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YUKON TERRITORY - 1956
—Had a good nap. Alex and George have just finished their work on the goat skin. We’re sorting gear, sharpening arrows, cleaning cameras, doing small odd jobs, and taking it easy. Alex is a going concern, always doing something. He told us one night about his childhood in this wild country. In order to attend school at one point, it was necessary to float down the Yukon River, in the company of four of his younger brothers, to spend the winter in Dawson City. They had only their provisions and some blankets and had to fend for themselves on the five-day trip. When the raft got waterlogged, they were obliged to pull in to shore and build a new one. My mind went back to my own childhood when I complained of having to ride five miles to school on my bicycle after a warm breakfast in our cozy kitchen.
It is getting very windy and cloudy again but is still shirt-sleeve weather. On sunny days when the glaciers melt faster, the river in front of the camp rises about six inches. This is a beautiful campsite, but no place for practice shooting. The thin topsoil barely covers solid rock.
Alex just called me to see three goats he has spotted with the scope. There is comfort in knowing that I don’t have to climb those mountains again today. Have a goat hindquarter and two slabs of ribs hanging up. Roast ribs tonight.
Friday, September 14, 5 P.M.
—Farewell to Goat Canyon. It was rugged hunting. I like to hunt goats but that place is not good for hunting with a bow. We got a break with the sun before we left and spent the morning doing pictures. We should have a fine goat film.
It is cloudy and windy now and looks like rain. The tent is up and goat ribs are roasting. We are now across the river from Goat Canyon. Same nice site we camped at on the way in. It is just a short day back to base camp.
What a pleasure to ride again after our arduous mountain climbing, in spite of the fact that we had to almost swim the swollen river. We will hunt on the way back to base camp.
—Dinner is over and I’m sitting by the fire with a cup of tea. The goat ribs were good. Not quite so tasty as sheep, but fine enough.
Nobody knows what time it is. There are four watches in the party and about every other day we set them by the time one of us has. My time was good until the stop-hand button was moved by heavy brush. I have not had the right time since.
There is time to reminisce now. Oddly enough, the first arrows I shot at big game here in the Yukon were kills. These glass arrows have given me great confidence. They perform like the birch ones I used long ago.
Saturday, September 15, 6 P.m.
—Back at base camp writing at the kitchen table. Got in at 3 P.M. Saw about twenty-five sheep on the way. Alex went after one for camp meat but no luck.
Washed some clothes, took a bath, and rearranged our equipment. We will move base camp tomorrow morning. This place is known as either “Devil’s Hole” or “Cache Camp.” A cache of groceries is always left here for emergencies, stored on a high platform.
Our next camp is two days away. We will look for sheep and maybe see a grizzly or moose en route. Have seen only one grizzly to date and no moose for about ten days. It is about time to run into one.
We found a box that had been dropped by the plane and overlooked before. It contained some medicine for Don’s ulcers but he feels fine now. It is good to get some table cooking again. Ed has a cake baked and some cookies in a bowl.
Sunday, September 16, 7:30 P.M.
—Camp Archell. Got here a half hour ago. Left Cache Camp at 1 P.M. today. Don took pictures this morning of the pack train coming here. We traveled about fifteen miles and are camped on the edge of a big lake just for the night. Will leave again in the morning for sheep country.
Saw four goats near camp this morning. No game on the way here. We’re always amused at the way the horses act up. Cache Camp is the halfway mark, and they know they are headed for home. Has the same effect as a bag of oats just out of reach on a long pole before their noses.
Dinner is being prepared. I hope it is good; I am hungry. Had to retie eleven packs on the way. George salvaged some turnips that leaked out of a torn sack. He rides the rear to check on things that drop off. They had a hard time finding all the horses this morning.
Monday, September 17, 7:30 A.m.
—Am sitting under a spruce tree with a steady, drizzling rain coming down. We were up at 5 A.M. Breakfast is over and the boys are packing up. Packing the horses in the rain is quite a mess. It looks like a long rain, too. We can’t see the mountains. Another day without pictures. Yesterday was the only time we had sun while the whole pack train was moving. The trip is more than half over and we still have a great deal to do to get a film out of it.
