Alaskan Moose Adventure

An Alaskan moose hunt turned into a nightmare when the slip of a knife left this hunter fighting for his life.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

In late September 1999 I put a moose hunt together with Steve Karcz, a friend who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. The idea was to fly into a remote camp and film the hunt for an upcoming episode of Northwest Hunter, the television show I cohost. Bad weather prevented the rest of our film crew from joining us, but Steve and I were able to get out in his floatplane before the front hit.

We hunted for several days around Steve's cabin, but with the moose season nearly over, we decided to head back to Anchorage and switch to his Super Cub in hopes of finding better moose hunting inland. It was a race against time as we switched planes, but we managed to land just before dark in the remote mountain area we had chosen. With the plane secured and our tent pitched, we rolled into our sleeping bags hoping the next day would bring success.

We awoke to two inches of snow on the ground -- the first snow of the season. Steve was initially concerned about the snow load on the plane but felt the midday temperature would warm to the point that the snow could be wiped off the fragile wings. He was more worried about the brown bear he spotted just before landing the night before. For some reason, the giant bears love to chew on rubber aircraft tires.

We made a mental note of the plane's location and headed out for the last day of the moose season. The cloud cover was right on the deck and it was still lightly snowing, with visibility changing by the minute from 30 feet to 250 yards. Spotting moose was going to be very tough.

But we'd be able to hear them. Like elk, moose are very vocal during the rut and Steve and I planned on calling along the way, relying on our ears more than our eyes to find bulls. We hunted down the mountainside, hoping to get below the cloud cover. After several hours of walking and calling, we finally got a response. We closed the gap to 300 yards, lay down in the willows and started to glass in all directions. The snow coming down was now mixed with rain, but even though it was cold and miserable, we were excited to have moose nearby.

Finally we saw a big bull 250 yards out. He was standing in a small opening, but as luck would have it, the willows covered most of his vital area so I passed on the shot. We both thought he was 50 inches wide (the legal minimum), but neither of us would bet on it.

His brow tines looked to be just two points each, but then he turned right as he started to walk away. After wiping my scope one last time with my dry T-shirt, I caught a view of three tips on his left brow tine and knew that he was a legal bull. "Let's take him," I said to Steve. "Roll the tape."

I was shooting a .300 Win. Mag. stoked with Federal's 200-grain Nosler Partition load. This is a super-stout load, but I was concerned that after the first shot there wouldn't be any time for a follow-up before the bull would disappear into the willows. Most of the moose kills I've witnessed have required several rounds even when the bullets were properly placed. This was it. One shot -- take him now or let him walk.

I squeezed the trigger and before I lost sight of the moose in recoil, I watched him tip over. I couldn't believe one round could take him off his feet so quickly. Steve and I swapped high fives, then quickly moved down to where the bull had fallen. Walking up on the downed bull Steve and I couldn't believe we had misjudged him so badly. He was way over 50 inches wide (he later taped 691/4 inches wide), with four points on one brow tine and three on the other.

Steve and I finished our video session and returned to the plane to ditch all of our excess weight, eliminating such things as extra water bottles, food, first-aid equipment and clothing from our day packs. The only thing we wanted to carry was moose and we had only a limited amount of daylight left in which to do it.

When we returned to the moos we looked closely for signs of brown bears. The coast was clear, so we moved in and made plans to start the long process of butchering the animal into pieces we could handle. Steve would concentrate on the hind legs while I started caping the front shoulders. I made a long cut from the spine, over the rib cage and down to the center of the chest behind the front leg.

I had just started to make my second cut on the center of the back where the hide is as thick as my thumbnail is wide. I inserted the knife and applied more and more pressure to start the cut. All at once the blade zipped through the hide and my upper body lunged forward. In the sloppy snow, my slick rain pants caused my knees to slip out from under me. My hands shot out to check my fall and the skinning knife drove deep into my right thigh. Almost in one motion the knife slammed into my leg and then came right back out again. I yelled to Steve that I had stabbed myself. As he ran around the moose, blood was already spurting everywhere.

I held my hand over the cut and pressed hard. Even after applying pressure the blood pumped five inches high through several layers of clothing and up through my fingers. I told Steve I thought I had cut my femoral artery. Watching my life pump out through my fingers, all I could think was, "I'm a dead man." Steve asked how he could help and I answered that I'd need a tourniquet, knowingly kissing my leg goodbye.

I mentioned the parachute cord in my day pack and he was on it like a wildcat. He ripped open my clothing with his fingers and was shocked at the damage. Steve tied three separate lines around my thigh as tight as he could to slow the blood flow. He asked if I could crawl over the moose and elevate my legs to help keep me from going into shock, but I was getting light-headed fast so I wasn't sure. I finally was able to pull myself up on the moose, at which point the blood rushed down my leg and began filling my boot. I then slid back over the side of the moose. With my legs now elevated the blood reversed direction and started running up my back. For the second time I seriously thought this was it.

I asked for my water bottle and Steve squirted the entire contents into my mouth. Steve was busy grabbing his day pack and getting ready to return to the plane as fast as he could go. Then I asked for my gun, since we had actually seen a brown bear and a black bear not a half-mile away, though with all this blood it wasn't looking good for me. Knowing there was only one round in the rifle I really wanted to ask Steve for the ammunition in my pack, but he was in such a hurry I didn't want to slow him down again.

My rifle held four rounds, but one had already been spent on the moose and I had burned up two rounds reenacting the shot for the camera. That left one. Steve said it took only a minute for him to get his stuff together, but when he looked down at me to say goodbye he thought I was dead. He rocked my head, but my jaw was limp, and my eyes were fixed wide open. What could he do now? With no blood flow CPR wouldn't help. He knew he needed to get me some fluids fast.

