The animals watched his approach but were reluctant to move in the soft, deep snow.

Kevin spent 10 minutes watching the moose and positively identified one large bull and a second smaller one in the group. When the larger bull finally offered a clear shot, Kevin dropped it with one shot. I followed Kevin’s snowmachine trail into the willows and we both drove our machines right up next to the fallen moose. The other animals moved off down the river.

I glanced at my watch for the time — a little after 11 AM. Now the work started. We packed down the snow to make moving around easier and began butchering the bull.

Since I was the “new guy” at work and Kevin was “the old man,” we talked about the job and Kevin explained some history while we skinned and quartered the moose and bagged the meat. By 2 PM, after the last meat bag was securely lashed down in each sled, we cleaned up and had lunch. We decided to head home and began our trek back to the parking area. I arrived back a little after 4 PM.

I enjoyed the scenery and started to gain an appreciation for how much wild country was accessible by snowmachining once winter set in.

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