I hope the Razorheads are rolling at the factory now. They are really deadly missiles. The hits on the two animals shot so far have gone entirely through. Those wide razor blades seem to clear the way for easy passage of the arrow.
I asked Alex if he thought the game in this country was holding its own, and he said that he thought it was. But, he also said that not as much game is killed now as twenty years ago. When he was a boy his family would kill twenty to twenty-five moose, every winter—four for themselves and the rest for the sled dogs. Most of the natives we see here now live by their can openers.
The cook tent is down; packing is almost finished. It is still raining but I can see the outline of a mountain now.
Mountain Camp, 3:30 P.M.
—We are in the open at timberline. Nothing above but alder, willow, and buckbrush. Sheep, grizzly, and moose are supposed to be here.
The weather cleared around noon with showers off and on. I shot two blue grouse with a blunt arrow I made from one of Alex’s 300-magnum cases. Nice big grouse that will taste good. We have a shoulder of goat left. Alex and George and I will go out after camp meat tomorrow.
Don is feeling rough again. Wants to rest and try to get well.
So far we have eaten some moose left over from a previous hunt, a sheep, and half a goat. One moose should last the six of us for the rest of the hunt. A sheep would taste better.
Tuesday, September 18, 11:30 A.M.
—Nothing much to report. Raining this a.m., and I decided not to go with Alex and George for camp meat. They were back at ten. Weather closed in on them.
Slept until nine and then made two more blunts from 30-06 cases. All set for ptarmigan and blue grouse now. Yesterday’s two grouse were all white meat. Ed is going to make a stew. Alex and Don are reading. Joe and George playing cribbage—all here in the fourteen-by-sixteen cook tent.
Another day lost. Almost all of our time to date has been spent on goats. Just a short two weeks left. We are two days from Champagne now. Tomorrow we plan to ride to side camp for sheep. This is also moose and grizzly country.
—Alex and I just got back from a hike to the top of the hill above camp. Looked the country over with glasses. Saw seven sheep about three miles away or one day away by horse.
Cold and windy. George says we will have snow. There is a misty rain falling now. A tipsy three-quarter moon last night. George says the weather will be bad until you can hang a powder horn on the moon.
We are packed up to leave for side camp in the morning. We have plenty of wood cut for our little stove if we can’t go. George and Alex are playing cribbage. Joe is reading love stories and Ed making a stew. Don is sleeping.
Alex and I don’t agree on the date. One of us has lost a day somewhere. The floor of our cook tent is covered with redolent spruce boughs.
Wednesday, September 19, 7 A.M.
—It rained last night and is still coming down. We were up at five-thirty. Breakfast is over and we’re all packed up to take off. Joe went after the horses before daybreak and is not back yet.
Hunting deer in Michigan, or almost anywhere, is good in this kind of weather, but not here. One does not just wander around in this country hoping to run into game; it is not that plentiful. We scan the mountains from a high point with glasses. If something is sighted, the scope is zeroed on it to determine sex or whether it is a sheep or goat. Game found in this way is usually miles away and in rain, mist, or fog, visibility is limited to a very short range.
We cannot predict the weather because we can see only to the top of the next mountain. A bad storm can be on us in a few minutes out of what we thought was a clear sky.
—Shaved and trimmed my hair with a battery razor. Joe just came in with the horses. He looks cold, wet, and crabby. These wranglers never put on enough clothes. Packing up now. Will be gone for a week, depending on our luck.
—Sitting by the fire in a willow thicket overlooking Dezadeash Lake and river. For dinner we had soup, cold roast goat toasted over the coals, spaghetti, peas, jam, peaches, and cake. This is a nice snug side camp. Don and I have an eight-by-ten tent. Alex and George each a lean-to made from a tarp.
Got here at three-thirty and made camp. Light showers on the way. Saw a red fox and flock of ptarmigan. We also saw fresh bear diggins along the way.
After our tent was set up we climbed a knoll and saw an immense bull moose on the slope across from us. He was almost a mile away, but the scope showed wide, broad antlers. At least sixty-inch spread, Alex said.