The plane was a mile away. Inside was a radio and a GPS. If Steve could reach someone and give them our coordinates, perhaps they could help. Steve's adrenaline was pumping and he hurried as fast as he could over the rough terrain, but it felt like the longest one-mile hike he had ever taken. Once he reached the plane, he could see it was still snowed in -- no escape! As he climbed in he prayed that the plane's battery would be good. If not he did have a cellular phone, but that would really be stretching it.

As it turned out, God was watching over us, because both the radio and the cellular phone fired right up. Steve knew the direct phone number to the Rescue Control Center (RCC) and promptly relayed the emergency. He gave me the benefit of the doubt and said this was a life-threatening emergency. In other words, get your butts out here fast or this guy is going to die. The RCC makes the decision as to who will be dispatched in emergencies. Again we got lucky.

The Air National Guard had met at 4:30 p.m. for a drill, and by 5 p.m. had canceled the day's exercise due to bad weather. Steve's emergency call came in around 5:10 p.m. Fortunately, the crew had not left to go home or it would have added at least three hours to their response time. The Air National Guard said they would take the call and for Steve to remain with the plane. They would use his GPS coordinates to locate the plane, pick him up and, with his help, find me.

I never knew that I had lost consciousness, but I suddenly woke up. I guessed that it had been about an hour and a half since Steve had left, and there was a slim chance help would arrive soon. My leg was hurting, but the pain was tolerable. My rifle lay beside me. Bears coming into a kill site typically make several woofs to chase away smaller predators, so my main concentration was focused on the surrounding sounds. I hoped I could make another one-shot kill if I had to.

My day pack was only 15 feet away, but it might as well have been a mile because I couldn't get to it. Even if I could reach the day pack, I felt so weak that I wasn't sure I could hold up the gun to load it. I was hoping that if a bear did come to visit I would have such an adrenaline rush that I would find the energy somewhere. For now, I figured I would cross that bridge when and if I had to.

In the meantime I was really getting cold. I snuggled up as close to the moose as possible to get warm. As I listened intently for approaching bears all I could hear was the rain and snow hitting my raingear. I have had a lot of quiet time in the woods, but this was the most alone I have ever felt.

The helicopter was on its way, but with a typhoon at sea and low visibility, it was taking a bit longer. The crew's plan was to come into the mountain off the Cook Inlet, but when they reached the mountain the visibility dropped to between 15 and 25 feet. Like it or not, from sea level up to 2,300 feet, where the plane was, would take a lot of time off the clock.

In the meantime I knew I was going downhill fast. My hands had gotten so cold they felt like swollen latex gloves. The pressure inside my hands felt like an inflated balloon. My leg had been without blood flow for so long that I couldn't move it at all. I knew I had to get some blood going so I thought about cutting off one of the three tourniquets. I quickly reconsidered, realizing the cord would be too short to retie if I had to and that I might not have the dexterity to do it. Then I thought that if I could untie the tourniquet with my fingers, perhaps I could retie it as well. I tried but my numb hands wouldn't work.a life-threatening emergency. In other words, get your butts out here fast or this guy is going to die. The RCC makes the decision as to who will be dispatched in emergencies. Again we got lucky.

The Air National Guard had met at 4:30 p.m. for a drill, and by 5 p.m. had canceled the day's exercise due to bad weather. Steve's emergency call came in around 5:10 p.m. Fortunately, the crew had not left to go home or it would have added at least three hours to their response time. The Air National Guard said they would take the call and for Steve to remain with the plane. They would use his GPS coordinates to locate the plane, pick him up and, with his help, find me.

I never knew that I had lost consciousness, but I suddenly woke up. I guessed that it had been about an hour and a half since Steve had left, and there was a slim chance help would arrive soon. My leg was hurting, but the pain was tolerable. My rifle lay beside me. Bears coming into a kill site typically make several woofs to chase away smaller predators, so my main concentration was focused on the surrounding sounds. I hoped I could make another one-shot kill if I had to.

My day pack was only 15 feet away, but it might as well have been a mile because I couldn't get to it. Even if I could reach the day pack, I felt so weak that I wasn't sure I could hold up the gun to load it. I was hoping that if a bear did come to visit I would have such an adrenaline rush that I would find the energy somewhere. For now, I figured I would cross that bridge when and if I had to.

In the meantime I was really getting cold. I snuggled up as close to the moose as possible to get warm. As I listened intently for approaching bears all I could hear was the rain and snow hitting my raingear. I have had a lot of quiet time in the woods, but this was the most alone I have ever felt.

The helicopter was on its way, but with a typhoon at sea and low visibility, it was taking a bit longer. The crew's plan was to come into the mountain off the Cook Inlet, but when they reached the mountain the visibility dropped to between 15 and 25 feet. Like it or not, from sea level up to 2,300 feet, where the plane was, would take a lot of time off the clock.

In the meantime I knew I was going downhill fast. My hands had gotten so cold they felt like swollen latex gloves. The pressure inside my hands felt like an inflated balloon. My leg had been without blood flow for so long that I couldn't move it at all. I knew I had to get some blood going so I thought about cutting off one of the three tourniquets. I quickly reconsidered, realizing the cord would be too short to retie if I had to and that I might not have the dexterity to do it. Then I thought that if I could untie the tourniquet with my fingers, perhaps I could retie it as well. I tried but my numb hands wouldn't work.