By Joseph Robertia
Many hunters consider themselves fortunate if they bring down one bull moose over the course of the hunting season, so Soldotna hunter Mike Stacy and his hunting partners are justifiably pleased with their take earlier this month in the Caribou Hills — bagging three bulls in 10 minutes.
“We were definitely in the right place at the right time,” he said. “And now our freezers are full for another season.”
Stacy, joined by Stacy Whiteley, his girlfriend of several years, and Whiteley’s 18-year-old son, Taylor Cunningham, rode horses far into the hills to a spot Stacy has used as a hunting base camp for years. The area, on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, is a spot where Stacy has typically found the moose to be many and hunters few and far between due to the logistics of getting in and out without a motorized vehicle.
“In 11 seasons of hunting, I’ve taken 11 moose. Four came out of this same area two years ago, and three came out last year,” he said. “But three legal bulls in 10 minutes, this is the first time that’s ever happened.”
Adding to this already fantastic accomplishment is the fact that Stacy and his party took the bulls at the end, rather than the beginning, of hunting season, running the risk of not getting anything at all.
“I typically only hunt the last five days of the season,” he said. “The weather is cooler and the bulls are more active and more in rut, which makes them easier to call in.”
After setting up camp the first day, Stacy and his group got up early the next morning. They were eager to find something brown to bring down, and rode to one of Stacy’s usual hot spots, where they did some calling.
Not a lot was happening, though. After a few hours ticked by and the sun got a little higher on the horizon, the group decided to head back. Along the way they took a detour to a small pond where the still, cool water often attracts large ungulates during the heat of the day. Almost immediately the group knew it might benefit from bypassing the regular route back to camp.
“We saw a cow getting ready to bed down in the shade under a tree, and behind her was a big bull racking the brush,” he said.
Their eyes grew wide and their pulses quickened at the sight of the massive moose and his impressive rack, Stacy said. It looked clear that the bull was legal, but they wanted to ensure the best distance and vantage to make a clean heart-lung shot. As they glassed to get a better view, Stacy and his party saw two more moose along the water’s edge.
“We spotted another smaller bull, very close by and already bedded down,” he said. “As we began checking him out to make sure he was legal, we saw another spike-fork come walking up.”
Stacy and his party could hardly believe what they were witnessing, but they tamped their excitement to quietly devise a strategy for whom would take which moose.
“I shot first and everything just froze,” Stacy said. “Then Taylor went, and then Stacy. None of the bulls were spooked by the noise. The cow even hung around after all the shots were fired.”
Once on the ground, the party could really appreciate what they had just brought down. The large bull’s rack was 46 inches and had three brow tines on each side, while the smaller bull had a 38-inch rack with three brow tines on the left side and two on the right. The spike-fork’s antlers measured around 10 inches long.
After the kill, the work began, and it was an endurance event harvesting all the meat and getting it back to the truck. Stacy said it took three trips by horseback, with each journey taking around five hours.
“It took around 31 hours from the time they hit the ground until all the meat was hanging in the horse trailer,” he said.
As exciting as it was to find success through the scope of a rifle, Stacy said the trip was equally special to him because he was able to share the experience with his girlfriend, who, despite being born and raised in Alaska, had never gone moose hunting.
“She always wanted to do this, but never had the opportunity,” he said. “It was a whole new experience for her and her son. It was fantastic to be a part of that, to go with someone who had never done it, and see it all unfold, and see the expressions on their faces.”
Stacy was able to teach Whiteley and her son a new skill, and his own harvest success record over the years speaks to his expertise. But he said that he still discovers something new each season.
“No matter how many times I do this, I still learn a lot from the moose each year,” he said.