We had to make a decision—go after him now with no light for pictures, or take a chance of finding him tomorrow and hoping for better light. The majority of opinion was that we leave him. He is too good a trophy to shoot just for camp meat.
I was influenced in my decision by the fact that we are in moose country. Have seen more moose sign here than anywhere.
A gentle slope runs downhill all the way to a wide valley through which the river flows. Up the mountain behind us is sheep country.
I prefer this country to any we have been in and the hunting is certainly easier.
When the decision was made to leave the moose for tomorrow, Alex observed that the combination of the bow and camera was a tough one. “Makes a lot of work for the guides.”
Thursday, September 20, 10 A.M.
-I am sitting on my horse, Buck, on the mountainside trying to find the big bull. Cloudy again. It rained last night and early this morning. Clouds are right down on us. Woke up at 5 A.M.
Twelve Noon—Huddled on the lee side of a spruce waiting out a snowstorm and for a spot of sunlight that could shine through a hole in the clouds. We think our moose is bedded down about 200 yards from us. Jumped him an hour and a half ago and watched him go to this spot.
—Still here. Two snowstorms have gone through and another coming. Had lunch and tea. I think the moose moved on ahead of us. Two rams are on the mountain ahead.
—Back in camp. The moose gave us the slip with the help of snow squalls. We rode on to a high knoll and looked the country over. Nothing.
Fire going here and a hot rum in my belly. Time is getting short. One and a half hours of sunshine today.
If there was ever moose country, this is it. Flats and fingers of willow running up the draws. I asked Alex why there were not more moose here.
Wolves, he said. Temperatures are extremely low here in winter and the wolves run the moose in deep snow. Breathing violently from the exertion they frost their lungs and die of pneumonia.
When the plane came in to take Judd out, Alex got a letter from his wife saying, among other things, that a wolf had attacked one of the horses and that she had been called upon to sew up a large tear in the skin on his shoulder.
And Alex told us that last winter when the snow was deep and the weather cold, wolves had come in to a trapper’s camp at night and killed and eaten his sled dogs who were tied up, unable to escape.
Following our hunt, Alex says he will pull the shoes off the horses and turn them loose. They will fend for themselves during the winter.
Friday, September 21, 10 A.M.
—Sitting on a tuft of grass on a mountainside. George and Alex are scanning the country looking for “dingook” (moose). Weather is fair and visibility good, although it would seem that snow is brewing. I put my insulated underwear on this morning for the first time. We need sun, not only for pictures but to be able to see moose and bear. (Buck is trying to eat the tuft of grass I am sitting on.)
A few minutes ago I suggested to Alex that with time running out, we forget about sheep and concentrate on moose. I would rather get a big moose than a sheep. Also, to get an action picture of shooting sheep is no small feat. But with the right setup it would not be difficult on moose. Besides we need meat badly, and what we did not eat we could pack out with us. We can’t hunt sheep anyway in this weather. Just about the time we start a stalk, a cloud settles down on us and the climb has been in vain.
Got a beautiful picture yesterday morning in a short spot of sun. Looking down over Dezadeash Lake with the mist rising from it and a bank of clouds pierced by the snow-capped mountains beyond.
Buck is standing over me now, sleeping. His head overhangs mine. His front legs are my back rest. When we stop for tea we drop the reins so the horses can eat and have catnaps. They are very nice horses, with marked personalities. Each horse has a buddy and care must be taken not to separate pals in selecting horses for a side trip.
Twelve Noon—No moose yet. We’re having lunch. Had fun rolling half-ton boulders down the mountains.
—Back in camp. All we saw today were four sheep far away.
A remarkable sight this afternoon—a fiery ball in the sky. George said it is a planet called the sun. The sun was out all afternoon, but we had nothing to photograph. A very cold wind almost blew us off our horses. We rode about fifteen miles today. Not enough moose sign to justify hunting further here.
Eating the last of the goat and badly in need of red meat. We will try with the bow and, if we can’t get close enough, Alex will take one with the rifle. I can taste those ribs now.
Saturday, September 22, 5:30 A.M.—Huddled by a smoking fire. Breakfast finished. George just went for the horses. It is cloudy again, although the sun could break through with the proper arrangement of clouds. With no photo light we plan to ride at the lower edge of the mountain and try to find a moose. Went to bed at five-thirty last night to get out of the wind. The days are much shorter now. Daylight at 5 A.M. and dark at 7 P.M.
