One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Charlie’s Subsistence Moose
Charlie had successfully carried her four subsistence hunters to a proper conclusion. Each had taken a moose, dressed it out, and cut it up in pieces small enough to be carried in Charlie’s cockpit. The morning’s two hunters finished their field dressing, and Charlie ferried them to the small, snow-covered swamp to assist Charlie’s afternoon hunters in packing their winter’s moose meat from the swamp to a small but adequate-sized lake runway.
Charlie’s pilot left the four hunters to their work and loaded Charlie with moose meat from the morning hunters’ kill. Then, he guided Charlie back to Lake Hood, where the morning hunters’ family met the airplane and accepted the moose. Several more trips were taken in like manner until the first two moose were in Anchorage and on their way to the happy family’s freezer.
Now that the first two moose were taken care of, Charlie’s pilot turned to the last two. It was late afternoon, and the November sun was just above the horizon when Charlie started back to Anchorage with a load of meat and one of the hunters. Two more trips from lake in the woods to Lake Hood in Anchorage, and all but one of the hunters and an oversized load of moose remained in the field.
As Charlie’s pilot left the lake on his last trip, he gave the remaining hunter a flashlight and asked him to stand in the middle of the lake when he heard Charlie return. “Wave the light, and I’ll know what lake you’re on, and I can find you, and I can judge where to set Charlie down.”
Afternoon clouds had moved in when Charlie returned to the lake, and darkness had set in. Alaska’s winter nights seldom get pitch-black dark because of light reflected off of snow, so Charlie’s pilot could locate the moose lake. As Charlie came in over the trees, Charlie’s pilot saw the flash of a waving flashlight and set Charlie up for a landing judged by the location of the waving light. As Charlie’s skis felt the first touch of snow, pucker brush and hummocks seemed to grow out of what Charlie’s pilot thought was the lake.
Charlie bounced from hummock to hummock; willows beat at Charlie’s old red paint, and she finally slid to a stop on the lake’s ice. Charlie’s hunter came running, carrying the waving flashlight. “I didn’t mean for you to land here. I waved the light back and forth, signaling you not to land. There’s an old trapper’s cabin over there, and I’ve been visiting with the trapper. I didn’t think you’d get back so soon and wasn’t able to get out on the lake, so I tried to wave you off until I made the lake’s center.”
Charlie’s pilot was filled with quiet anger. The hunter’s actions had almost caused a serious accident. Charlie’s pilot took his anger out on the remaining moose meat by unkindly loading it into the airplane. By the time the moose was loaded, Charlie’s pilot’s anger had subsided, and he could speak without showing his frustration of nearly killing himself and wrecking Charlie.
“The plane’s full; I can’t take you on this trip. I’ll come back later,” Charlie’s pilot explained as he tied the meat in with seat belts and fastened his belt. “If I can’t make it back, see if you can stay with the trapper in his cabin, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
With that, Charlie’s pilot cranked the starter, and Charlie once again motored into action and was soon airborne heading toward Anchorage. As the lights of Anchorage came into view, Charlie’s pilot made a decision. He wasn’t going back. He’d had enough excitement for one day. His subsistence-hunting buddy would have to subsist for the night. It’d be a long night for the hunter. But in daylight, Charlie’s pilot wouldn’t have to rely on a waving light to find the runway. At least that’s the line of rationalization Charlie’s pilot used to convince himself to leave his buddy overnight in 30-degree-below weather on a frozen lake within 30 minutes of Anchorage.
He hoped the trapper was hospitable.