One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Charlie’s Afternoon Moose
There was a recent time when Alaskans went hunting for the pleasure of the hunt and filling their freezers. It was before MacDonald’s, the oil boom, and animal activists. Charlie’s pilot received his certificate to fly small planes four years before the announcement of North Slope oil. It was the time after statehood and before subsistence and sovereignty and wildlife management by New York antihunters and Washington power grabbers. It was when all outdoorsmen’s Alaska fantasies could be realized well within the law and regulation. It was when Alaska was for Alaskans, and Alaskans were one people.
There were three kinds of hunts in those days: Trophy hunting, sport hunting, and subsistence hunting. Trophy hunting was done mainly by hunters from Outside with money and means to hire a guide. Sport hunting included taking meat for winter stores, but also camping, river and small plane travel, outdoors camaraderie, smell and feel of a campfire, rain beating on a tight canvas tent, and all the little things that make a hunt more than taking an animal. Subsistence hunting was going to the field from home in car, truck, plane, boat, dogsled, or any other means, and bringing back the meat.
Lynn Dean didn’t have his moose for winter, and Charlie’s pilot wanted to help. So late in the afternoon toward the last of September, Charlie’s pilot and Lynn found themselves flying low back and forth across the Big Susitna River looking for moose grazing or sleeping near a river sandbar big enough for Charlie to land on. They spotted a bull sleeping in a grove of small spruce and birch trees not 100 yards from a long, smooth sandbar. Charlie’s pilot flew low over the bar, decided it was safe to land, and performed a picture-perfect short field landing, but kept Charlie’s engine running.
A small, shallow branch of the river flowed between the moose and Charlie making an island of the sandbar landing strip. All Lynn needed to do was wade the small stream, slip through the few trees, and take his moose. Charlie’s pilot remained with the plane for a few moments and then took off for a look-around. As Charlie circled the still sleeping moose, Charlie’s pilot could not see Lynn until he glanced back at the improvised airport. There stood Lynn signaling Charlie’s pilot to return.
Upon landing, Charlie’s pilot found Lynn to be wet to his belt, explaining that the river was too deep to wade. In the circling and landing, Lynn had become turned around, had gone the wrong direction, and tried to wade the main river instead of the small stream.
Once he got his proper bearings, Lynn was again a subsistence hunter filling his freezer. Again, Charlie’s pilot waited, this time until Lynn waded the shallow water and disappeared into the trees. Then Charlie again took off and circled the unsuspecting moose. Charlie’s pilot didn’t get a glimpse of Lynn; he only saw the moose’s head drop, signaling that Lynn’s stalk had been successful and his aim accurate.
After landing, Charlie’s pilot gathered his knife and pack and assisted Lynn with the work part of hunting. Unfortunately, it was dark by the time the moose was field dressed and one load packed to the waiting Charlie. Too dark to see from one end of the sandbar to the other end.
Charlie’s pilot gave Lynn a flashlight from under the airplane’s seat, with instructions to walk to one end of the bar and signal his position with the light when Charlie taxied toward him. Charlie’s pilot taxied Charlie to the other end of the sandbar.
Under Charlie’s seat rested an oily rage used for checking oil levels in Charlie’s powerplant. Charlie’s pilot removed the rag and drained a small amount of gas from Charlie’s wing tanks into the rag. Then, putting the rag at the end of the bar, Charlie’s pilot struck a match, and the rag burst into flames.
Quickly, Charlie’s pilot taxied toward the waving flashlight beam. Charlie turned 180 degrees at the bar’s end, and Lynn jumped in. Charlie’s engine roared into life. First slowing, then gaining speed, and finally at 60 miles per hour as the little flame from the burning rag seemed to rush toward Charlie. As Charlie came straddle of the fire, Charlie’s pilot popped the flaps, and Charlie shook herself free from the sand and was airborne and pointing her nose back home with a cargo of half a moose.
Tomorrow Charlie would return and retrieve the balance of the meat.