—We’re camped in a willow thicket again. Have been in the saddle all day. Saw a cow moose and a fox. Shot two ptarmigan. I broiled one over the fire and ate him. No sun all day. Snowflakes in the high wind. It is snowing hard now, about an inch on the ground. Snow blurs the ink on my notebook. I’m going to bed.
Sunday, September 23, 6 A.M.
—It stopped snowing after we went to bed. The sun is shining on the peaks this morning. Has not reached us yet. Alex watched a hawk catch a ptarmigan earlier. A fox was after them. Maybe this snow will change our luck.
The ink freezes in my pen. Have to thaw it out every so often.
—Just got back to base camp. We’ve been in the saddle all day. There was snow in the air almost constantly. This cut down visibility and we saw nothing.
Five days of traveling and camping wherever we were at nightfall. Looking over valley after valley, seeing nothing but one big bull moose and a cow. I shot two ptarmigan today. These are different from the ones I shot before. Today’s birds are rust brown and white which George says are the true ptarmigan, while the others were gray and white rock ptarmigan.
I have not seen a rabbit but saw tracks in the snow. Alex says they are snowshoe rabbits. There is also a smaller one here called the rock rabbit.
A bull moose came down to within 200 yards of camp last night. We saw his tracks this morning. Alex says the moose saw the horses and came down to investigate. Thought they were moose. Saw many wolverine tracks also.
Monday, September 24, 6 A.M.
—Waiting for Ed to make pancakes. It snowed again last night. A cold moon lit up the area before we went to bed. It is very cold this morning. Ed slept with the potatoes to keep them from freezing.
Alex says he has made up his mind now… . George and Joe will go up the mountain to get a ram for meat. He and I will take a tent and stove and go to Jo Jo Lake to see if we can find a moose and catch a few fish to eat. The upper end of this lake is about three hours from here.
After Joe and George come back from the sheep hunt, they will move camp to lower Jo Jo Lake and we will join them there in three to five days.
Our tent was half blown down when we came back last night. I had words with the lazy wrangler, Joe.
—Just about all packed up. Trouble finding the horses again.
—Camp made and Alex frying grayling in our snug tent. We caught the fish on Jo Jo River about two miles down from the lake. The river runs through a big flat covered with buckbrush and willow. It is almost a mile wide and five miles long, a real moosey looking place.
Just before dark I climbed the hill back of camp and saw a cow moose about half a mile out in the willows. We plan to hunt this area for several days on the theory that the moose have left the high country. We are lower here and there is no snow. The sun was out all afternoon.
A red squirrel has a nest in the spruce our tent leans against. He’s been scolding us for trespassing.
Tuesday, September 25, 11:30 A.M.
—On a hillside waiting for lunch. Saw a young bull moose standing in the willow meadow looking at us this morning. Made a stalk and Alex missed him three times with his rifle at about three hundred yards.
Snowflakes in the air and no sun today.
—Back in camp. Rode all over the mountainside but saw nothing. Saw many old signs and some fresh, but no moose. Looked for bear, too, but they are practically nonexistent.
—Have just finished dinner. Glassed the willow meadow twice since we came in. Nothing but snowflakes. Have decided to abandon this area and forget about moose unless we just happen to run on to one.
Tomorrow we will pack up and move halfway down on Jo Jo Lake. Maybe we can still get a film by including some fishing. May have a try at sheep there, too, and there is always a chance of running into a bear.
It seems to me that the hunt is about over. A good, hot shower would be damn welcome.
Wednesday, September 26, 6:30 A.M.
—Just had breakfast. Alex is washing dishes. The horses must have sensed the move down Jo Jo (toward home). They came in an hour ago. It is storming again. Snow all over above us. Could see base camp from high ground yesterday. Snow up there and snow where George went for sheep. If he did not get one the day he left us, he will have trouble and we will go off canned meat and on to a fish diet—assuming we can find fish.
