Bernie Kuntz: Tough hunts

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There are some hunting trips where you just know you are going to experience a lot of pain.

Most mountain sheep hunts fall into this category, but one in particular is especially grueling. That is the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunts in Montana's "unlimited" areas—a couple hunting districts southwest of Billings along the Wyoming border in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness where you can buy a sheep license over-the- counter and not have to enter a drawing where the odds are daunting.

Sheep are scarce in this country and success is low...less than ten percent most years. The area encompasses the largest expanse of terrain in the lower 48 states that is over 10,000 feet in elevation. Getting into the country itself involves climbing thousands of vertical feet. Storms can spring up at any time, even in summer. I know a handful of guys who have taken a ram in the unlimited areas. but I have met dozens more who failed, and when they stagger out of that country, most are worm out to the point of exhaustion. Next time you drive west through Billings, look for the snow-covered mountains to the southwest, even in summer. That is the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Hunting sheep there is not for the faint-of- heart.

Another high country hunt that is certain to be tiring, uncomfortable and painful is a mountain

goat hunt in Southeast Alaska. The country is extremely steep, the hunting season is in October when it rains, snows or both almost every day, and the country is covered in alders, willows, devil's club and slide rock. The standard hunting procedure is to land on shore in a boat, then climb a few thousand feet through the inhospitable terrain, glass and locate a goat. It is a grim task and one I chose to pass on while a resident of Alaska. An old hunting partner of mine named Greg told me of a goat hunt many years ago where he grabbed an ice axe almost as an afterthought. It was raining, so he had rain gear on, slipped and fell on slippery grass, went rocketing down a steep slope. He cut a furrow with the ice axe and managed to stop his descent before he went flying over a 100-foot cliff!

One hunt that is almost guaranteed to cause a hunter considerable suffering is a do-in- yourself Alaska moose hunt. My own such hunt took place in 2001. I had three partners and I was the only one who killed a moose on that trip. So I had considerable help handling the enormous carcass. Yet my back and legs still hurt when thinking about packing 125-pound loads of meat and bone. (Brainless Alaska laws being what they are, you are not allowed to bone out the carcass.)

Earlier this fall a young friend of mine and two other fellows hunted moose in a special permit area in southwestern Alaska. Ed told me it rained every day. "You'd just get your clothes dried out and it would start raining again," he said. And there are insects that will almost drive one crazy. Still, two of the three hunters shot enormous bulls.

The story, as I remember it, was the hunters called the flying service to get the first moose carcass flown out. The pilot said to wait until they shot a second bull. By the time they shot a second bull, the meat from the first bull had spoiled, and a grizzly bear took over possession of the carcass. As the hunters floated by in a nearby river, the bear charged and they feared it was going to climb into the boat! But the bear retreated and no one was harmed.

They reported the spoiled meat to a Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection officer, the hunter who shot the moose had to go before a judge and was fined $300. It would have been more but the judge was lenient because the hunter had turned himself in. The judge should have fined the flying service—not the hunter. Thankfully, the hunter was able to keep the antlers and cape.

These hunters were wise not to shoot a moose miles from the river, so they didn't have a horrible packing job, but it was still a lot of work.

Another story about my friend Greg: One time he shot a bull moose on the bank of a river with his .338. The moose ran into the river before expiring in several feet of water. So Greg and his partner had to butcher a moose while standing in the river...a good hunt for the young and tough!