One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Charlie’s Denali Moose
Ted Pyrah has a heart big as the Matanuska Valley in which he resides. His big heart caused him to agree to accompany a lady senior citizen caribou hunter the air taxi operator would not take out alone.
“I don’t know whether he’s afraid for me or of me,” Helen joked as she asked her friend, Ted, if he’d go with her on a drop-off caribou hunt out of Susitna Lodge on the Denali Highway.
In those days, a drop-off caribou hunt—back when a hunter could hunt the same day airborne—when Alaska was for Alaskans was more of a drop-off meat-gathering expedition. The air charter pilot, who generally knew about where the caribou were likely to be, would fly his clients to the area, locate the caribou, land on a ridge top or gravel bar, and the hunters would go after their winter’s meat supply. Then, the pilot would leave and return in the evening and fly the hunters and their meat back to the lodge.
This was the trip Helen wanted to make, but the pilot said, “I’m not dropping off no 75-year-old woman on a herd of caribou and leave her out there. So either you get some man to go with you, or I won’t take you.”
And so Ted agreed to escort Helen on her drop-off caribou-hunting trip. Ted had the whole week off work as he’d planned his vacation to be a hunting vacation. He and Charlie’s pilot were going after moose. Ted would take one day out of the moose hunt and go with Helen. They agreed to meet at Susitna Lodge on the Denali Highway, where Charlie’s pilot would bring Ted at 9 a.m. on the day of the hunt.
Charlie’s pilot and Ted spotted moose along their flight route to Susitna Lodge from Anchorage, spent too much time circling and watching, and arrived late. Susitna Lodge’s pilot became impatient and left for another flight, telling Helen, “If your partner gets here, I’ll take you tomorrow.” Helen knew he really didn’t want to take her and was relieved with the excuse of Ted’s late arrival.
Helen had left in her car by the time Ted and Charlie’s pilot landed at Susitna Lodge. The folks at the lodge said she was heading for Cantwell. Ted and Charlie’s pilot took off and followed the Denali Highway and soon spotted Helen’s car approaching a long straight stretch of the road. Charlie’s pilot checked the wind by watching the dust made by Helen’s car and set up Charlie for a landing on the highway in front of Helen’s car.
The landing was routine for Charlie’s pilot, but an unusual experience for Helen as she saw Charlie come in low over her car and land on the road in front of her.
Charlie’s pilot taxied Charlie to a turn-out on the side of the road, and Ted was getting out of Charlie when Helen pulled up. After the excuses and explanations were over, Ted asked Helen if she’d just as leave get a moose as a caribou as he told her of the moose he and Charlie’s pilot had flown over on the way to Denali.
“Would I!” Helen exclaimed. ‘I’d rather have a moose any day. I never thought it’d be possible.”
With that, Helen got in the plane with Charlie’s pilot, and Ted drove Helen’s car to a pull-off near the area where the moose had been seen. Charlie’s pilot was soon circling the moose for Helen to see. When she saw the size of the rack on the massive bull, she could only say, “Oh, wow, oh, wow!”
Charlie’s pilot landed on the road again, and it wasn’t long before Ted pulled up, and Helen and Ted were off seeking Helen’s moose. After a time had gone by, Charlie’s pilot took off and circled the hunters in time to see both of them shoot, and the moose go down. Charlie’s pilot landed again, took his knife, saw, and packboard, and hiked to the downed moose and Helen, the happy hunter.
By late afternoon Helen’s moose was in the back of her car, and she was heading for Alaska Sausage in Anchorage to have her meat processed. As she drove off tired, Ted offered, “There goes one happy lady. It’s her first moose, and he was a big one, and I’ve got sore muscles everywhere.”
“Oh, by the way,” Charlie’s pilot chipped in, “there’s a bigger moose just over the hill. Do you want to go after him? You still need your moose. Ted, are you too tired to try?”