Am well broken to the saddle now and Buck and I get along very well. After an all-day ride in the wind and snow with no game sighted we both get a little cranky. But when we ride into the base camp, the horses whinnying at each other, the warm cook tent looks inviting and Buck rubs his nose against my shoulder as if to say “I know I started up too fast after you got off to shoot that ptarmigan, and that I was sleepy on the trail, but we are home now… ."
I was heavy on the bit, too, but Buck didn’t deserve it. These horses are not like any I’ve ever seen before. In camp the hands spend most of their time talking about them and always refer to them affectionately by name—Buck, Pal, Ole, Skeezix, Indian, 01’ Blue, Freddie, etc.
—We have a camp set up now, halfway down Jo Jo Lake. I am sitting by an outdoor fire while Alex gets dinner on the stove in our nine-by-twelve tent. No job to get firewood here. Plenty of dry down spruce. Just push a tree over and it is good for a hot blaze for an hour or two.
Still cloudy and still spitting snow occasionally, although it does not stay on the ground. We would feel the cold more but, with the exercise one gets on a hunt like this and the wonderful warmth of padded nylon undersuits, we are quite comfortable leaning against our saddles around the fire. The horses are hobbled and feeding nearby. Their bells tinkle in the night as they move slowly along.
Coming down to this camp today we crossed the main trail the boys will take from base camp to join us for the trip back to Champagne. We found horse tracks on the trail going toward Champagne which can mean only one thing, and that is that some of the horses from base camp have played hookey and are on their way home.
It doesn’t make much difference since our load is lighter than when we started, and we certainly have no meat to pack back out. There are twenty-six ewes and lambs on the mountain behind us, and a small ram is on the mountain across the lake. We expect George and Joe in tonight. I hope they come and I hope they have a sheep. I’m hungry.
Unless we have a break in the weather or Alex comes up with something definite, we will probably head on out tomorrow.
Thursday, September 27
—Cold early this morning until the sun came out. Freddie and Pal tried to get out on the trail at eleven o’clock last night. Alex ran them down and tied them up. Also had to tie up Indian and Skeezix. Joe came in afoot at 7 A.M. from base camp looking for horses. Alex went back with him to move the camp to this place.
Ole stepped on my fly rod last night. Patched it this morning with wood splints and spruce gum. Then I wrapped it with cord and Don and I caught seven nice grayling. We took pictures of scaling and frying them, and then the sun left us and the heat wave was over.
After lunch we went fishing again but caught nothing. Our lines froze in the guides. Shot two ducks with two shots at about thirty yards, and then missed a blue grouse at fifty feet. Back in camp we cut wood and then the gang came in with the outfit from base camp. George had gotten a sheep! Now we have meat.
—I’m sitting in the cook tent sniffing frying sheep. George and Joe had a rough time getting it. They hunted high up on snow in a snowstorm.
I saw a woodpecker today unlike any I’ve seen before. I have seen pileated woodpeckers and know it was not that. It was a bit smaller than a crow, had black wings, a light gray breast, and a spot of white near the shoulder. It flies like a woodpecker and chirps like a downy but louder.
This is the halfway Jo Jo Camp. It is called “Dinner Camp” because it is half-way between Mountain Camp and the Jo Jo Camp. If we get a break in the weather, we will hunt moose and grizzly there for a few days.
Friday, September 28, 6 A.m.
—It snowed again this morning. About two inches on the ground even down here. The ceiling is very low. It doesn’t look as though we will get any break at all. Five days of sunshine since August 18.
Ed is cooking sheep steaks and the wranglers are after the horses. Four more are missing now which leaves us twelve out of the original twenty-one. They will have to load them heavily.
—Breakfast of sheep steak, bacon, and eggs. Sheep is tops in my estimation.
—In the cook tent waiting for dinner. It started snowing about 8 A.M. today and is still coming down. About ten inches on the ground now. A semiwet snow that clings to the spruce. It will make a wonderful picture background if we get light in the morning.
This is the first time I have ever set up camp in this much snow. Don and I are snug in our tent with a stove. We have a big job drying out gear. My sleeping bag is a real comfort however. I have never gotten cold in it.
There were not enough horses left to move all of camp today, so the boys will go back tomorrow for the rest. If the storm clears Don and I will try for a moose on foot. We are now one day from Champagne. Will probably get out day after tomorrow. Alex suggests a short hunt just off the Alaskan Highway. I don’t know.
Saturday, September 29, 7 P.M.
—The boys got back from the upper camp with the rest of our gear today. Alex, Don, and I went after a bull moose we saw near the top of the mountain across from camp, but he heard us and made off. Had lunch in camp, took a nap, and then Don and I hiked down to the north end of Jo Jo Lake. We saw wolf tracks and nothing else.
Leaving for Champagne in the morning.
Sunday, September 30, 9 A.M.
—In the coffee shop of the TAKU Hotel in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, catching up on my field notes.
We rode straight through yesterday and got to Champagne at 4:30 P.M. It was then that I learned it was Saturday instead of Sunday. Ed had his car there and we got into Whitehorse at ten o’clock.
Yesterday, before we left Champagne, we talked with an Indian who had just come down from salmon trapping north of here. Said the grizzlies had been giving them trouble and that they were snaring them.
“Must take a strong snare to hold a grizzly,” I ventured.
“Quarter-inch steel cable holds them okay,” he replied.
It is raining today for a change. We need boots to walk on the sidewalk. Everything closed today. Much to do, general cleanup and packing.
Monday, October 1, 7 A.M.
—Down in the coffee shop again. I’m in the habit of waking up early and can’t sleep. Yesterday we went on a tour of the town with Ed. Saw Sam McGee’s Cabin and the stern-wheel steamers that, until last year, traveled the Yukon and Klondike rivers.
In the afternoon we had company. Jack O’Connor and Bill Ray, editors of Outdoor Life magazine, also Fred Huntington of California. They are up here hunting and came out the same time we did. They reported poor hunting too, but good weather. They were within 100 miles of us!
We could see good weather around us many times but always managed to be directly under the bad stuff.
We visited with these people for several hours. Then a reporter from the Whitehorse paper came up.
Sometime later Alex and Ron come in. Ron said the salmon run was on at Klukshu and wants to take us up there.
They stayed for half an hour. Don and I went to the O’Connor-Ray room for a few drinks, and then to Sonny’s Steak House for dinner. Alex and Ron will meet us at nine this morning to pack gear for shipment and to clear customs.
It rained last night. If it clears we may make a try at shooting salmon. We need pictures. The ones we took in Alaska are dark, taken in the rain.
We have a date with the Outdoor Life group for dinner again tonight. I need a haircut badly. First day of deer season at home… .
Tuesday, October 2, 7 P.M.
—Had dinner and said good-by to O’Connor and Ray last night. We got up at 6 A.M. and went to Klukshu this morning. Not an Indian or a fish there. It was cloudy, also. Stopped at Kathleen River and caught some grayling and rainbows on the way back. Made the trip in Ron’s car.
We are waiting for dinner now at the Whitehorse Inn. Will do a final packing job and ship our stuff tomorrow. Have a date to show movies at a meeting of the Whitehorse Archery Club tomorrow evening.
Wednesday, October 3
—We packed and got air freight shipment off. Toured the town and took more pictures. I showed movies at the air base to about fifty people. Martin Hanson, another archer hunting here, looked us up at the hotel at noon. He was with his outfitter and an Indian guide. Went out to their place (Marsh Lake) with them and visited and had a moose steak dinner before the movies.
We flew to Edmonton with Hanson. A modest and interesting fellow from Chicago. He beat me to the first grizzly with a bow up here last spring. Says he has good movies of three hunts he has had up here. Have invited him to hunt with us at Trout Lake in Michigan.
Note: The fly rod mentioned in these notes was given to me by Ernie Von Reis who manufactured them under the name of Orchard Industries. Upon my return I sent the rod back to him in jest, with the statement that there was something wrong with it, that a horse had stepped on it, but it was a small horse… . The rod was replaced without comment.
Chapter 2Yukon Northwest Territory
Fred and company explore the Yukon Territory on horseback in search of grizzly, moose, goat, and other trophies. Instead, they are met with cold, tireless rain and snow showers ever increasing their respect for the wild outdoors.